Archive Page 2


We are off the grid – really off the grid, even the cellphone doesn’t allows us to check in to our digital devices. This is rural Maine. We are in a new vacation place. It is nearly twice the distance from our house as Camelot, the cottage we used to rent on Southport island. Now it took us about 5 hours instead of two and a half.

We had outgrown Camelot where Faro has to sleep in a tent on the porch, Saffi in a closet and Tessa and Steve and the dogs in a tent on the lawn.  Now everyone has their own bedroom and the children have their own bunkbed and a door we can close.  We also have two large dining tables, and a well equipped kitchen.

A steep path runs down to a private pebble beach that is perfect for the kids – for Faro because of the big crabs that live there and for Saffi because the water is shallow and the pebbles are small.

Axel is wearing an orthopedic boot because he sprained a tendon in his foot. He claims it is because of the overextension of his foot as he meditated, kneeling on the small meditation stool he had made for me years ago (and which I cannot use  anymore because of my fused ankle). A walk into town on flip-flops appears to have made things worse and now he is in a boot. As a result he cannot go down the steep path and has to be ferried in Tessa’s canoe from a landing nearby. But all this doesn’t damp the fun of being together for a week on the beautiful Maine coast.


Faro’s ‘Opanoma’ vacation has come and gone. Opa and Oma are our grandparents names – to distinguish us from the other two sets of grandparents he has (Grammi and pep in Beverly and Gramps and Amma I Manchester). 

Faro was delivered to us the Saturday before camp and stayed behind when dad and sister left on Sunday afternoon to return home. He was a little sad the next morning.

We did what grandparents do: we spoiled him, somewhat to the dismay of his parents who disapproved mostly in the food department. 

We quickly slide into our roles for the week: Axel was responsible for stories and beach activities, I ran the breakfast and lunch department. We shared the drop off and pick up to and from the Audubon camp in Ipswich. Let year Axel was responsible for nearly everything when I was still employed. I had a new appreciation for how much work was involved in creating a successful into ‘Opanoma’ vacation. 

Breakfast and lunch always included something chocolate (chocolate milk, hagelslag (a Dutch invention), and a dollop of chocolate whipped cream from a can on top of the pancake or waffle. Every morning I prepared (from scratch) at least a pint of chocolate milk. During story time Faro had learned about the concept of ‘counterfeit,’ from a Hardy brothers adventure Axel read to him before bedtime. After inspecting the milk, and after a thumbs up that it was not counterfeit, I poured the chocolate milk into the Roy Rogers thermos that fit neatly into Opa’s, somewhat rusted, Roy Rogers lunchbox.

After camp pick up Faro quickly changed into beach gear and rushed off with his water wings and snorkel to check on the crabs, unless there was another activity, such as the pretend Beatles concert in Masconomo park. I would not be surprised if Faro knew more about the Beatles than any of the teenagers. He knew songs we didn’t even know. An ice-cream (M&M) was unavoidable, what with the ice cream story right there. Two days later we went to another concert on Castle Hill in Ipswich where we met up with friends, another opa and oma and their daughter, son in law and two grandchildren.

On the other nights we watched Shaun the Sheep’s naughty adventures, a claymation movie, which gets Far in stitches, no matter how often he has seen it. After that sleep came quickly.

In the center

After a last swim in our hosts’ swimming pool, we made a visit to a Korean/Asian section of San Diego, had a pho lunch and explored the large Korean supermarket. Then it was time for goodbye and we ‘lyfted’ our way into the center of things yesterday. It was good we were in the suburbs while the big ComicCon (conference) was going on with hundreds of thousands of people who had flown in to enjoy/see and be merchandised all things comic (popular arts according to the banners on the streetlamps). 

The Lyft and Uber people were having a field day even though the electric scooters and bikes  were competing with their business and became a bit of a traffic hazard. Our Lyft drivers have been great – we learned about the Chaldeans from Iraq (“why would I ever wanted to go back there?”), the conference from Dani who seemed to be half Vietnamese half Filipino (we didn’t ask), we dragged up our Lebanese and sang along with a Fairouz song with Mike Mohammed, our Palestinian driver who grew up in Lebanon. Why would one ever want to rent a car (in a city), when all these great characters are there to converse with?

We ambled along the curving paths in the Japanese Friendship garden of Balbao Park, Axel with his cane and me with my sore ankle, we made a sorry pair – elderly some would say, ughh. Befitting this label we went for the early bird dinner at the Fishmarket restaurant right at the harbor where we sampled and compared east coast and west coast oysters. After a coffee and gelato in Little Italy we had a superb foot massage around the corner of our hotel to tend to our sore feet. 

And now I am having a seaweed (picked up at the Korean market), dark chocolate and coffee breakfast in our spacious downtown hotel room while Axel completes his sleep. I am attending a refresher session of the zoom-delivered C-IQ training on how to ‘humanize’ conversations. If I get one of the gigs I am hoping to get in early September, facilitating a meeting with several very highly placed people from different walks of life, I have to know how to do this and so a refresher is in order.

Shooting the breeze on a mountain top

We are staying with the daughter and son in law of a dear longtime friend who is hosting our reunion in San Diego. The house has a pool that covers the entire backyard. We are warmly welcomed and take a daily dip in the grand pool. The temperature of both air and pool is perfect – the latter a far cry from the glacial waters of Lobster Cove.

We drove up into the mountains to visit our host’s friends from their Peacecorps days in Ghana. When they returned from Ghana they bought a mountain and started an avocado farm that now produces 100s of thousands of avocados each year. They flattened the top of the mountain and built a dream house with 360 degree views, an enormous veranda with a pool, a hot tub and shaded places to eat and far niente.

All 10 of us descended on the place and were warmly welcomed as if old friends all of us. It was a case of my friends are your friends. We the wonderful Mexican food we picked up along the way, and sat around the table telling stories, serious and silly. We learned a bit about avocado farming and farm help and unavoidably drifted into immigration issues without getting too much into current affairs and our perpetrator in chief (PIC) as he who shall not be named is referred to by some. After that it was pool time, and stretching out in sun and the dry mountain air.

We returned to our various lodging places, tried out a fast food fish taco place in Rancho Bernardino where the tacos were delicious and the beer was cheap. En passant we bought a case of various summer wines to accompany our home cooked Moroccan dinner tonight that will precede the AGM – the official reason for our trip to SD. And today, apart from giving a helping hand to the cook, we are free and taking a trip to La Jolla.


Last Monday, after a busy morning of working on various tasks of Sylvia Inc. I went on a shopping spree at the mall. I used to work from home on Mondays and couldn’t shake the belief that I was playing hooky. I have gotten used to not having to get up early in the morning, but I haven’t gotten used to not having to be at my desk – and since I had been most of the time, it felt wrong to be going to the mall doing working hours. I still have to shed that part of my past life. 

Axel returned from a week in Seattle on the red eye. Within 24 hours he was back on the plane, this time with me, to the west coast for a week vacation in San Diego. I was so ready for a vacation after a week of nearly 8 hour work days.  For he first time ever I used my free companion ticket, compliments of American Express. We got upgraded to first class on the first leg of our trip, to Salt Lake City, and are still in good seats for the second part. 

We are off to the now annual Zugsmith reunion – for the first time on the other coast. Most of us are now retired and can afford to fly to faraway places, if not because of a good retirement arrangement, then at least because of all the miles we have all flown over the years during our international development careers. The ZS Society, as we refer to ourselves, consists of a group of colleagues who started working at the same place more than 35 years ago. I was only there for 8 months, but others for their entire career; some of them switched to MSH and we were reunited again, there went on to other organizations, but we all stayed in touch. 

For a brief moment each year we come together for the Annual General Assembly, the AGM, of our society and act as if we are decades younger – we are silly, talk silly, make up stuff, and enjoy each others’ loving and laughing company. It is a most wonderful group of people and worth getting up at 3:15AM for to catch our early flight west.

Free as a barn swallow

I wrote on my Skype profile: free as a bird at Lobster Cove. But this week I have been all but free as a bird – and only took my meals overlooking Lobster Cove. For the rest I was chugging away at tasks that other organizations have specialists for: drawing up contracts, writing proposals, getting a business certificate, opening a bank account, managing my retirement funds, organizing receipts and invoicing, checking the new business cards, populating my website, learning new software, organizing my calendar for next week, cleaning my inbox, and organizing my thoughts about work done in Chapel Hill last week. This is the new reality of Sylvia Inc.

Someone said, maybe you should go back to work – but I couldn’t, even if I was offered a position. I am now in a universe that is so much bigger and grander than the universe of my last 32 years. If I was a medium sized fish in a small pond, I am now swimming in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans – a little minnow, seeing all the stuff that is going on, the work that is needed… the possibilities are endless.

Now, taking my lunch at my favorite spot overlooking the water, three little barn swallows are showing me what it really means to be free as a bird. It is as if they have come to remind me, or maybe teach me something about freedom. 

I watch them as they perform their acrobatics – high up, swooping down, circling back, but always doing this right in front of me. Of all the space they could use they remain right in front of me. They are joyful little creatures. If they do this because their dinner is also doing acrobatics, these insects must be tiny as there are none to be seen from my vantage point, and it is hot, the middle of the day, when most of the insects are quiet. So, joyfulness it is.

They remind me of the aerobatics I have seen pilots do in their single propeller planes: going straight up until they stall and then spiraling back down to earth. At one time I had some desire to learn how to do that but the crash put an end to those aspirations.

And then, just as suddenly as they appeared they are gone. It is as if they know the lesson has been received and written down. Free as a bird requires some luck (which I have and have had), some intention, and discipline and an occasional reminder from the gurus, human or animal.

Incidentally, and probably not coincidentally with all these thoughts about flying, today it is exactly 11 yeas ago that we fell out of the sky, and lived to tell the story. Maybe that is what the barn swallows were celebrating – life itself!

…and still…

This morning I listed to a podcast (On Being) during which Krista Tippett interviewed Lyndsey Stonebridge, a British literary historian who has immersed herself in the works of Hannah Arendt. Arendt was a German-born politic theorist and philosopher who lived thirteen years as a stateless person, not wanted anywhere until she became an American citizen in 1950. Her books (The banality of Evil, The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition among others) have practically risen to bestseller status with the changes of the political landscapes around the world.

One phrase from the interview resonated deeply with me as they talked about bridging divides in worldview. The phrase is an antidote to the general lamenting that is either dominating the news or triggered by the news (in any form). That phrase is: “…and still…”. It is a poetic line, probably used in many poems, but I see its usefulness in daily life. First of all, in my own daily life, as in “My position at my longtime employer has been terminated…and still…there is work for me to be done.”  And then there are the bombs in Afghanistan, exploding regularly, and still, there are activists and there is good work being done, and people shop and go to the market and celebrate whatever blessings come their way. 

It is a useful sentence to spin people’s attention away from all the dark and evil and hopelessness that the media present us with, or maybe the dynamics in our family, our team, our organization…and still, something has life in it, people have, something is trying to alter things, people are, trying to bring the world back into balance in a million small ways.

A related idea, coined by Arendt, is  the“talking across banisters.” I had an encounter where I could have, but did not, talk across the bannister. It is an experience that keeps haunting me. I had all my buttons pressed by this other person (of course I was the one carrying all those buttons that beckoned ‘push me, push me!)  I lost my good self in a defense/attack routine that I am still ashamed off. I have come to realize since then that I let the limbic part of the brain take control away from my reasonable self (the prefrontal cortex). I went into that  the part that decides in milliseconds that the other is friend or foe, and, as scripted over many millennia, entered into a useless verbal fight. Ughh…and still…

September 2018
« Aug    


Blog Stats

  • 122,354 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 67 other followers