Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Moving Experience


My husband is driving a twenty-six foot moving van towing a sixteen-foot trailer on grueling nine hundred mile journey from California’s Santa Cruz Mountains to Bainbridge Island, Washington.  His cousin has been sharing the driving, and a family friend kindly volunteered to drive my mini-van, towing our outboard motor boat, which is doubling as a trailer, hauling our thousands of Christmas lights.  Our heavy trucks have only been able to drive the mountain passes at thirty to forty miles an hour, making the estimated sixteen hours of driving closer to twenty-six.

This is our first cross-county (up-country) move.  We are native Californian’s, possibly even na├»ve Californians, thinking we could easily pack up our stuff and go.  It hasn’t been easy.  It’s been time and thought consuming, a test of creative thinking.  Our move was a domino that required us to finish moving my mother-in-law’s things from our property, which meant my husband had to build a storage area under his sister’s house.  Our move also meant finding a place for my sister, who has been living with us, and will remain in California.  We decided to move her into a fifth wheel on property we already own.  This meant asking a current tenant to move his trailer. Now he has to decide whether to remain in the area and work, or retire to Texas where he is buying a home.  His adult son who has been working with him will need to find different work.  And so it goes.  I know we aren’t responsible for everyone else’s circumstances or happiness, but I recognize the very changes we are embracing are causing changes for others that they didn’t necessarily choose. 

Clearly we aren’t pioneers, but like pioneers, we’re leaving behind family, community, and the familiar, and doing it ourselves––packing, navigating, building (remodeling) a home, with livestock (ok, three cats) in tow, and by in tow, I mean tucked under our seats on Southwest Airlines in two days.  Speaking of wrangling our cats, who must endure a ninety minute drive to the airport, check-in at the ticket counter, security, and a two hour flight, before Kevin meets us outside of baggage claim with a litter box, I have squirreled away a drink coupon and am going to order rum with my complimentary Coke midflight. I’m sure some pioneers swigged from the whiskey jug after a particularly perilous river crossing.


We, especially my husband Kevin, are do-it-yourselfers.  There was a moment when we thought he’d get a job offer before our move that would include a relocation package and we imagined professional movers transporting our possessions for us.  But how would we survive for the ten days the POD company toted and barged our beds, pots, pans, litter box?  Or even the three days United Van Lines estimated.  And how would they know what to toss, donate, recycle?  I didn’t want to transport every item we owned.  I did a lot of downsizing when we listed our house, but I hadn’t finished.  Wouldn’t it be easier for us to pack everything?  And if we packed it, why not load and drive it? 

The job offer hasn’t come—the hiring manager is travelling internationally and then vacationing for the holidays, so we were freed to follow our natural bent.  We rented a truck, bought boxes and packing materials.  I spent sixteen days sorting and packing and with lots of help, two days loading our vehicles.  We followed the rules––leaving behind our potted roses, fertilizers, solvents, paint, propane, and everything else on the Do Not Move list. 

Given the cost of gas, two nights lodging, and return plane tickets for our auxiliary drivers, and being hassled at a truck stop for not parking properly and not being a proper truck, I don’t know if moving ourselves was worth it.  But at this point, our decision is water under the bridge on the Columbia River––which Kevin just drove over.  In a few weeks, once he’s moved my sister, he’ll have to repeat the drive with his pickup truck hauling a rented trailer filled with our patio furniture and the many items I’ve discovered in cabinets I overlooked.

I do know that moving ourselves has given us something that hiring professionals has not––stories.  My husband has his hands on the steering wheel, his foot jamming the accelerator to the floor as the truck vibrates, engine grunting, up and over the Siskiyous descending into Oregon.  He thinks he is driving, but he’s also writing, narrating through the prologue into the first chapter of how we came to Bainbridge Island.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wandering Into Grace



The sun is shining in Greater Seattle and I’m showered with blessing; blogging at Tully’s Coffee in the Redmond Town Center while my husband interviews with at Microsoft.  One of two finalists, I think he’s perfect for the job.  What I don’t know is if the job is perfect for him.  Earlier in the week, Amazon interviewed him for a position they had already offered to someone else, intrigued by his skills in building two training programs from inception to international implementation. 

Getting calls for jobs that might already be filled, finding an affordable fabulous house that the owners want to sell us––very different experiences in the Pacific Northwest than our last months in California.  Over Thanksgiving weekend my mother, in one of those psychic leadings mothers get, told me, “You’re going to love it there (Bainbridge Island) so much you’re never coming back.”   I don’t know about never but it’s clear we have lived out one geography and are embracing and being embraced by another. 

We explored our new house yesterday, doing things you’re supposed to do before buying a house, but hadn’t.  We opened cabinets and closets, pulled out kitchen drawers that lurched off track, measured rooms, located heater vents and hose bibs, verified the home inspector was right about rodent droppings, water damage, rust.  We decided that I, who can’t construct anything other than a sentence, am perfectly suited for demolition, and while Kevin is busy moving my sister in later December, will rip down the future writer’s studio to the studs.  I’ll slip on a painter’s mask, grab a sledgehammer, and go!  We also discovered the entire house is powered by central oil heat.  The basement vents were closed, not defunct, so we’ll be plenty warm while we remodel and unpack.

Real estate experts tell you to meet the neighbors before you buy.  Enamored by the wall of glass in the living room and amazing gardens, we didn’t do that either. But in the hour and a half we were there yesterday, they came to us.  We met four neighbors—more than we know in our current or former homes.  “Once you’re settled, come on down and we’ll tell you about the history of the neighborhood,” Fred and Willie, the new elders of the subdivision told us.  Another neighbor walking her dog introduced us to our across the street neighbor and said she’d host a neighborhood tea once we got settled.

In conversation with our neighbors we learned more about the former owners of fifty years.  Neal and Midge raised three children in the house.  He was Superintendent of Schools on the Island, and recruited neighbor Fred to run for the School Board years ago.  Neal belonged to the garden club, propagated Rhododendrons from his yard, and planted them at all the Island schools.  He was president of the water system back when a water tank occupied the lot next to his home.  When it was built, well before the neighbors’ homes, his family had an unobstructed view of Manzanita Bay.  The view of the Sound is small and filtered now blocked by walls, roofs, cedars, but the esteem of the neighbors for Neal, who is now ninety and living with his daughter, has not diminished over time.

We were even greeted like long-lost friends at the local bank, Viking, where we opened a free checking account.  Enthusiastic conversation, an invitation to use the conference room free of charge, and gifts—mugs, shopping bags—were showered on us.

Joan Didion titled an essay “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” Sarah McLachlan sings about, “Fumbling into Ecstasy,” and in Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh writes of, “a twitch upon a thread.”  Combine those phrases and images, and it comes close to describing how I feel about the way our lives have unfolded the last six months. I noticed a twitching thread, followed it, tangling it, fumbling, not knowing where I was headed, not clear about the details, but aware of intention and direction, committed to growth, embracing change.

It is Advent and my husband and I are traveling to our Bethlehem.  We are heavy with responsibility and tasks, but also excitement, anticipating the new life we are birthing together.  As beautiful as our new garden will be, we are not moving to Eden.  There will be gray days, bad moods, broken dishes, and ferry traffic––the stuff of live. But love is alive, God is present, and I am privileged to dwell in the midst of holy incarnation in a blue house on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest.



Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanks Giving




My children are on their way home to celebrate our last Thanksgiving in this house.  My parents and mother-in-law and sisters-in-law will join us tomorrow.  This house is one we longed for, dreamed about, waited for once we purchased the unimproved land, built, landscaped, decorated, and inhabited for eleven years.  When we moved here I thought I’d stay until my children wheeled me into a nursing home.  I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

Over the past few years, however, I have been slowly letting go of this house, even before I knew that my husband would leave his job and it would make financial sense to say goodbye.  Kevin and I will close escrow next week on a home in Bainbridge Island, Washington.  We will take ownership of a sixty-year-old house that has been home to only one man, and his wife (and I am guessing their children) and pets (confirmed by the home inspector).  I know little more than his name.  Neal is at least eighty years old, has moved onto his final home, and his documents are being signed by a power of attorney. 

I am thankful to be moving to a home that has sheltered a single family who lived and loved in it for sixty years.  Walking through their home I gathered fragments of their story.  This couple loved to garden, they liked green paint, wallpaper borders and lace curtains, they needed a handrail to step in and out of the shower tub, they didn’t use their basement in their later years.  I will never Neal’s family, but I want them to know that Kevin and I will be good stewards of their house––which according to our realtor and home inspector has good bones, but needs some blood transfusions and organ transplants.  

It already feels like home, and this Thanksgiving I am so grateful for my husband (we began dating in November 1980), for all that we have weathered and how we have grown closer through each challenge.  New life that beckons to us in that mid-century house on Bainbridge Island and the vision of how to share this new blessing with others reveals and refines itself day by day.

I give thanks for the years in our dream house in Boulder Creek, for the hospitality we could offer through our house to church classes, coworkers for meetings, teenagers on Friday nights, family and friends in need of short and long term living arrangements.  For the joy of watching our children grow from elementary students to confident college students, and the wonder they brought home to us as they ventured out of these doors.  For the sanctuary of my very own office with my view of Betsey the Cow, a room where I wrote sermons, newsletters, and essays, from which I served a church and earned my master’s degree.  A home that had enough space and privacy for Kevin to conduct much of his international business work from “his desk” and then Jennifer’s as we dared to claim her former bedroom as an office once it was clear she was launched.

I am blessed by Thanksgiving, for sanctioned gratitude to honor the season lived here.  And as it falls away, something new is being born, so fitting as we enter Advent on Sunday. 

I pray for the new family that will be moving into our home.  Three generations under one roof—and maybe a fourth to come—who have looked for three years for a house that suits them all.  May they be blessed by this home that we gave our heart and sweat to.  May they prosper on this land, may it empower their dreams for their season in this place.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Moving Forward




When we arrived in Washington last Thursday night, we stayed at a resort hotel for Kevin’s birthday (the Woodmark, thanks to Groupon).  Walking along Lake Washington at dusk, we saw a beaver gliding in the water, then munching groundcover along the bank.  It was the first beaver we’ve ever seen outside of captivity.  We got close enough to see its bristly fur, and as we fell silent watching it, the beaver’s presence felt like a sign  meant especially for us.  Beavers build houses, and the house we live in now, and the remodel of our old house, were both done by a contractor we respect enormously, whose logo is a beaver, and who Kevin has often fantasized about working for.  A beaver appeared to us in Washington with a message to work together and build a home there.  And that’s what we’re going to do.

We’re making an offer on the blue house on Bainbridge Island tomorrow.  The house is empty and has been on the market since May when the owners, a couple in their seventies, who lived there for almost sixty years moved on.  The house, built-in 1951 boasts mid-century modern features that are coming back into vogue—an open entry and two walls of windows in the living room.  From the windows, you look out onto a landscape that includes a small view of Puget Sound over the neighbor’s roof and between cedars.  Along with water, and trees, there is light.  Light––even in the long gray Northwest winter days––will be ours as we look out onto a mature garden with camellias, wisteria, tulips, daffodils, grass, Japanese maple, benches, an arbor, a lath house and more.



The house on Maple Street is half an acre at the top of a hill in a development on the west side of the island near Manzanita Bay.  There’s a private beach for residents, a small grassy slope to store kayaks and canoes next to a set of cement steps that provide a boat launch at high tide, or access to the narrow beach at low tide.  There’s a picnic table and benches, a quiet place to write or daydream, just a two-minute walk from the house.

The house has a full basement and a perfect set-up for a studio apartment on the main floor.  The studio has a separate entrance and the best water views in the house.  My vision is to offer a writer’s retreat/bed and breakfast––editing and couching services along with a queen bed, desk, printer, network access, full bathroom and kitchenette.  We’ve already checked with the city and my dream is completely legal!

Our house (yes, I’m thinking positively) is a fixer, but in the best way.  It’s not falling apart; it’s just mid-century, like us.  Original linoleum, twenty-year old appliances, even older toilets and showers will need replacing.  We tore up a bit of carpet in the living room and there was beautiful hardwood floor underneath.  It’s livable while we modernize, a big consideration since we’re moving out of state.

The location is a long commute to Microsoft, where Kevin is one of the finalists for a job.  Kevin’s used to commuting 50 minutes or more one way, and we were looking for a lifestyle change, but try as I might, I didn’t feel at home in Redmond, Kirkland, Issaquah, or Woodinville, the closest cities to Microsoft, the way I did on Bainbridge Island (population 23,000).  And Kevin, who isn’t phased by traffic, not only took pity on me, but really wants us to live in a writers/artists community where I can flourish and live out my vision for hosting writers in our home.  He’s an incredible life partner and I’m blessed to be his wife.

He’s willing to spend two hours a day getting to and from work.  Thankfully, unlike our Bay Area, where getting to work is mostly a fend for yourself proposition, Microsoft, which employs more than 60,000 people in the Redmond area east of Seattle, provides vanpools and its own bus service.  Once Kevin gets the job (I’m thinking positive again), his commute will consist of a five mile trip to the ferry in Winslow (by bike in good weather, car in bad), a 35 minute ferry crossing where he can nap, check email, read the paper, and a 20-30 minute bus or van ride, where he can again “plug-in” and begin his work day.  The position he’s being considered for also has an international component, and because of the time difference involved, he’ll be able to work from home several days a week.

We’re looking forward to the incredibly long summer days and the opportunity to kayak in the evenings after a power nap and dinner.  In fact, all our conversations in the past few days are revolving around looking forward, to all that we need to do in order to leave this house before escrow closes, and to settle my sister, who lives with us and who will stay in this area, and ourselves into new homes.  It feels daunting when I’m churning the logistics in my own small brain, but completely manageable when Kevin and I are in conversation.  When he makes up his mind, stand back!  He knows how to get things done. 

His latest plan percolating through the night and brewed by lunchtime––Move the two of us and our three cats (with our daughters’ help wrangling them on an airplane) to our new home on Bainbridge Island in time to celebrate Christmas there with our two daughters, and possibly his mother and sisters who would help him drive up our car.  Then move my sister after us. 

I’m excited to follow his lead, and the Spirit’s, so thankful that our “something better” of “this or something better” appears to be just within reach.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Moving the Energy



The weekend before last I participated in a “Trance-formational Retreat” held in some yurts off grid here in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  It was an unusual activity for me, but I’m not working, I finished my degree, I packed too much for a house that hasn’t sold, I toured hundreds of homes online, I wasn’t motivated to write.  I wanted get on with my life, and if I couldn’t force change, I’d move energy. 
I danced blindfolded, drew a picture using symbols from the Maori tribe in New Zealand, breathed in manner designed to alter consciousness and release energy, joined a drum circle, began each morning with qijong, ate meals and had fascinating conversations with the conveners who lead sweat lodges and visioning workshops, and support themselves as transpersonal coaches, breathwork facilitators, and hand readers, among other occupations. 
In our gatherings each person was smudged with cedar and sage, the incense of burning embers wafted around us fanned by an eagle feather.  Our circle and space was claimed sacred, cleared for holy work, and a deep connection to one another.  The group wasn’t Christian or Un-Christian.  It was human, simply fully human.  Welcoming each person’s spiritual and religious journey and experience, a model not of tolerance, but of acceptance crucial for peace in our personal relationships and in the world. My Amens joined the Ahos and Namastes as we blessed each other.
When we drew, I called Jesus, my prayer partner, my husband, and a good friend from high school into my consciousness as we were asked to visualize best friends and healers in our lives. I kept them in mind as I began “to breathe.”  I had never experienced such a powerful manifestation of energy.  A paralyzing tingling called tetany coursed into my hands (a common response to breathwork, and a sign that I’ve been holding in my emotions and creativity).  Heat and comfort flowed into me from a laying on of hands lasting long after the fact.  My own touch brought the perceptible softening of another’s frame after qigong.  I have had glimpses of energy before––zinging acupuncture needles, the laying on of hands in prayer or blessing in my ministry—but the profundity of my retreat experience reminded me of how often I forget our connectedness as energetic beings, living in my private bubble.
I spoke during the weekend about the uncertainty and waiting in my life.  My husband leaving a job that was going to disappear, his search for work, listing our house for sale in July with no buyer traffic since then, our desire for a job for Kevin in San Francisco and a particular house for us in Pacifica where I could offer a writing retreat, the job not materializing, the house in contract with someone else.  I told the group that a former coworker of Kevin’s recommended him for a position with Microsoft, east of Seattle, that he applied for it and we were waiting to see if he’d be a final candidate, if we were going to leave our native California, and wondering what we’d do with our house.
I’d anticipated the retreat as time for inner work, attempting to heal very old trauma (re-birth is a big part of breathwork, healing the original trauma we all experience).  But that wasn’t the case.  My external circumstances were paramount in both my conscious and deeper mind, informing my entire weekend.
I came home with much in my head and heart to explore, particularly my Maori drawing, which I tacked up on my empty bulletin board—despite the real estate staging rule nixing personal displays.  My drawing, with its requisite symbols, resulted in a path that lead to a blue house near water and mountains in the Northwest quadrant of my paper.  A drawing that is both physic (as opposed to psychic) and prophetic.
Monday, the day after I returned from the retreat, our realtor told us to expect an offer on our house.  Thursday we began negotiating with the buyers. Saturday, Kevin and I were standing in an empty house for sale––a blue house––on Bainbridge Island with a peek of Puget Sound from the living room, wanting to call it home.  This Monday Kevin had a promising interview with the hiring manager and will return with the final candidates for another interview after Thanksgiving.
I’m not sure what is going to transpire, or in what order, but it is clear that things are happening.  After months of waiting, life is kinetic.  The energy that was pent up and waiting is moving and we are following it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Pain of Hope




In this blog I’ve been writing about the possibility of change in my life.  I’ve been anticipating the unexpected as my husband and I think about a new career for him and where that might lead us, envisioning us in a new community and a new home.  I have been hopeful and excited, even when my own plans haven’t seemed to materialize.  I trust that God has something better in mind.
I have been in Nashville this week completing a two-year program for pastors I began when I was leading a local church.  This program was designed for pastors fairly new to ministry who wanted companions on their journeys, people who understood that God designed us for community and wanted to live that out in their ministries.  I couldn’t have predicted two years ago that my journey would lead out of local church pastorate, but it did.  First to finish my Master’s degree in Creative Writing, and then into waiting for the next right thing.
While I have been reconnected with these Companions in Ministry, my extended family (whom I haven’t written about because their story is not necessarily mine to tell) has been gathered in its own sort of community.  A family journeying with medical staff formed a community of care and concern while one of our beloved suffers the tragedy of contracting West Nile Virus from an organ transplant.  The past months we have been hopeful.  Hopeful that there would be a definitive diagnosis, treatment and cure.  And when that couldn’t happen, hopeful that he would qualify for a transplant, receive one, and go on to live a healthy life with his wife.

Last night I spoke with my husband to find out that our dear one has no hope of recovery, no hope for any quality of life.  Just last week, before the virus had taken its terrible toll, the doctors and family all had hope for a full recovery.  In our closing worship service in Nashville this morning, Trevor Hudson, an amazing spiritual pastor from South Africa, who had been talking to us about the gospel themes of friendship, spoke of hope, and how devastating it is when hope brings us pain.  He didn’t have a clue about my family circumstances, but he could have been speaking right to us.  When our dashed hopes bring us to deep pain, it is there in our suffering that we struggle to claim a deeper even richer hope.
I thought about my family in California.  In the next few days, after we have all had a chance to say goodbye, life support will be removed and then, horrible as it seems we will hope for death.  A good death. And beyond that, what will we hope for?  I will hope for the grieving spouse a reserve of inner strength, the companioning of family and friends, the ability to walk into the darkness and not be consumed by it, the image of God’s light, however it comes to her, to carry her through the days, months, and years ahead as she lives out a life she did not expect or plan for.
In the meantime, we cry for our loss, for all we are going to miss and are just beginning to sense, and for the loss our dear one has suffered.  And in the pain of hope, I am thankful for the small mercies.  That neither my husband nor I have jobs, that our house has not sold, that we are still home in the same small town where our extended family lives, that we can be present in some small way to honor their lives and their suffering and their hope as family, as companions in our communal life.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flying


I flew on Thursday.  Not in my dreams.  Not parachuting from a plane, which would’ve terrified me.  Indoors at IFLY SF Bay.  I flew in a wind tunnel.  I hovered three feet off the ground buffeted at 160 miles per hour.  And I loved every second of my two short rides, especially when my instructor grabbed onto my flight suit, leaped into the air and we zoomed from my three foot hover up into the tube, fifteen to twenty feet off the ground in a lovely arc. 

My flying experience was not simply an item completed on my Bay Area bucket list, but spiritually fitting and educational.  I shared the day with my dear friend I wrote about in a previous entry who has been on the path in front of me, modeling what it means to step out in faith past the familiar into the unknown, and trust that God, like our flight instructor Jason, will line you up to soar.  And there we were, clad in jumpsuits, goggles, and helmets, stepping into the wind and flying into something brand new.  We each flew alone, with our instructor, but as we did, we saw our friend, just outside the door, cheering and applauding, encouraging our bravery and effort.  I model for friendship and life.

Flying in the wind tunnel, I also learned that each small movement, bending the knees, raising the chin, adjusting the arms, has dramatic results.  Your feet might slip out into the waiting bay, or yours arms might touch the Plexi-glass.  If you look down and fail to arch your back, you might float inches above the floor, and need to be raised up by your experienced instructor.

I usually think of flying as a metaphor, as a bold, daring leap.  Before my indoor skydiving experience, I’d never considered flying as something a human would train for.  But that’s exactly what skydivers–-the closest we wingless bipeds get to flying––do.  They train in wind tunnels.  They learn optimal body positions and strengthen the necessary muscles.  They take classes and fork over lots of money to lean into turbo wind and practice.  They develop skills, and if they’re acrobatic, like my instructor, they zoom up and down the wind tube at speeds reminiscent of Superman, and walk along the walls like Spiderman throwing invisible silk for balance.  Like all great athletes, they make it look easy. 

The professionals make it look so easy, that people like me--craving joy and exhilaration––are tempted to hurl themselves into the air, without training or practice.  I would love to fly in waking life the way I do in my dreams, with grace and ease.  After our flights, with our adrenaline coursing and Cheshire cat-sized grins, Jason seized upon our enthusiasm to inform us of the classes we could enroll in the packages we could by.  We nodded, and I would’ve signed up right then, except that the tunnel is pricey and more than an hour’s drive from my house, and as I calmed down a bit, I that my house is on the market, remembered my husband is looking for work, and if I really think about it, I don’t want to be an expert wind tunnel flyer.  It was fabulous fun, but it’s not my passion.

We never know where our passion will take us.  When I think about my husband’s career in the corporate sector, it has always been about the philanthropic efforts of the companies.  He has both supported and envisioned their efforts to improve the lives of ordinary people in this country and around the world.  We had been looking exclusively in the SF Bay area for opportunities where he could continue to work out of this passion, and then late last week, a man who used to work with Kevin, contacted him and is acting as his personal recruiter, recommending him for a position in the Corporate Citizenship group of the largest software company in the world.  That job is in Washington State, and so we are imagining what our life might look like if he were to be offered the position.

There are times when I think my Internet research is obsessive.  I downloaded maps of bike paths, snowplow routes, and daily traffic volume in the city that is corporate headquarters.  My husband and I searched Redfin for homes in our price range, and are thinking about taking a trip there in November.  Our preparations might be pointless.  Or they might be the necessary steps that will enable us to fly when the opportunity presents itself.  Right now, only God knows, but I’ll adjust my goggles anyway. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Since I’m In the Neighborhood




The change express I’ve been ready to board doesn’t seem to be running, at least not any time soon.  So what do I do while I’m still here, waiting?  Lately I’ve been raking, something I skipped last year, sweeping ten bins of oak and redwood droppings into yard waste bins once a week for over a month.  I’m sure our garbage service crew is quite tired of my productivity.  I am too, even though I’ve listened to several books on IPod while I’ve been wielding my rake and snow shovel (an oversized dustpan). 

Back in May when I finished the writing for my MFA and before my husband knew he was going to leave his job, I’d arranged to lead a memoir group through the recreation department of a neighboring town, and to offer writing help for junior high students at my local library.  I bowed out of the commitments before they started, hopeful that I’d be relocating mid-session.  But no one has looked at our house since July.  And my husband is submitting a job proposal to “the adoption group” at the world’s most innovative company, asking them to create a program and position he is eminently qualified to run, but not part of their current plan.  If they adopt, we have no idea how long the process takes.  So here we are for the foreseeable future. 

I have been retired from ministry for over a year and finished my master’s degree in August.  Since then, I packed up all our knick-knacks, photos, every item that distinguishes our home from a vacation condo.  Many of my books are packed, but there are enough on my shelves to keep me reading for several months.  All our CD’s, DVD’s, videos, are boxed and stored in the shed, but streaming Netflix in the form of Mad Men is entertaining us in the evening.  If I keep packing, I’ll end up unpacking.  I might need to unpack some as it is.  All my craft supplies, the words I cut from magazines for collages, and my yarn and needles are boxed and stored in the back corner of a shed in our yard, and I need a creative outlet.

What do I do with myself in the interim?  Time yawns before me.  Three months, six, I have no idea, but part of me doesn’t think it’s wise to plan to lead groups and help students on an ongoing basis.  So I undertake short-term projects.  I’m blogging once a week.  I set up a website.  In three weeks I’m attending the final gathering of a clergy group I participated in two years ago, even though I have left pastoral ministry.  I was part of a clergy writing group that came out of the initial gathering, and felt like my tribe.  It will be wonderful to reconnect with the writing clergy, as well as other participants.  Plus, the main speaker, Trevor Hudson (a white clergyman from South Africa) is fabulous and the Nashville campus is beautiful in the fall.  I wrote a short story and will be reading it and leading worship (the first time since June 2010) on October 30th.  I scheduled a short story workshop for early November (let me know if you want details), and a trip the following weekend to Boise with my husband, choosing a city we had never been to and could reach within two hours using our Southwest airlines miles.

I spent money I’m considering an investment—in my marriage--on a two-person open top kayak, for Kevin and me.  We went kayaking off the Santa Cruz wharf in July for my birthday and loved it.  No matter where we end up, water will be close by.  We’re launching Friday for the first time in the beautiful Lexington Reservoir that runs parallel to the commuter’s Highway 17, and hasn’t been open to boating in years.  I’m thinking up a regional bucket list, since I’m still in the neighborhood. 

I could even turn my attention to the memoir I’ve been slowly writing over half a dozen years.  Without pastoral responsibilities and school requirements, and real estate and packing frenzies, my writing could become my main preoccupation.  If I am diligent, and spend less time checking Facebook and reading other people’s blogs, I might even finish my memoir in this in-between time.  And if I don’t, at least I will keep myself occupied in this itchy waiting time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Careers



Careers was my favorite board game as a kid.  As players we wrote down our secret success formula before beginning play, a combination of fame, money, and happiness that had to total 60 points. I always weighted my formula toward happiness, which meant I usually “went to sea” rather than going to Hollywood (fame) or becoming a Uranium Prospector (money). 

Happiness was paramount for me when I played the game and when I pictured my future––however vaguely an elementary school girl can picture adult life.  Money and fame were necessary for the game, and for life, I supposed, but they didn’t interest me much. 

That’s still true today.  I’m most interested in happiness, although I have money and a certain amount of name recognition (Careers fame) in the United Methodist Church.  My husband has been an excellent monetary provider.  But making money, as in getting rich, has never been his motivation or mine.  We’ve been thankful for having enough and more than enough money at times, so that we have been able to help family and friends in significant financial ways.  Financial success has been the byproduct of my husband’s dedication, passion, commitment, intellect directed into the world.  Money and recognition (more Careers fame) are the only ways the corporation can reward employees.  Money and fame don’t bestow happiness, no matter what value my Careers game bestowed.  Happiness is up to the individual. 

It might be easier to make decisions about our future if I could pull an “Opportunity Knocks” or “Experience” card from the Careers deck and know how a job for Kevin at a cloud computing company in Palo Alto stacked up against a job for Kevin at a cloud computing company in San Francisco, or an internet service in Oakland.  How would the happiness, money, fame quotient be distributed if we stayed in our current home and town and he commuted an hour each way to work?  Would it be different if we moved to the Peninsula to the fog and a house with an ocean view?  What if we lived near a BART (commuter train) station in the East Bay and had a view of the bridge but also one straight into our neighbor’s house?

I’ve been looking at houses for sale near BART stations, thanks to a website called bayareaforsale.com. Then I’ve looked up the corresponding cities at City-Data.com, where I can find out all sorts of statistics about population, age, occupations, crime, businesses, churches, colleges.  Of particular interest to me are:  population size, crime rate, housing density and high temperatures.  The lower the number in each category, the more appealing the location is to me.  The lower the numbers, the happier I will be.  Factor in a water view, and my happiness points increase.

Some part of me is aware that my rankings are nothing more than a grown-up version of Careers, a game that prepares one poorly for real life.  I run search engines while Kevin embarks on his job search, looking for his own winning combination of money, fame, and happiness––recognizing all the while that the happiness component of the equation is entirely up to us.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In a Fog

 “But Pacifica is so foggy,” most of my friends and acquaintances say in all seriousness when I mention that my husband and I are thinking of moving there.  As if we might be enveloped in white mist never to be seen again, as if fog is something to be feared.

Pacifica is also home to a portion of the San Andreas fault—a routinely active fault—that runs through parks and open spaces, paralleling Interstate 280 in the northern peninsula, skirting backyards along Skyline Boulevard and other streets, like Imperial Avenue, where homes offer spectacular ocean views in exchange for treacherous footing.  Years ago, I worked on an earthquake safety campaign for a central California city also near the fault line, and I’ve lived through my share of fairly large quakes—one that struck Simi Valley when I was a child, and the Loma Prieta quake that destroyed eleven homes on my street in the Santa Cruz mountains, miraculously sparing ours from damage.  I’ve lived with days of aftershocks, our entire congregation springing to our feet during worship, mistaking the movement of a room divider for another temblor.  A fault seems a reasonable thing to fear, a reason not to locate on a particular street, even a particular town.  But fog?

I think about fog.  It’s cold and damp and hard to see through.  It blocks the sun, but waters outdoor plants, is worse in summer in Pacifica, and burns off (usually in the afternoons) eventually––even with climate change.  It all seems manageable.  I could wear jeans and sweatshirts for the rest of my life, not missing bathing suits or shorts and the sight of my puffy ankles, wrinkled kneecaps and bruised shins.  I could turn lights on in my house, carry a cup of hot tea throughout the day, and avoid driving in zero visibility.  

I can’t seem to muster genuine trepidation about fog, but sometimes I worry that I’m missing something, that I’m too careless in my dismissal of other’s foggy fears.

I think about how I’ve reacted to others who have embarked on relationships, taken career paths, and moved places I would never choose for myself.  Often, I have worried about what will happen to me in their new plan, and if we’ve been close, I’ve been afraid of being left behind, forgotten.  At my best, I can set my selfishness aside and be genuinely happy and supportive.  I’ve never thrown myself at a friend’s feet and pleaded, “don’t move (to England, or Ohio, or Spokane),” but I’ve felt like it imagining the hole in my life that person will leave.  Long distance calls and letters (and now Facebook) make the gap smaller, but don’t prevent it.  And sometimes, instead of saying honestly, “I will miss you,” or “It will be hard for me without you in my daily life,” I’ve said things like, “Doesn’t it snow there?”  As if my friend might answer, “Yes, and I hate snow, so I’ll stay here with you and life will go on exactly the same.”  As if she might ignore God’s call in her life and make mine easier instead.  And when I think about it that way, I recognize that it’s my fear and distress speaking, and that it has very little to do with my friend.

So, yes, dear ones, it is foggy in Pacifica.  But I’m not afraid of fog.  I’ve been afraid of many things for many years, but I want to leave fear behind and step out in faith.  I’m ready for the next adventure in my married life and to leave this town we’ve lived in for 23 years when the time comes.  I will miss you and the redwoods and the place you’ve had in my daily life, and when I do leave, our lives will be different, our relationships will change.

Our future might be too foggy to predict, but God will be there, guiding, calling, beckoning.  I hope we are all brave enough to follow.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It’s Not This So It Must Be Something Better



The most innovative company in the world did not offer my husband a job yesterday.  Clearly, they did not get my memo.  Kevin left an exploratory interview in July with the strong impression this company wanted to hire him, was going to create a position specifically for him––knowing his skills from working cooperatively on projects with the company he just retired from.  This new position was supposed to be funded beginning the next fiscal year, which begins October 1st.

This summer, in addition to downsizing and donating books, toys, knick-knacks, and clothing, I have imagined our new life in the fixer-upper house in Pacifica.  In great detail––Kevin commuting on BART to San Francisco each week day, me hopping on an afternoon train to meet on Friday nights to catch a play or a band, even a poetry reading.  I found the independent bookstore, wine bar and menu for the Italian restaurant at the foot of the street I want to live on.  I Googled chiropractors and acupuncturists, grocery stores and churches, found a mainline Protestant denomination with a choir I could join.  I bookmarked the Pedro Point restoration project and Pedro Point Neighborhood association, thinking involvement in those groups would introduce us to our human neighbors and neighborhood geography.  I signed up for Pacifica alerts on “The Patch” media network and may know about local news there (including the delay of the Devil’s Slide tunnel on Highway 1) than I do in my current town.

I visualized the house and the furniture we’d need to buy once we moved—a dresser, bookcase and desk (ours are built-in here), and thought about which window would provide the best ocean view from the dining room, from the desk.  I thought about the surfing beach less than half-mile away and my 23-year-old nephew who is a skilled carpenter who enjoys surfing and how fun it would be to hire him to help my husband remodel. 

The evening after we went house hunting I was chopping vegetables for dinner, asking myself why I wanted to buy the clumsy fixer-upper with the disgustingly moldy apartment below the house that would have to be gutted.  Kevin and I spent thirteen years in the first house we bought in a continual state of building projects.  I’d relished the idea of moving into our current home after it was done, instead of living through the mess.   Why wouldn’t I be content with a smaller tidier healthier house?  There was one that offered plenty of parking for us, our RV and guests, and an ocean view from the front windows.  But there were things we didn’t like about it—the sloped ceilings upstairs made for cramped closets and little floor space, windows that opened to the side of the house, not the front.  It seemed like anything we chose, we’d want to improve on.  Why not keep it minor?  It was the feeling we had at the house on Grand Avenue––the quiet neighborhood, the dead-end streets, the beach below, the mountain behind, mature plantings, it felt like a retreat.

A retreat, I thought, and then the idea came to me while I was slicing onions, an idea delivered as a gift, an offering from God to me.  Build a writer’s retreat under the house.  Offer the quiet, the peace, the view, to someone who needed to get away from the demands of their daily life to work on a writing project.  Provide the gift of hospitality we had consciously built into our current house—which has been the site of business and church meetings, writing workshops, temporary housing for friends and relatives, and permanent housing for my sister.  Friends and family could stay in the apartment we would build, but equally important, I would make it available to writers, also offering my services to them, as much or as little as they required—encouragement, editing, groceries, breakfast, airport transportation (the house is only twenty minutes from SFO).  Kevin was in the room when the brainstorm hit and as excited about it as I was.  Kevin would work for the world’s most innovative company leading a team doing work he believed would make a positive difference in the world, practicing, “Compassionate Capitalism.”  I would lead memoir classes at the community center, write at my desk by the window, contribute my presence and limited abilities to Kevin’s remodeling expertise, and then when the apartment was finished, begin a ministry of writing hospitality.

I have been preparing, waiting, and dreaming this summer for the birth of this new life I imagined.  And, outside forces are not aligning with my plans.  The owners have not responded to our rent-to-buy offer, and their listing is currently inactive.  We don’t know what happened.  We don’t have a buyer for our house.  The job offer I was expecting (Kevin was optimistic but less certain and therefore less disappointed than me) didn’t materialize.  I was momentarily stunned when he called me after yesterday’s interview and said, “No job offer.”  “That’s the wrong answer,” was my reply.

I needed to take a walk, even though it was ninety-five degrees out.  I had to recalibrate my brain, realign my intentions.  A wise advisor told me that in praying for our desires to manifest, it’s wise to pray for, “this or something better.”  If I just pray for “this”, I’m limiting God’s ability to work in my life, to provide something better, something different that I can envision on my own.  And then there’s the Biblical, “not my will, but Thine,” another reminder that I am not in charge.  So “This” might not be it.  Or it might be.  My husband was invited to submit a proposal for his idea to develop a new program for the most innovative company, and it might get approved and if it does, he might be the one to manage it.  Or he might get a different job altogether, in an entirely different geographical area, after all, he’s barely begun looking.  We still might get that house with its tranquil view, or we might rent a townhouse in some town we move to only temporarily. 

If I sinned in being too certain about what I thought was to come, it was a sin of enthusiasm, a desire to move away from fear of the future to the embrace of the future.  I dreamed up a future I could embrace, because it was too overwhelming to embrace the unknown.  When it comes down to it, I have no idea what’s going to happen and I’m learning to be okay with that.  So here I am, trying to embrace a new truly blank future, trusting that as long as it includes Kevin and our three cats, it will be wonderful.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Two Weeks Notice




My husband was supposed to be out of work two weeks after he accepted his “retirement package.”  He was going to wake up on July 9th without an alarm clock and corporate responsibilities and begin creating a vision for our future––his and mine––narrowing down dozens of career possibilities into a plan.  Would he buy an Ace Hardware franchise in Southern Oregon, work as a “Genius” at the Apple store in San Luis Obispo, hire on with the Santa Cruz contractor who built our house, form a consulting group to continue his work in entrepreneurial development, teach business courses at the local community college, or drive our R.V. cross country while I conducted memoir workshops at United Methodist Churches? 

“I can be happy doing almost anything,” Kevin says.  And it’s true.  Throughout his career my husband has often been assigned to, rather than choosing, particular areas of focus in the corporate/computer world.  He always becomes a passionate advocate for the programs he’s responsible for and to, dedicating his considerable intellectual resources to their success.  Kevin has a natural ability to see and articulate the big picture as well as attending to every detail involved in creating and implementing programs.  He inspires and empowers those he supervises, believing in sharing power rather than clinging to it, encouraging others to grow and thrive––success that benefits everyone.  Kevin’s dedication and leadership have earned great respect from both his supervisors and team members, even when it hasn’t kept his departments free from budget cuts and downsizing. 

Two weeks notice turned into two months notice at Kevin’s manager’s request.  So, instead of spending the summer daydreaming about his future, my husband has been figuring out how to slash his program drastically while still honoring the commitments he and his group have made to entrepreneurs around the world.  Along with reorganizing, he has had to “make redundant” (layoff) employees, and equip the “Fantastic Four” who will remain with his vast store of knowledge.  He is relieved not to have left the program in limbo, but the extension has been taxing, as corporate life often is.  Tomorrow my husband will say goodbye to his peers in an all hands meeting, turn in his badge and exit the building, leaving behind a fifteen year relationship. 

From the parking lot, he will drive straight to an interview with the most innovative company in the world (according to a recent ranking in Forbes).  And why is Kevin planning to wear a suit and not overalls to work for the next few years?  One major reason––we consulted a mortgage broker when we listed our house for sale to ask about financing possibilities for the purchase of smaller, less expensive home, most likely in a different community.  We found that underwriters, when looking at employment verification, want your job experience to be in a related field for a period of several years.  This “retirement package” wasn’t the time for Kevin to completely switch careers, unless we could do that in our current home, which would be difficult.

My husband and I are fifty.  God willing, we have a few dozen years ahead of us.  In those decades, we will have myriad opportunities to explore and experiment with location and livelihood.  For now, we are excited about Kevin working for this innovative company that has built corporate philanthropy into its DNA.  It aligns so closely with his values and his work experience that we both think it is meant to be.

We are envisioning a home in Pacifica, a job for Kevin in San Franciso, commuting via public transit.  We’re looking forward to more time together, to building a new life in a new community while we remodel a house. 

We wait for the interview tomorrow, for a response to the rent-to-own offer we made on a house last week, for a buyer for our current home, anticipating changes, and believing “yeses” will come into our lives.  Moving forward as if intention has become reality.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The View From the Sink, Or: An Offer They Can’t Refuse?




My husband, realtor, sister-in-law, and I toured 18 houses one day in July, a personal record for my agent who was duly impressed with my list of homes in geographical order.  House #1 set the standard, with a panoramic ocean vista from the kitchen sink.  The street was overcrowded with cars, our minivan barely fit in the driveway for the single car garage.  The subdivision was built in the 1960’s, the houses ten feet apart, eerily similar to the “ticky tacky boxes on the hillside,” of Daly City that Malvina Reynolds wrote her song about.  This was a blue one.  As soon as we were inside, we could forget the claustrophobic street scene. The bank-owned home on Imperial Avenue had been recently refurbished with new cabinets, wainscoting, paint, fixtures in the downstairs bath, until evidently the owners ran out of money and a job, and the bank foreclosed. 

My husband can remodel and repair anything, given the time and money, so the new cabinets didn’t mean that much to me, but boy, did that view from the sink.  I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time at the kitchen sink, continual nibbler and water drinker that I am.  The view got even better at the rear of the yard, which bordered a tot lot––and, not a small thing, the San Andreas Fault.  Would I risk folly for that view?  If we made sure the foundation was properly bolted, yes.  And while we were at it, we’d have to add a sliding door and balcony to an upstairs bedroom, and make it the master so we could look out on the Pacific while prone.  But truthfully, my husband was more interested in the house next door, one that had been abandoned mid-massive-remodel, Tyvek wrapped walls and in-progress stucco had him squeezing through the fence, peering in windows.  Having just finished building his mother a studio apartment below one of his sister’s houses, the desire to flip a house was overwhelming.  Buy this one, and the one next door, live in one, sell the other, make a livelihood from speculating on remodeling.

“Flipping” was something to consider as we toured houses #2 through #17.  Some took only seconds to cross off our lists.  I cannot wash dishes facing a solid wall.  For the past eleven years the view from both my office and the kitchen sink has been a walnut grove and Betsey the Cow, a fat Hereford and neighborhood attraction who entices stroller pushing moms, pierced teens, and even drivers to stop and call out their moos, petting her if she lumbers to the fence.  For thirteen years before that I looked out into the redwoods, the forested hillside behind our cabin home.  My husband can transform the interior of anything, hovel to mansion, but you can’t pick up a view at Home Depot and install it yourself.

Then came house #18 on Grand Avenue.  It had an old-school lock box, not the modern swipe key.  We didn’t have the combo, couldn’t get in.  But while we waited unsuccessfully for the seller’s agent to respond to our calls and text messages, we took full measure of the view.  The ocean, not flat and infinite, as it had been on Imperial Avenue, but the actual beach, the coast, the surfers in their wetsuits, black blobs in the water.  We could see the open space and subdivisions of Pacifica and the curve of beach, the waves breaking on the shore.  And we could hear those waves break, less than half mile away.  The street was quiet, quieter than the one we live on now in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and it extended only a few houses past the one we were looking at.  And the last shall become first.  We wanted in number #18.  This house had possibility.  Located on Pedro Point, it was built in 1941 as a vacation home on a street where each house is different, in an area where some homes are indeed grand and others are decaying, certainly not a subdivision, and not an area of the city like many we saw where speculators have rushed in to flip foreclosures.  The neighborhood is loaded with trees and borders an open space being restored with native plants after motorcycles and OHV’s have degraded the landscape. 

We weren’t able see the interior of Grand Avenue that day, but we returned two days later, with my husband’s mother and dinner from the Taco Bell located on the nearby surfing beach—it has a walk-up window for the wet-suited.  We ate a picnic on the deck while we again waited for instructions to open the lock box.  We were only able to see part of this house, which has been subdivided into three units, in all its glorious dilapidation.  The two-car carport leans at a precarious angle, the apartment under the house has walls and shower so moldy they should be condemned or used as the set of a movie where the psychotic killer hatches his plot.  The upstairs has punch stained carpets, a patterned-carpeted kitchen with long-dead in-counter appliances, but the most amazing view from the kitchen window, and if the window were a slider, would’ve let in the sound of surf.

There are mature plantings on this half-acre lot.  Against the entryway window is a small Cecile Brunner rose ready to climb.  Amid the choking non-native ivy in the steep hillside bordering the adjacent street are hydrangeas and succulents.  There are miniature pale-pink Fuchsias near the carport, and bottlebrush trees that a hummingbird was frequenting.  There were banana slugs galore, and no sign of hoses or sprinklers anywhere, evidence that the pervasive fog provides sufficient water.  In every home that Kevin and I have lived, we have landscaped from scratch, and I have dreamed of living in a house with an established garden.  This isn’t quite the vision, but close.  The plantings however haphazard are firmly rooted. 

We wanted this house.  This house that wasn’t in a box in a subdivision, that had breathing room from the neighbors and an ocean view that might not rate as spectacular as Imperial Drive, but was audible and intimate, even if glimpsed over the neighbor’s roof.  Plus, my husband, who had pulled back a corner of the filthy carpet in the living room to reveal oak flooring, could exercise his formidable remodeling skills.  Better yet, after tenting for wood-boring beetles, we could live there while he worked his magic.  The bathroom is serviceable, the plywood kitchen cabinets, although dull and boring, are level and clean.  We could be in this project, this next part of our life, fully together.

There’s much more to say about why I wanted this house, bigger and worse off than I thought I’d choose and the vision that came to me about how to offer hospitality out of it, and why we chose the city of Pacifica.  You’ll read about those in future entries.

For now, though, know that in late July we made an offer on Grand Avenue, contingent upon the sale of our home and were rejected.  Today, hearing there might another offer in the wings, we have drafted an offer for a lease with an option to buy, not knowing if my husband will procure a job in nearby San Francisco or not.  Not knowing if we will find a buyer or a renter for our house in order to make our offer financially feasible.  Suffice it to say that my husband and I both feel destined to live in this crumbling home on Grand Avenue.  Anxious to be good stewards of that land and house, wanting to give it the fullness of life and appreciation it deserves. I have been combing the multiple listings daily.  My husband drove by five more houses on Monday, saying no to them all, and here we sit, whether or not it is wise, whether or not we are ready, but feeling led, feeling it in our guts and souls, waiting and praying that these sellers, who we have never met and never will (they are absentee landlords), will say yes to our longing, to our vision. 

p.s. The photo of the coast at the top of this blog is the view of Pacifica from the deck of Grand Avenue.