Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sold & Homeless

What does SOLD mean? Legally, it is the transfer of ownership. We did it! The official transfer of our house, when we get the money, is scheduled for April 6, 2007.

The new owners are two doctors from India with a small baby, currently living in an apartment. They seem excited about the house and should feel comfortable living on a street of seven houses, occupied soon by four medical doctors. Already they are planning on knocking out walls and expanding the size of the house. I guess these are the things needed to be done to make our house theirs.

Our house sold within six days. Very fast for a "slow" real estate market. We are both delighted and unprepared for the aftermath. After the initial euphoria of finding a buyer without a contingency and getting the price we wanted, greed set in. Since this is such a great house and it sold very fast, we probably should have asked for more money. But, alas, too late, the deal is done. Our house is no longer "staged". Now we can return to our normal lifestyle of organizing things in piles rather than drawers.

What does HOMELESS mean? We are one of them, soon to add our own definition to the word. We are faced with a mad scramble of not only finding a place to live between April 6th and our departure of June 3rd, but what to do with ourselves when we return for visits, or a place to live when our Peace Corps days are over. Should we rent an apartment, buy a condo, store our possessions? You think we would have decided on these things before now. Well, we have. It is just that we keep changing our minds. Fortunately, our friends are wonderful, if not a little naive, offering us rooms in their basement, northern cabins, and RV. For their sake, I hope we find a place of our own soon.

Selling the house is a biggy. Time to move onto the next phase of our journey. I hope you are enjoying reading about our angst.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Living in Chaos

Adaptability is a characteristic which Peace Corps Volunteers should possess. It is understood your ability to adjust to change can determine your success in a foreign environment. There are numerous questions the PC has to see whether you have this "Right Stuff". However, this characteristic doesn't begin when you land on some remote tropical isle, but when you list your house for sale.

Even though my life has had its ups and downs and I have had to make adjustments, my wallet was always on top of my dresser and my blue jeans always in a pile next to my bed. What seemed to many as sloppiness was to me a well organized way of life.

Now my house looks great, something like a furniture store showroom. The house is cleared of stuff to make the rooms look bigger, a red velvet chair replaces my dresser, and ferns grow in my shower where once soap existed. It looks organized, but in reality my life is in chaos. I can't find a thing! I wander lost, opening the few drawers left in search of such things as checkbooks, socks, even the last can of tuna fish has disappeared. Funk is now a word with real meaning.

Will I pass this adaptability test? I can't say for sure. It is still too early in this house selling process. I need to adjust to this new life where at the whim of a prospective buyer the essentials of your life is quickly stuffed into some drawer, you drive off to anywhere, as your house is being "shown".

To give you a feel of my life's metamorphosis, below is a sample of the changes I have had to endure in one room.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

My Village: Kenney Place, Edina, MN

My mind whirls imaging what life in Samoa is like and more specifically what life in my Samoan village is like. I read about Samoa's geography, economics, climate, history, and culture. The usual suspects. At the same time, I find myself asking what is life like in my own village, Edina, MN. I live here. I am a part of it. But how do I describe it to others, to Samoans?

A state Garrison Keillor depicts as having a certain smugness about being "slightly above average". This is true regarding the yardsticks Minnesotan's chose by which to be measured. Income, ACT scores, longevity, home ownership, mental health counselors,and low temperatures are all above the national average. Our most famous creative native son artist, Bob Dylan, chose to leave and never to return (He did recant for a concert while in his 60's).

Edina is a first ring suburb southwest of Minneapolis. It is sometimes affectionately referred to by its own residents as, "The Cake Eaters", or "The Town You Love to Hate". Here the term "slightly above average" or attending to the University of Minnesota means failure. It is Minnesota's mother lode for future lawyers, doctors, and scions of business. The high school boasts of over 100 state sport championships (No other school comes close). Indulgences for high school students such as the $70,000 all night graduation party, proms featured in "The New York Times Magazine", and a huge student parking problem, all reflect the city's greater sense of having arrived.

Kenney Place:
Kenney Place is my street, more correctly a "cul-de-sac", and whose entrance is marked by a "Dead End" sign. It consists of seven houses. If residents of City of Edina consider themselves greatly above average, than the residents of Kenney Place consider themselves Elite, but not Ultra-Elite.

I read that Samoan society is very communal with very tight relationships. How do I relate to them what it is like to live in a village where isolation from neighbors is the norm?

For example, over the past twenty years:
Kenney Place residents have never gathered all together at any time for any event or occasion.
A long time resident just moved without saying goodbye or being said goodbye to, whose children I have never met, nor to whose house I have never been nor they in mine.
Of the six other houses, I have never been to three , two once, and the other five times.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Maybe it is best to not even try to relate " The Way" in my village to "The Samoan Way". I can't be what I have just described above. Maybe I should get some sleep.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Scottsbluff, Nebraska

Just why is something about Scottsbluff, Nebraska on a blog about people going to Samoa? Or better yet, why anything about Scottsbluff? Who cares? Well there is a relationship between Scottsbluff, the Peace Corps, and long journeys.

One day while flying back to Minneapolis, I looked out the plane window to see a most unusual geological sight in the middle of total desolation with a city nearby. After checking maps, timetables, calculating the approximate location of the plane at that point in its flight, I decided it could only be Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I had to go see it.

Years have pasted and no one wanted to accompany me to this monolith on the high plains. Soon I would be on the island of Samoa, maybe never being able to visit my obsession. My wife in Florida and alone, I decided to make the trip. Not fly, but drive for 15 hours and savor what Nebraska and Scottsbluff in January offers.

During my sojourn along the back highways, I discovered Johnny Carson's hometown, the mythical ghost city of Neeville, a medium sized cattle feedlot with 15,000 Black Angus cattle awaiting their fate at the Tyson's abattoir, endless trains of coal going East from Wyoming, a wonderful coffee shop in downtown Grand Island, and the Candlelight Inn in Scottsbluff which has "Nice Rooms" where the owner's touch of 35 years competes with new Holiday Express across the highway. Neither Rome, Paris, nor London can compete with this.

Finally to arrive at Scotts Bluff itself, steeped in the history of the fur trapper Hiriam Scott being abandoned in winter by his companions to die at the foot of the bluff, by pioneer wagon trains plodding to the promise of a new life in California and Oregon, to be the only person during the final hours at the Bluff where Park Rangers wish you would leave so they can close and go home, and where dog shit marks the trail to the top.

At the summit, the view of Scottsbluff 2007 spreads out before you. Five of the 150 coal trains a day pass, a jack rabbit watches you as you make you way along the icy path which clings to the bluff, steam rises from the power plants and factories, a marker at the top shows the amount of rapid erosion that has taken place in the last 150 years. You are at one with the past, present, with a glimpse of the future.

What are the lessons to be learned from such a trip? To discover the pioneer trail is not history. It is alive. As once the Indian settlements were populated by poor Anglo-Saxons, now Hispanic names appear on stores and used car lots. The search for a mythical city brings discoveries never imagined. Your car gets better mileage after a speeding ticket, than before.

Now my desire to visit Scottsbluff is fulfilled. I wonder if my rendering of Scottsbluff to Samoans can rival what the tales of the South Pacific by Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, or James Michener can do to us?

Monday, February 5, 2007

What to do with my businesses.

For many people, retirement is a welcomed and mandatory event which makes joining the Peace Corps a logical decision. But for a self-employed person, like myself, the desire to join the Peace Corps is a little more complicated. Does one sell the business, two businesses in my case, or try to continue their operation while being in the Peace Corps?

For me the decision is easy because of the wonderful employees with whom I have the good fortune to be associated. They are more than capable of continuing and even growing the businesses without me. Although leaving one's life work, and I might add one's retirement income, in the hands of others may trouble some, I feel my time has come to step aside and give them the opportunity to show their stuff. I might say they have not disappointed.

Will employee mistakes be made? Surely. Will they be any worse than the ones I have made? I think not. Will they exceed what I would have done if I had continued to stay? Definitely, yes!

If you are interested here are the websites: and

Of course if you live in Minnesota, we certainly would like your business.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

I Am Disappearing

I have this feeling of slowly dissolving from my current life. I look about my house of twenty years that is in the process of going on the market and now find crystal glasses on shelves which once held books, beds with fancy bed spreads which once were piled with clothing, and rooms devoid of life. Our home is becoming a building aimed to appeal to some one's fantasy, of the excitement awaiting them once they sign the purchase agreement.

I feel like Alice who is about to walk through the looking glass and enter a world never before imagined. But this is not the world of Samoa, but Edina, Minnesota. Who could imagine that in the trash bags are the pictures, memorabilia, and stuff of my life? Who could ever imagine their once cherished items are in the garage?

It is scary to take that step into the unknown, but it is exciting too. This process of disappearing happens to everyone. However, when it happens to you, you hope you are remembered for your Cheshire Cat grin.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Completing Government Forms

We all have had the experience of having to complete some institution's form. None can be more vexing than those of governments, the Peace Corps being no exception. But, have you ever stopped to think what you are doing, or why? Has the notion "This is really stupid and confusing" popped into your mind? If you want my answers to these questions, read on; otherwise wait for the next blog posting.

Some where at some time there is a person whose job it is to fill out a form for some one else. Let us call it "Form A". In order to complete Form A, information needs to be gathered from which it can be transposed to Form A. The best way to do this, says our person, is create a form which asks the questions I need in order to complete Form A. So Form B is created.

Our Form B creator realizes that simply asking the questions on Form B, needed for Form A, negates the reason for creating Form B and our person being there in the first place. So as any person with a brain in their head would do, some of the questions asked on Form A are rephrased just slightly on Form B. Our Form B creator also realizes that some one at some possible time in the future might ask a question that Form A doesn't ask; so a few more new questions are added just to be on the safe side. This also provides our Form B creator with information not available to the requester of Form A.

Now the possibility exits where the person completing Form B might misinterpret what information is needed for Form A; so a cover sheet of instructions is created to simplify what is needed and how to complete Form B so our person can complete Form A.

When Form B is completed by some one else and returned, the most important thing of our Form B creator is that all the questions be answered, so they can be transposed to Form A. Just what the answers say is not important. All the blanks must be filled.

Repeat this process ad infinitum and you have our modern informational world. No one knows why or who asks the questions, but we think they must be important because it is on a form. We all feel good about completing and creating forms. It is job security, whole technologies are developed, entire economies revolve around forms and the answers they contain.

So as I FedEx (government prepaid) our passport and Samoan visa applications to the Peace Corps, I pause a moment to ponder: "Why do I need a second, "No Fee Passport" if I already have a passport?", "Why am I told, visa applications are not accepted if the forms are not original, when the forms I need to complete are copies?", et cetera. But I feel good, because I have filled in all the blanks and signed all the requested forms. I accomplish my task.

Maybe all of human activity is in response to Adam's first question in the Garden of Eden. Of course, we really don't know what that question is. We do know the result of it and that is who we are today, people mindlessly filling in the blanks, asking stupid "Why" questions, and trying to move on to the next form. C'est la vie!