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… 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.


Returning: Breaking Out; Basketball & Medicare

When you arrive in an international school scene, it’s immediate community. You are swept up into a group and you choose how extended you wish to become but there are multiple opportunities for building connections.  You have choice.

When you arrive in a new city with no instant community, no job to provide structure, and a blank canvas to begin shaping in your 60’s, it’s a different playing field.  You need to start playing or painting, either one….but you can’t just sit on the sidelines.

Our shipment unpacked, our U haul adventure behind us, our couches ordered, and our new license plates set to arrive.  We’ve managed first stages.  Shifting furniture, managing  recycling materials, purchasing a lawn mower, hanging pictures, etc.  Our initial framework has kept us busy and occupied.  What’s next?  We’re five weeks into this…..

Two highlights from last week:  We joined the Y. The YMCA in Asheville is a beehive of activity and we’ve made great use of the facility already.  For me, the best part is the number of people playing basketball. Basketball has always been important to me. It defined me as a teenager in many ways. It has continued to be important in my life. I’ve played basketball everywhere I lived.  I’ve played on adult teams in Vermont, Israel, and now Asheville. I’ve played pick up basketball on playgrounds and in gyms in Boston, New Delhi, and Jakarta.  I love  playing basketball!  There’s mid-day pick up basketball for the over 55 crowd.  Half court, minimal contact, basketball for those who love the game but have slowed down considerably.  One guy playing is 79.  He’s slower than me.

But, when I discovered a newly formed league for over 40 people was starting and I could sign up, I jumped at the opportunity.I paid my dues, but then some doubts arose. Is this too much to ask of my 63 year old frame.  Anyway,  I’m drafted, on a team, one of 6 teams with 8 or 9 players per team.  I’m the oldest on my team……We had our first game on Tuesday Continue reading

Returning: THE SHIPMENT!



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The shipment disappeared down Buffalo Thorn Rd in Johannesburg on June 5. That orange container sailed the Atlantic, arrived in a Charleston SC shipyard, placed on a train to Charlotte, NC, loaded on a truck to Asheville, and finally arriving at 7 Digges Rd on August 12.

Image may contain: plant and outdoorHaving successfully emptied our storage units, packed/unpacked our UHaul, strategically placed stuff around the house, the challenge now was to figure out where all of our overseas stuff would fit.

It’s a collision of worlds. Overseas stuff……..America storage unit stuff. In 1985 we went to India with just suitcases and a small box of air freight trailing behind. I remember going to the old-old Delhi airport to pick up that air freight a few weeks after arriving in India. It was, no surprise, a hot and humid August monsoon morning. Mr Swami (our business manager shepherded me through the throngs to some behind the scenes office. He bought me a Campa Cola (no Pepsi or Coke in India at the time). He taught me to drink out of the bottle without your mouth touching the bottle, adapting in India at the time required attention to hygiene he explained. I remember the moment, the heat, the flies, the throngs, the ubiquitous vibe of busyness that is the vibe of India, and the half-ripped cardboard box we had naively packed up and sent via UPS from our Vermont home 5 weeks earlier. Anyway, that’s what we had in 1985, a small box of what newly overseas educators considered “essentials”.

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Returning: Wait….It’s August but I’m still in America.

When we left SA it was cheaper to buy a round trip ticket then a one way ticket. KLM just notified me that our return flight to SA is coming up in a few days……it feels strangely odd to be here, I’ve over stayed my summer holiday, is it time to pack up the suitcase, last minute shopping, fill the extra bag with supplies?

It’s August 3. The last time I was in America during August was 1988. 31 years. I was a grad student in Boston. Corey was 1 and Jared was yet to arrive. We’ve had thirty (30) July trips to JFK or Logan, or Albany (en route to O’hare). Trips always made in July, often dropped and farewelled by Rhona’s parents throughout the 90’s and 00’s. Flights in July – 4 to Israel, 17 to Indonesia, 5 to Ghana, 4 to South Africa. Flights thru hubs of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris and onward to our homes overseas. I know my favorite early morning coffee/snack routine while Continue reading

Returning: The DMV


The DMV….yes, the Department of Motor Vehicles. D M V – three initials that generate immediate distaste. The DMV is the punchline for jokesters. Who enjoys a visit to the DMV? Simple answer: The 17 year old teenager who, for the first time, is receiving that prized drivers permit. They are smiling, excited by this rite of passage. I saw several of those teens arrive at the DMV, led by their mothers, during my three (yes – 3) trips to the DMV last week.

We all have a history with DMVs and, truthfully, there was only one joyful memory – as a 17 year old getting my driver’s license. But, getting my 17 year old driver’s license required managing obstacles. Namely, I failed my first written test. Damn road signs. I should have studied harder! Passed my 2nd time but my 1969 Chevy station wagon was deemed unsafe for my first road exam (bald tires) I boycotted the Dunellen, NJ DMV in favor of Rahway, NJ the next time and finally earned my license. I even parallel parked successfully. It was a journey and I remember it well.

Not to mention, the DMVs I’ve frequented in India, Israel, Indonesia, Ghana, and South Africa. All grueling experiences. All with people in uniforms, wielding some sort of intimidating government authority, controlling your fate. I have survived DMVs on three continents, I was certain I could handle the North Carolina DMV.

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Returning: The Trek to Asheville

Image may contain: outdoorRented the U-Haul truck in Boston, drove west to Lake George, NY on July 15. After an hour of bouncing along the Massachusetts turnpike with an empty truck, knowing what lay ahead for a couple of days, Rhona posed a serious question: “Do you think we are too old for this?” My initial response – “No way” transitioned to “Possibly” and finally “Probably” as the miles continued and the AC in the U-haul stopped working. Interstate driving with the windows down in steaming heat is best left for a younger crowd. We both had our meltdown moments, and over a bowl of matzo ball soup (comfort food) we agreed tension and emotions are part of this journey and we’ll be just fine. After an uneventful evening at the Baymont Motel, Exit 19 on I-87, we set out on July 16 and worked alongside a couple of packers to load up our U-Haul.

Turns out we had a couple more items for the landfill……

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Returning: Unpacking Storage Units


“One man’s junk can be another person’s treasure”. Isn’t that the expression?

7 years after selling our house and storing our stuff (definitely Not Junk at the time) in two 10×20 storage units (the largest size on the lot) we were set to dig in, wade through the aged cobwebs, accept gifts left by mice that took up residence, acknowledging each itemized box or piece of furniture as a source of memories. An archaeological dig kind of experience! A potential journey down memory lane! We were ready to embrace the task.

We opened units 607 and 610 and took up the challenge! We sifted, lifted and gifted, and tossed. What a surprise!! It turns out we have some junk after all. Loaded a pick-up truck several times and between the local landfill and the Salvation Army we off-loaded some of our junk & treasure. More than once I wondered how, given the $$ math, (2 units, X dollars/month, 12 months, 7 years) this all came to pass. You can drive yourself nuts by going down that path. Then my voice of reason reminds me that it must be treasure because who would be stupid enough to pay those storage fees for anything that turned out to be junk? Never again!!

So, we tackled the task and sorted our storage units, assuring ourselves of our readiness for loading up our 26 foot U-haul truck for the big trek to the south – destination Asheville, a mere 15 hour drive away! Shorter than a non-stop Singapore to JFK flight!

Returning: The Car Shopping Experience

The auto industry must be doing well in the US. Heaps of new cars on the road. Options galore. We’re in the market for a new car. The last new car I bought was in 1981. It was a Mazda pick up. I bought it in Montpelier, Vermont. I wanted a pick up (living in rural Vermont required a pick up). I rocked up at the car dealer and there was a single model of a pick up on the lot so that was the one I wanted. It was a Mazda pick up. Simply called a Mazda pick up. There wasn’t a brand or sub brand or multiple options for the Mazda pick up. There was an AM/FM radio and two speeds for the windshield wipers, and a rear bumper was optional.

I loved that pick up.

I’m thinking about another new pickup today. Toyota’s are popular. The Tundra (too big), the Tacoma (short bed, long bed, short cab, extended cab, long cab, super cab…..4×4, 2×4…..). The F150 Ford Ranger is the best selling pickup in America according to my millennial son. OK….let’s look at it. How can a pickup price range from $30,000 to $65,000? The bells & whistles, the bed length, the options on the cabs, etc etc. So many choices – just like the salad dressing section at Whole Foods.

I loved that mazda pickup in the 80s – ahhh, the good ‘ol days, life was simpler with fewer choices.

We find ourselves googling car models as we drive down the interstate or cruise the parking lots. It’s a regular discussion….it’s fun too. So many choices! True to form, Rhona’s all over the electric cars.

We’re in negotiations. I still like the idea of a pickup.

Finally, I enjoyed renting a Nissan Rogue. I discovered it’s part of the Compact SUV model line. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Since when is an SUV Compact?

Returning: First Days and Feeling the Support!

Rhona and I truly appreciate the messages of support and good wishes as we step away from Image may contain: sky, nature and outdoorinternational schools after 34 years. It will be odd in July when, for only the 3rd time since 1985 we won’t be hopping on a plane at JFK or Logan or O’Hare, crossing an ocean, and returning to work. We will build a life in Asheville, North Carolina in a place where we never lived but briefly visited. We are grateful and nervous and excited as we move forward. Relationships matter and maintaining and nurturing these, from a distance, will be important. Social media will be invaluable to sustain contacts from our international worlds. If you’re in the SouthEast of the US, PLEASE visit. Asheville is a fun town. 

And for those interested in triathlon, there are 3 major 70.3 races within 5 hours and heaps of other opportunities in the area to race.
Finally, we’ve been in the US for a week now. We’ve already started a list of odd moments of ineptitude – like not recognizing that the EZ pass in the car rental wasn’t set up right and having to walk across three lanes of EZ Pass truck traffic upon entering the NY State Thruway in order to beg a bewildered and probably amused toll booth operator for a ticket to enter the thruway. I felt like a total rookie!

Finally, for the first time in 20 years, I have had to arrange for my own phone plan. Do you know how many options Verizon has, let alone Sprint, or AT&T? Where is Russell Layton when you need him? Too many choices! Luckily our
millennial son came to our rescue to sort us out! I can feel a collection of blog posts coming on during this transition!

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Today we’ll travel from Lake George (we’re staying with our dear friend Mary Fox in LG as we tackled our storage units here in New York) up to Vermont for a couple of days (and visits) before heading back to Boston. Mid-July is our target date for landing in Asheville! All systems are go!


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