Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Countdown to Qatar: Reflections on My Past





Happy in the 
Present Moment


"Sometimes, in order to be happy in the present moment, you have to be willing to give up all hope for a better past."  Robert Holden


I found this quote recently and pinned a copy of it on my office bulletin board for the colleague who will be moving into my office.

However, as I spent the last two days shredding financial documents and tax records as part of the process of letting go, I was shocked at how those documents raised strong emotions tied to the events reflected in the pages of those files.  I've found:

  • My first tax return, filed in 1974, when I worked as a gas station attendant during the Arab Oil Embargo. That expereince sparked a life long interest in energy law.  Also, I had my first apartment --  a walk up in an old building in downtown Grinnell, Iowa.   The Sinclair station, where I worked, is now a restaurant. I earned $2,596.99 that year.


  • My first tax return after I gave up on Grinnell and moved back to St. Louis in 1975: I worked as a bartender and waitress at Blueberry Hill in the Delmar Loop. Later, I worked as a cocktail waitress at Michael's and the Time Machine (during the heyday of disco), then at the Windjammer Lounge of the Marriott Hotel (where a wore a white polyester sailor suit, with hot pants that had an anchor on the back pocket  -- Anchors Away?), and at The Tower Club, a dinner club run by the prior operator of the Playboy Bunny Club in St. Louis (where I wore a lovely Quiana wrap-dress).


  • My first tax return filed as a newly admitted lawyer showing a salary of $35,000 in 1982, the equivalent of $85,500 today. I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma and worked for the largest law firm in the state doing natural gas regulatory work.  My boyfriend followed me there and then couldn't find a job despite his Wash U--MBA credentials.  The economy was in a gas production slump. 
  • A letter to someone at May Centers, my employer during law school, about my new job in the energy industry.  The description in it is particularly meaningful to me given the course I'm teaching this summer on Practice Before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  It reads:
"I am the newest associate with a 73 lawyer firm located in Tulsa. I am one of two attorneys involved in natural gas regulation -- a very chaotic and controversial area of the law right now.  The issue is the political bandwagon of the season. I get to D.C. for Congressional and administrative hearings about once a month.  The work is exciting and gets me out of this cow town regularly."  
  • My tax return following my move from the cow town (sorry Tulsans) to D.C. in 1984 to start a job in Big Law at a salary of $66,550, equivalent to $153,000 today!  So, today, those Big Law salaries of $160,000 are mostly keeping up with inflation.
  • My tax return for 1987 after my move back to St. Louis.  It reflects a dramatic drop in salary from $109,000 (in 1987 dollars) to $42,000. Yikes!  I guess I really needed to be back in St. Louis. 
  • My 1991 tax return reflecting employment at a firm that provided a decade of interesting work in the field of insurance insolvency.  I saw many references in my expense reports to the delicious food I ate in Santa Monica and other LA restaurants during my representation of  what was then the largest P&C insurance insolvency in U.S. history. That culinary experience made me the home cook I am today.
  • My tax return for 2001, the year I attended Missouri School of Law to earn my LL.M. degree in Dispute Resolution. One of the best year's of my life. I also found the expenses associated with finishing that degree after I had moved to Grundy in 2002.  That was one of the worst, most manic years of my life. I was commuting every week-end back to Columbia, Missouri to finish the last course I needed for the degree.  I was also learning how to teach and taught two skills courses that required a lot of class prep.  I lived in four rooms of my house with the remaining rooms still filled with unpacked belongings.  I lived like that -- without unpacking -- for another three years! (That experience makes me know I can live in a 1-bedroom apartment in Doha.)
  • My expense reports reflecting the move to Grundy with 13,000 pounds of belongings, most of which I am now abandoning. The move cost about $6,500.  
  • My first contract to teach at ASL, a summer gig for our PASO program that paid $4,000, money I very much needed after living off my savings for over a year. 
  • All the medical expenses incurred for six surgeries designed to stabilize my leg after I broke it in three places in December 2005.  Despite having good insurance, that recovery cost me about $20,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.  


 
  • Bills from the contractor who built what I like to call my "Ritz Carlton bathroom."  I designed the bathroom and served as general contractor.  Later, the whole town of Grundy knew I'd paid $1,000 for the high-end toilet.  What they didn't know is, that for six months, I used a port-a-potty, placed in my carport (out of the sun), while I waited for the contractors to show up and complete the work.  Contractors did a fabulous job. 


Overall, I've had a happy life, although I would have been happy to have avoided some of these experiences. 

I'll have more on this story after I tackle some more tax files. 

In the mean time, I want to close with a quote I discovered this afternoon among a set of documents I'm reviewing.  It reads:

"Today, I will be happier than a bird with a French fry." Chirp, chirp.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Countdown to Qatar: Letting Go of My Files










Pitching Part 
of my 
Professional Identity

I don't know what it says about me, but I am a very organized pack rat.  My ADR books are alphabetized by author.  They are now neatly packed in boxes with labels showing the alphabetical run included in each box. 

For years, I have created elaborate filing systems for research materials.  At two former law firms, I created "Brief Banks" that allowed our lawyers, especially newer ones, to easily access different forms, sample pleadings, and research.

After joining ASL, I created a filing system for the expanding materials I was collecting on negotiation, mediation, arbitration, group facilitation, client counseling, collaborative law, restorative justice, conflict theory, ADR system design, communication skills, teaching tools, student well-being, and leadership, just to name a few of the included topics. 

The collection filled 12 file drawers and about five boxes.  My research files, for various law review articles, filled another five Bankers' boxes.  Conference brochures filled another three boxes, at least.  My publications, including reprints, filled another six boxes.










The index to this set of files runs 53 single-spaced pages.  
















Hot Mess?

During its creation, when a former secretary started making the files and file labels, word got back to me that one of my colleagues thought the whole thing was a hot mess. Perhaps, but I could always put my fingers on a document with very little difficulty. Many files served as the seed to a student's research project. Colleagues often asked me for a school-related document that they couldn't find. 

Subsequent secretaries have dedicated many hours to updating the files with the documents I'd collect over a six month period or so. One recently posted on Facebook that she never minded the task because it kept her busy during the quiet and somewhat boring summer months of the academic calendar.

These files represented, in some tangible way, my expertise in the field of Dispute Resolution and the time I had dedicated to learning what I could about its various aspects.

So, not surprisingly, one of the last acts of letting go has been throwing away all those files. Yesterday, I  threw away at least 12 boxes of material I had stored in a storage unit during this transition. 


Tonight, I finished throwing away the files at the office.  I filled the last of three dumpsters that it took to get the collection out to the trash.  


I have saved files that related to international dispute resolution.  I may need those.

It has been very hard to let go of this aspect of my professional life. But also, amazingly liberating. 

The file drawers are now waiting for the next person's hot mess. 

P.S.  I still need to pitch tax records going back to 1982 and figure out what to keep from the two file drawers of coaching materials I've collected during my time in three programs offered by Christine Kane -- Life, Business, and Gold. 




Thursday, July 16, 2015

Countdown to Qatar: Letting Go of Friends








Saying "See You Later"
to Kenn Ann



I am actually very good at maintaining links to old friends.  Facebook has certainly made that easier.  I always seem to have one good friend during each stage of my life or for each locale. 

One of my oldest friends, Kenn Ann, visited this past week-end.  She was my best friend during my years in high school and college.  We've been friends ever since.  We spent several hours talking about that period of our lives, as we have in the past, and still discovered new things about our relationship.

I have always said, and she agrees, that I made her be my friend.  In high school, as an immigrant from Indiana, she was not a part of the cliques with whom I moved comfortably -- whether smart kids, female jocks, or artists.  

(I'd been in the school system since second grade.  I'm on the first row, far left, sitting cross-legged in the light colored top.   My best friend, Gwen, is sitting next to me.  Suzanne Magee, who accompanied me to Dubai in December 2014, is seated on the second row, second from the end on the right, in the jumper.) 

I could tell Kenn Ann was smart and funny!  I had to get to know her!

She sat across the room in our senior-year Psychology class and, somehow, I maneuvered so I soon sat next to her.  Later, I was taking her to McDonald's for lunch in my 1956 VW bug.  

I'd go to her house after school to eat her Mom's Croatian garlic soup and goof off.  Later, we planned trips to the SIU Music Festival, where she proved incapable of holding her "liquer."  Granted, I have always weighed more than her.  And, granted we were drinking cheap wine, like Boonesfarm.  

We camped in the Missouri Ozarks with my boyfriend, Ken Sallade, and his good-natured, but rowdy, biker friends, including Doug Mosley.  She kept me laughing throughout these fairly innocent escapades.

We attended the same college -  Grinnell -- in Grinnell, Iowa.  It's a top school, but we both left after a year.  I thought it was too small and yearned for the big city.  She thought it was too big and felt overwhelmed.  One summer, before we called it quits, we hitchhiked on I-80 from Iowa to Massachusetts to see my college roommate, Louise DesJardins.  It was my idea.

That was my first experience with the ocean.  One night we went to a local restaurant/bar near the water.  While Kenn Ann was in the bathroom, a lapsed NY stock broker --  with a rum runner sailboat -- invited us on a sail to Martha's Vineyard.  I said "YES" before she got back.  That was typical.  I'd plan the escapades, and she would willingly go along for the ride. 







When I moved back to St. Louis, after five years of living elsewhere, we would spend lazy summer week-ends fishing while canoe-floating one of the many streams found in the Missouri Ozarks.  We used, what I liked to call, "the blessed crawdad lure," shown in the upper left corner of this photo.  I've put one in the keepsake box that I will take to Qatar.  It will always remind me of those trips.

Over time, I've relinquished more control to her as she has asserted more control.  Last summer, Kenn Ann, Christine Bierman, and I spent three weeks traveling in the West for my "silver jubilee birthday celebration."  Kenn Ann planned most of the trip, which required three 60-year old women to tent camp in the Redwood Forest and then at Yosemite.  Of course, that made us very cool with several younger folks we met along the way.










As Kenn Ann often does, she charmed my other friends -- in that case, the two ASL alumni we met in Lake Tahoe -- Meghan (aka Sally) Scott and Jessica Nelson





This last visit, we talked about how important the art department of University City High  School had been to about every aspect of our lives.  She became a photographer, works with puppets, and has many artist friends.  I design gardens, interior decorate, create visually interesting slides for my classes, make beaded jewelry, and design clothing.  That art department taught us we could do just about anything.  We developed an artist's eye and an appreciation for original art.  My home and office are full of original art, and it always invites a closer inspection and a conversation about it.  I'm taking my Native American art to Qatar just for that reason.

When Kenn Ann left this past week-end, I told her I was not going to cry . . . then I did.  She has not promised to come visit me in Qatar.  I guess I'll have to plan that escapade.

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."