Planning a Decade?

In Tahoe with Steve celebrating ten years of marriage – and enjoying the beauty of the mountains.

Reading together A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Can’t stop thinking about Afghanistan. Keeps me up.

Planning out our next ten years together.

How do you plan the next ten years? I can’t even plan dinner.

This first ten went by so incredibly fast, my head is spinning just thinking about it. There is no way we could have planned all that has happened. What we did plan, at least in a general sense was swept aside by circumstance and choices in the moment – where priorities realign themselves.

So… we’re “planning” to do more backpacking and exploring in the high country.

We’re “planning” to make some career changes.

But who cares what we plan? Life shows up unexpectedly and sweeps away our plans. What is coming our way that we are NOT planning?

When we got married one decade ago, we had no idea what was coming our way. That’s why those marriage vows are so all inclusive! We’ve had our share of for better and for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, and we still love and cherish each other, and, hopefully that until death do us part part is still a long way off. I had no idea that in the first decade of my marriage I would become a grandmother to four, going on five, grandchildren!

Not to say that some of our plans didn’t work out. They did. Like our plan on being hospitable, balancing our personalities, establishing our marriage, strengthening our family relationships… these things have been a constant guiding light that we are still following.

So… what do we plan on now? Ever heard the old evangelical pick up line? “Hi. Did you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” Actually, I think it should be more like “Hi. Did you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your plan?” I imagine He must be amused as we sketch out what we want the next ten years to look like. The only thing I’m pretty sure of now, is that whatever we sketch, it will NOT be that.

We do our best, day to day to be prepared for emergencies and for the unexpected, but we can’t plan for them. We can set good intentions about hobbies and activities we want to participate in. We can set financial and career goals. All these are good. But they’re just like throwing darts blindfolded in a fog.

So what can we plan for? We can plan for who we will be. i.e. I will be grateful – and content. I will live in the present – let go of old regrets – let go of those evil shoulds –  “I should be doing this or that by now” –  and the pressure to measure up to my “potential”.

I plan to just BE – fully, abundantly, gratefully, presently, lovingly, – ME. No one else, nowhere else. Just BE HERE NOW. Period. So much energy is wasted on trying to DO THERE THEN or HAVE WHERE WHEN!  (I’m playing with these words, but hopefully, you get my drift.) Whatever! I want to be with whomever I am with, right here, right now. And nowhere else, with no one else. When I am with YOU, I am with YOU. Fully present. Fully aware. Fully alive. Whatever “potential” lies in me either shows up here and now with you or it doesn’t exist. Period.

So my plan for the next ten years of my marriage to Steve? BE HERE NOW. Give myself fully, abundantly, without reservation to our marriage – Show up, speak up, get up. Engage our life together with curiosity, wonder, and full participation. I have NO CLUE what the next ten years will hold. It’s like this wonderful book we are reading. I don’t know what’s in the next chapter, but I can’t wait to turn the page and find out.

So… to do that… I need energy. I need to take care of my fifty-year-old body. Exercise, diet, maybe take some supplements to increase my stamina. I find that my energy increases when I’m engaged fully in life… but a few vitamins can’t hurt. Time to shed the resentments and regrets along with the old papers and books; eliminate the distractions and engage the uncomfortable present. Time to clean house. Get rid of old clutter both physical and emotional that ties me down. Find the treasures hidden under the dull, beige, dusty clutter. Dig for the gold. Time to decorate – make it MY home – I’ve been here ten years after all. It’s time to paint!

Who do you plan to be over the next ten years?

I spent four days in Kabul when I was seventeen.

I spent days in a lot of places when I was sixteen and seventeen – 32 countries in fact – but that’s another story. This story is one small piece of that larger story.

We, my mom, dad, sister, our Swiss friend, Jacqueline, and I stayed in the home of Tom and Libby Little in downtown Kabul. Tom was an eye doctor who, with his wife and three small children, had moved to Kabul that year. They had been planning to stay just two years, but had now decided to stay there for the rest of their lives.

Somewhere, I hope, in my parents’ garage, is a box containing hundreds of Kodak slides from our journeys that year. Somewhere among them are photos of Kabul. When I find them, I intend to digitize them. Then I’ll update this blog and post them here. In the meantime, here’s a blog I found that talks about Kabul in the late seventies and beyond. This might give you an idea of what it was like. I wish I could show you pictures. If you Google images for Chicken Street in Kabul, you’ll get an idea of the colorful crazy mix that this place still is.

What I remember about those few days in the summer of 1977 was how happy Tom and Libby seemed to be. They had just started this work, and were falling in love with Afghanistan. I remember Libby taking my mom and me down Chicken Street, in Kabul to go shopping. The colors, the smells, the dead animals hanging in the butcher shops, the flies, the women in bright jewel toned shiny flowing burkes that hid their entire face and body, the hawkers, Libby haggling with the shop keepers for everything from butter to scarves, the American tie-dyed long-haired hippies shopping for pot and opium on their way to Nepal on the Kathmandu Trail in search for enlightenment, the men sitting in front of their shops smoking their hookahs, the dust, the music, the crowds, the energy. There were American missionaries who went to Kabul specifically to minister to the American hippy enlightenment seekers. Tom and Libby may have started out this way, I don’t know. But they fell in love with the Afghanis and that’s where they stayed. They warned us in the strictest terms not to mention Jesus, or share our faith with any Afghani. It could be a death sentence for the Afghani and could get Tom & Libby arrested and expelled from the country.

I remember the children who gathered around Tom and Libby’s home waiting for us to emerge so they could smile sweetly, tug on our skirts, and hold out their hands. I remember giving them pieces of bread from a loaf that Tom and Libby gave us.

I remember wondering at the thought that Tom and Libby were going to make this place their home. That they weren’t here for some short-term mission. They had fallen in love with these beautiful people and were moving to Afghanistan, permanently.

We kept up with them for some years through their newsletter, and my dad corresponded with Tom for a while. I wish I had been more self (and others) aware at that time and had stayed in touch with them myself. We heard about them continuing to stay through civil war, the Russian invasion, political uprisings, overthrows, bombings, massacres, the Taliban, and on and on and on…. to bring optical and medical care to the Afghan people.

They had a deep and profound faith in God and exercised that faith by loving the people of Afghanistan. And they were loved in return. In an interview with NPR in 2003, Tom explains why they stayed, even through very dangerous times. He said that he and Libby identified so much with the Afghanis that leaving when it was dangerous, running home to the U.S. where it was safe, seemed cowardly and shameful, when their Afghani friends and patients could not leave.

Three weeks ago, while returning from an arduous trek into some remote mountain villages, Tom and nine members of the medical team he led were executed by the Taliban.

We all believe in something, and that belief governs our actions – whether we are aware of it or not. The Taliban accused Tom of proselytizing, which of course was untrue. Tom didn’t have to tell people about the God he worshiped. He showed them – through his courageous love. The militants who murdered Tom and the rest of his team were also sending a message about the god they worship.

I grieve for Libby and for their daughters. And I grieve for the people of Afghanistan who are being held hostage by this brutal inhuman band of murderers and tyrants, and who have lost a beloved friend who did nothing but give sight to the blind.

Thirty-three years ago they were young and I was younger. I was just beginning traveling down my own road to enlightenment. They had already found theirs giving and loving the people in Afghanistan.

Out of Excuses

Since my last post four weeks ago was about the Drive Thru Daiquiris in New Orleans, I think a few people wondered if Steve and I just stayed there driving and drinking…. Or if we drove off the road and that was it. Nope. After saying thanks and good-bye to cutie-pie Eric, we returned the rental car and got on the plane to fly home.

Now I’ve been home for the same amount of time as my entire turning-fifty-with-my-girlfriends journey. That went by fast! As soon as I got back, I wanted to wrap up my journey with a cool posting about all I had learned…. But that didn’t happen.

First week back from my journey I indulged in the desire to sleep and to reconnect with my home.

Second week I went to be with my parents after my dad’s surgery.

Third week I had my granddaughter and my niece and nephew for the  weekend. So here we are. First sane, undisturbed Friday and I’m out of excuses.

Being with my girlfriends helped me accept the fact that I work BEST under pressure. I don’t like it. I’ve beaten myself up about it for years. But it’s true. When I was on my trip I would write almost every day. Kim got me started. She didn’t have internet access at her house, so we had to get up and get going to Guglhupf so I could write. Kim would sit there patiently all morning reading her book while I wrote and uploaded photos. She had lots of cool things planned for when I was done, but we couldn’t do any of them until I posted my daily update on my blog. Harrah and Sandy would make little comments like “Are you STILL writing that thing? Aren’t you done yet? I can’t believe how much time that thing takes! We’re leaving in five minutes, you can finish it later.” And other encouraging words. Just enough pressure to keep me focused.

Now I’m back at home, back into my routines, and life is, well… life. Monday through Thursday I am deeply focused on my somewhat stressful job which has a tendency to purge all the creative energy out of my brain cells. By the time Friday, Glorious Friday rolls around, I go through a recovery phase. Sleep in a little, get up and spend an hour reading, then start to think about all the things I want to do to build my coaching practice, do calls when they are scheduled, and… oh yeah… update my blog. The day stretches before me like a luxurious sandy beach…. And before I know it, Friday is over and the update is not written.

I promised Kim I would go this morning and sit in a wi-fi coffee shop. So here I am in Café Azul in downtown Santa Rosa, with a two-hour parking pass, a rented table, and a fantasy that I’m on vacation in Santa Rosa and Kim is sitting across the table patiently reading her book. I miss you, Kimmie!

For the rest of this year, I’ll be unpacking the gifts I gathered on this journey. Right up there wrinkled on the top of the suitcase are two related concepts.
1. how vitally important true friends are and
2. what a difference community can make in our quality of life.

Francis Bacon, in his essay “Of Friendship”, wrote something that seemed harsh. “I have given the rule, where a man cannot fitly play his own part; if he have not a friend, he may quit the stage.” This was after describing all the amazing benefits a true friend brings to one’s life. I wouldn’t tell you to “quit the stage”. But I would say, if you don’t have a friend, go out and get one. My mom used to tell me whenever I was lonely, “If you want to have a friend, you must first BE a friend.” A little truth that has come in handy many times.

So my first new years’ resolution for being fifty is to BE a friend – a true friend…. To stay in touch with my far-away girlfriends…. And to put more effort into cultivating my close-to-home friendships; which brings me to the second gift in my suitcase…

What a difference community can make in our quality of life.

I saw how Kim has invested herself in building community where she lives. She had some close friends there who moved away…. So she joined a “meet-up” group and is rapidly developing a cool little gang of gals that share the common characteristic of getting booted out of the original group for being too independent. Perfect for my one-of-a-kind girlfriend who loves and accepts everyone just as they are while never wavering from being absolutely true to herself.

Harrah is a fish who has found her pond. She’s an artist who is surrounded by other artists. They inspire and support each other, and send each other business. It’s all good.

Sandy thrives in church and has dedicated herself to serving in her new community. She hasn’t been in her new home as long as Harrah and Kim have been in theirs, but she is on the path to building her community.

I confess, I lost my pond. So I’m committed this year to finding it again. Finding the water I can swim in and thrive. I’ve changed and my old pond has changed too. It’s time for a new chapter. My girlfriends have taught me it can be done – at fifty or at any age. And I’m committed to deepening and strengthening my marriage in the process. I’m not running off to find myself and leave my poor husband behind. Interestingly, I read Eat, Pray, Love while on my journey. Loved it, except for the leaving the husband part… but that’s her story, not mine. We’re in this together… whatever that looks like. In whatever ways I grow in this new decade, I’m committed to using it to ENHANCE and serve our marriage and make both our lives better, and you can hold me to that.

Drive Thru Daiquiris – Seriously

Kim thought I was making this up, so I just HAD to take a picture to prove myself right. Friends

You'd Think It Was a Dairy Queen

had told me that in Louisiana you could get Daiquiris at a drive-through window. I didn’t believe it at first, but sho-nuf…. in the middle of the Bible-Belt, where in some counties you can’t buy wine or liquor on Sunday Mornings between 10:00 and Noon, you can go through a drive-through and order yourself a Bubble-Gum Daiquiri.

It’s a loop hole in the state law. You can have booze in your car as long as it’s in a sealed container. The store can sell it to you as long as the straw is not in the lid. What you do after that is up to you.

There was one on our way to the Rental Car drop off, so we just had to check it out. Steve, being the information gatherer that he is had to go inside to ask questions. We met a nice guy named Eric with a big smile. He answered all of Steve’s questions and let us try different flavors. They were all in brightly colored swirling slush machines behind him.

I chose the “House Special” which is a blend of their three most popular flavors. But of course we just had to go back to the car to buy it. We followed the three-step process that Eric explained.

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See Kim? I just love being right….These places are all over the state.

Friday in New Orleans – The Lower Ninth Ward

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After Steve and I checked out of our hotel, there were just two more stops to make on this fiftieth birthday friend fiesta, as my sister-in-law Tiffin calls it. I looked up a bit of info on-line and got some directions, so we took our rental car and headed a few blocks east across the Industrial Canal to the Ninth Ward, made famous by Hurricane Katrina. The Industrial Canal is a shipping canal connecting the huge Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River. The slide show above starts with three pictures of the new wall that has been built along the canal protecting the Lower Ninth Ward from the canal. The old one collapsed under the storm surge from the hurricane, sending a wall of water, fifteen feet high surging through this already devastatingly poor neighborhood obliterating the homes and killing 200 people.

A Home Across from the Wall

A Home Across From the Wall

After the wall, you see the foundations of some of the homes that are now gone. After that you will see some of the homes that have been damaged, abandoned, or condemned. According to the Wikipedia article, some of those modern new homes are apparently a project of actor Brad Pitt. Notice the stilts and the solar panels.

This area used to be plantation and farm land, a swamp, and a cypress grove. Dredging the canal provided economic opportunities and jobs. But it made the lower ninth vulnerable to flooding, which happened during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Reminded me of the landfill we have in San Francisco that provides more buildable land…until we have an earthquake. Consider carefully when you mess with Mother Earth.

It was a sobering tour, and I said a prayer for all the families who were so devastated.

Next Post – From the Sobering to the Not-So Sober.

Thursday in New Orleans – The Garden District

Thursday was our one full day in New Orleans. Of course we had to try out the Beignets at the famous Café Du Monde. These, by the way, are delicious. It’s probably a good thing we can’t get them here at home or I would be in trouble. This was followed by a stroll through town checking out galleries. Our favorite was Angela King Gallery . Check out the paintings by Andrew Baird. They’re huge and up close they resemble Jackson Pollock, but step back and the image appears. Very striking. Mostly, we appreciated the tour we received by Ellin Egan, Professional Fine Art Consultant, who patiently gave us an art appreciation class while we cooled off in the A/C. Have I mentioned how hot it was outside?

We also hunted down the CDs from the musicians we had heard on Wednesday night, Dwayne Burns, trumpet and vocals, and Chuck Chaplin, piano.

Next, it was find the street car (which looks like something out of a 1930s movie) and take it to the Garden District for a grueling self-guided walking tour of historic homes…. all of which were spared by Katrina. Built on High Ground they were. After being turned away by the prestigious Commanders Palace Restaurant because Steve was wearing shorts (It’s 110 degrees outside for cryin’ out loud!), we took our macabre mood to Cemetery #1. Ever wonder why all the New Orleans movies show above ground crypts for burial? The water table is so high, the bodies would float. Not good. However, some of these crypts are quite old, with numerous family members enclosed…. And they seem to be falling apart. Also not good. After that cheery visit, we headed back by street car to our hotel to escape the heat and take a nap.

By now, I’m afraid I was becoming quite cranky. I was beginning to feel the change from being with my girlfriends to being with my husband. He’s not a girlfriend. Doesn’t think like one. Doesn’t act like one. Doesn’t read my mind like one. Sigh… Did I mention how hot it was? And that all we

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had had to eat were those Beignets? And then our room had not been cleaned and the maid was still working her way to our room, which meant no nap or shower until she came and left…. Sigh…. I really don’t like myself when I get cranky. I don’t think anyone else likes me either. My dear husband, thank God, still loves me even when I’m cranky. I don’t know why he chooses to, but I’m grateful. I got to apologize, again, and he got to forgive me, again.

We went to dinner at Irene’s which was amazing. If you ever go to New Orleans, eat here. Really. Call ahead and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a reservation. It was a lovely final dinner of our vacation. I wish we could have lingered a bit longer, but we had a date with the blues. Our waiter made sure we got out on time.

Our Blues date was at a place called Snug Harbor. A gallery owner had told us this is the place to go if we really want to hear our music! It’s a bistro, a bar, and a music hall. All in three separate rooms. You pay to go into the music room to hear the music. Yes. They will bring you drinks but they’re not required.

This night it was Spencer Bohren who was playing Steel Lap Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, and Banjo. It was nice. It wasn’t rock your socks off jazz or Creole zydeco music. But it was nice slow blues from a local musician. We enjoyed the show.

We walked back to our hotel. This was our last night before flying home.

Tomorrow – it’s the Ninth Ward and Drive-Thru Daiquiris.

Wednesday in New Orleans – The French Quarter

It has been four days since my last post, and now I’m back home. Steve and I spent two days in New Orleans together. We were pretty busy seeing and doing the whole time, so there was no time to write. Then we had our travel day, and now one day at home recovering. So… here it is. The longer I wait, the more there is to write. WordPress only allows me to display one set of photos per post. So I’ll summarize and break it up into days.

On Wednesday afternoon we checked in to our hotel, took a carriage ride, walked around the French Quarter, and went to Bourbon Street to hear some Jazz. It was HOT and MUGGY. We took loads of photos.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Neither of us had been to New Orleans before, so it was fun to explore the city together. But definitely no time to write.

Next post – Thursday, our one full day in New Orleans.