Three thoughts about the roots we grow in life

Bill and I are finishing up a week back in Florida, mostly all work for Bill, some work for me and some time with friends for both of us. I wondered what it would be like to revisit where we used to live. While I still have no regrets about moving to Boston, I do see the beauty in this place. One of the great joys of being here has been connecting with friends. I have sometimes bemoaned the way our various moves have left us with a certain lack of roots.

This trip has confirmed three things for me: Bill is where I am most deeply rooted. Boston is a great place to sink geographic roots. And we have deep roots with the people we’ve come to love and appreciate in the various places we’ve lived. I’m thinking especially of our friend, Judy, who generously turned over her home to us for the week even though she was on the other side of the country. And thanks, Marti, for shuttling us back and forth to the airport!

Your room awaits you on Beacon Hill

Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 11.49.32 AMAfter staying in Airbnb places in Detroit, Budapest and Vienna, it’s been interesting to experience the other, host end of the service. Beacon Hill Friends House has two guest rooms now listed on Airbnb, and the listing is generating lots of visitors.

Apart from occasional duty greeting a guest when our residency manager, Ben, is away from the house, encounters happen mostly in the kitchen. Breakfast is included in the cost of the stay. The breakfast table conversations are intriguing on several levels. Among them: the visitors’ stories of life from whence they’ve come, more often than not overseas. But it’s also fascinating to hear their reactions to the house, the neighborhood and — in the case of international visitors — the country. We’ve had recent visitors from Australia, Uruguay, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Spain, Colombia, Pakistan and Austria. Continue reading

Taming the acquisition monster

I am not a big shopper. I discovered years ago that retail therapy was not very effective for me. Frequently I order what I need online to avoid having to go to malls. So downsizing and simplifying have not been onerous for me.

There are, however, two places where my acquisition monster comes roaring out. One is books, which I’ll write about in a subsequent post, and the other has to do with travel.  If you were to wander around our room you would clearly see that there is something about the art and craft of other cultures that I find irresistibly appealing. I went to Vietnam with the best of intentions, but the struggle was mighty and I didn’t always win.

artist with painting

Artist Hoang Thanh Phong ( with his painting Mindfulness (photo used with permission of artist)

I gave myself a pass for some gifts: a couple of cute embroidered dresses for our newest granddaughter, coconut candies and various little things for our house mates, friends and relatives.

My biggest struggle came when we ate lunch at a terrific restaurant in Hue. Original art adorned the walls. The artist was there and told us about his works, which were very inexpensive. I wanted one so much I could hardly restrain myself. It was a perfect storm of desire – the artwork was deeply spiritual, I loved it, I wanted to support the artist, it was affordable, it would be a great reminder of a trip of a life time. It didn’t help when two of our traveling companions bought several between them. But, we have no more wall space in our room. The last thing we need is a painting. I walked away. I’d be lying, though, if I said I never think about contacting the artist and seeing if the one I loved most is still available.  Continue reading

Appreciating community where we find it

Regular readers may have noticed the diminished frequency of our posts.

As Carol noted (in her most recent post): “I have a confession to make: We’re not really spending a year in a room. In the eight months we’ve lived at Beacon Hill Friends House we’ve travelled extensively both for work and for pleasure.”

And unlike more accomplished bloggers, we’ve not yet mastered the skill of sustaining a regular pace of publishing while we’re on the road.

One thing we are learning: How to appreciate community where we find it. Some of those places: On the road for three weeks in Vietnam with a band of 14 fellow travelers who quickly became friends; at Bamboo, a co-working space in downtown Detroit that Kirk Cheyfitz and Ellen Jacob and I have adopted as an office-away-from home; at our new parish, the Paulist Center across from Boston Common.

viet fotoThe Vietnam trip, organized by old friends Hoa & Tom Fox, got me enthused about a style of travel that has been around for a while but that I’d not experienced: A group assembled around common interests in addition to curiosity about the destination. In this case, the Foxes gathered friends of the National Catholic Reporter, the liberal weekly Tom led for more than 30 years. Together, they guided us through Vietnam, where Hoa met Tom and where they lived before moving to Detroit (and meeting us) in 1972. Despite age gaps — in some cases, they spanned half a century — the group found a pace and a purpose that seemed to work for all concerned.

An insight-in-retrospect: What I found especially interesting was placing myself in the shoes of fellow travelers with the idea of seeing things differently than was possible on my own. Continue reading

Making room for one another

I have a confession to make: We’re not really spending a year in a room. In the eight months we’ve lived at Beacon Hill Friends House we’ve travelled extensively both for work and for pleasure. In fact, I’m writing this post from Hue, Vietnam. I don’t see these trips as an escape from community, but rather a chance to explore community in different ways.

imageTo better understand Vietnam, I am reading Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald. She points out that the Vietnamese and American psyches are different with regard to space. For Americans, space seems less limited and the possibilities for expansion enormous. For the Vietnamese, it is clear that there is very limited space and to take too much of it is to deprive another. As Fitzgerald puts it:

Within the villages as within the nation, the amount of arable land was absolutely inelastic. The population of the village remained stable, and so to accumulate wealth meant to deprive the rest of the community of land, to fatten while one’s neighbor starved. Vietnam is no longer a closed economic system, but the idea remains with the Vietnamese that great wealth is antisocial, not a sign of success but a sign of selfishness.

The ways we share space or make room for one another (or not) color our own happiness as well as the health of  our community.

Among the scenes I’ve found most compelling in Vietnam is traffic, as reflected in the accompanying video captured by one of our travel companions, Bob Fox. Continue reading

How travel opens windows on the ways we live

Living in a 16 by 18 foot room is easier if you have the means to travel.

Susan Ager reminded me of that with a comment to a Facebook update I posted last week about connecting in Vienna with a friend from Boston.

Susan’s right, of course, and not just about the fun and freedom attached to hightailin’ it out of the country now and then.

It’s also about getting a glimpse of how differently people relate to their stuff, their space and the people around them.

One of my first eye-openers on this front came more than 30 years ago. Continue reading

Out of the house and doin’ nuthin’

By tomorrow, we will have spent six of the past seven days out of the house we now call home. All of this time away from Beacon Hill Friends House comes courtesy of, well, friends of another sort.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday we were in New Hampshire with Mystery & Dee, friends from college in Indiana.

There’s no road to their place, known in the local lingo as a “camp.” Mystery picked us up in their skiff, its 9.9 hp outboard skittering us across Lake Massasecum in no time. One of the Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 3.28.20 AMpleasures of life in these 60s is reconnecting with adults we knew as children of friends. Fun to hang out with Sarah and her friend, Jackie.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we’re with Jean and Fran and Corinne. Jean and Carol are friends from high school in Kentucky.  Continue reading