Tag Archives: Guam

Dependence and independence

lone-tree-lilliana

Castellina in Chianti, Italy – It’s been great for Dan and me to have so much time together during this sabbatical. Our jobs and lives at home keep us very separate. Like many couples our age, we often share the same space and time but not the same experiences.

During four weeks of absolute togetherness, we’ve had a few moments of fatigue-induced crabbiness (mostly mine). But for the most part our time together has been cozy, collaborative and comfortable. We’ve rediscovered what good friends and easy travel companions we are. I’ve come to rely on our shared troubleshooting of common inconveniences and errors.

On Monday, I decided to reassert my independence. We needed groceries. Dan was happily settled on the couch with a book. I was restless and eager to fly solo for awhile.

Going for groceries may not seem like a big deal, but it is when you’ve never driven an Italian car in Italy.

FiatOur Fiat rental car (or van, really—it seats seven so we can accommodate shifts of guests we are expecting soon) is a lot bigger and boxier than most of the cars we see on local roads. And the roads are much narrower than what we’re used to in the greater-Phoenix area.

Ancient stone walls on both sides of many city center roads feel like they’re closing in on you. Then a delivery truck or (even scarier) an enormous tourist bus starts charging your way from the other direction.

Don’t even get me started on the challenges of parking an oversize vehicle in spaces better suited to Smart cars. And then there are the hazards of distracted pedestrian tourists, local residents darting in and out on bicycles and motorcycles/scooters following no apparent rules of engagement.

I’ve read a lot of stereotyped descriptions of Italian drivers (who are often accused of hyper-aggressive driving and chronic tailgating) but I prefer to look through the same lens as Joseph F. Lomax: “People who say Italians do not know how to drive are measuring them by the wrong yardstick.” Italians are skilled, attentive drivers. It’s their very confidence that makes you realize how scared and uncertain you are.

I knew all of this before I even tried to drive our rental car because I watched Dan do it first. I saw his white knuckles and heard his colorful language as we tried to navigate our way from Milan to Lake Como without a map or GPS. (The rental car agent skipped a few steps while explaining how easy it was to get there.)

And there’s one more thing: The Fiat has manual transmission, which neither of us has driven in, well, close to 30 years. And it has an unbelievably finicky clutch. This was confirmed by John Genzale, a writer and friend who lives in Como. John graciously agreed to do the driving when we visited so we could enjoy the views–and probably because he saw how freaked out we were.

When I decided to take the car out for the first time I wanted to do it alone. I didn’t want anyone watching me or telling me what to do or try (like I’d been doing to Dan). And I certainly didn’t want anyone I knew within earshot if I got myself in trouble.

I learned to drive a stick shift at age 22, when I bought my very first car as a newly employed reporter for The Pacific Daily New on Guam. I paid my deposit, got the keys for my brand new white Honda Civic and sat down in the driver’s seat. I panicked when I saw the four-on-the-floor gear shift. I looked at the salesman sheepishly. He gave me a very quick description of what to do and I was on my own. The dealership was at sea level; my apartment was at the top of a very high hill in Agana. Motivated by a strong desire to keep my life, my job and my new car, I very quickly figured out the “feel” of the clutch and the gear shift.

I was no less motivated to reach an understanding with this Fiat. I went outside, started the car and…couldn’t remember how to put it in reverse. I struggled for several minutes before swallowing my pride and heading back to the house to ask Dan to explain it.

Back in the driver’s seat, I backed up and pulled forward to ease down the rutted gravel road leading from our villa to the road below. I crept slowly and carefully into town, allowing everyone behind me to pass. I made it to the store, managed to park, bought groceries and headed home.

The road leading to our villa pops out of nowhere after a hairpin turn. I made a sharp right turn, crossed a narrow bridge that doesn’t look anywhere near wide enough to accommodate a mini-van and experienced an elated sense of accomplishment I haven’t felt in a very long time.

“That was fun!” I declared, a bit over-confidently, as I walked into the kitchen with our groceries.

“Good!” said Dan, an intelligent and easygoing guy whose sense of self-esteem is largely driven by the satisfaction he feels in solving problems–his own and those facing his litigation clients. “You’re in charge of the driving.”

bridge-to-lilliana

 

Advertisements

Dan, my unflappable husband – #5

He didn’t even flinch. That’s the amazing thing. When I came home that day, I told my husband what had transpired during what should have been an absolutely routine photo shoot. I told him about meeting Keri deGuzman, her husband Brian and their two adorable children, Jesmina and Musse. I told him how Keri and Brian had traveled to Ethiopia to adopt their children, and how they were planning to return to adopt two more. And then I told him they’d invited me to go with them.

He didn’t even flinch. Not then, when I told him I wanted to go to Ethiopia, and not later, when I started dropping hints about how much this was going to cost us. And not this morning, when I woke up to an email from Keri saying, “CALL ME WHEN YOU GET THIS!!!! Here we go………..!!!!!”

All he said, with typical calm, was, “I’m very excited for you.”

I first met Dan when I was 25 — a year older than our son Andrew is now. I had just moved back to Arizona after a four-year stint on the island of Guam, where I had finished my senior year of college and worked as a journalist for the Pacific Daily News. I had just broken up with a Guamanian man who had once asked me to marry him. So when I started my new job at The Arizona Republic, I wasn’t particularly interested in starting a new relationship.

I was still living with my parents after returning from Guam, so I was eager to get my own place. A friend at work was living in an apartment complex near Seventh Street and Bethany Home Road. She liked her apartment well enough, so I decided to move into that same building. Little did I know how momentous that simple decision would prove to be.

The day I moved in, my friend introduced me to Dan Barr, who also worked at the Republic and lived in the same complex. I was happy to make a new friend — especially one who was willing to help me move my boxes up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. We had the same odd days off (Sunday and Monday) so we’d often run into each other at the pool or in the laundry room. Eventually we started going on bike rides, hikes or walks around the neighborhood. Then movies. Then dinner and movies. A year later we were married.

On our way to the wedding reception: April 17, 1982.

How do you recognize the “right” one? I find myself pondering that question as our sons rapidly approach the time in life when they will choose life partners. My marriage did not get off to a particularly dramatic or romantic start. It started quietly, with friendship and shared interests and long conversations. It was comfortable, reassuring, reliable. From the moment we first started “hanging out” together, I knew Dan was a good man — a solid, grounded man who’d grown up in privilege but emerged with humility and great depth of perspective. A man secure enough in himself to allow me to be whatever I wanted to be.

I’m not sure how I knew all of that when I decided to marry Dan; I just did. And though we’ve experienced the ups and downs any honest couple married for almost 28 years would admit to, I have never wavered in my certainty that he was the right choice.

Twenty years ago this month, I was preparing to send my first issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine to the printer. Though our young family had to absorb the cost of that first printing bill (and many others to follow), my husband never flinched. He believed in me, so he believed in my reasons for starting a magazine. Since that time, he has been a source of steadfast support, my biggest fan in any undertaking — no matter how great the cost to our family finances or my emotional reserves.

During a family trip: July 2009.

This morning, as he quietly shares my excitement in the adventures that lie ahead — adventures that I will experience without him — I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this man who so selflessly encourages me to face my fears and follow my dreams. — Karen


On Jan. 2, I launched a project called “1,000 People to Thank Before I Die.” It is my version of a “bucket list” — an attempt to acknowledge the people who have guided and influenced my life before I lose the opportunity to do so — and was inspired by the book 1,000 Places to See Before I Die.

Marilee, the reason I went to Guam – #3

We were roommates during junior year at the University of Arizona — two young women from very different backgrounds thrust together by the whims of a college admissions office. For at least one of us, that random assignment set the course for everything that would follow.

Marilee was pretty, petite and seemed very sophisticated to me. Her long, blonde hair hung straight and shiny to the middle of her back. She had wide blue eyes and thick lashes that curled up toward her brow. Her skin was flawless.

The daughter of a successful car dealer, she’d grown up in a large house in the town of Brighton, Mich., west of Detroit. Her childhood experiences included travel, expensive dinners at the country club and a motor home her family drove to the lakeside cottage where they spent much of the summer. As soon as she could drive, she had her own car (a new one, of course). Her parents were paying her tuition and living expenses. Her life seemed easy, stable and enviably secure.

Next to her, I felt like the gawky, unattractive poor relative. I was a head taller, heavier and uncomfortable in my own (often blemished) skin. I was on scholarship, work/study and student loans. My only mode of transportation was a bicycle. I didn’t take my first plane trip until the age of 19. My childhood was spent in six different cities in four different states. My family had recently moved to Phoenix, which meant I’d lost the security of a comfortable community to which I could someday return.

Even temperamentally, Marilee and I were very different. I was serious, studious, prone to keeping to myself. She was restless, social, someone who enjoyed parties and going out. I’m not sure why we became good friends, but we did. Maybe because I wanted to be more like her; I saw her as brave and daring in ways I was not. (Now that I am older I recognize that some of her ways — smoking, for example, and eating habits that veered perilously close to an eating disorder — were not examples to admire.)

Perhaps most exotic about Marilee was the fact that she had a boyfriend who was traveling somewhere in South America. Though I don’t remember how she met him (I think he may have been a friend from home), the fact that she had this long-distance romance in her life — with a guy who seemed to be quite an adventurer — intrigued me.

One day, Marilee told me that her boyfriend was moving to Guam, and that he wanted her to go with him.

She thought he was crazy. I thought it sounded wonderful. I offered to help her do some research so that she had some information to shore up her pitch to her family. I went to the university library and pulled everything I could find about Guam.

There wasn’t much, which worried her — and enthralled me.

I was a journalism major and someone who wanted to spend her life telling stories. A place about which little was documented seemed rich with opportunity for someone like me. So I did what I could to shore up Marilee’s confidence.

Then she asked me to go with her. When she pitched the concept to her parents, she used the fact that I would be with her to win them over.

To be an entrepreneur, I’ve often heard, is to be an inherent risk-taker. I think of myself an inherent risk-follower. Marilee and I did move to Guam, and so did her boyfriend. They didn’t like it as much as they’d expected and they quickly transferred to the University of Hawaii. I had spent every bit of my savings to get out there and had no financial safety net to give me options.

When Marilee and her boyfriend left the island, I was stuck. But it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.

Thanks to Marilee, I took the biggest risk of my life. When it didn’t work out the way I’d expected, I had to make it work. Which I did. And that ended up being the greatest gift of my lifetime: the certainty that, no matter what happens, I can get through it. — Karen


On Jan. 2 of this new decade, I launched a project called “1,000 People to Thank Before I Die.” It is my version of a “bucket list” — an attempt to acknowledge the people who have guided and influenced my life before I lose the opportunity to do so — and was inspired by the book 1,000 Places to See Before I Die.