Richmond & me playing house ~
As our 3 ½ month RV trip begins to wind down, Richmond and I observed that this time we’re sharing with each other is “golden.” The days fly by! We’re happy and content to be with each other, each engaged in our own interests and pursuits, in a tiny (by American standards) space with few other diversions. We prepare meals, eat, and clean up. We work at our computers. We maintain our 5,000-steps-a-day Nordic walking stick program. We do laundry and take out the garbage. We stay connected to the people we care about. Richmond contributes to the political discourse through his research and writing (Richmond’s essays on “It’s About Vision and Fear” and “$500 million per Victim?” are two of his best). I stay involved in projects back in Newtown and Pennswood Village (writing about fracking/pipelines, coordinating with speakers, setting up future programs for the League of Women Voters, creating articles for the Pennswood Bulletin, making phone calls).
Our son Adam and his family ~
We also spend time with our son Adam and his family. Richmond is enlisted to teach our 15-year old grandson Sawyer to drive. Twenty-five years experience as a high performance driving instructor allows Richmond to stay calm and objective. Sawyer masters parallel parking in a space five feet shorter that he’ll face in the driver exam. On the highway he learns high speed Interstate merges, practiced driving in heavy, city traffic, and gets some good “seat time” behind the wheel.
Twelve-year-old Jennings designs and builds a backyard project out of shipping pallets to practice gymnastic vaults. Richmond helps him add safety padding on the edges as the finishing touch. Here in the video clip is the result (astonishing how agile he is!):
I enjoy cooking an occasional meal, transporting Sawyer, Jennings, and their friends to a “kid” movie and found Eddie the Eagle was amazingly inspiring to watch. It’s a movie that hugely acknowledges the role a mother’s love has in her son’s life. Even ferrying Jennings from track practice to his trumpet lesson was a treat.
One morning we share a little bit of the SXSW (South by South-West) festival and hear some of the live music Austin is so famous for.
We attend Where to Invade Next (a really entertaining comparison of how we do things here in American and what other countries are doing with far better results) with Adam and his family, laughing together and pondering the insights of Michael Moore’s current mockumentary,
How full Adam and Caroline’s lives are—running the school (the Griffin School is in its 20th year), their community involvements, taking care of themselves, arranging play dates, keeping track of their kids schedules. I remember all too well what our lives were like at their ages. Richmond and I were running a business. We were both involved in community activities. I ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 1990 (a 2-year process that took over our lives and took a huge investment of our resources). As I look back on that time I see that we were not available to our children to the degree that Adam and Caroline are with their boys (or as our daughter Laura was with her four at that age). Now, as grandparents, sharing these little slices of our adult children’s and grandchildren’s every-day lives is a privilege and a joy — and in some ways, an amend.
Malcolm, one of Adam’s closest George School classmates and now a media professional living in California, worked the SXSW Festival while we were in Austin. Seeing them together as mature adults sharing news of their families, and seeing Sawyer and Jennings with their friends is “de ja vu all over again” — the sweet cycle of life and the relationships that make life worthwhile. How important it is to have people who know us over time and who witness what’s meaningful in our lives!
Jackie’s open-heart surgery ~
During this period, my stepmother Jackie had a heart valve replaced. As everyone who has gone through a major medical intervention knows, even with the best surgeons and hospitals, surgery is not without risks and uncertainties — preparation and recovery involves the whole family. Jackie’s surgery proved complicated, and she’s experienced several set-backs during her early recovery period. Everyone from both sides of the family have pulled together to support to her and Jim! Happily, after a month in the hospital, she’s now at home again recovering.
Caleb turns 20 and lobbies in Washington, DC ~
Our grandson Caleb was able to attend the FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) Spring Lobbying Weekend thanks to Laurie, a dear friend from our Somerville days. Sleeping on her couch in downtown DC put him close to the Capitol without having to pay for a hotel. Caleb joined 450 other young adults to petition Congress about the pending Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.
This really important piece of legislation addresses some of the mass incarceration costs to our society that disproportionately impact young people of color (e.g., we invest $80 billion in our prison system instead of investing in mental health; $109,000/year on average per teenager incarcerated who has a 60% likelihood of returning to prison). Caleb, in preparation for a law enforcement career, is taking courses in Sociology and Criminal Justice and is able to bring a fresh perspective on how the inequities of mandatory sentencing and mass incarceration might affect his judgment in arresting and charging young people. I just finished reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a black man’s conversation with his son (I highly recommend it).
Celebrating Spring ~
While we are here, Spring arrives. First pale green shoots and leaves, then sneeze-inducing oak “dander,” then TX wildflowers in abundance (bluebonnets and Indian paint brush). The weather swings from quite warm (in the 80’s) to cold (in the 30’s), sometimes in the same 24 hours as temperatures move from high noon to early morning (the coldest time of day). TX is quite windy also, and we’ve enjoyed several significant thunderstorms with driving rain in this hill-top location. Nonetheless, we’re enjoying Spring—and we plan to follow it all the way back to Pennswood!
How do we keep ourselves “safe?”
As in so many other areas of American life, we are having to re-examine what it means to create “safety” (both private notions of safety as well as public, national and international costs of prisons, law enforcement, militarism, terrorism, and “shared security”—a new notion that FCNL, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and others have been exploring over the past 5-10 years).
As their document Shared Security states,
War has proven to be far too costly and ineffective, and a new policy would instead strive to match peaceful means with peaceful ends [to reduce suffering and advance human dignity]. . . We reject notions of national superiority and militarism [that use] violence and domination, rather than reason and cooperation. . .We recognize our own complicity. . .Never before have the fates of individuals, communities, and nations been so intertwined. And never before have our safety and well-being depended so much on the safety and well-being of others. . .To address these problems, we need to abandon failed militarized approaches. . .[with tools that] include preventative diplomacy, mediation, transitional justice and reconciliation, trauma healing, community building, and sustainable economies. . .
As President Obama said in 2009, “America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict—not just how we wage wars.”
In an excellent TED talk, President Jimmy Carter spoke about “Why I believe the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse.” Another outstanding TED talk by human rights lawyer Gary Haugen is “The Hidden Reason for Poverty the World Needs to Address Now.” Could it be that many of these global, intractable challenges come down to simple human decency and dignity (the Golden Rule)—most visibly being militarism, systemic violence against women and girls, and our unwillingness to deal with the worst aspects of poverty?
Driving in a strange city—cars vs. trucks
As I get older, I see how much more difficult it is to process new information quickly. Familiar roads, suburban, and highway driving are easy, but we don’t do much driving in cities any more, and Austin is particularly challenging. Designed, I suspect, more for horse and carriage, the local streets are inadequate for the dense Austin neighborhoods. Our Ford 350 diesel truck, which pulls our huge RV effortlessly and tirelessly, requires a whole different level of vigilance with parking garages that are too low, parking spaces that are too small, and narrow, winding lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic. A couple of days after we arrived, I suggested to Richmond that we rent a small car.
Richmond found us a terrific monthly rate with Hertz that also allowed both of us to drive the car without paying an extra $15/day (talk about highway robbery!). Anyway, a few days later we discovered a “knock” in the truck motor, so when Richmond took the truck for its 100,000-mile oil change, he asked the mechanic to check it out. Two weeks later and after 25 hours of mechanic’s time to tear down the engine our Good Sam Extended Service Plan is faced with our claim for over $20,000 for a new replacement engine. They aren’t being hasty about approving it.
We are supposed to depart Austin on April 1, but it’s clear that won’t be possible. We must leave our present campsite because the park is booked solid. No surprise. You saw those Bluebonnets, and spring is prime season here. Fortunately we found space in a US Army Corps of Engineers park an hour’s drive north.
In spite of this mechanical misfortune we feel blessed: 1) we rented the car before SXSW and the TX Rodeo attendees rented everything in sight, 2) we didn’t discover this problem while we were pulling our RV, and 3) all we need (Ford dealer, tow service, insurance adjuster) is close at hand so everything is being taken care of. While the claims process is a bother, and the delayed departure is a disruption, it’s quite minor when compared to what might have been had we blown the engine while towing on the road.
Easter at Enchanted Rock
Everything is big in Texas. Consider a massive pink granite rock rising up out of the surrounding terrain 450 feet – and know that what you see is only about 1% of it. The rest lies hidden deep underground and the 644 acre State Park does not encompass the entire formation. This monadnock, the visible part of an igneous batholith, is the largest in the US and we, elders that we are, climbed it!
This is our Easter family outing, huffing and puffing up the trail and over the glittering granite. We were glad for our daily 2.5 mile walks as training. See more photos here: (more photos)
We return to Austin stopping along the way for an Easter Dinner of TX Bar-B-Q ribs at the famous Salt Lick Barbecue. Even with our hungry teens, we couldn’t polish off all of the 5 lb slab we ordered. This is a place where hundreds of folks like us gather around outdoor picnic tables and feast on ribs, sausage, dill pickles, German-style slaw, and potato salad. All cash, no reservations, no frills. Just great food that worth a wait in line.
We’ve loved being here–and we’re looking forward to returning home! Come and visit us!