Mountains of Stuff

Every year our community has a giant, multi-household yard sale. It has developed a following in the greater Santa Fe area and we have many repeat customers, hovering before the 8:00 am start, hoping for early bird specials. There was the usual assortment of yard sale items, but there are always treasures to be found. This year my neighbor sold her grandmother’s hats from the 40s – fantastic, elaborate, elegant, mostly black, many with sparkly beads, a feather or two, beautifully crafted. An artist neighbor made themed packets of collage materials. We sold a monster aloe vera plant that was consuming the kitchen and a Danish wooden hanging lamp that I’d had since the 70s. Hundreds came and that is why this blog post is late. I needed a little recovery time.


This is the good news – I divested myself of many things. The bad news is that there is so much more… stuff. How to deal with a lifetime’s collection of material goods, and in my case, not only my lifetime but my parents and grandparents and beyond. For decades I have been custodian of dishes, vases, tarnished maybe-silver baby dishes, yearbooks, report cards, letters, clippings and handmade cards and crafts that seemed to be very important to someone long ago. I have my grandmother’s wedding dress from 1900, my great grandfather’s Civil War medal, my mother’s drawings from her college years, my father’s award from the Seattle Food Lifeline which he helped found – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I have felt it was my responsibility to save and protect this collection of family lore. These things meant enough to my ancestors to pass down to the next generation. Heaven forbid I would break the chain and fail to do my duty. And, of course, like a good ancestor I am adding my own lore, imagining that someday some descendant will be happy that I saved the little clay penguin I made in nursery school.

my grandmother’s wedding dress, 1900, Webster, SD
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We All Did Our Part

If you’ve ever seen a total solar eclipse, you may be hooked. We saw one in 2017 at the Riverton City Park in Wyoming.* As the moon completed its consumption of the sun, we took off our eclipse glasses and stared at the black ball surrounded by a halo of fire. I remember saying a few intelligible things like “Oh My God” and “I can’t believe it,” followed by a lot of random sounds of awe, before bursting into tears. After I recovered and returned to planet earth, my first question was “When and where is the next one?” After that once-in-a-lifetime experience, I was eager to make it twice-in-a-lifetime. Roberto fiddled on his phone for a while. “It’s April 8, 2024, and Texas would be the closest to us.”

“2024?! Texas?! Oh, no,” I moaned. “I’ll be old, really old by then, and Texas may have seceded from the union — or at least closed their borders to us radical New Mexicans.”

But the years rolled by and before I knew it, I was plotting how to be in Texas, April 8, 1:29 pm Central Daylight Time. In January, I began the search for locations within the path of totality for viewing and lodging. Working with friends who signed on to the caravan, we chose southwest Texas, the closest drive from Santa Fe. I snagged rooms in Junction (pop. 2,514) at a Quality Inn for $398 a night (rate before and after the eclipse was $99). Roberto and I hitched a ride with our friend Carolyn, and headed for our first night in Brownfield, Texas. Excitement was high as we chatted in the restaurant with fellow eclipse travelers – all of us in our eclipse T-shirts — comparing notes on past eclipses, sharing adventures from the road, and checking the weather forecasts.

Roberto snaps view from the back seat. Carolyn at the wheel.
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When You’re an Expert…

I have a dear friend who has lived with a pretty dire medical prognosis for over a year, and in spite of moments of sadness and depression, she seems to carry on her life with remarkable energy, savoring everything worth savoring. She is a writer and enjoys organizing her time, prioritizing projects, and having a plan for the future, however short or long it may be. She divides the time ahead into three-month chunks, with a “theme” for each chunk, taking great satisfaction in finishing a 90-day period, and diving into a new one with a new theme and matching projects.

Although not a social media follower, she recently joined a chat room related to her diagnosis on the Mayo Clinic website. She kept quiet for a while, reading posts from others in her situation, careful not to jump into the sometimes highly emotional, sometimes confrontational fray. Eventually she realized that these were her people, that she did indeed belong in this chat room, much as she, and all the others, wished they didn’t. Because she is a creative, generous, engaging force, she has now graduated from participant to “volunteer mentor” and is spending many hours a week coaching and supporting others facing challenges like hers. Maybe they have just received a diagnosis and are in shock and despair, as she was a year ago. She knows what that is like and is the best possible companion in that moment. Maybe they are struggling with impossible decisions about which treatment, when and where, or decisions about whether to treat at all. She has been there, too, and although she would never make the decision for them, she can ask questions, listen, sympathize, and support. She knows what it is like to be living with a challenging, uncertain life. She is an expert, just as much so as the doctors and technicians.

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Living with Monuments

What do you think of when you hear the word monument? A man on a horse, a soldier, maybe an arch or an obelisk with a long inscription about the historic heroic acts of your countrymen, decades or centuries ago? The intent seems to be to honor and celebrate these figures and their acts of bravery. And this is where we get into trouble. Although heroes to some, to others they may represent oppression, injustice, and worse.

Robert E. Lee, with placard to honor Heather Heyer who was killed in the Charlottesville conflict 2017 (Statue was melted down in 2023)

How do we deal with the darker side of these monumental figures? The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, astride his horse Traveler, in Charlottesville, VA, was recently removed and melted down in a secret location. The community and leadership struggled for years over its disposition, making the difficult decision to repurpose the massive bronze monument and create a new piece of public art appropriate for the city.

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AI, the Pancake, and Me

Grandchildren are good for a lot of things. One of them is keeping you up to date on the latest technology so you can at least bluff your way through a conversation about zoom,, tik tok… although as I write this I realize I am showing how far behind I already am. Things are happening so fast it makes my head spin. I grew up with the electric typewriter and then the word processor and then the computer, and now I’m faced with Artificial Intelligence, the infamous AI.

I turned to my grandson for help. “It’s incredible,” he began. He went on to describe the essay that AI wrote for him. “I just wanted to see what it could do,” he quickly added. “I just did it once.” [Footnote: his school in Germany now requires all written assignments to be done with pen and paper in class for obvious reasons. I feel for the teachers, correcting papers of highschoolers who never learned to write cursive, but I digress.] We chatted about AI art and how it can take a grandson’s voice and create a fake phone call that would fool a grandma. And then he asked me if I had seen the “AI Pancake”? I will include the link below if you want to see it.

This is clearly a human-made pancake… check out the AI pancakes
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I Coulda Been…

Even if you’ve had, or are still having, the perfect career, you may find yourself wondering about other options you might have taken. I have been so lucky to have spent much of my adult life mediating. Come to think of it, I spent a lot of my not-adult life mediating, too, between parents, friends, roommates. I was always the one in the middle, seeing both sides, comfortable with the gray areas, knowing that black and white was too simple. It is wonderful, challenging, fascinating work, and for someone insatiably curious about people, it is perfect. But there have been times in the midst of a seemingly unresolvable dispute, or confronted by a particularly difficult participant, when my mind has wandered down the path not taken.

What would I rather be doing, I ask myself? And for decades what has popped into my head is “delivering mail.” I drive by a mail delivery person, bag slung across shoulder, or pushing a wire basket filled with mail, moving jauntily along, and I think how relaxing it would be to walk your beat, chatting with a neighbor or two, dropping mail in boxes or slots, breathing deep, enjoying the clouds, the flowers, the sun, the rain, the falling leaves, whatever the season brings. Maybe in the spring I would wear uniform shorts, revealing well-developed calves. Maybe I would even be whistling.

I coulda been…

The appeal of this career for me is obvious: 

  • Get exercise without going to a gym
  • Uniform provided, no agonizing decisions about what to wear
  • No conflicts to resolve. If neighbors are fighting, I just whistle and move on.
  • Contact with people is superficial, which doesn’t mean that I don’t care. It just means that I don’t have to know more than I want.
  • Everyone, almost, would be happy to see me. I would smile a lot, and say “you’re welcome” to the dozens of “thank you’s” every day.
  • Permission to be nosey. Who gets which catalogs, who actually still corresponds by letter, who gets the most Christmas cards, who peeks out from behind the curtain hoping to catch the mail before it hits the floor, who has pets, babies, teens, who likes classical, rock or Taylor Swift.
  • Opportunities to be a hero. Sometimes it’s the mail carrier who notices the mail piling up, or hears a cry for help inside the house, or smells smoke, or notices the family car has a flat tire, or finds a latch key child on the porch with no key. Just google “mail carrier saves” and you’ll find amazing feats, rescuing numerous elderly women who’ve fallen, saving a dog from a snake bite, catching a baby falling from a window. The possibilities for saving the day are endless.

But wait, there’s more. No reports to write, no meeting discussions to summarize, no agendas to draft, no long phone calls with distraught disputants, no flights to DC. Yes, it would be such a relief to have each day a completed task. Fill up basket in the morning, deliver during the day, fold up empty basket, and go home. Of course, the day might start earlier than I’d like, there might bickering at the post office about whose turn it is to make the coffee, a customer might accuse me of stealing her Vogue magazine, I might develop fallen arches, the weather might be sleet, rain and snow, … but I’d be out there doing my red-blooded American duty, and I’d be proud.

And what if I had chosen that fork in the road?  By now, would I be hobbling down the sidewalk, dragging my rickety basket of junk mail behind me, wishing for a nice cushy desk job, where I could give my feet a break, look at the raging weather through a window, have friendly colleagues to banter with, get to wear something that was red or purple or green for a change?

I’ll never know, cuz at my age the civil service examiner would burst out laughing. Or maybe she would offer me a nice desk job, in HR, mediating office squabbles.

No thanks. I’ll stay where I am.

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There is a beautiful trail in the County Open Space just five minutes from our house. Roberto and I walk it regularly. It is beautiful in all seasons, wildflowers in May, cactus blooms in July, Juniper berries in September, a dusting of snow in December. And always rock formations around the next bend, voluminous clouds and views of far-off peaks as we ascend.

view from the trail

The other day we stopped at the map posted at the trailhead showing the different trails, wondering how many miles we walked. The legend showing the actual distance represented by an inch was hard to read. As we leaned over the map, pointing and talking, two middle-aged men arrived, outfitted with hiking poles, hats, water bottles, and great enthusiasm.

“Do you need some help?” asked one, smiling at us. “We’ve hiked here –”

I think he was probably going to say they had hiked the trails before and could tell us which ones were easier, which more challenging, or something like that. But I had interrupted with an urgent message. “Oh, we hike here all the time, for years, we know it well!” I was so eager to straighten him out, clarify that we belonged here, that I’m not even sure I said “thank you anyway,” or “have a nice hike.”

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Are We There Yet?

Maybe you remember family car trips with the periodic chorus from the backseat “Are we there yet?” The answer was always “Almost,” and somehow you knew that wasn’t true. And yes, you squirmed and asked many more times before the car pulled into the motel, your aunt’s house, a state park, whatever the destination of this trip.

This chorus has been running through my head for the past few weeks as the major project I have been working on draws to a close. On November 1 the final report from the Not Invisible Act Commission was submitted to congress and the Departments of the Interior and Justice. The report addressed the crisis of murdered, missing and trafficked Indigenous people and offered dozens of recommendations to the executive and legislative branches of government.  

“So, Lucy,” I tell myself, “the answer is yes, we are there. Your work is done, your contract complete, the final deliverable delivered.” As facilitator I have reached the destination, but the question “are we there yet?” still hangs over me.

The problem is that the report is only one step on a long journey and the real destination is taking action, implementing those recommendations, making significant change that will reduce dramatically the numbers of suffering Indigenous people and families who are impacted by this epidemic of murdered, kidnapped and trafficked Indigenous people. Until that happens I don’t think we’re there yet.

I’ve had this worry before in my decades of mediating and facilitating all kinds of disputes. I’m hired to do a discrete task – hold a listening session, mediate a negotiation, bring adversaries together to draft a plan for moving forward. The outcome may be good, citizens’ voices heard, an agreement reached, relationships built for future work together. But these are just beginnings; they are not the destination. The problem, the need that brought them to the table is still there. Without a monitor, someone responsible for seeing that the agreements become reality, the parties may be left with little or no progress. And in the case of Indigenous and other groups they may simply chalk this up as another broken promise, eroding whatever trust might have been built.

I would like to see the mediator/facilitator be able to take on a follow-through function. With authority to monitor the implementation of the agreement, they could check on progress and help get past obstacles. They could communicate regularly with the parties, reminding them of where they’ve been and where they’re heading, maybe even bring them back together to review, or modify, or celebrate. It’s possible that some participants don’t want to be reminded, are overwhelmed by the newest crisis, or have moved on in another direction. That’s understandable but the work they put in on these processes deserves a careful and caring follow-up. Someone needs to check the road map and ask “Are we there yet?”

From the cover of the Not Invisible Act Report, “Not One More.” This is a picture of a small part of the Honoring our Medicine Paddle Blanket, created by Pacific Northwest Tribes to remember and honor murdered and missing loved ones. The Puyallup Tribe cares for the blanket, which travels throughout the country. It was hung at the MMIP hearing in Billings, Montana, and family members were invited to add their own paddles in honor of lost loved ones. The blanket has many hundreds of paddles, each sewed on with care by a member of the Puyallup Tribe’s Domestic Violence Program.

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I Am a Worrier

I come from a long line of worriers of many worthy worries. My grandpa Nels, who was born in 1866 and died in 1968 at 102 probably logged the most worries in our lineage. He worried mostly about suffering, close to home and far away. I remember a moment at the dinner table when he said he was worried about the crisis in Africa which was in the news. What crisis, asked someone. “The children are starving! Oh, those poor children” he wailed and began to cry. My father asked someone to please pass the chicken and the conversation moved on.  Nels also worried that I would die. He had been a “sickly” child, and in the middle of winter after several weeks of being “confined to bed” a neighbor in their dirt-poor community in northern Minnesota, came to visit. “Oh dear,” she said to his father, “little Nels won’t last to see that tree in bloom.” He remembered how at 9 years old he looked out the window at the bare-limbed apple tree and at that moment felt the weight of the prediction. So, in spite of my obvious robust good health as a child, he worried that every time he saw me might be the last.

He lived to see many apple blossoms

My mother, his daughter, was a champion worrier, specializing in the short-term future. Would the plumber really come tomorrow? Would she find a parking spot downtown? She fixated about food. If an egg had protein but also cholesterol, should she eat it? She never ate another grape in her life after Cesar Chavez told her not to. She worried about politics, despairing that all her worrying had no impact on the outcome of an election. In her later years she became so anxious that her doctor prescribed an anti-anxiety pill which she could take as needed. She chose to take it every afternoon at 1:00… and yes, she worried incessantly that she might forget to take it.

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A Wisp of Smoke

For the last several months my priority has been Secretary Haaland’s Not Invisible Act Commission, designed to address the epidemic of Missing Murdered and Trafficked Indigenous People (MMTIP). I am honored to be part of the facilitation team and have given the effort everything I’ve got… perhaps a bit too much. After facilitating public hearings around the country where victims, survivors and family member told horrific stories of loss, abuse and pain, I began to carry their grief with me. The accumulation of traumatic stories, broken people, anger, desperation and despair became unbearable. I was numb, depressed, and hopeless. I felt broken myself.  

And so, as the conscientious White woman that I am, I sought help from a psychiatrist who has been there for me in times of need for many years. I was suffering from trauma, he said, not as a victim, but as a witness to the trauma of others. Having treated veterans and victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking, he said: “Retelling the traumatic story will not lead to healing. To heal, to live with the trauma in a healthy way, that requires something else, something beyond words.” I saw many witnesses at the hearings testify in tears and struggle through their stories. Clearly the retelling can re-traumatize. But many take that risk in order to educate and advocate for solutions and system reforms to address the epidemic. And many of them have non-verbal resources – ceremonies, songs, prayers, dances, drums, medicinal herbs, healers — within their cultural traditions to help them heal.

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