Friday, May 30, 2008

Thanks, Brother-of-mine

When I was 48, I had a revelation. It came about when I watched the interaction between my ten-year-old daughter and her eight-year-old brother. One day, as she tried to get this laid-back, happy-go-lucky boy to march to the beat she was insistently drumming, I realized this was a mirror of my childhood relationship with my brother. The one difference was that I was the younger sibling.

The next time my brother came to visit, I shared this with him. “I didn’t realize,” I confessed, “how I used to try to run your life.” His reply? “What do you mean, used to?”

Having a revelation and changing one’s ways are two different things. I haven’t quit trying to run his life, I am just aware that I’m doing it. All this makes it no surprise that, when I first hatched the idea for a family history blog, I gave the assignment to my brother. “Put up a blog,” I commanded.

After a minimum of dissent, he capitulated, and one day I got an email notice to contribute to Ronnie and Tootie Remember.

I still go by that ridiculous nickname to family and close friends, but I haven’t spelled it that way for over 25 years. When I was about forty, I decided that, as a future senior citizen, the name Tootie wouldn’t go with gray hair and brittle bones, so I changed the spelling to Tudy. Like Judy, but with a T. If I had set up the blog, I would have named it something different, but I hadn’t delegated with the caveat that I get to name the blog, so the name he gave it stands.

All that aside, after receiving the notice that the blog was up, I checked it often, and each time, I’d find a nugget of family history: an old family picture with a short narrative of what my brother remembered about it. Some of the things he got wrong, but with the comment function, I was able to make corrections or add another perspective. I got my scanner up and going so I could contribute, too.

The pictures we’ve posted on the blog are ones from mother’s picture trunk. She was always going to write who, what, when, and where on the back of each so they wouldn’t tumble into anonymity after she was gone. Even though she had a long notice of her impending death, she never got around to it. I was determined not to let that happen again; hence my order to my brother: make a blog so we can get this done. In saluting and doing so, he has done a profound service to the whole family.

Thanks, Ron. Your kids and mine may not visit very often, but because of you, it’s there for when their hearts start to turn to family history.

Return to Neighborhood

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lessons Learned at the Family Campout

The Adair Clan welcomes every summer at our annual Memorial Day Campout (also called the Annual Memorial Day Deluge) and say farewell at our yearly Labor Day Campout (sometimes also called the Labor Day Deluge). We live in Northwest Washington State. What can I say? If you’re going to have all that green, you’re going to have to learn to go camping in the rain.

Memorial Day we spend at the Church property on the Stillaguamish River. The reason we camp there is because of the 25’ by 45’ covered area on the lower campground, an early addition as they started developing the property.

It’s been fun to watch the property change each year. This year they’ve added tent-cabins, showers, flush toilets, and a COPE course. COPE stands for Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience. It’s kind of like an obstacle course, but it does more than challenge the individual. It’s designed to teach leadership skills, teamwork, confidence, trust, and self esteem.

For part of the weekend, we were the only group there, and we took the opportunity to go as a family up to the COPE course. The dads and kids formed a team, and moms, grandparents and toddlers watched and cheered. There were several “electrically charged” obstacles the team had to get through: one looked like a giant cat’s cradle and the other was a tire suspended between two poles. If you touched any of the web or the tire, you were dead, and so the team had to keep everyone safe. Another challenge was a log suspended about ten feet off the ground that everyone had to get over. There was also a balance beam set in the midst of a ‘lava pit’ that people had to get across, half from one end and half from the other, all at the same time.

The team consisted of kids, ages 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, and two fairly young dads. They were (to me) surprisingly successful, and as we sat around the campfire afterward, I asked each what he or she learned. Here’s what they said:

Kjaisa: I learned teamwork. The strong helped the weak.

Corey: Don’t give up.

Jens: Some things are dangerous. Kids can get hurt. They let the little ones do easy stuff.

Lucy: The older ones watched out for the kids and kept them safe because they care about us.

Terry: Sometimes it has to be uncomfortable for you in order for someone else to succeed.

Matt: If someone sees someone else do something, they believe they can. We gain strength from others’ successes.

Vaughn: My oldest brother was a big asset to us in finishing the course.

Kjiersten (age 3): My dad does funny things.

Rich: Always go for the photo op.

Morgan: Never give up.

Grandpa (Spectator): Cooperation is what made it work.

Leesie: How to do stuff alone.

Ruth (spectator): I saw endurance and creativity.

Addy: Everything is how you think it is. You can do something if your mind tells you you can.

Lizzy: You have to trust each other and help each other.

I was amazed at the insights even the youngest gained from going through that exercise. Kjiersten, who just saw her dad doing funny things, didn’t participate. But, her sister, Lucy, three years older, did, and she understood that cooperation--the strong helping the weak, the creative coming up with workable plans--is what made them successful. That’s a pretty good lesson to learn at age six.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ateer Teaches Clay about Perspective

If you read my last posting, you know my son Clay is in Cairo. He's been there all school year studying Arabic at the American University of Cairo.
I asked him to be a guest blogger today.
Clay writes:
A few weeks ago I had one of those good lessons that teaches about the important things in life and how attitude really can make all the difference.

A friend and I were invited to teach an English language conversation class at a local NGO (non-governmental agency) here in Cairo, Egypt. Our class consisted of 18- to 40-year-old men, all Sudanese refugees. After slight hesitation, we accepted and began to be excited about the project.

Based upon my interactions, I have to say that the Sudanese are a wonderful, friendly and loving people. I fell into a friendship with one of our students in particular, a young man named Ateer. We would stay after class and talk, giving him extra time with a native speaking teacher to improve his abilities.

On one occasion, Ateer asked me if I played soccer and if I trained. I replied that I do not play soccer, but that I do train sometimes. He invited me to go and train with him some day; I accepted, and we set a date. I was only slightly concerned by the fact that I hadn't run in about a month. We met up early on the set morning and headed to his normal training field.

That morning I learned several things about Ateer. I learned that he came to Cairo three years ago as a refugee and that he is originally from Darfur, the area in west Sudan we know all too well from the news. I also learned that, after losing his parents and other family to conflict at eight years old, he had spent his time in camps and then came Cairo on refugee status. Now at eighteen years old, he lives here in Cairo with friends.

Our conversation moved on to other topics and, after getting to the field, we started running. Somewhere in the course of the run and conversation—I think we were talking about books—Ateer made a passing comment. He said, "You know, Clay, I am happy. Life is good. I could complain if I wanted to, but that wouldn't get me anywhere. I choose to be happy, and I do things that make me happy, like read, go to school, train, and be with friends like you."

Ateer hadn't told me this in response to my questions about his refugee status; it came up in the natural course of our conversation. I've thought about it a lot since then. My year in the Middle East hasn't been the easiest. In fact, in a few ways it's been rather difficult, and as I try to figure things out as far as what to do with my life career-wise, I often get frustrated. My friend Ateer taught me a good lesson about perspective and about how the way we look at, interpret, and label the events in our lives has a direct effect on our happiness.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Whitney Shares a Poem

I’d like to introduce you to Whitney. Whitney has been living and working in Cairo, Egypt since last September and has become good friends with my son Clay. (She's easy to spot--the only girl in the picture.) I asked both of them to write about an experience they had teaching English to a class of Sudanese refugees at St. Andrews Church in Cairo. I’m posting Whitney’s article first, edited to meet a length constraint.

She writes:

My first time to St. Andrews, I was new to Cairo, didn't speak the language, and was in full-throttle culture shock. As I sat down for my first tutoring session, I realized that I would be working with fellow ex-patriots, with two major differences – they did not choose to leave their country, and they’re unable to return to their homeland.

I sat in the small library and conversed with students for an hour and a half in about 15 minute intervals, so they could have the chance to practice their English with a native speaker. Through these conversations, I slowly learned about their interests, desires and dreams. One student in particular found a special place in my heart, and I'll never forget his name due to the irony of it. He is as black as obsidian, and his name is Albino. He told me that he chose his name, because it is Italian, and he loves Italian art.

I had tutored at the school for a few weeks before offering to take on a class the following semester, team teaching with Clay. We planned a basic outline with the main goal of getting the students to speak as much as possible. I remember feeling overwhelmed before we started our first lesson, but these were strong men, eager to learn and excited to see two native speakers teaching beginners. (Beginning conversation classes rarely get native speakers.)

Their humility and bold attempts to master a new language gave me confidence, but a questionnaire to introduce themselves to the rest of the class fell flat. It would have worked for westerners, but quite a few of the students didn’t know their actual birth date or what their favorite candy was – most of the students had never heard of the word "candy."

Their true interests became apparent in our discussions or presentations. We saw pride when they described their country of Sudan; longing when they talked about family, celebrations and foods that they miss; or mischief as they accused each other of cheating when playing games. The ease with which our students laughed always left me feeling energized and lifted – buoyed by their presence.

Here's a poem written by my friend Albino–I thought you might enjoy it.

The key and the doors:
By Albino Yei

When someone says to you,
I love you.
It doesn't mean that's the end.
It means he gave you the key of his heart.
And then you have to open his heart to see what is inside.
It could be the door of salvation or the door of hell.
There are no colors in the human heart.
There is only the light side and the dark side.
Close your eyes and follow your heart.
Knock on every door.
I promise you.
One day you will find the door that takes you to paradise.
Love always comes at the wrong time and in the wrong place.
And breaks our heart without reason.
Give people your heart's key.
You can't always take theirs.
See like an artist.
Because an artist sees from the heart and the mind.
Give people chances.
The key for life is love.
If you don't love the life.
Life will never welcome you.
Believe in love.
Sacrifice for the life.
Life is a beautiful thing,
And we shouldn't miss it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Service, and All That Jazz

It may seem strange to write about a jazz band on a blog about service, but hear me out.

I first heard Blue Street Jazz Band at Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. When we got there, we didn’t know there was a festival going on, but we met an acquaintance as he was hurrying off the ferry with a clarinet case in his hand. Blue Street had just lost their reed man and he was sitting in. This acquaintance had played with a lot of traditional—some call it Dixieland—jazz groups and was used to the wholesale improvisation that makes traditional jazz such a dynamic art form. But, he said, Blue Street was way out of his league, and we really needed to give them a listen. We did, and my husband, Derrill, and I became instant Blue Street groupies.

After that, we started attending one or two jazz festivals each year, always checking Blue Street’s web site to make sure they were playing. Coos Bay was when I really got the full measure of Blue Street. I already knew that the leader, Dave Ruffner, and two of the other members were music educators. I knew that they had an incubator in the Fresno schools for young jazz musicians and gave lots of hours outside of school time to this endeavor. I knew that they were unabashedly Christian and always insisted on doing a gospel set on Sunday morning. But that evening in Coos Bay blew me away.

Usually there are two or three bandstands where groups play simultaneously—separated by as much real estate as possible so the sound doesn’t overlap. One of the venues that night was a high school gymnasium, and Derrill and I took the shuttle over to hear the last half of the set just before Blue Street, thinking that we could grab good seats during the changeover.

When we arrived, we found the gym practically empty. There might have been a dozen people in the audience, and although the band was still playing, it was obvious they had given up. If the saints were marching in, they were wearing Velcro boots. By the time the band was through with the set, I had tired blood.

The numbers didn’t increase when Blue Street took the stage, but the enthusiasm level ratcheted up about twenty notches. It didn’t matter that we were only twelve, they played as if we were a roomful, and what a show they put on!

The reason I write about this is because it happened again, just last weekend, at the jazz festival in Chilliwack, B.C. The last set in the Cajun Cabin was about as sparsely attended as that one in Coos Bay, but Blue Street used the occasion to come down among us and put on a less formal, but just as energetic and enthusiastic, show. “What d’ya want to hear?” Dave would yell. Someone would shout out a song, and off they would go.

They didn’t quit early because numbers were few. In fact, they played over, since there was no band following. They made us feel like friends, and if that’s not service, I don’t know what is.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mother's Spirit of Service

My mother died in 1988 at the age of 72. Since Mother’s day is this Sunday, I thought I’d write about how she taught me about service.

Mother was a great conversationalist and a spellbinding storyteller. She was careful to teach me the little unwritten social ‘dos’ of the mid-twentieth century: never wear blue and green together, no white shoes between September and May, don't eat the lettuce garnish under the chicken salad. And, when my brother or I had been disobedient or sassy, she could give a tongue lashing that would flay the soul and make us vow NEVER to do that again. You would think that with those verbal skills, she would have explained to me that service is a necessary part of living, but I don’t remember her ever saying anything about it.

What I do remember is the procession of people in need that she brought home to stay with us. We were living in Page, Arizona at the time, and she was office manager of the hospital. Page was brand new, built to house the people who worked on Glen Canyon Dam. It was eighty miles on a two-lane highway to the nearest town to the north and a hundred thirty-five miles to the nearest one to the south. With no local motel, when there was a car accident and someone ended up in the hospital, the rest of the family came to our home and stayed until they were well enough and had transportation to leave. We made some really good friends that way.

At Christmas time, Mother would find a child that needed clothes and spend the month of December making sure that child had a new outfit from the skin out. She called it ‘dressing a living doll.’

She and Dad went to Afghanistan in 1965, and while there she worked for the Agency for International Development (AID) managing a small hotel and restaurant that catered to the American contingent and visiting diplomats. She had fifteen Afghan men that worked for her, and she became very involved in their lives. In her letters home, I could see the same pattern of her reaching out to the less fortunate. I don’t have room here to recount some of her stories, but you can click here
and scroll down to the March 10th entry about the Big Time Contractor to hear her tell how she reached out to a ragged little boy.

Mother and Dad came home in 1970, and I remember the day we got the news about Russia invading Afghanistan. The color drained from her face, and she whispered, “Those Russians don’t know what they’re in for. The Afghans are a fierce people, and they will never give up.” She worried about ‘her boys’ and prayed for them for the rest of her life.

When she was in her late sixties, she read in the paper about how the county was needing volunteers to help senior citizens be able to stay in their homes, so she signed up to drive halfway across the county and clean an elderly lady’s home. She and my father made the weekly jaunt, and after he died, she went and did the chores alone until the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma she was fighting got the upper hand, and she had to quit.

Her spirit of service lives on in our family in an interesting way. But that’s a story for another day.

Return to the Neighborhood

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bloggin' on Service

How many different meanings of the word service can you name?

I’ve been thinking about that ever since Candace Salima asked me to blog a couple times a week on that subject. In ruminating about it, I’d mentally pronounce the word, let it hang, and see what came to mind. Here are a few things I came up with:

Service . . . station. I remember service stations when you really got service—or got annoyed. If no one came out promptly to pump your gas, or if he simply filled the tank and didn't wash the windows and check your oil and tires, it could blight your day. I may write one day about the transition to self-serve and what that means in the grand scheme of things.

Service . . . sector. It’s really wonderful what you can hire another person to do for you if you have the money and are so inclined. You can hire someone to do your taxes, cook your dinner in your own home, clean your house, walk your dog, or cut your toenails. I’m sure there are lots of things out there that people have hired done that are unusual or even jaw-droppingly off- the-wall. When I learn about them, you can bet I’ll share them here.

Service . . . project. I love a service project! It’s an efficient way to promote bonding while doing good at the same time. I’ve participated in some well done youth projects and have been the target of both well done projects and disasters. Maybe together we can share some ideas about how to organize an effective service project.

Service . . . entrance. I know about service entrances, as I had a small specialty wholesale bakery once, and was accustomed to using that particular door when I delivered my wares. I’d like to write about how exciting a concept a service entrance is and why I think so.

There are lots of other ways the word service has slipped into our language. We talk about a funeral service and about compassionate service, often speaking about two different things happening at the same place and time. When someone joins the army, we say they are going into the service. These are all solemn, weighty uses of the word, and I think each could bear considering.

I’d also like to explore the idea that some people have that in order to ‘count’, service to our fellow beings needs to be inconvenient. Can service be easy? Can it be effortless?

And I’d like to write about all the ways we can serve without really realizing we are doing so, like being a well-mannered member of an audience. Having just had an experience in a handbell concert where my neighbor was a talker, I have lots to say on that subject. However, I will save it for another day.

When I was a young woman, it was my goal to have service for twelve of a particular china pattern in my hope chest. I’d like to write about my perception of how the preparation for and expectation of marriage has changed over the years for young women. Service for twelve might not even be on the list, any more.

I think there will be no end of things to write about under the heading of service. If you’ve got something to suggest, I’d love to hear it.

Return to the Neighborhood

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Moved Over From My Other Blog...

Rocks with Pizzazz

I have been thinking about fossils lately, though I don’t know why. When we had our boat, we used to motor over to Sucia Island (ta-pocketa- pocketa) and anchor in Fossil Bay. Looking at all the gray hair on the people who owned the large, luxurious boats floating around us, we decided they named it Fossil Bay for the age of the visitors, not for any prehistoric, petrified skeletons encased in the rocks of the cliffs. Admittedly, it takes one to know one, and though our boat was small and modest, we could have been classed as old fossils.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about the rock kind of fossils, the kind I used to find daily in the creek bank when I was eight. We were living in Wyoming, waaaaaay out on a dirt road in a contractor’s camp—a kind of a tent village—at a place called Muddy Creek. That area is now covered by Boysen Reservoir, and much as I would like to, in this case it’s really true that you can’t go back. At least, not unless I don scuba gear.

But back to the fossils. I can still remember the gritty feel of a rock in my hand and the wonder I felt as I watched it split in two along a plane to reveal what had been embedded there eons ago: a leaf or an ammonite or a tiny fish. I had no idea what a singular privilege it was to let sunlight shine on something that had been hidden for—I can’t even say how many years. Hundreds of thousands? Millions?

Now, sixty years later, as Family Social Director for a dwindling number of participants (only two now, Derrill and me), I thought it might be fun to go fossil hunting. We have lately started bringing rocks back from trips, and fossils would be rocks with pizzazz. With that in mind and a long weekend to plan, I started to look for a place relatively close where we could find some fossils and dig them ourselves rather than stand behind a fence and have people point out fossils that had already been dug. (Is thinking that way earth-unfriendly? Is that blasphemy, remembering that this is earth week?)

I did a lot of searching on the internet, and came up with a place in Republic, WA where there are fossil beds set up so you can dig on your own, with constraints. You have to report to the foundation that owns the beds what you have found and give up any unique specimens that have scientific value, but I think that’s all right. That makes it less ugly-eco-Americanish and more help-the-fund-of-knowledgeish.

It also makes me appreciate the wonderfully free hands-on experience of my childhood. This time around I’ll be more creaky, I know, climbing around the rocks and trying to get up after kneeling in the dirt, but I have an idea the sense of wonder will be the same. And this time, I’ll understand the privilege of letting in the sunshine.

I Have Conquered the Blog Set-up!

By Liz Adair

Since my son-in-law Rich couldn't do this for me, and with a deadline looming, I did it myself. Now let's see if it really worked.