Monday, May 31, 2010


In 2007 I spent two months studying Spanish in Guatemala. I loved Guatemala and my vocabulary improved although irregular verbs kicked my butt. I met some wonderful people, including a retired American couple who had served as PCV in Guatemala. They were a big factor in my decision to spend my 60th birthday in the Peace Corps.

Last Friday, the Pacaya volcano erupted. Saturday, a tropical storm hit. People died, homes were destroyed and more damage is expected. I sent an email to my friends Mily and Jorge Mario from Escuela de Espanol Cooperacion in Antigua yesterday but haven't gotten a response yet. I'm hoping it's because they're safe at home, without internet access. One thing I'm sure of is that Guatemaltecos are tough and will come through this. I'll be praying that their recovery is swift.

Here are some photos from my time there.

The hills near Antigua are covered with fields of produce. It was tough to come back to the expensive, so-so stuff at Publix after shopping at the mercado every day for locally grown produce sold for pennies.

I became friends with Nino in Santiago de Atitlan. He founded this pre-school and took me there to join the kids in creating special masks for Valentine's Day. They were performing a chicken dance in this shot.

At the mercado in Solola (near Lake Atitlan) many of the men wore traditional dress. The fabric is woven on back-strap looms and hand-embroidered.

Lake Atitlan is in the Guatemalan highlands. There are several villages surrounding the lake. San Antonio Palapo was especially hard hit by the weekend storm, with a number of lives lost.

It is difficult to walk down a street in Antigua and not see a volcano.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Clean Closets Thanks to the Peace Corps

I probably won't get my formal invitation to the PC until July - six weeks out from my departure. That's when I'll know for sure which country I'll be going to. That sounded like a long way away until I realized that it will be June next week. And since it was January yesterday, I figured I'd better get a move on in preparing to leave for 27 months.

I'm planning to have a house sitter while I'm gone and it occurred to me that they might be bringing more than a tooth brush and would need a place to put their stuff. So, the closet/garage cleaning began. It feels good to get rid of stuff that's been lurking in corners, unused and forgotten, for years. It also felt good to use to give the stuff away.

Most of the items I trashed or donated were easy. Old work documents, games I hadn't played in 10 years, etc. But then there were things that were harder to let go of. They had sentimental value. Like photos from the 80's when I had big hair and a small butt. An enormous turkey platter that I've used once in 30 years, but was a gift from someone I love.

After six hours of sweating in the garage yesterday, it was almost done. This morning I went out to sort through the remaining "small stuff", thinking it would be a quick job. It was, right up until I found an old Rubbermaid container that had been shoved into a corner when I moved into this house in 1994.

At first I thought it was just more work stuff and old photos of me without a wattle and bat wing arms, but then I dug a little deeper. It was a treasure chest. Safe in that plastic storage bin was a lifetime of memories. Letters my dad sent my mom while he served in the Pacific in World War II. Pictures of my grandfather who died in 1956. My mom's corsage from her wedding in 1946. Original newspapers, announcing "War is Over", "Man Walks on Moon" and "President Kennedy Assassinated". My Girl Scout sash and report cards from elementary school. A newspaper article about my cousin Cheryl who won an essay contest in 1962 by writing about why she wanted to join the Peace Corps.

I don't need to have the "stuff" to keep the memories I cherish, but it's nice to have. I'll be keeping that box in the garage. The memories and love they represent I'll be taking with me to wherever the PC sends me.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


No new news from the PC, so here are some photos of previous travels. The first shot is from Easter Island (in the Pacific, half way between Chile and Tahiti). The next shots show my favorite mode of transportation. Yes, I'm a geek. The first was taken in the glass elevator at the Hyatt in San Francisco, the second was in front of the White House and the third was in a park in Madrid.

Thanks for those with the interest, patience and time to keep coming back to see what's up.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


My family always opened all of our presents on Christmas Eve. I have a long history of not dealing well with delayed gratification so it's been really hard to not see progress on my Peace Corps application.

Peace Corps applicants can log in to the PC web site to find out what's up with their clearance progress. Mine has shown no progress since March 31. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The exact same thing, every day. And yes, I check it every day. Still on hold for legal clearance and although they had received all my medical paperwork, they hadn't looked at it.

Yesterday I couldn't stand it and decided to bug my wonderful Peace Corps recruiter. She's a former volunteer and works for the PC in Atlanta. The fact that she responded to my email at 7:20 p.m. on a Friday night says a lot about her dedication and work load.

The exciting news is that she's been "following" me. Seems I've cleared legal and they have begun the medical clearance process. Also, seems that my placement hasn't changed, which means I'm on for the Pacific Islands in early September. While my recruiter can't confirm anything, reading between the lines, it looks like I'll be heading to Vanuatu the first week of September. But, because the PC is swamped, I probably won't have confirmation of that until six weeks before I depart.

Which is all good with me. Can't wait. Of course, things could change completely at any time and I could end up in Cameroon or Kazakhstan. Even though I'll have to wait until mid-July to find out for sure where I'm going, at least it feels good to know that my file isn't just gathering dust.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Living Your Dreams

I walked with a friend recently and we talked about people we know who live their dreams and people who postpone them or don't think they're possible.

I'm big on going beyond what feels safe and comfortable to make your dreams come true, even if it feels really scary. One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain:

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

In an earlier post I mentioned my friend Kim who left the corporate world to live her dream of being a singer/songwriter. Good for you, Kim!

Today, I'd like to congratulate another friend who's making her dreams come true. Gail Aldrich "retired" from corporate life, with the dream of making a difference by working on Boards of charitable organizations. She's doing just that. Congratulations to Gail, who was recently elected Vice Chair of AARP. That's a HUGE accomplishment and I'm proud you're my friend. You can read about Gail in this newspaper article

Those are just two women I know who threw off the bowlines and headed into open waters. Neither of their dreams involve living with no electricity or running water. Once again shows I may be a few fries short of a Happy Meal.

A Few Photos

I've been spending way too much of my free time with my laptop, reading every blog written by PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) who are currently in places I might serve. I confess, I always look at the pictures first.

Since I'm still in Lake Mary, with no new exciting photos to share, I figure I'd post some pictures from previous travels. I hope you like 'em. These are all photos taken from my month in the Cook Islands, South Pacific.

One blogger described Tonga as being like "a perpetual screensaver" because it's so beautiful. The Cooks are much the same. Enjoy!

Sunset view from the deck of the small house I rented in Rarotonga.

Vicki, Greg and I spent two days and one night on One Foot Island, a deserted island in the lagoon of Aitutaki. No electricity. An outhouse. Amazing.

Rainbows were a daily occurrence on Rarotonga.

Any questions about why I'm so impatient to get back to a Pacific island?

The Farewell Tour Continues...

I haven't written many posts because there's not a lot new to report. Every few days someone will ask "Have they confirmed where you're going?" and sadly, the answer is always "No." I guess I could post progress each day: "Checked my application status on line. No progress." Scintillating prose.

I figure I'll be patient until June 1 and then give my recruiter in Atlanta a call to see if she can get someone to dust off my app. If they don't get moving soon, I'm concerned that there won't be time to get me medically cleared ( a notoriously long process) to meet the nomination date/sites of early September/Pacific Islands. It feels as if it's been Christmas Eve for months. I'm ready for the anticipation to be over.

So, in the meantime, I enjoyed another road trip. This time, to Tampa, to enjoy a picnic with friends Nan and Pat. We hadn't gotten together for a really long time, plus it was Pat's birthday, so it was a great day. Nan and I both love to cook and try new recipes, so when we picnic there are no hot dogs involved. For the birthday celebration there was a chilled peanut Thai noodle salad, fruit salad and homemade carrot cake, complete with birthday candle.

The view was spectacular, the weather breezy but comfortably cool and the conversation excellent. Lots of reminiscing about the work we did together as well as lots of talk about the futures all of us are planning. Bonus, they're the only people I've found so far who are willing to try Zoom Air with me. Pat had foot surgery the day after our picnic, so she won't be able to give it a try for awhile, but we'll make it happen.

The next stop on the tour is Detroit. I'm hoping that I'm there the weekend they have summer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Farewell Tour Begins!

Some might say that a farewell tour is a tad premature, given that the Peace Corps still hasn't told me exactly where or when I'm going. But hey, any excuse for hitting the road. The "tour" is my way of enjoying places and people special to me as I get ready to move on to a new chapter.

I didn't have to go far for the first stop on my "tour". I just drove down I-4 to Winter Park where my friend Kim Cameron was performing with her band. She actually was on a real tour and luckily for me was performing at a couple of Orlando venues. I love her music and meeting the band was great. Next time, guys - pool party at my house! Am I too old to be a groupie? Can I get a backstage pass? AARP discount?

Kim and I worked as contractors together in the corporate world. Now we're both living our dreams. She's writing music, performing, touring and doing interviews and photo shoots. I'm doing deep knee bends to prepare for a squatty potty. Clearly, Kim is the brighter woman.

It was great to see you, Kim, and I'll be listening to your music, wherever I am. Check out Kim and the band. Talented people, doing what they love.

Next stop on the farewell tour was Tucson, Arizona. We moved to Tucson when I was five and it was the family home until my dad died in 1995. In my heart, it will always be home, no matter where I live.

The week was filled with friends, cousins and Mexican food. Not just any Mexican food, mind you, but Tucson Mexican food. My soul food.

Years ago, friends in Michigan and I debated over which kind of stuffing/dressing was the best for Thanksgiving. It didn't take us long to figure out that what was best was what you grew up with. It has nothing to do with the recipe or the quality of the cook. It's all about the comfort and memories.

Same deal with Mexican food, for me. Sure, I love a good Oaxacan mole, but give me a cheese crisp (with chiles, please), a cheese enchilada and a green corn tamale and I'm transported to a special place. It gets even better...all over Tucson are drive-thru mom and pop joints that are open 24 hours. And don't even get me started on the taco trucks.

Yes, I ate Mexican food for every meal except one. For a week. Richard Simmons just called. He's concerned.

Tucson itself is beautiful. The mountains that surround the city are constantly changing with the clouds and light. It was spring, so the desert was in bloom. Not the in-your-face kind of spring that I experienced living in Michigan. Michigan spring is like a herd of hookers on a Saturday night. Hard to miss with all that spandex and bling. Spring in the desert is more like Audrey Hepburn. Understated. Stunning but not flashy.

The best part of this stop on the "tour" was the people. Aletha and David rearranged their schedules so we could spend as much time as possible together. They also generously had 3 beautiful children so that I could visit them in 2010 and be reminded that I'm older than dirt. How can the "babies" now be so grown-up and successful?

By the way, with all the great Mexican restaurants in Tucson, the best enchiladas are the ones that David makes. Green or red? Can't decide - must have both!

John drove all the way from Albuquerque, through a horrible sand storm that caused the closing of the freeway. I'm glad he made it because it was great to spend time together. He also has created the perfect Margarita recipe. Really, perfect. I think it's the agave syrup. Or the touch of fresh orange juice.

Candy, Christy, Markie and Terre - thanks for trekking from Yuma and Prescott! Spending time at Casa Molina, talking about all the great times we had together as kids was fantastic. Nice that the Munkies are still such a close, happy family. Bummer that we weren't able to fit in the egg salad sandwiches, canasta and a stroll to Sabino Canyon. Thanks for lunch, Mark, and for getting up before the sun to make the drive!

Christy, thank you so much for bringing the photos, letters and telegrams. Wonderful family memories that I'll treasure. There's a certain irony in reading the telegrams from my dad that he was on his way back from the war in the Pacific, when I'm heading out to the same area, on a more peaceful mission.

The first sound I heard when I parked the rental car at the hotel was the doves. A sound my mom loved. She'd sit on the patio for hours, listening to the doves. So, it was a tiny bit ironic that when I was getting settled in the car to head back to the airport, I realized that I had a new hood ornament. A dove, sitting squarely in the center of the hood, staring at me. She didn't move when I turned on the engine. Didn't move when I backed up. Stayed firmly in place as I drove through the parking lot, flapping a bit, to keep her position. Staring the entire time. I finally stopped the car and she flew off as I got out of the car.

Nice that the dove made me think about my mom as I was leaving town. I know that the people we love are always with us. But sometimes a reminder helps. Which is why I now have ten pounds of green corn tamales stashed in my freezer.