Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year’s Day 2016 - Taking Time for Friendship

It is the first day of the New Year, 2016.  Outside, the sky is the palest of winter blues.  The air is freezing and clear.  Frost covers the grass and the roofs of my neighbors’ houses are white.  I’m taking the time that the holiday affords to reflect on the importance of family and friends.  I’ve not posted for a few months due to a very busy fall.  Now, at the beginning of 2016, I am excited to continue sharing ideas about living and loving!!  
The Hall of Mirrors, Versailles
Near the end of the holiday season, the potential of the new year, with all its mystery and excitement awaits.  Three weeks from now, my husband Jeff and I return to Brazil.  Three weeks ago, I was sitting in the waiting room of a hospital in Portland.  Over the past three months, I’ve helped my sister-in-law combat breast cancer.  Thankfully, her prognosis is excellent but the process of getting back to health is time consuming and painful.  It has required multiple surgeries.  While many other family members and friends have helped her, I’ve had the privilege of being the primary support person during her treatments.  One of the rewarding aspects of my role is how much closer we’ve become.  I am lucky in being friends with my sister-in-law and it has been very very good to visit her frequently.  I am completely at home in her house and hopefully, I’ve helped her through a process that we all hope no one else has to endure.  Breast cancer is no fun.  As my sister-in-law says, “I hope I’m taking this one for the team!” 

I'm someone with the life-long privilege of being surrounded by amazing women.  Some of them are part of my family – my mother and mother-in-law, my aunts, my daughter and daughter-in-law, my three sisters and four sister-in-laws, my and my husband’s female cousins – and others who are close friends.  Many of these women have been part of my life since I was a child, or, in the case of my friends, for many years. These women mean the world to me.  Together they have helped me in countless ways – everything from surviving tough times; teaching me to cook and raise healthy children; to helping me become an engineer and a successful working mother!  All along they’ve listened to my sometimes trivial, sometimes gigantic problems and always helping without passing judgment. 

What a privilege these relationships are.  If you ask me what one of the best parts of retirement is, I will tell you it is something I never expected.  It is having time to be with these fantastic women – a quantity of time that I simply did not have when I was working every day.  Time is a tricky element.  Time doesn’t expand or contract.  It is a physical constant.  The length of one hour is always 60 minutes and the length of one minute is always 60 seconds.  But what you fit into an hour or a minute can seem either expansive or constrained.   Who hasn’t spent “forever” waiting mere minutes for an eagerly anticipated event?  Likewise, who hasn’t experienced several hours passing “in a flash” when on an excursion with close friends or family?  In both situations, the amount of time seems to change with the activity.  But of course the absolute time hasn’t changed.  What changes is one’s perception.  In retirement, having more time gives me new opportunities to be with the important women (and men) in my life. 

The role that women have played in my life is extraordinary.  I cannot imagine my life without their sisterhood.  As a teenager and young adult, I attended an all female high school and an all female college.  Single gender institutions are more rare in today’s world than they were in the 1960’s.  But the chance to be in an all female environment that supported and nurtured female independence – at a time when women’s liberation was a very new concept – is one that I will always cherish. My family moved to the United States in 1964.  I was just 15 years old.  It was a turbulent time in history – the Civil Rights Act had just passed – and a turbulent time in my own life – who goes through adolescence without trauma?  During those formative years I struggled with developing my identity and independence, defining a career, adapting to demanding academic institutions, a new country and a shifting culture.  

Jeff in the Place des Vosges
With help and friendship I not only survived - I thrived.  The support of my female teachers and professors, my mother, aunts, sisters and girlfriends made all the difference.  When I moved to Seattle in my late twenties to do a graduate degree in civil engineering, I carried the mantle of these female mentors in my heart.  I’m glad I had such role models since at that time there were virtually no women professors or students in my engineering classes – very different from the smart female professors in my all women’s high school and college.  Years later, as a working professional and as a mother, the support and affection of my girlfriends, sisters and sister-in-laws carried me through many stressful periods.  I remember feeling close to complete collapse, returning from a busy day of work to a full evening of single parenting – my husband traveled abroad a great deal during our happy marriage.  On such occasions, I would often take my two kids and walk up the street to my girlfriend’s house.  We would literally impose on her for dinner, or a glass of wine or just a moment of relaxation.  
Fishing in the San Juans
Similarly, I recall sharing the challenges of being a working mother with my sister-in-law and my younger sister – hashing out our stressful schedules from the privilege of being together.  Of course it isn’t just the women in my life that gives it richness.  Let’s face it, we need men too – especially if they are good cooks and fishermen like my husband and son! 

In retirement, I have the freedom to spend time with the important (men and) women in my life – go for a walk with a friend, visit my sisters, or, as happened these last three months, help my sister-in-law recover from breast cancer.  Time is a gift.  I try to use it wisely.
The Sky Mirror 
The Other Side

The end of 2015 was full of many journeys - in addition to my trips to Portland to help my sister-in-law.  I went to my aunt’s memorial service in London and visited with my English sister and many other family members; with my husband, my sister and her husband, I visited Paris and Versailles – where we saw the gilt and glory of the Sun King and Anish Kapoor’s amazing Sky Mirror; thankfully we left the day before the terrorist attacks -- we were lucky; others, equally innocent, were not.

Less than a week after my return, Jeff and I hosted a traditional Thanksgiving for six Brazilian scientists and numerous extended family – introducing BBQ'd turkey and pumpkin pie to a whole new group of friends; we spent Christmas on Lopez Island where we woke up among the giant cedar trees to see Christmas lights twinkling.  

One of the Brazilian scientists visiting the University of Washington joined us for the Christmas holidays.  We shared our family traditions of Christmas cookies and Christmas stockings full of goodies.  We started a new holiday tradition – setting out crab traps and catching fresh winter crab for Christmas Day.  We enjoyed her Brazilian tradition also – making a delicious chocolate confection called Brigadeiros.   Brigadeiros are small, bite-sized sweets, something between a candy and cookie.  They are easy to make with three ingredients, sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter.   The ingredients are cooked together until thick and then cooled prior to being shaped into small balls.  At that point the fun begins as each ball is decorated with something yummy: chocolate sprinkles; coconut; chopped pistachios; peppermint sugar or other tasty coating.  Once decorated the Brigadeiros are placed into individual fluted paper cups – and then of course the best – they are passed around and enjoyed!

The Witt Winter garden at Washington Park Arboretum
2015 ends with many memories of beautiful places and visits with many extraordinary people.  In a few short weeks Jeff and I will fly to Brazil and re-unite with our life there.  I am excited to have the time in Brazil to finish a couple of big writing projects and hopefully begin some new projects.  I look forward to improving my Portuguese skills and continuing to exercise regularly.  After all, it will be summer in Brazil and we’ll be wearing shorts!!  The new year brings a new beginning and an opportunity to use time well.  I plan to do just that.  Spend time with friends and family.  I recommend it highly.  Happy New Year to everyone!

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