If Generations Could Speak from Their “Choicest Chambers”

My mother died when I was 29. She was 70 years old. It was cancer. I thought she’d lived a pretty long and rich life. But what does a 29 year old really know about longevity?  My father died when I was 30. He was 76 years old. He died in his sleep 15 months after my mother died. Maybe it was a cardiac arrest, his heart was broken after my mother died.

I was well launched by the time my parents died. I was squarely into adulthood, facing adult problems and challenges. I owned a house, was married, and travelling the world as an educator. But, I could have used some parental wisdom in my 30s. It would have been helpful to have them around a bit longer in my life. Perhaps their shared wisdom might have helped navigate some personal wobbles during those years. It took me a while to get it but they were wise people.

Today’s darkness in America is worrisome. Between covid controversies, the Big Lie of election fraud, attacks on voting rights, perils of climate change and the growing threat of domestic terrorists and white supremacy it is difficult to feel optimistic. I’m in need of some optimism, or wisdom, or perspective, or all three. I wonder what my parent’s wisdom would make of today’s politics, stark divisions as democracy wobbles?

I came across a letter from my mother written in 1976. I was taking a break from university, establishing my independence, and indulging in existential angst (a common affliction for youngest baby boomer family members such as myself). My mother wrote “It must be incredibly hard to be growing up in an era of so much self-doubt and indecision and cynicism – when so many of the old values we grew up with have been discarded. It was much easier for us (my parents generation) because we really didn’t question assumptions of society – we went to school, found a job, got married, raised a family, maintained a home, simple as that…the pendulum may swing away from the total quest for individual fulfillment and back towards the sharing of lives and love and a need for one another based not on dependency but simply the reaching out one human to another.” Given the choices I was facing at the time, her letter was a significant letter, at a significant moment in time. Her words calmed me at the time and helped me gain focus. In fact, I still find resonance with her words of 45 years ago.

I am grateful I have preserved her words and kept her letter in my plastic bag, in my closet, top shelf, left side, resting.

I remember a distinct conversation with my mother in the late 70’s. All did not seem positive in the world at the time – post Vietnam, post Nixon, the malaise of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the rise of conservatism and Reagan, concerns about Supreme Court appointees, refugees arriving from Vietnam and Cuba, tension between Russia and the US over Afghanistan. It all seems familiar relative to current political crisis levels. Over the course of the conversation I recall my mother describing her profound fear that the world order would disintegrate in the late 30’s and early 40’s with Hitler and Germany’s rise to power. She talked of the dark days of WW 2. She feared the worst. Issues in the late 70s were nothing to worry about relative to her experiences in the late 30’s.  I’ve often reminded myself of my mother’s attitude during those days as a way to maintain perspective – especially lately.

What would my mother say about the state of the world today? I can only imagine.

What would my mother’s mother (my Grandmother) say? She was in her 30s during WW I and the Spanish Flu, and her 50s during the depression and the rise of Nazis. She lived through both world wars and had two sons enlisted during WW 2. She witnessed at least 4 major lifetime events. Even without cable news 24/7 endlessly circulating, the experiences for my Grandparents must have felt dire. What would she say about the state of the world today? Again, I can only imagine.

Decades earlier, in 1865, my Great Great Grandmother, Cornelia Elizabeth Johnson, died just months before the end of the Civil War.  The horrors of that war were inescapable. America was torn asunder. It is difficult for me to understand the peril she must have felt. One of her sons fought for the Union Army and she must have been well aware of the hundreds of thousands of young men dying at places like Gettysburg, Antietam, or Bull Run. What would she say of today’s divisive politics in America? As an 1850s abolitionist, what would she think of race relations in America 160 years later.  I am certain she would plead with us to come to our senses as a nation.

My Great Great Grandmother was a devoted citizen of the United States. She knew of the struggle to shed British colonial rule. She knew of her grandfather’s enthusiastic participation in the revolutionary war, fighting in the battle of Bunker Hill.  She captured the spirit of the Revolutionary War in a high school essay composed in 1833 at the age of 15.

It was a time of anxious suspense. ___ The balance trembled which was to decide the fate of our country forever…..if they succeeded they would be the instruments of giving freedom and happiness of unborn millions; if not disgrace slavery or death would be their lot for all who signed the Declaration (of Independence) would be beheaded as rebels.

Is it possible that America might find itself so divided once again? Could the divisions within America lead to conditions that mirror the divisions of the past? Our divisions are deep, visceral, and stretch across America. There are current leaders and politicians only interested in preserving power. Her essay continued:

But Heaven was propitious, a gracious Providence protected us watched over the rising interest of our country, and we are now a free and happy people.  Who has not read that tale of our country’s woes and sufferings, but to a patriotic heart its recitation will not be uninteresting, and the memory of those who fought and bled in freedoms cause will be treasured up in memory’s choicest chambers.

Fifty years earlier, America evolved from a revolution into the free democratic republic we have lived since.  As a young woman, she knew enough to acknowledge the sacrifice of a generation before her, during the Revolutionary War days and that memories from that generation would be held in the memories of future citizens.

What would she say of today’s politics? She might offer a similar warning as Benjamin Franklin was reported to have offered.

As the story has been told, Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when someone shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

To which Franklin supposedly responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Franklin’s words issue an ominous warning. Are we about to lose our Republic? Many believe democracy is under an existential threat.

If only generations could speak and share contents of their “choicest chambers”. Generational wisdom could provide perspective. But an explanation for the state of American society and culture is elusive. Where is the sense of duty to this country? Many fly flags and carry guns claiming to be patriots, and many of those same people spew white supremacist and anti-semitic hatred. My Great Great Grandmother was a patriot, and an abolitionist. She believed in liberty and selflessness. In America today, liberty and freedom are wrapped in a blanket of individual selfishness. I am free to do whatever is good for myself, the larger population be damned. We are a selfish and divided population.  To use my mother’s words, are we on a “quest for individual fulfillment” meaning selfish freedom and liberty.  Might the “pendulum swing…..back towards the sharing of lives and love and a need for one another”?


What will be the legacy of these years? While it’s hard to be optimistic today, I take some strength in knowing that generations before struggled with events that felt hopeless, dangerous, and frightening. That is not to deny the seriousness of today’s divisions but simply a reminder that American democracy has been messy, violent, shaky, and strong for 230 years.

I do wonder what those who came before me would think of the direction in which our world is headed. I’m certain my parents, and likely my grandparents, would be consumers of liberal leaning media. My mother would undoubtedly talk of her teenage years during the depression and the build up to WW 2. She would urge alertness, and to watch for troubling parallels in those enthralled with autocracy. I believe her mother, my grandmother, would have shared similar progressive perspectives and, given her life experiences, her message of concern for democracy would carry even greater weight. My Great Great Grandmother, Cornelia Mussey Johnson, the abolitionist with deep religious convictions and a thoughtful mindset, would likely scream warning sounds at the top of her lungs given the similarities between current political divisions in America and those of the late 1850s, prior to the Civil War.

Speculating upon previous generations leads me to wonder about my millennial sons and how I can support them with my words, as my mother supported me. The truth is, however, as much as I’ve worried about the direction of the world at various moments in my past, current trends in America have me more worried then ever.   I cannot tell them stories of earlier experiences of impending doom on the scale experienced by my parents, or earlier generations. This is new territory for me. But, I can urge them to be active participants in helping improve the world. My oldest son must continue to fight, as he does through his job, for equity in health care.  My youngest son shapes minds as a Science teacher. My children have found their ways to be impactful and that’s all I can ask of them.

I believe times are tenuous and American democracy is under threat. While I believe generations before me would urge a healthy historical perspective if they were witness to today’s American politics, they would undoubtedly tell us that complacency provides dangerous fertile ground for actions with far reaching, and potentially dire, consequences.  I’m certain my ancestors would be firing proverbial warning shots to ensure our actions and attentions are focused upon, and committed to, choosing the right path.


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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