Sunday, July 5, 2015

Countdown to Qatar: Letting Go of Family

Going Further from Home and Family

This holiday week-end, my Dad, Jerry, my step-mom, Dottie, and my grand-niece, Paige, drove the long trip from Illinois to see me before I depart in another five weeks.  We spent a rainy Friday at The Breaks Interstate Park so Paige could see the dramatic landscape so very different from the flat lands of her home state.

This morning, I sent them home with a smile on my face, but I teared up on the way back into the house.  One more act of letting go.

In fact, after I move, I will probably see them as much, perhaps even more, than I do now.  But there is something about putting an 8-10 hour plane ride (rather than an 8-10 hour car ride) between us that suggests a deeper, more lasting separation.

My new employer, the Qatar University College of Law, will pay for an annual trip home.  It will also give me $5,000/year to spend on conference attendance -- some of which I will spend in the U.S.  But, if I want to keep my income largely tax-free, I must limit my stays in the U.S. to less than 30 days.

My Dad, famously active and healthy, is still getting older.  He will turn 81 this summer.  It won't be as easy for me to respond to a health crisis from so far away. Similarly, when I broke my leg, Dad and Dottie played a very important role in my recovery from a series of surgeries.  I'll have to be more self-sufficient, as well as good at cobbling together, in Qatar, the kind of wonderful support system I've found here. 

I will miss watching Paige continue to grow into a lovely, smart, athletic, woman with an open-heart, surprising wisdom, and warm personality.  She has changed so much since I last saw her!  I hope she comes to visit me in Qatar. 

She really enjoyed her trip into the mountains.  She loved the landscape and the people.  She found a new friend in Kyle.  In this photo, they are waiting for the fireworks display to start. 

I sent them off with goods from the house (another letting go): 
  • Four coffee pot, sugar, and creamer sets from the ironstone collection, 
  • A  chalkboard menu from a restaurant in Iowa -- probably from the 50s or 60s.  I was surprised that my Dad had had his eye on it.  It was one of the first antiques I collected.  I was 19 years old then.
  • The tools my grandfather, Paul Young, owned. 
  • My power saws and sanders.
  • Cookbooks.
  • Gardening books.
  • A garden chotchke.
  • Two Victorian lady's coin purses in gold mesh. 

Next week, my best friend from high school, Kenn Ann, will come for a good-bye visit.  More about that in my next post.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Countdown to Qatar: Letting Go of Pork

My Farewell 
to a Staple Food

I recently described myself as a bacon-eating Buddhist.  I know.  The contradiction is not lost on me.

I grew up in the Midwest, the granddaughter of Illinois farmers on both sides of the family.  As kids, we would often visit the Drinkwater family farm located outside Virginia, Illinois.  The pig sty was not too far from Grandma Drinkwater's back stoop. Perhaps that made it easier to "slop" the pigs.

Their sharp hooves dug up the mud, creating a squishy mud wallow.  (You will like the definition of wallow.) They would  . . . well, wallow in it, much to our delight.

Sometimes, the pigs would lie up next to the wire fence.  We could reach our little fingers through the wire to rub their mud-caked hide that was covered in bristles. We watched their snouts probe the air and then the mud. We laughed at their squeals and snuffles.  Pigs!

Later, out under the huge trees over in the side yard, sitting in dense, newly mowed grass, we would eat fried chicken, green beans --cooked long with a big ham hock, macaroni salad, and watermelon. After that feast, we'd lay back on a quilt to watch the puffy clouds carried by that persistent Illinois wind.

Flies would buzz.  Cicadas would sing. Birds would chirp.  A dog would bark.

Later still, we'd have a slow-cooked pork roast with mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, and any beans left over from lunch.

The following morning, we'd wake to the smell of frying bacon. Sometimes, Grandma might serve up "scrapple" -- a pork-filled corn mush pressed into a block, then sliced, then fried, then served with maple syrup.  

In other words, I have warm fuzzy feelings surrounding pork.  It's comfort food to me.

Recently, I posted on Facebook the image of a pink pig, with wings, flying across a blue sky.  The accompanying text read:  "If pigs really could fly, I bet their wings would . . . taste absolutely delicious."

I've eaten pork almost everyday of my life.  Lately, I've been eating it twice a day. Gorging on it, I guess, in anticipation of the cold turkey withdrawal I soon face when I move to Qatar. Qatarians are devout Muslims, for whom pork is not only forbidden, but perhaps even disgusting.

I'm eating grilled country pork ribs that are a local cut I did not know until I moved to the mountains.  Delicious!  I'm eating a St. Louis staple known as pork steaks.  Delicious!  Then there are the thousand of pork sausages I've eaten -- mostly the Italian variety, but also bratwurst.  Delicious, especially when grilled! Bacon. Oh my god, so much bacon.

And, then, prosciutto (which I can find here), salami in several iterations, and ham (mostly the country style and Black Forest).

I'm told that the expat store on the edge of Doha sells pork, as long as you have the right license to buy it. A new friend also suggested bringing it into the country, frozen, and stashed deeply among a woman's underclothes.  Apparently, the customs inspectors just won't go there.

Unlike Dubai, "pork rooms" at hotel and restaurants that cater to expats simply do not exist in Doha.

So, I recently bought these two little stone sculptures of pigs.  I'm taking them with me. That way, when I get to Qatar, I can say: "I have a little pork in the house."

Countdown to Qatar: Letting Go of ASL

So long ASL.  
It's Been Very Good 
to Know You!

Letting go of place also involves letting go of the law school I have called home for 13 years.

It involves letting go of my faculty colleagues at the Appalachian School of Law, many of whom are also in the midst of a transition to a new job and locale. 

It means letting go of students with whom I've built relationships.  It means saying good-bye to a certain type of teaching to a certain population of students -  mostly first generation college or grad school students from the central Appalachian region. 

It involves giving up a large office I've loved on the "library side" of the award-winning building that houses the law school.

It means saying best wishes to staff members who have always been helpful, hopeful, effective, dedicated, and cheerful.

It means leaving a community where service was at the core of operations for many of us -- service to the school, the students, the profession, and the community.

I joined the ASL faculty the summer after the shootings that left our acting Dean, Tony Sutin, a beloved professor Tom Blackwell, and a student, Angela Dales, dead from gunshot wounds.  The shooting also left three other students gravely injured.  I was prideful enough to think that my dispute resolution skills might offering some deeper healing to a community scarred by the tragedy.  Instead, I think I did help two of the victims -- just by being present when they needed me.

My many students have taught me how to teach.  Yes, I read just about everything published on the topic of active learning, but the once-semester evaluations always enlighten me.  I love my students and the successful professionals our alumni have become.  They created better lives for themselves and their families because they took advantage of the educational program we offered.

My faculty colleagues have worked overtime in so many ways these past three years to help ASL respond to the New Normal in legal education.  I appreciate their commitment to the mission of the school, but mostly I appreciate their concern and support for students.  They have acted with utmost care, concern, and ethical behavior.

I want to especially thank my Assistant, Sandy Baker, who is professional, timely, persistent, supportive, and smart.  She serves more faculty members than any one Assistant should and does it with patience and grace.

I will be letting go of the 300 flower bulbs I planted on campus the same day I fractured my leg in three places.  Those daffodils and other early spring flowers always make me feel happy and connected to all the other gardeners who love the message they bring.

I will leave behind to my colleague, Professor Priscilla Harris, my office (if the new Dean permits) and many of the furnishings that made it a productive intellectual home for me.  She has been a constant companion for many years.  Funny, dedicated, wry, scary-smart, and caring.  A complex assortment of characteristics that have made knowing her a delight.

Her husband, Stewart, has also been a good friend, rarely missing an opportunity to give me a warm hug.

I will relinquish the handicap parking spot I used when I knew no one else would need it so another space would open up in the Reserve Parking near the main building. (P.S.  I'm selling my car: 2011 RAV 4 Ltd, 4WD, 48,000 miles, leather interior, JBL sound system.)

Hardest of all, I have decided to pitch the ADR materials I have collected for over decade that now fill 12 lateral file drawers.  That's been a tough decision to make, but letting go is never easy.

I am cherishing the last few weeks I have teaching an online course on Practice Before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  I've got really terrific students in the course, and I am interacting with people -- invited experts --  who came into my life when I was a very young associate.  In so many ways, I am enjoying the "book-end" aspects of that course and its design.

I could say so much more, but won't.  As the firm day of my departure for Qatar approaches -  August 15 -- I have moments in which tears well in the corners of my eyes.  This place.  This path.  This learning.  These folks.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Countdown to Qatar: Letting Go of Place

For 13 Years, I've Called the Central Appalachian Mountains my Home
These lush mountains provide a home and identity for proud, resourceful, self-reliant Appalachians who express a hospitality that combines both mountain and southern values.  They emphasize family ties, community, and church. 
They use power washers like no other population I've ever met, probably because mold and coal dust tends to coat walls, porches, and other outside structures in this wet climate.  And because, contrary to the stereotype, they are fastidious housekeepers and take great pride in their homes, yards, and gardens. 

These mountains 
shelter wildlife that includes black bears, panthers, coyotes, deer, timber rattlesnakes, migrating birds and butterflies, raptors, owls, mourning doves, ravens, groundhogs, spring peepers, cranes, and chipmunks.  I've also spotted blue-tailed lizards and voles in my own garden. My Facebook friends are familiar with my sightings.

Just about everyone has a dog.  Many folks have three, including me.  Never heard of Redbones until I got here.  And, Chihuahuas -- go figure -- are a popular breed amongst my neighbors.

Grundy itself is located on The Crooked Road, a tourist promotion tied to local bluegrass venues.  I've spent many summer hours enjoying music played by area artists at The Breaks Amphitheatre, The Carter Fold, Jonesborough's Music on the Square,  the Country Cabin, Ralph Stanley's Hills of Home festival, and other venues within a 2-hour radius.

I've hiked the Geologic Trail at The Breaks Interstate Park. That park is known as the Grand Canyon of the South and offers hiking, horseback riding, swimming, paddle boating, camping, and cabin lodging.  Throughout the summer, it hosts nature talks, a Civil War reenactment, a car show, a molasses cook off, and a crafts show. 

I've learned that the area is actually a river-cut plateau made of brown sandstone, coal, slate, and limestone -- the remnants of a great swamp, beach, and sea.  If you look again at the first photo in this posting, you will see that, in the distance, the tops of the mountains, despite all the deep hollers, are flat as pancakes.  That's ancient plateau.

I've stood under the tallest hemlock in the park -- a survivor of early loggers because of its inaccessible location.  It will die soon, with all its kin, because of an infestation of an invasive insect from Japan.

My house shows the hours I've spent in local antique shops, flea markets, and garden supply stores.

I've discovered that the most important gardening tool is a pickax because the ground is full of stones.

I've watched typically quiet Slate Creek swell with snow melt and spring rains and rush past my house at near flood stage.  I've seen it join the Levisa River as it flows northwest (!) to Pikesville, KY across the riverbed access point where Brenda and I collected hundreds of polished sandstones we used to build my garden walk.

I've logged many hours driving along the Appalachian Mountains on my way to historic Abingdon, VA, Johnson City, TN, Charlottesville, VA, or D.C.

I've eaten local strawberries sold by a very sweet, very talkative, 77-year old guy, who told me recently he had had a hard childhood.  Later in the season, he sets up his roadside stand to sell sweet corn, tomatoes -- and later still -- apples.  These seasonal purchases represent my modest effort to support local agriculture.

I've drunk bootleg moonshine delivered in a mason jar and tested by igniting a spoonful over a match flame to see if it burns blue -- a sign that it carries no harmful impurities. 

I've seen annual motorcycle rallies that included a blessing of the bikes, loud music, pork bar-b-que, and acknowledgment of the sacrifice of local veterans in foreign wars.  So many bikers have zipped past my front fence for so many years during the "poker rally" that the dogs long ago gave up barking at them.

I watched demolition crews take the face off a mountain to create a site for one of a few three-story WalMart located in the U.S.  The folks in Grundy, including myself, welcomed this retailer.  It saved us a 45-minute drive to Richlands or Pikeville to do shopping.

I've attended many funerals and watched my friend's loved ones buried in family cemeteries perched on mountain sides where the headstones are positioned so the rainwater pouring off the mountain won't topple them forward. 

I've learned that they still drape lace over the open casket, perhaps forgetting that in the past it was meant to keep flies off the dead.  I've learned that the closest relatives still keep an exhausting, but loving, overnight vigil with the deceased from the time he or she enters the casket to the time the body is laid to rest. I've heard mournful mountain hymns sung at these funerals by local preachers along with joyful ones expressing a deep belief in the safety and peace of Heaven.

I've watched July 4th, Homecoming, and Christmas parades that halted ALL traffic through town and featured fire trucks and ambulances blaring their sirens, home made floats with their riders throwing hard candy to kids along the route, marching Boy Scouts, flag toting veterans, and beauty queens spanning the age of newborns to college-age sweethearts.

I've seen the peril to an economy that is reliant on the extractive industries of timber and coal.

I've heard the whistle of the train, loaded with coke, leaving the belching fires of the Jewel Smokeless coke plant.  

I've seen kudzu cover entire trees, houses, and a backhoe. I've watched -- in the bed of a truck parked on the main route through town -- a sapling grow into a 20-foot tree.  I've seen a poison ivy vine dominate the wall of neighbor's shuttered house.

I've eaten at a local diner that features traditional foods designed to feed large families on very limited incomes. Those local delicacies include chicken & dumplings, beans and cornbread (also known as soup beans), and sauerkraut and wienies. 

I've spent happy times with students, staff, and faculty at the Appalachian School of Law. This mission-driven school gives first generation college grads the opportunity to get a professional degree and then return to their rural communities to provide access to justice, leadership, and community service.

Something Different

I moved here to experience something different from the agricultural plains of the Midwest, where I grew up. 

I moved from St. Louis to a town with 1,000 residents.  I moved from a diverse community -- measured by race, religion, and culture -- to a far more homogenous community, unless you count the confusing (to me) and numerous sects of Baptists -- Regular, Old Regular, Primitive, Evangelical, Southern, and Missionary. 

I moved from an overscheduled life to one centered on teaching, writing, students, friends, and hobbies.

And now, after this long respite, I am ready to try the big city again.  This time, Doha with nearly 800,000 people. No doubt, I'll adapt to that new place.  People will be there to help as people helped me here. 

More about those folks of this place in an upcoming posting.