4:00 AM Detour

4:00 A.M. Detour

4:00 a.m. is dark, still, and silent. In recent years, I’ve found that I enjoy being awake, up, and about at 4:00 a.m. Not today. A splitting headache jolts me awake; where did this come from? I shuffle into the bathroom, fumble below the sink for the plastic container, recognizable for its jumbo size, pop an ibuprofen and swallow the last bit of water by my bedside. For the second time in four hours, I empty the bladder. Why a headache? This is not usual, I think to myself.

I fell asleep with the news on. I don’t think listening to worrisome news while sleeping can give you a headache … can it?

Come to think of it, I felt chilled yesterday. Autumn arrived a couple of days ago, the weather seems to have changed. A windy cold front breezed through yesterday. Sunny, windy, cooler.  Could this be the cause?

An unexpected headache this morning and chills yesterday … I think I sneezed yesterday. I know I coughed. Am I getting sick? I run through my last few days of contacts. Contact Tracing. I’ve heard that expression before.

Can’t sleep. The headache does not retreat while horizontal. I need to sit up. I sneak out of bed, settle into my living room chair, lights out, in the dark. While I secretly enjoy 4:00 a.m., this morning a throbbing head brings no joy. I press the palms of my hands to my eye sockets. My warm palms feel soothing.

I can’t read, so it’s NPR and Blue Ridge Public radio. I’m up before Morning Edition. The familiar sound of the BBC is on air. It takes me back to Asia. I spin the globe.

“The news is next,” the BBC anchor says.

Corona cases growing in Europe, India, the U.S. curves headed upward. The Paris climate treaty in a shambles, Brazilian agribusiness swallowing chunks of rainforest, Russian interference, the Middle East (no surprises). One story after another, all of it saddening and maddening… Please get me to 5:00 a.m. I have enough to worry about in the U.S., in North Carolina, in Asheville; the BBC world service will have to wait.

I’m not feeling so good, maybe I have a temperature? Where has this headache come from? Was I breathing heavy yesterday while walking? I can’t remember. I think I was. I ran six miles, were my lungs okay?

I had a cappuccino outside at a coffee shop the other morning and I walked past someone without a mask. I’m sure they sneezed when I walked by. Do you know that droplets travel over 200 miles per hour when you sneeze? I think that other person was singing under that mask just before they sneezed; I hear that singing spreads droplets. Maybe the ventilation inside was poor and they were inside before they were outside and they spread droplets and contaminated the whole place. I’m sure there were microscopic droplets, I saw them, I’m certain of it. I have 20-20 microscopic, and hindsight, vision. I knew I should never have walked past them. I’m sure if I had just traversed a different route and not passed by that table I would feel fine today, I should have been more careful. I wonder how many other people from the coffee shop are feeling sick?

Stop, Geoff, your imagination is getting the best of you.

The familiar jingle of Morning Edition marks 5:00 a.m. I’m grateful that it is 5:00 a.m. It’s still dark but I’m sure dawn is closer. I need to make coffee and follow my normal routine.

Coffee … maybe I didn’t drink enough yesterday and it’s a caffeine withdrawal headache.

I was at Lowe’s the other day buying paint. There were people without masks. Maybe that’s where I contracted covid. Rational thought is in short supply right now, it’s flying off the shelves.

It’s been 45 minutes since I swallowed that ibuprofen, why do I still have a headache? Wait a second … do I still have a headache? I use a tissue to blow my nose. Is my nose running? That’s a sure sign. I know: I’ve looked at the checklist of symptoms.

I make a pot of coffee, down two glasses of orange juice for the vitamin C, make toast and fill out the NYT mini crossword. NPR goes on about 201,000 deaths, the compromising of the CDC, the life of RBG, the gutting of the ACA, the work of the FDA, the leadership of the FBI, the future of R v W. It’s an alphabet soup of overwhelming news. I am so anxious.

“The most consequential election of a lifetime,” I hear from the guest commentator.

It’s 5:30. Supreme Court, undecided voters, polling from swing states, senators lining up behind Trump and his third justice in four years. He is fundamentally unfit.

“A generational impact is at hand,” the NPR voice says. “This is not hyperbole.”

My stomach hurts as well.

“This appointment will fundamentally change America. Health care, Medicare, Social Security, climate science, labor unions, and abortion rights are ALL in peril. This moment is critical.”

No wonder I must have covid, it’s all a mess. My whole body aches.

Division, partisanship, chaos, a culture war over masks. I’m disgusted. Where does it end? It’s mind boggling. It’s enough to give you a splitting, throbbing, pounding headache AND to keep you up in the middle of the night and to make your mind do weird things. Wait a second, a headache? Can’t sleep? That all sounds kind of familiar….

Is the world in peril?

“The greatest challenge to America since World War II,” NPR tells me.

I need to move.

It’s 6:00. I’m up, the movement feels good. I need to get some fresh air. I find my favorite chair in the sanctuary of my screened-in porch. It is a chilly morning but I find my favorite blanket, it goes with the favorite chair. I breathe deeply and take a full swallow of fresh, crisp, healthy morning air, close my eyes, repeat. My lungs are happy. I seek to settle my thoughts. Stillness and quiet, I empty my mind.

Then a branch bends, with a soft but noticeable and impactful wind, and I hear leaves drop to the ground. A reminder to never underestimate the potential power of a soft breeze. Birds are waking and welcoming me to a new morning. The surrounding trees slowly come alive. It feels like such a privilege to be here, in this space, watching this moment unfold. Through the trees, evidence of a brightening, cloud-filled sky. And, beyond those trees and clouds I know there lies hope, fairness, and the opportunity to do the next right thing. What a beautiful day, I’ve never seen this one before.

My headache loosens, the fresh air, the breathing, the waking morning, the coffee, and the quieting of my thoughts has neutralized, balanced, calmed me. The ibuprofen kicked in. Turns out my nose wasn’t running after all. It’s 6:30 a.m., a third cup of coffee … I’m back from the abyss, rationality returns after a temporary detour. I know it will be okay.

Today is Sunday….Tomorrow is Monday….Rinse, Repeat, Zoom

I know that April is about to close out. Which means it is almost May.  I also know today is definitely Sunday.  Here’s why.

Before I go any further and possibly find myself making glib or non-serious or nonsensical comments let me just say that I feel completely fortunate, lucky, and privileged to be sitting in my home doing the isolation thing right here.  I watch news of health care workers around the country and it saddens and maddens me. The richest, “most powerful”, country in the world and we are suffering so badly from this pandemic really pisses me off.  And there is such a void in national leadership.  It’s hard not to be saddened by so many untimely deaths. It’s sad and it’s scary. Period.  Rhona and I are fortunate.  We do not take it for granted. The brilliance of Spring is all around us.  Flowering trees and shrubs, pure green foliage emerging on the maple tree in front of our house, warm days, and lush gardens around the houses in our neighborhood.  How to reconcile the beauty of Spring with the deadly impact of Covid 19?   I don’t get it.

Meanwhile……it’s groundhog day.  Today is Sunday.  I know it’s Sunday because today is the weekly installment of Homeland on ShowTime. Another week has flown by and tonight is the final episode of Homeland. It’s episode 12 and I’ve been measuring weeks by Sunday night episodes for almost three months.  Tomorrow is Monday. I’ve been marking Mondays for the past 6 weeks by episodes of Plot Against America on HBO.  It’s over so I need another Monday marker, and another Sunday marker. My son says Billions is a good show and is now going to be on Sunday night.  I could become very confused if I don’t sort this out.   I mark Fridays by my 6:00pm Zoom guitar lesson.  Wednesday is trash day, and every two weeks this includes the recycling. I usually remember Tuesday’s because it’s the day before trash day and it helps me get prepared to gather up the trash stuff the night before. I don’t really actually gather it up, but I think about it.  That’s my Tuesday marker. I really lose the plot on Thursdays, except that Rhona does her Tai Chi Zooming in the evening. When I see her doing Tai Chi in the evening in the living room, I know it’s Thursday. I do the New York Times News Quiz every Saturday morning.  Last week I scored 11 out of 11 correct.  Only the 2nd time.  I immediately What’sApped my sister because that’s our Saturday morning exchange. She scored 11 out of 11 also…but admitted she needed to make two guesses (I only had to guess on one!).  It’s good to keep the competitive juices flowing.  If I have done the quiz that day, I remember it’s Saturday.

I’ve marked every couple of weeks on Saturdays by a standing meeting with a group of high school friends from the early 70’s….I’ve reconnected with them after many years.  We’ve met several times – exchanged photos, laughed out loud, a depth of laughter that does not need explaining because the memories while possibly fuzzy at times, are so powerfully woven into the fabric of our shared teenage years that they require only a mere mention of an event, or an old photo, for the floodgates of moments to spill forward. And, not to be stuck in the past, we’ve dabbled in adult topics– including politics.  Absolutely a brilliant experience to have this zoom connection, this reconnection with old and dear friends has been a special and a surprising happening.

I was able to attend the Class of 2020  Zoom Assembly last week at the American International School of Johannesburg marking the end of classes for the year.  So much fun to see familiar student faces and the faces of so many friends and former colleagues.  That was a treat.

We’ve also had an extended Family Zoom with brothers/sisters/cousins. Last night we played charades via Zoom – from North Carolina to London to Toronto/Montreal/Halifax/Boston/New York…..it worked amazingly well.  Frankly, family is everything right now.

This Monday I have my monthly Book Club meeting….We will be zooming.  The act of Zooming has taken on a new verb meaning.

The Power of shared experiences.  Shared experiences bind people. Over the years as an educator I often talked and wrote about the power of shared experiences. They are important, valuable, and create moments that become memories for a lifetime.  The other night we had a glass of wine with neighbors, outside and apart but together. I honestly know I’ll remember that glass of wine forever. I never felt closer to my work colleagues then when managing difficult crisis situations. Ties that bind. So, we are having shared experiences right now and moments we won’t easily forget.

Anyway, I mark my evenings by setting up the coffee maker before going to sleep and I mark my mornings with a push of the ON button.  I enjoy the solitude of mornings. Today is Sunday….I already said that….oops.  Today I’ll cut the grass.



Returning: A Couple of Nuggets to Consider

First, once again, to all my educator friends, I know you are working hard right now to continue to deliver learning experiences to your students with commitment and integrity…keep it up and do not underestimate the importance of keeping kids and families engaged and connected. Maintaining community as much as possible is important and schools are the potential glue for such community.

So a few days ago was a perfect day to dig through some boxes and do a little sifting, sorting, tossing.  Oh, the treasures stuffed into this box of letters and documents from the past.  Photos galore of life in the 70s and 80s.  High school memories with some incriminating photos to say the least.  I mean a treasure trove of moments in time.

I found my report card from the end of Kindergarten – June 1962.  Who would have thought that “Geoff has trouble settling down during story and conversation time” or that “Geoff works well when settled down and separated from Nelson and Peter”.   Those two were a bad influence on me….for sure.  My guess is that my name appeared on their report cards as well.  Mrs Hughes also told my parents that Geoff  “often has interesting experiences to tell us”.   It was all code for being attentionally challenged, which I freely and humbly admit to. By June of 1965, after third grade things were looking a bit better “Geoff has good work habits.”  That’s the good news.  “However, he gets rather silly at times.”  Who would have thought? Me, silly?   As much as I enjoyed Mrs Pitt in Grade 3, maybe she didn’t appreciate my humor!

Speaking of attentionally challenged, The Coronoa Virus certainly has my undivided attention and, frankly it has for the past few weeks.  We’re hanging at home, taking walks in the neighborhood, hikes in the woods, and today a bike ride.   Still no cases of CV in Asheville identified. But, as we know, that doesn’t mean it’s not here.  We went to the grocery store this morning at 8:00 am.  We were there a week ago, last Friday as well.  Likely it was me, but it had a different level of gravity today. Not alot of small talk, everyone wanted to get in, get their stuff, and get out.  At least so it seemed.  Rhona and I went to the store with a level of anxiousness that caught me off guard. As someone said on the news the other day, the CV is something we will have to learn to live with over the coming weeks and months.  This will require not only taking vigilant precautions but also taking care of our own mental health, our own stress and anxiety. Paying attention to our individual self-talk.  Several years ago (as in 11 years ago…ouch, I could have sworn it was just a few years ago..) Rhona and I were in a personal leadership class while working at JIS.  The takeaways from that class, the 6 elements of Personal Leadership, are so relevant for this moment in time.

  1. Know, Understand, and “Align with your personal vision” – What is your personal vision of how you wish to live your day to day life?
  2. Engage and Embrace Ambiguity – certainly plenty of ambiguity in the air these days
  3. Cultivate Stillness regularly – calm the mind
  4. Attend to your Judgments, how are you passing on judgment regularly?  What are you judging? How does passing judgment impact your thinking and attitude?
  5. Attend to the Physical Feelings within your body, your physical comfort/discomfort
  6. Attend to the Emotional Feelings that sweep across/through you

I’ve always liked these statements/recommendations or ways of living.  I’ve come back to these statements often over the last decade in trying to be a better school Principal and leader of a faculty.  Rhona has carried a little card with these highlighted in her wallet ever since.  As I reconsider these elements, I think there is really good advice iwthin these words for right now.

These 6 elements come from an organization called www.plseminars.com

BTW…..The conversation around the closing of public schools around the country has truly highlighted the important role of public schools in fighting food scarcity. The conversations have been less about lost learning time but more about the challenge of supporting children with food.  Public schools provide so many children in the US with their essential, and often singular, nutritious meal for the day, it is absolutely amazing.  Schools have taken on the role of bridging the food security divide.  This, in the richest country in the world….The crisis is highlighting this reality and it is incredibly disturbing.

Be vigilant, be safe, stay in touch!


Returning: Don’t Tell Me That I Live In Interesting Times

I’m certainly glad I’m not in an administrative role in a school these days.  I know how hard it is on everyone in schools, trust me, Been There Done That.   SARS, Ebola, H1N1, riots, evacuations, bombings, threats….etc   Managing crisis situations is stressful.   And this one Exceeds Standards by a long shot; this one re-writes the rubric, re-writes elements of the playbook.  Haven’t seen this one before……

In a moment of complete seriousness, my hat goes off and my heart goes out to all of my educator friends and colleagues who are challenged right now.  Take care of yourselves and your families, friends and colleagues, and of course your students. The range of stress with adults and kids is all over the place, no doubt.  Projecting calm is important for establishing confidence and reducing anxiety.  Clear, thoughtful, timely and transparent communication is essential.  I don’t envy my friends and colleagues who are working hard every day to take care of kids and families.   Good luck with it as we all move through this pandemic.

So, I’ve spent all those years abroad……malaria, dengue, giardia, ameobas, lyme disease……and my first year of retirement it’s the damn corona virus!  After a steady diet of CNN news for days I have to say it’s just not a healthy way to spend time right now.  I have to wean myself off the news.  Stay informed….but not obsessed, right now I am both informed and obsessed!  I think I’ll take a bike ride or hike today….

Let’s see….besides news, what else can I watch besides news?  Sports (omg)…..unbelievable.  I’ve waited 35 years to be back in the US to watch March Madness in prime time. I retired so I could watch March Madness in prime time (not really)!  ….March Madness 2021 will be that much more fun to watch!!

It’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, and banging on my computer keys……oh, I forgot, I can watch the stock market, continually, as my retirement account sinks….that’s entertaining for sure….ugh and ugh and ugh.  That’s it….it’s clear….I have to win the lottery if I’m to make it to 95.

This morning the local grocery store was packed at 8:00 am. I commiserated with another old man (I am feeling old because I’m officially over 60 which has been identified as the age for people at higher risk….I’m actually in a high risk category now and all I get for that is a cheaper ticket at the movie theatre plus regular invites to join AARP). Anyway, the fellow Senior citizen and I were making our beer selections (anything but Corona, good line, huh, get it?) and we were both wondering what sporting events on TV we would enjoy a beer with…..the answer is none – maybe re-runs from the 90s….come to think of it I didn’t get to see many bball games in the 90s so perhaps that’s okay, and in prime time!   Beyond the beer aisle…..Toilet paper, canned goods, and frozen food aisles were thin and bare, having been picked through pretty well in recent days.  Walking down the aisle towards someone, we both veered right to maintain “social distancing”.  How quickly an expression becomes part of our vocabulary.

But, the fact is that this serious situation will be resolved by all of us taking individual actions that support the community. This morning an email thread went through our neighborhood in which people were offering their help and support for those who are in a more compromised health state, and really are at greater risk, by running errands or delivering food.  It was a brilliant thread of community support.

Anyway….I well remember how often, in times of crisis, we’d find humor in the expression “may you live in interesting times” or “crisis gives way to opportunities”, etc etc.  Ugh….if anyone says that to me in the coming days, I’ll vomit.  Stay well, keep your head up but sneeze into your elbow, wash your hands for 20 seconds while singing happy birthday, and listen to Dr. Fauci (the short doctor who is the voice of authority these days)!





Returning:  A divided country in an Election Year


Last Saturday, I was in line at Bed Bath and Beyond. We were consuming a new kitchen appliance, doing our share to feed the economy. It was a busy store with a long line.  Good for people watching and “day dreaming”  An older gentleman passed by. He wore a hat in support of our current President.  Not a red MAGA hat but another hat clearly declaring support.  He came into my view, I stared and he passed by my left shoulder.  As he past, someone behind me said “Nice hat”.  Hmmm…another Trump supporter, he was remarkably similar in appearance.  I desperately wanted to say something, pose a question, respond in some way.  But, I couldn’t and didn’t.  I froze. Too scared to open my mouth. I am so interested in knowing why these two, yes stereotypical Trump supporters, support the current President. It’s so far away from my reality.  Admittedly, I struggle to understand.

I wonder what would have happened had I asked the man in line a question.  What would I ask him?  How would one start the conversation?  I’d like to know why he supports Trump. Continue reading

Returning: The Start of the 2nd Semester

This morning was a perfect morning and I’m so grateful and lucky.  Woke up at 6, enjoyed my coffee(s), off to the YMCA: a 45 minute conditioning class, an hour long spin class, a recovery swim for 15 minutes, and an hour of pick up basketball.  It’s the first day of semester 2 and I’m 6 months into Returning!

For the past 35 years, on this Monday morning (the first Monday of January), the day was almost always my first day back at work – as it was today for many international school educators.  I’ve lived on the semester system all my life, literally since I was 5 years old I’ve had a Christmas vacation and summer vacation each year, and today is the start of the second semester……or not really for me any longer, though it feels a little bit like that.  I do declare that I’m not on the semester system any longer!!!  Today was just another Monday, the first Monday after New Years, and I’ve transitioned out of the semester system, I’ve shed that calendar, that monthly structure that shaped my life for so many years.

Of course, through FB I’ve  had the chance to view the spectacular photos from friends as they’ve travelled to various parts of the world.  Family shots, scenes of animals, cities, beaches, etc  I see time stamped versions of myself, Rhona, and my kids in the FB posts from so many.  Travels before children, travels with small children, travels with teenagers, travels with your children as they are navigating adulthood.  It’s a cliché but time flies, years turn into decades. We marked time by the lengthy breaks from work, the holiday travels and the summer (northern hemishere) stays in upstate New York.  I always felt grateful for the many opportunities that xmas vacations brought – touring New Zealand or Australia, bicycling and kayaking in Vietnam, motorcycles in Thailand, xmas in Jerusalem, diving in Phuket, multiple trips to Bali, etc etc.  What life changing opportunities and privileges my years abroad brought.

Our neighbor’s blow up Frosty!

But…No longer will I be planning the exciting xmas holiday trip for the family, sometimes last minute, occasionally well organized and planned months ahead of time.  From here on out we’ll be sitting around our kitchen table playing board games at xmas time!!  Our boys will come to us in our cozy home on the slopes of Beaucatcher Mountain here in Asheville.  Come to think of it, our boys didn’t even make it to Asheville for xmas with us.  (We shared thanksgiving together which was awesome and a new experience).  The holiday season was spent right here, yes in our cozy little house on the slopes of….yes, Beaucatcher Mountain – definitely need a photo for the future!

In our first holiday season here in Asheville, we found ourselves invited to various dinners and lunches.  People have been incredibly welcoming and we’ve enjoyed new connections.  I am grateful for these new friendships.

Two frequent questions that are posed when meeting people these days are: “What brought you to Asheville?” and “Do you miss your work?”  We’re in Asheville because of the mountains, temperate weather, the art/music scene, and the outdoor culture.    The question about work is a bit more complicated but I love responding.  I always find an opportunity to say “I miss the clowns but I don’t miss the circus”.  (I have to give full credit to Mona Stuart for sharing that expression).  I’ve adopted it completely and it’s absolutely true.  I miss the clowns but not the circus…..and a school Principal is completely immersed in the circus on a daily basis….akin to plate spinning circus performers.  Having said that, there were very few days over my 25+ years as a MS/HS administrator (plate spinner)  that I didn’t eagerly head off to school……I suppose deep down I always enjoyed being immersed in the circus!

But, I do love days like today.  And I’m grateful and lucky.

Returning: The Winter Solstice is here!

I wrote the following to read at a winter solstice party yesterday…..I thought I would share it.  Solstice time is as good a time as any to take note……

The sky remains grey, black of night giving way to the unfolding morning. At 7:20 the morning is well underway, the day moves forward but the morning light reminds me to pause, let the morning unfold.  Embrace the day. This is our solstice day.  Tonight at 11:19 pm on December 21, it’s the official solstice time in Asheville.

Today we’re close to the sun but we lean away…..tilting at 23.4 degrees off center, travelling along the imaginary Tropic of Capricorn.  Those below that line embrace a day of maximum sunlight, their solstice parties likely have an outdoor feel!

Today I have 1 second less of sunlight relative to yesterday, tomorrow I’ll have 2 additional seconds relative to today.   And the next day, 3 additional seconds.  What will I do with my additional daylight?  When will I actually notice that my 6:30 am coffee is not in the early morning darkness? I hope I’m so awake and alive that I am tuned into the smallest of change.

In the days ahead the sun appears to stand still in the sky, as the return journey across the equator, northward begins.  Interesting fact:  The word solstice “derives from the Latin scientific term solstitium, containing sol, which means “sun” and the past participle stem of sistere, meaning to make stand”.

Sunlight will continue to grow as we journey around the sun.  Short days, as we think of them, grow longer as sunlight returns.  We hardly notice the precious seconds of sunlight in the coming weeks..  By mid-Jan we are earning back 1 minute per day….by mid Feb we have 2 minutes per day.  Then, we accelerate, a consistent turnover of 2 and a quarter minutes per day throughout March before we begin an April slow down edging towards the next summer solstice in June. To be clear, the days are not any longer. We still have 24 hours to rush through while doing some stuff and avoiding other stuff……but we do have more light with which to operate!

The patterns, the consistency, the natural rhythms.  We all live and feel it with great anticipation.  I wonder…..of what importance has the solstice been to others……after all, the sun has been around a long time, no?

The importance of solstice dates in great civilizations is well known. To some ancient cultures, the winter solstice was considered a time of death and rebirth, with solstice celebrations held to welcome the beginning of longer days.  I seem to recall that mysteries of Stonehenge are aligned to the solstice.

Surely the Romans and Greeks messed around on solstices………as it happens, the Romans celebrated something called REVERSALS at the midwinter festival of Saturnalia

“This began as a festival to honor the agricultural god Saturn, was held to commemorate the dedication of his temple in 497 BCE. It quickly became a time of widespread revelry and debauchery in which societal roles were overturned, with masters serving their slaves and servants being allowed to insult their masters. Mask-wearing and play-acting were also part of Saturnalia’s reversals, with each household electing a King of Misrule. Saturnalia was gradually replaced by Christmas throughout the Roman Empire, but many of its customs survive as Christmas traditions.”

Sounds like a time of great roman partying!!!  Leave it to a Roman celebration to end up as debauchery……

With so little sun and so much night time in darkness surely there have been concerns about dark Spirits on dark nights, around the mysterious Solstice.


“The Iranian festival of Yalda is celebrated on the longest night of the year. In pre-Islamic times, it heralded the birth of Mithra, the ancient sun god, and his triumph over darkness. Zoroastrian lore holds that evil spirits wander the Earth and the forces of the destructive spirit Ahriman are strongest on this long night. People are encouraged to stay up most of the night in the company of one another, eating, talking, and sharing poetry and stories, in order to avoid any brushes with dark entities. Beliefs about the presence of evil on the longest night are also echoed in Celtic and Germanic folklore”

For those interested, I found this information at:    https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/72659/10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-winter-solstice

I was taught to cite my sources…..though admittedly I likely haven’t cited it correctly.

Anyway, while the summer solstice seems to get all the good publicity, with the good times that all summer vacations bring….………we should gratefully celebrate and appreciate, as we are this evening, this natural phenomena, the winter solstice.  While I do not feel the need to stay up most of the solstice night in order to avoid brushes with dark entities, I celebrate and mark this moment where the sun stands low in the sky, seemingly frozen, with gratitude and humbled gratefulness for my good fortune.  I celebrate with optimism for the next year…, especially for November 2020, and with excitement for a new decade….and with deep  personal reflection from the last one.  Grateful for family, friends, health (including my much improved (since retiring) jump shot), and of most importance, a strong marriage. I, for one, will seek to take closer note of, and pay more attention to, the incremental growth in sunlight that will grace my life in the coming days, weeks, and months.









Returning: Autumn & Thanksgiving in the US

The door is closing on autumn in Asheville. In a pure reminder of the autumn season, I’ve raked and bagged thousands of fallen oak and maple leaves over the weeks.

October 2



nov 5




Our front yard maple treated us to a classic display, changing colors from the crown through the lower branches over the weeks. It now stands on winter duty – naked, stripped of leaves, it’s a bony sentry overlooking our home. I look at our maple a bit differently having just finished the novel Overstory for our neighborhood book club.

Nov 10

This morning, dark and chilly at 7:00 am, I emptied the final scraps from Thanksgiving into our green plastic city-issued garbage bin and set it out curbside for the normal Wednesday pickup. The 17 pound turkey – raised free range, organic, hormone free, purchased from a local farm sounded fitting for this special gathering.  Indeed we maximized 5 days of leftovers. (I think we miscalculated the size we needed)  This morning it was time to part ways with the final scraps!  I have to admit, as Thanksgiving turkey experiences go, it was an exceptional bird!


So, Thanksgiving has come and gone. Another return from abroad milestone.  For months we anticipated our first Thanksgiving in America. As a family, we haven’t been together for thanksgiving since 2004. In recent years, we talked about this opportunity as a benefit of returning to the US.  Being together for a few days did not disappoint.  Enjoying our company with good laughter, good food, and good times. We feel blessed, no doubt.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday.  I had no idea that this trio existed.  Of course I knew of Black Friday sales though I’ve never actually faced a shopping crowd at an outlet mall on such a day. Nor did I venture out last Friday!  I’ll tuck that potential experience away for a future date. Christmas decorations are starting to go up.  Our Halloween pumpkin that sat on our porch for weeks is finally ready to be composted, and we’ve had a few snow flurries, a winter tease.  December has arrived and more holiday landmarks await in coming weeks.

We continue to investigate, explore, and burrow into our new lives, nesting in a new home, in a new city, at a new age.  Asheville has much to offer, there’s no shortage of possibilities. I’ve never been part of a book group.  Now I’m in two.  I can play pick up basketball multiple times a week at the Y,  the hiking is awesome, the city is friendly, etc etc

We feel lucky. Almost every day Rhona and I fall back on the reminder “What a beautiful and unique day, I’ve never seen this one before”.   I really like that expression and that reminder.  By the way, that was my 4th piece of advice to the Grade 12 students at last May’s HS graduation.  These were my nuggets of advice:

  1. Buy duct tape – essential and useful in adulthood
  2. Build a diverse toolbox – If you only have a hammer, you treat everything as a nail.
  3. Don’t water the rocks – don’t waste time on trying to nurture growth in others when it’s obviously a waste of time!
  4. Appreciate the grace and beauty of each day. “What a beautiful day, I’ve never seen this one before”.

Anyway, more later…..I look forward to hearing from folks.  AND…..we’ve had so many wonderful visitors already!!!

Hi, my name is Geoff, Geoff with a G


Hi my name is Geoff, Geoff Smith.  That’s Geoff, with a G….yes, G…E..O..F…F.. I’m also known as Geoffrey, or Stephen Geoffrey L Smith (to my insurance provider, the DMV, and in my passport),  or to childhood Highland Park friends….just plain Smitty (in fact, this was my only real name up until I went to college at 18, it’s still a kick to hear old high school buddies call me by that name!).

I have introduced myself to new people in person and over the phone (managing accounts, paying bills, etc) many times in the past few months.  It’s all part of establishing a life in a new city, with few connections and a life to build.  Geoff, Geoffrey, Stephen Geoffrey – I have to pick which one to start with depending upon the scenario.

Geoff with a G, has always posed challenges.  I could have easily been Jeff, as opposed to Geoff. Trust me, it would have saved hassles going way back. I envied my elementary school friend whose name was spelled J.E.F.F.  I still remember the first time my name was mispronounced publicly.  I was called something like GOLFF Smith ….I was 7 and it was August, 1963 and I was called up onto a stage to receive a trophy for being the batboy on a little league team that earned first place!  I can truly describe the scene in great detail as it was associated with personal embarrassment.  But….that’s another story.

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Returning: Connecting – Family & Friends, Kayaks & Bikes

Living abroad produces a rhythm of connections.  10 months out of the year you rely upon email, skype, whats app, etc to communicate with family and friends residing in your home country. Then the window opens up in June/July and over the course of 6 to 8 weeks you manage to pack in family visits, special events, if the timing works, joyful hellos and nostalgic goodbyes. We found traditions within this rhythm.  Ask our boys about the late night pickups at the Albany airport and subsequent arrival in Lake George after a 30 hour trip from Jakarta.  They will tell you we always declared our arrival over a Nathan’s hot dog with Grandpa.  Or the traditional 36 holes of golf my brother Michael and I would manage each summer during a traditional overnight visit from Montreal.  Or the evening meal often shared in a small Vergennes restaurant with our dear friends Richard and Sara – Vergennes marking a manageable halfway point between us. So, for years we made our traditions for visits seeking to ensure connections.

When you return and you are not bound by a job, opportunities exist. We decided 18 months ago that we would return to the US. Being closer to family was important, it was time.  We are not getting any younger, nor are our children and siblings. We knew returning to the US would provide unique opportunities.

Entering into a lock at Jones Falls

My Big Bro Michael

So, when my brother Michael (age 76) asked if we’d be interested in doing a kayak trip in Canada I had two distinct reactions.  First, what a cool thing to do and certainly this is a potential “new opportunity” that would align with my vision of returning to experience such new opportunities. BUT….second, oh shit….. my inner self really wanted to know just how could I possibly avoid committing to this?  Kayaking is not something I’m interested in. It’s hard work, trapped in a cramped space, stuck in a fiberglass shell at water level for hours on end, etc etc. The only way to propel oneself involves muscle movement, stop the muscles, stop the movement. At least on a bike you coast at times!   I’m not a fan of kayaking……to be clear.   I was conflicted.  I could hatch an escape plan with heaps of excuses or I could embrace 8 days of sleeping on the ground, including successive days of sleep deprivation, and paddling in a constrictive shell for hours, not to mention headwinds and rain…..

8 nights of camping along the route

The Beauty of the Lake Country is Awesome!

It was my brother after all. If he was willing to take this on, how could I, 13 years younger, the baby brother not go along?  And, of course, Rhona was totally into the idea.  (she fits better into a kayak, just saying)

As the youngest of 4 siblings, I’ve always been grateful to my older brothers and sister, they have helped shape who I am.  As well,  their adventures, and to be clear, misadventures, in the 60s certainly paved the way for me with my parents/ Their “whatever, just don’t mess it up” parenting approach worked well for me.  I had a wide berth as a teen!

Michael, my oldest brother, and I have shared a number of formative experiences. It was he who, when I was ten,  put me on a camel in Morocco and took me to a Madrid bullfight. It was he who, when  i was 18 taught me how to play 8-ball in the bars of Old Montreal.  Indeed, we own a collection of shared experiences.  I had no real choice but to go along with the kayak trip….

I really had no choice.  Rhona and I have the time and

Colonel By Island

flexibility.  We have the physical capacity. We have the resources. We have enough experience to take it on…..so we did it.  AND….we loved every minute of it.  We took off

The Rideau system between Kingston and Ottawa

from Kingston, Ontario and paddled our way up through the Rideau waterway through lakes joined by locks up through Jones Falls, Chaffeys Locks, Big Rideau, Smiths Falls, and finally 128 kilometers later to Merickville.  8 days of camping, kayaking, and hanging out. It was absolutely awesome.  I felt so privileged for the opportunities. Loons and herons, wind and rain, calm waters and rough waters, hard ground and…..hard ground.  It was a brilliant experience.  My brother Michael (age 76, days away from 77) is an inspiration for his physical capacity and undaunted spirit.  My goal is to be as fit as he is in 13 years!  Rhona and I had an absolute blast!

DUCT TAPE….essential item


Detroit – a waterfront bike ride with Corey

The birthplace of Motown Music

With our first trip to the  north from Asheville, we incorporated 3 nights in Detroit with Corey and Natalie that included a bike ride along the Detroit waterfront, a trip to the Motown museum and dinner with the in-laws (Rich and Stephanie)!  After the kayak trip, we swept down from Montreal through Lake Placid (68km bike ride on Rhona’s birthday) to spend a couple of nights with our dear Vermont buddies Sara and Richard, and Lily and Willow!

a bike ride along the Minuteman Trail in Boston

Apple Picking Cousins

The northern excursion was complete with a weekend in Boston with my sister Betsy, her wife Berit, and Jared/Alyssa/Lily.

Picking apples, riding bikes, and meals shared. So, so, so important to connect with family and dear friends.

What an exceptional treat to visit with old friends Ellen Foley (Jared works at her school in Boston) and in Connecticut with Kojo Clarke (a colleague from Ghana) and Susan Stengel (a colleague from JIS).  Hearts and minds energized and enriched from family time and connecting with friends, our trip below the Mason Dixon line was a peaceful and easy return drive.

a visit in Connecticut with Susan Stengel and Kojo Clark


This last bit sounds like a travel log.  That’s not the intention.  My intent is to tap into that piece of us that wants to stay connected to family and friends even though we are often continents apart. What an absolute privilege it is to take 8 days to kayak with my older brother in the lakes of Ontario.  What an absolute privilege it is to meander down to Boston and visit with friends along the way.  It’s a reminder of how precious time and opportunities are in life.  I always told students that with great privilege comes great responsibility.  Privileges/Responsibilities are linked.  I feel that for myself right now.  I am in an unusually privileged part of my life and responsibility is still connected to that privilege.

One of those responsibilities is ensuring connections and not letting relationships fade with time and distance.  Making sure I make efforts to sustain and thrive with connections. I think that is an essential message and thought to consider during this time of our Return.