The value of friends

It’s been some time since I posted, thanks to a busy life, two part-time “retirement” jobs, travel, family … the usual drill. But my latest trip, back to Washington D.C. for the first time since August 2020, reminded me how a location means people more than physical surroundings.

I stayed with an old friend, and made the circuit of lunches, walks, coffees and dinners with others. I meandered past my old house (the grass needs cutting, but they did install a cute new fence) and day-tripped up to Baltimore to see friends I’ve known since the 1990s in Montana — a day trip that turned into two days of pure fun, laughter, walks and plenty of wine.

Sheri and Jo
You can’t put a price on these times.

When I returned to DC, a friend said I was glowing. I had more friends to see in DC, more plans to make and more stories to catch up on since the pandemic threw all our relationships into such turmoil.

It was a good prelude to a Northern Virginia memorial service for another friend, who while not as close, was still a valued member of a big professional group to which I belong.

Lisa's memorial service
Sober moments near the Great Falls of the Potomac River.

Later, there was more wine, dancing and hugs.

I kept postponing my return. I drove away from where I was staying, fully intending to get on the road to Chicago then called another friend for one last coffee. She had a mutual friend staying with her, so I went over to that house, gossiped, went to a favorite bookstore (Politics and Prose, part of my personal collection of great independent book stores across the nation), and went to a baseball game (rain delay, the Nats lost, but a great time with a great friend).

Getting ready for the cheer N-A-T-S, Nats, Nats, Nats!

Of course, good weather helps. Spring was in full bloom last week, with 80-degree temperatures, plants blossoming, pollen coating hard surfaces, pedestrians in shorts and tee-shirts. I helped my hostessing friend spread mulch in her garden space, which gives this long-time gardener great satisfaction.

Tulips in my DC front yard
Tulips in my old front yard, from 2008 (I can’t find my vegetable garden photos)

I didn’t revisit the Washington Post or sites of my last beat. I loved working at the the Post, but it’s a workplace, and there’s another reporter on the job, still plugging away at some of the bigger stories that I helped break (no byline, just a credit line, but I confirmed it, enabling publication — these things matter to journalists!).

However, oddly enough, the M.C. at the memorial service recognized my name because 18 years ago I wrote her mother’s obit for the Post. She got tears in her eyes, thanking me for helping her mother get recognition for a life of service. Such a rewarding, touching conversation and my journalist friends were astonished at how much news obits matter to families, even all these years later.

Plenty to think about when I finally got in the car for the 700-mile, 11-hour drive back to Chi-town. I wish all those friends (and others in Florida, California, Montana and elsewhere) could live nearby. We all have our own lives so I’m grateful that our bonds have lasted so long, across time and miles.

Waiting on parts, service, progress

Six weeks after my move, the condo is 90 percent settled. It’s that last 10 percent that drags out.

Since I bought this place in November, the kitchen has been rebuilt, the hallway closet now has room for coats *and* tool storage, and the walls are painted a restful light blue (“Silver Cloud” by Benjamin Moore) with white trim on the new crown moulding. The new television and fireplace are installed, two mail-order area rugs warm the hardwood floors in the living room and primary bedroom, and a new headboard is in place in the guest bedroom/study. I have a new stackable washer/dryer, a new electric range (condo rules say no gas appliances), new kitchen floor and countertops, and new cabinets. All but seven boxes of books are unpacked. Pictures are hung.

So what’s the problem, bunky? After a controversial Facebook survey of my friends (see Oct. 28 on my Facebook), I decided to have my mother’s 20-year-old sofa reupholstered (rebuilt, really), and then I acquired two similarly-aged armchairs which also needed work. Why buy new? Reduce, reuse and recycle has been my slogan since grad school. So I found a small upholstery shop whose owners said they’d pick up and deliver as part of their fee, and the work would take only two weeks once they had the furniture. You can pick out the keyword in that sentence. I gave them a (gulp) $1,000 deposit and have been waiting for an opening in their workflow. Today, they said it may be May before they can do the work.

I’d also like to have someone build floor-to-ceiling bookcases because of my writer’s habit of collecting way too many books. (See seven unopened boxes of books — a previous 10 boxes have been opened and are on temporary shelves.) But that project will have to wait until my bank account recovers.

The day before I moved from Joliet to Chicago, I backed my barely-year-old car out of my Mom’s garage and whacked the driver’s-side rearview mirror on the door frame. It’s useable, but just barely. A Ford dealer in Joliet estimated the repair at about $1,000, once the whole contraption was shipped in and painted and installed. A Chicago Ford dealer said it would cost at least $1,400. Guess which one I chose? Even though Joliet is an hour southwest of Chicago, I’m going to try to get it done when my tax accountant has my tax return ready, and gas up there (I can save about 40 cents a gallon there, thanks to lower county taxes).

Ford Escape, pre-accident
The car, before my collision with the garage.

I’m also getting antsy to go somewhere. It’s that time of year, end of February, long before spring arrives in the Midwest, when I just like a change of scenery. A friend and I are talking about an epic Western road trip this summer. Another friend invited me up to her northern Minnesota cabin in August. I have a Southern California wedding to attend in July. I’m thinking about New Orleans Jazzfest in May, if I’m ready for crowds by then. My brother-in-law pointed out that airfares to Paris are pretty low right now (but so is the balance in my bank account and the state of my French language skills).

After almost two years of uncertainty and uproar (my pandemic was different from yours), maybe I’d better lie low and get to know Chicago and its environs better.

My new life as an (adjunct) professor

I am in week 4 of teaching a remote, asynchronous course at Columbia College Chicago. Despite the fact that I have not met any of the students in person, it’s going pretty well. I like the students and their blog proposals, their discussions are fun and their reactions and questions are interesting. They are also forgiving of the couple of times I’ve goofed up on the assignments, which I appreciate.

The biggest surprise to me, a hardened veteran reporter who can’t ever remember missing a deadline, is how badly I feel when I have to mark assignments late or missing. “What’s going on with them?” I wonder. “Do they know the deadline? Are they sick or overwhelmed with work, family, school?” Columbia, a media arts school based literally under the L tracks, draws a wonderfully diverse and creative student body and the students are often holding down one or more jobs while they juggle their studies. I really want every one of them to succeed.

Deadline clock
Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Get a grip, I tell myself. They are not going to learn to meet deadlines until they have to meet deadlines. I still remember the glare of a city editor when I pushed too close to the ticking minute hand on the newsroom clock. My professors in my long-ago Marquette University journalism school, were heartless in giving us an F for any missed or late assignment. It put the fear of deadlines in us, not to mention the fear of failing.

Yet, how can I do that? This is a different era, thank goodness. Although I and most of my friends worked part-time, college costs were a lot less in those days and we didn’t have to deal with a pandemic as well. None of us were responsible for younger siblings or our own kids in those days.

Teaching requires imparting hard truths as well as supportive coaching. For now, I’ll grant extensions and gently nag them to get the work done on time. I’m not sure what my attitude will be when we get to week 8 or 9 or 15. It’s hard to shake off a lifetime of deadline behavior.

Hello world!

You might know me; I’m a newspaper and digital veteran, having worked for small, medium and large newspapers and websites, reinventing myself as the times demand. I’ve been a member of the working press since 1976.

I started a highly successful online column, pre-blog, that is still running; I’ve reported on Haitian refugees on Florida beaches, militia conspirators in the Montana mountains and a segregation-defying pharmacist in northern Virginia. I have written obits of the great and the quirky, built websites, taught others to use technology and debugged, tested and taught the Washington Post’s new content management system to the newsroom.

I returned to my hometown to care for an aging parent during the early months of the pandemic, then retired from my job. Now I’m moving to Chicago, teaching a college class and finding what kind of life I’ll create without the demands of someone else’s schedule.

Life is personal and so is this website, so you’ll also see my real life here: my homes, my family, my favorite places, what I’ve privately read and publicly said.

tipping my Nationals cap