Bonding at the V.A.

Ready to serve a Marine in need

I’m not saying I didn’t take him seriously, but when Roberto stood up and declared that he was going to his shop to get a pair of curved pliers so he could pull out his tooth…I took notice. He had been pretty stoic for a few days, until he snapped. It was unbearable. We found some oxycodone (expired in 2012) in the medicine drawer and that seemed like an excellent alternative to pulling the tooth out with whatever was handy on his workbench. It worked wonders and kept him relatively pain free, or at least oblivious, over the weekend. On Monday he called the VA dental clinic and declared himself an emergency and was told to come in first thing Tuesday morning as a walk-in. (more…)

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Giving a Hand, Stepping Aside

not my birthday cake, but it could have been!

I had a birthday recently, a reminder (as if I needed it) that the ranks of those younger than me are growing, and the numbers ahead of me are dwindling. And perusing the paper on that special day, I read that composting human bodies is now legal in Washington state, the ultimate in recycling. It made me think about life and how to make the most of every stage, every year, even the end. I am not ready for composting, nor do I think I will ever be ready to join the teeming activity of a compost heap if it looks anything like mine.

All this makes me think about my responsibility to those aspiring facilitators and mediators, who are behind me in line, wanting a career like mine. I am still working as a facilitator and mediator because I can still do it and I love it, but in so doing I am taking work away from some younger aspiring mediator. We hear about a crisis in some universities where long-lived professors refuse to give up teaching, and lower level associates, ready to move upward, are stuck waiting in line for the opening that never comes. I do not want to be that old fogey unwilling to step aside, but I want to practice at least a little as long as I can. Here is my solution: I mentor. (more…)

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Report from Uppsala

Hotel Grand Hornan

I spent a wonderful week in Sweden, thanks to my friend and colleague Sue Senecah who has an appointment at SLU university in Uppsala. She took such good care of me and I had a great time getting to know students and faculty in the environmental communications and conflict resolution field. My only disappointment was that the city is pronounced oopSAla rather than OOPSala, which is so much more fun to say.

As I explained in my last blog, understanding each other’s “landscape” in all senses was my goal. So, here are some glimpses into the Swedish landscape.

In mid-March it was dark and gray and wet. It reminded me of my hometown Seattle on steroids. But I was there for the equinox on March 21, when the temperature shot up to near 50, the sun came out, and everyone went nuts. After a long, very dark winter, here was proof that the long, bright summer was in sight. Restaurants had outdoor seating, with giant heat lamps, and people bundled up and sat outside, faces upward toward the precious sun. Some bikers and runners even donned shorts. Surprised babies were unzipped from their mummy-bag-strollers, like little butterflies coming out of cocoons. (more…)

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Uppsala Bound

My advice to anyone entering a conflict, either as a party or a conflict resolver, is to learn about the landscape — not just the geography, natural resources and climate, but also the cultural landscape. What values guide decisions? What are the economics, politics and history of the place?

Uppsala, Sweden

And, so when I was invited to Uppsala to speak to graduate students studying environmental conflict resolution, I immediately turned my attention to the Swedish landscape. I began, of course, by binge-watching Swedish TV shows and movies. There is a wealth of nail-biting Swedish entertainment out there — “The Bridge,” “Johan Falk,” “Beck,” “Modus,” “Wallander” – all excellent.

Santa Lucia

We just finished the “Sandhamn Murders,” which I highly recommend. A troubled policeman with an ex-wife in the wings meets a gorgeous, bicycle-riding, flower-arranging, gourmet-cooking woman, mother of two supremely healthy children, who is unhappy in her marriage. As they flirt and misfire with each other, horrific murders are committed by the last person you would suspect. The setting is an island of summer homes owned by vacationers who wear very natty, color coordinated casual wear and poor locals who mostly repair boats and drink a lot of beer. All this screen time in the interest of understanding the Swedish “landscape” has been perfect for a non-academic, TV addict like myself.  I admit that this style of immersion is like learning about the US Southwest by watching John Wayne movies and “Breaking Bad.” But I have come a long way from my previous “landscape of Sweden,” which was pretty much limited to pickled herring, Santa Lucia with candles on her head,  winter sports and Northern Lights. (more…)

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Doing Things

I had coffee with my friend Miriam the other day. As we sat down with our cups at a local coffee shop, she said proudly, “This is my fourth thing today.” Miriam is a poet and a wonderful, rambling thinker. I was intrigued. What do you mean a “thing” I asked her.

She explained that every day she does ten things. They can be fun things, hard things, boring things, any kind of thing. (I was relieved to hear that our coffee was a “fun thing.”)  She seemed to want to explain, with nervous laughter, why she did ten things each day, but I was already way ahead of her. Each day would have an order, a calculation, each thing I did would have a legitimacy – it would be a “thing.” No more would I slog through the day and wonder at the end, “what was that all about?” I would have a mental list of things that I did, proof of a good, productive day.

(more…)

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Composting 2018

Living in a rural area outside Santa Fe, we are masters of our own waste, free of pesky rules concerning style and content of compost facilities. Our “facility” is about the size of a small bedroom or a large closet, contained within four walls of straw bales, stacked two bales high. It is divided into two cells, one where the fresh offerings go, and the other where the compost is left for the final conversion to soil. I know there are those with other systems, plastic barrels that you roll on the ground to activate whatever the composting agents are, and plastic bins that sit in a frame and you turn with a crank. They adhere to strict rules about what goes into the bin – only fresh vegetables. — but the result can be disappointing, smelly and slimy.

Not our compost, which is currently covered in snow. But this shows construction.

We, on the other hand, are equal opportunity composters. There is nothing in the animal or vegetable kingdom that is not welcome. Our compost bucket takes all vegetable matter (the older the better), as well as chicken carcasses, fish bones, paper towels, egg cartons, stale crackers, sour milk, old wine, and leftovers whose identity is masked by a thick layer of blue, green or gray fuzz. Egg shells and coffee grounds are treasured.   (more…)

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Lotus Blossoms and Racism

My field of conflict resolution seems to have exploded lately with workshops to help people deal with racism and bias. Believing that this is a critically important focus these days, and wanting to answer the call, a Hispanic colleague and I have facilitated several workshops for agencies, nonprofits and others. We help attendees (usually a mixed group of White and People of Color) tell their stories — stories that reveal the power and dynamics of historical trauma, unintentional bias, institutional racism, and more. Hopefully, these sessions are enlightening, provocative, and lead to more awareness of how to deal with each other in these volatile, divisive times. But the real learning comes from our own experience and a willingness to examine what lies within us.

And so, here is a story…

Washington DC was gorgeous. Late July, not too hot, clear skies, slight breeze. My work ended a day early and I was in the mood for a little nature after all those buildings and monuments.  I heard the lotus blossoms were in full bloom at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and grabbed a cab from my downtown hotel. The driver had apparently never taken anyone there before, but I showed him the address on my phone and we took off, through downtown, brief stretches on highways, in and out of neighborhoods. I saw the signs fly by – Kenilworth Avenue, Anacostia, Baltimore, etc. – and luxuriated in the cocoon of the cab, not needing to know anything of where I was. (more…)

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Thank You, Nicky

We lost a special friend this fall. Nicky Garoffalo was 64 years old and lived in Utrera, Spain, south of Sevilla, with his sister Maria and her husband Pepe. Nicky had Downs Syndrome and lived a full and rich life, touching many lives and leaving us all the better for knowing him. If you know others with Downs Syndrome, this will probably have special meaning for you; if not, I hope that it will open your eyes to what you are missing!

Nicky was born in Albuquerque, which is where my husband Roberto met him. They became fast friends and hung out together, two guys in their 20s, cruising Albuquerque in whatever pickup Roberto had at the time. One of the bonuses for me when I met Roberto was gaining Nicky’s friendship, too.

There were challenges, of course, for Nicky and his family. Albuquerque was not able (or willing?) to provide meaningful support for them. Nicky was robbed at a bus stop, taken advantage of by some drug dealers, and had no real way to contribute to society. Widowed, his mother moved to Spain, believing that the culture and society were better equipped to accept and support her and her son. She was right. It was a great move for Nicky. (more…)

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Eyes on the Pies

Seton Village Pie Bake 1981 “Eyes on the Pies”

Back in 1980 we had a gigantic apricot crop in Seton Village. We were all trying to give them away to our neighbors who already had too many. One aggressive neighbor, standing in our patio trying to give me a bag of apricots, declared that he would make an apricot pie and that it would be the best pie in the village. Hackles raised, I challenged him. I had my own apricots, far better than his, and I was no mean baker. We would have all the villagers judge, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would win. He was just as sure. This was the birth of a tradition, the Seton Village Pie Bake, held annually during the summer months. We just held our 38th, but more about that later.

I put flyers in all the village mailboxes (about 20) announcing the contest, and inviting any neighbors who wanted to compete to bring a pie. My rival and I were not worried. Other pies would only highlight the superiority of ours. The day came and villagers arrived on our “plaza,” the small open space on which our houses face. There were several pies, and once they were finished off we voted with secret ballots for the best one. (more…)

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Bringing Down Barriers

students waiting for bus in structure to protect them from wolves

The reintroduction in 1998 of the Mexican Gray Wolf in New Mexico and Arizona has been controversial to say the least. There are those who praise the federal action and are rooting for the endangered species to make a full recovery. And there are those who see the wolf as a predator, threatening their livestock and rural way of life. The fear has driven some to put their children in special wolf-proof cages to wait for the school bus at the more remote stops.

For the past 20 years I have watched the conflict rage, the two sides digging in, littering the landscape with fear, insults, and righteous outrage. Always looking for the common ground, my mediator self has been pretty discouraged.

Mexican Gray Wolf

But there was one bright spot. Kevin Bixby, founder and executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center (SWEC) in Las Cruces, New Mexico, asked me to facilitate a workshop in Alpine, Arizona, near the border between the two states and epicenter of the wolf battle. As an environmentalist, he had a lot of nerve to even drive through Alpine, let alone convene a day-long workshop for local ranchers. I was fascinated. Why would any wolf-hating local give this guy the time of day? (more…)

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