Wise Elder

Archive for December, 2010

Inspirational Wise Elder – Dr. Walt Youngquist

My friend Dr Walt Youngquist  was my Dad’s dearest friend.  Walt was Professor of Geology for the University of Oregon and he travelled to 70 countries studying the vital relationship of Earth resources to nations and individuals. He is the author of the award winning book “Geo Destinies” and several earlier books.  Dr Walt and my Dad spent many a day hunting fossils in Eastern Oregon. When I asked Walt my “top 3″ questions, here are his answers:

Dr Walt & Evie in July 2008

Q: Looking back from where you are at age 89, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

A: “Life is brief. Make the most of it”.

Q: If you could pass on one thing to those younger folks who follow – something that you wish you had learned or realized sooner – what would that be?

A: “The most important decision you will make in life is who you marry.”

Q: What brings you happiness and joy and makes life worth living?

A: “Friends”.

Dr Walt recently had aortic valve replacement surgery. Recovery is a challenge right now. Dr Walt is an inspiration and a very smart man. I am grateful that he has become my friend after the death of my father. I aspire to be a good friend to him.

Tibetan Spaniel Photos – By Evelyn Williams

Welcome To Blessings of Dementia

Mom & Evie, Feb 2010, Photo by Michael Conner


January 3, 2006    

My Mom was a University professor in her working years, and before that the Music Coordinator for 30+ elementary schools in Eugene, Oregon.  A bright and talented woman.  A single Mom since I was 12, she raised three beautiful and talented daughters and contributed so much to her community.  She has little or no short term memory these days and it is a miracle that she’s able to live in independent living in a retirement home with two meals a day in the dining room, but no other assistance other than her two daughters who live near.  Her cultivation of good habits in her 85 years is the reason I think she’s able to live independently.  She gets up, makes her bed, takes a shower, washes her hair, dresses appropriately and fixes her own breakfast.    

As sad as it is that Mom has no short term memory, I look for and find blessings of dementia that may not be apparent at first.  I know there are many people in her situation and many much worse off, suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s.  Thankfully, my Mom does not have Alzheimer’s. My writing about the Blessings of Dementia in no way minimizes or ignores the challenges of those much worse off, or the challenges of their families and caregivers.  My writing about the blessings I see is just one way of seeing the glass as half full that allows me to enjoy some “sweet time” with her, instead of time dragged down with sadness.    

Added on January 22, 2008:    

I have come to see that lacking some capacities, whether physical or mental, in no way diminishes one’s gifts, nor one’s learnings.    

There are times these days when Mom asks the exact same question over and over.  I’ve counted 37 times in 25 minutes while driving her to the retirement home.  One of the things I’ve learned is that the TRUE GIFT is MY ability and willingness to just answer the question without upset however many times it is asked.  I’ve been working with myself and I’m good these days for about 20-25 repetitions of the same question in a short period of time.  After that I still sometimes want to throw myself against the wall.  But it’s the meaning I put on it that’s the problem – all she’s doing is asking a question repetitively.    

In my writing I’ll share some of the Blessings of Dementia that I’ve seen for myself.  I don’t pretend to have answers, but this perspective allows me to spend quality time with my Mom. My intention is to offer a new way of looking that might be useful to my readers. Seeing these Blessings has meant everything to me and my relationship with my sweet Mom.    


Karen Taylor-Good is a motivational speaker, author, singer and Grammy-nominated songwriter. She was the guest artist at my church in 2010 and she is truly amazing. She has written many songs that have been adopted as “flagship songs” for charitable organizations, including Childhelp USA, The Compassionate Friends and the National Hospice Foundation. Blending musical accomplishment with tender comfort, her music and her words have brought joy and solace to listeners around the world. Her songs have been recorded by Melissa Manchester, Al Jarreau, Collin Raye, Patty Loveless, Nana Mouskouri and numerous other artists worldwide.   

As a vocal artist, Karen has been heard on national radio and television jingles for United Airlines, Taco Bell, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, McDonalds and others. She has recorded with such notable performers as Dolly Parton, Al Green, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers & George Jones. As a solo artist, she has had 9 nationally-charted singles.   

She currently lives in Tennessee. Listen to this sweet clip of her song “On Angel’s Wings” that she wrote when her own mother was suffering with Alzheimers. She has given permission for my website visitors to listen to this clip. Visit her website for much more information including her amazing program for caregivers called “Nurture the Nurturers”  www.karentaylorgood.com   

On Angels Wings Clip (click here to listen to a clip of Karen’s song about dementia)

Inspirational Wise Elders – Hazel Belle Abel

HAZEL BELLE ABEL (1908 – 1999)  My “Very Great” Aunt Hazel – she would be 102 if she was still alive; dying just a few days shy of her 91st birthday. VG Aunt Hazel was my “Spiritual Mother” who taught me everything about creating context for my life when I was a headstrong young married woman of 19. I landed on her door step in San Francisco in 1969 and I spent every weekend for a couple of years with her and “Very Great” Uncle Willard. I was a young Navy wife then and my husband was away serving at war in Southeast Asia. It was a time of great turmoil in our country, with demonstrators in the streets of San Francisco nearly every day and shattered plate glass windows everywhere.  The”tac squad” was in the streets arresting demonstrators and protesters nearly every day. It was not an easy time to be in the military or married to one who was serving our country.  Very Great Aunt Hazel told me  now that I was 19 years old, that I was old enough to begin forming my “philosophy of life”. I stared blankly at her, having absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I thought life was just fired at you point blank, and you reacted. No one had ever suggested that I could construct the context of my life.

I was in my “formative” years and she was an icon in my life. Uncle Willard was one of the founders of Western International Hotels, which later became Westin.  Westin became a client of mine many years later, well after Uncle Willard had died but I guess that was my own doing. Together with Eddie Carlson, Lynn Himmelman, Gordon Bass and Harry Mulliken, they formed an amazing chain of hotels and they were an inspiration to many.  I spent weekends with Hazel and Willard for a couple of years and I’m sure Willard told me a hundred times “Don’t worry about things you can’t change”. Wise advice. Willard also was a grand example of the  importance of integrity and keeping one’s word. To the degree that Willard taught me about business, Hazel taught me about life. Thankfully, I learned at an early age the importance of knowing that we “are all one”….and that whether we’re “management’ or the “worker bees”….that no one is any better than anyone else.

Hazel and Willard had visited nearly every country in the world and I loved to hear their stories and look at their “treasures” from all corners of the world.  Looking back, I realize that I never dreamed about travelling the world like they had….I never even considered that it was possible for me. Looking back today, I see that I have also travelled the world. This is truly a miracle of its own.   

I was lucky enough to travel on weekends now and then with Hazel and Willard. They would be given the Presidential Suites at Westin Hotels and “red carpet treatment”. I remember staying in Tricia Nixon’s bedroom at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles – the Suite was on the top floor and had a grand piano and fireplace and was by far the nicest “digs” I’d ever experienced. Years later I was lucky enough to be given the Presidential Suite on the top floor of the Westin Hotel Seattle for 5 nights – on my own merits, with nothing to do with Hazel & Willard. Back in the late 60s I couldn’t even have imagined or dreamed of the life that I now have.

I remember staying at the best suite at the amazing Awahnee Hotel at Yosemite. I was sent to the airport in a limo once…whereas at home in my modest studio apartment in San Francisco I didn’t even have a car. We were treated like royalty, and yet Hazel & Willard were always “one with the people”. Being “important” or “having status” never meant anything to them. Aunt Hazel taught me to go down the hall at the hotel to find your maid – and introduce yourself. She would say “Hello – I’m Mrs. Abel in Room 1403. Thank you for taking care of us during our stay here.” She would give them a sincere, grateful smile, and a tip of a dollar or two right then, instead of waiting until the end of the stay.  Very wise. They always formed relationships whether with the executives or “the help”. They were down to earth, generous people with a healthy respect for all people. Very wise indeed and I aspire to live my life following their example. After Uncle Willard died and Hazel was in her twilight years, she would occasionally get dispirited. I called her often and still went down to spend the weekend when I could. So did cousins Cathy and Cindy. Hazel lived alone on 40+ acres and didn’t get out much. She and I decided to have our own private “book club” – so I’d get two books and mail one to her. We’d then talk on the phone about the book and do our best to solve the issues of the day and the problems of the world.

Learning to Receive  

Every year or two I would send her a long letter pouring out my gratitude for what I had learned from her. When I had business in the Bay Area, I’d spend a weekend with her and I fondly remember taking her for a ride in a rental car – a red Mustang convertible. She wanted the top down as we drove to Bodega Bay, and her silver white hair was streaming in the wind and she had just the biggest smile on her face.  After lunch we’d always stop for a couple of bags of Salt Water Taffy and she would unwrap them and hand them to me one at a time as I drove home and we’d giggle about how great life was and how much we loved each other. 

My husband John died on January 23, 1999.  Hazel adored John and  was upset that God would have taken him at his age 54 when she was 90 and so ready “to go” any time. Shortly thereafter she had a serious health incident where she almost died from sepsis. I went to see her soon after she came home from the hospital. As was our custom, we’d sit around in our nightgowns talking about the “state of the world” and somewhere in there she asked me why I thought she was “still here”. I said that I thought she still must have something to learn. She asked what could it possibly be, and I said “For many years I’ve poured my heart out trying to tell you the difference you’ve made in my life and I don’t think you have ever heard me. You’d always say “Oh go on Evie, I’m not THAT great. So I told her I thought she would not be allowed to “move on” until she heard what I had to say.  She looked rather sheepish and related a story from the 1920s or 1930s when her son’s violin teacher in Santa Barbara told her she needed to learn to receive. Swallowing her pride and with an open heart, sitting there in her nightgown, she said “OK Evie, tell me once again and this time I will try to hear you”.   So I told her one more time and thanked her for what she had taught me, and for always believing in me no matter what. She listened intently and this time I believed she had heard me at last.  

A few weeks later I received the news that she had died. She had worried about dying  alone in her home and not being found, yet she wanted to be at “Windy Hill Farm”  that she loved.  Apparently she hadn’t been feeling well and asked a neighbor to take her to the doctor. She got herself up and situated on the examining table and the doctor came in and said “Tell me Mrs. Abel, what seems to be the problem?” She opened her mouth to speak and had a massive heart attack, dying instantly right there on the table.  The poor doctor was beside himself and rightly so – but I had learned from the death of my beloved husband that learning to receive just might be every person’s greatest challenge. So I couldn’t help but break in to a smile, knowing that she had heard me at last.  I have a “Very Great Aunt Hazel Angel” now.  No wonder I am forever being upgraded and taken care of so well wherever I travel in the world. How grateful I am to have spent time with my Very Great Aunt Hazel and Very Great Uncle Willard.

Welcome to Photo Galleries – Larry Friedman, D.V.M.

Wilderness Concepts Photo is the brainchild and second profession of former practicing Veterinarian, Dr. Larry Friedman, a widely recognized photographer, accomplished in landscape, floral, commercial and portrait photography. His landscape gallery includes Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Northeast Utah and Southwest Wyoming, Upstate New York, as well as the images of the history and beauty of Wyoming. He is now living in the Chicago area.

Larry’s floral images demonstrate the art of macro photography and the impressionistic views of flowers illustrate his creativity. He has graciously offered to let me post his floral images on the Wiseelder website.  Dr Larry has been an “internet friend” of mine for many years, and we have never met.  All of his images are offered for purchase as canvases or prints. Please enjoy his website and contact him for pricing information.

Website: www.wildernessconceptsphoto.com

Email:     wildernessconcepts@comcast.net

Wilderness Concepts Photography

Larry Friedman D.V.M.
337 Satinwood Ct. South
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089

847-383-4402  1-800-340-1845
Cell 847-340-1841

Using this site

This website is updated often with new stories in several categories. You can view all stories in a particular category by selecting that category from the menu at the top of each page, or by selecting the category at the bottom (footer) of each page. All stories can also be viewed by selecting a month from the archives in the footer section.

All Inspirational Wise Elders stories can be found here: http://wiseelder.com/category/inspirational-wise-elders/

All Blessings of Dementia stories can be found here: http://wiseelder.com/category/blessings-of-dementia/

All Travels with Evie stories can be found here: http://wiseelder.com/category/travels-with-evie/

All Photo Galleries can be found here: http://wiseelder.com/category/photo-gallery/

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Inspirational Wise Elders – Waunita


My sweet friend Waunita has been a neighbor for many years. I’ve given her various names over the years – I’ve called her my “Plantation Manager” because as a Master Gardener, she helped teach me about plants and flowers, helping me learn about taking care of things outside. Growing plants and flowers and making one’s yard beautiful is her passion. I also gave her the name ”Duco” once, because every neighborhood needs someone who “glues everybody together”.  I have seen her be THAT kind of person on many occasions. Waunita lost her beloved husband many years ago and she is a THREE TIME cancer survivor. As though that’s not inspiration enough….I asked her a  few of my favorite questions and here are her answers:

Q:  Looking back from where you are at age 80+, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

A:  ”Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Q:  If you could pass on one thing to those younger folks who follow – something that you wish you had learned or realized sooner – what would that be?  

A:  “You should not always insist on being right”.

Q:  What brings you happiness and joy & makes life worth living?

 A: “Seeing little kids happy, and seeing nice people getting along”.

Waunita has been such a great example for me- and she has taught me so many things, whether about soil, or plants, cleaning up after oneself, or finishing the job. As she says “If you don’t take the time to do it right the first time, how will you ever find time to do it over again”. Indeed! Waunita is another of my favorite Wise Elders and I am grateful for her sense of humor and her wisdom.

Welcome to Wise Elder

I love  the concept of Wise Elder; not because I think I am one, but because I aspire to be one. Perhaps no coincidence that ”Aspiring Wise Elder” has the acronym “AWE”, just as Wise Elder is “WE”.  I know that WE are so much more than our bodies; that WE are great beings. It saddens me to hear people my age or younger talk about their upset with seeing themselves age. My intention here is to inspire and encourage us to relentlessly pursue wisdom, knowing that our bodies are perhaps just a metaphor for who we are. It is my commitment that we celebrate the quest to become wiser with age. A wise person said  that our outsides are just wrapping paper and the true gifts are inside.  If anyone knows the exact quote and who said it, I would love to give credit where credit is due.

One of the great blessings of my life is the abundance of dear friends, many of whom are “elders” who are so inspiring and who have taught me so much. I shall share them with you as a tribute to who they are, together with my view of what I find so inspirational.  The older I get, the more I see that some of our learning is from books, some from each other, and some “the hard way”. It seems to me that the easiest and gentlest way of learning is from each other. Just think how many lifetimes it would take to learn everything if we had to do it all by ourselves.

When I was a toddler in Eugene, Oregon in the 1950s I loved to dance. I had an adorable pink satin bathing suit that I would wear as I would dance around the living room and up on the couch. Kind of like “Dancing with Life”. Totally uninhibited and in the joy of the moment. Now that I am much older, I realize that this is a wise way to live life now.

The Wise Elders in my life share a love of life and a love of friends and family.They always make time for others in the present moment.  There are so many Wise Elders in my world that for now I am using age 80 as a “beginning point” .  As I reflect on what they have in common, I am grateful that they all are “open hearted” friends…..often sharing their hopes, dreams and sometimes their fears.  I have felt very trusted. Many have talked with me about death and dying, and the afterlife; topics that are often difficult to discuss with family. I have grown to believe that those we have loved and lost become angels, surrounding us with love and light when they no longer have a physical body.  “Getting one’s wings” is not necessarily a sad thing to me and I believe those wings are a sign that we’ve learned what we came here to learn.

I hope you enjoy reading about my Wise Elders and that you find them as inspirational and wise as I do.

Using this site

This website is updated often with new stories in several categories.  You can view all stories in a particular category by selecting that category from the menu at the top of each page, or by selecting the category at the bottom (footer) of each page.  All stories can also be viewed by selecting a month from the archives in the footer section.

All Inspirational Wise Elders stories can be found here:  http://wiseelder.com/category/inspirational-wise-elders/

All Blessings of Dementia stories can be found here:  http://wiseelder.com/category/blessings-of-dementia/

All Travels with Evie stories can be found here:  http://wiseelder.com/category/travels-with-evie/

All Photo Galleries can be found here: http://wiseelder.com/category/photo-gallery/

Subscribe to Wise Elder to be notified when new stories are published.

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Skagit Valley Tulips – By Evelyn Williams

How about a Springtime trip to Washington’s Skagit Valley Tulip Festival?  These are Evie’s photos, taken April 18, 2010 at the Roozengaarde Display Garden in Mt Vernon, Washington.  Believe it or not, these pictures were taken on the last day of the Tulip Festival; therefore the tulips were even more glorious in prior days.

From its website: Roozengaarde was established in 1985 by the Roozen family and Washington Bulb Company, Inc.  The Roozen family business of growing Tulips, Daffodils and Irises is the largest in the world, covering Skagit Valley with more than 1000 acres of field blooms and 16 acres of greenhouses. Each fall, the 3 acre show garden is planted with around three hundred thousand spring-flowering bulbs, providing a gorgeous display of color during the early weeks of spring. Roozengaarde is an official Sponsor of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. We welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors, from all over the country and from around the world, to our garden and store during the festival. Thousands of full-color bulb catalogs are distributed each year. Bulbs are shipped each fall to thousands of homes across the United States and Canada. Fresh-cut flowers are available for purchase or for shipment anywhere in the United States year-round. All of our bulbs and flowers are purchased directly from Washington Bulb Co., Inc.

Roozengaarde’s website is www.tulips.com

Beijing #2 – Nov 6, 2010

Giant Buddha in Yonghe Lamasery


We met our English-speaking guide and driver bright and early this Saturday, our first full day in Beijing, and were thrilled that it was Josephine’s day off so that she could come with us. Today we will visit the Lama Temple, the “Old City” Hutongs, the “798 Arts District” and the Silk Market.       

Evie & Cathy @ Lama Temple

Touring the Hutongs by Pedicab

It was a special day at the Yonghe Lamasery, so it was very crowded and many people were at the temple offering incense and prayers for relatives. We LOVED the many golden colored gingko trees that almost looked surreal. Workers were out sweeping the golden ginko leaves with the most interesting brooms (see gallery picture). In the temple there is a fabulous, unbelievably HUGE Buddha. No photos were allowed indoors, so I have scanned the above picture from a postcard. This Buddha is 26 meters (85 feet) high and 8 meters (26 feet) wide and it is a statue of Maitreya.  The website “Mandarin and Beyond” says this about this Buddha carving:   ”It was a gift for Emperor Qianlong from the Seventh Dalai Lama. The temple was converted into a lamasery in 1744, but this part was not completed until 1750. Emperor Qianlong felt that the area at the rear of the lamasery was too bare and planned to build a high tower as a protective screen, but it was very difficult to find a sandalwood tree of such size. The Tibetan envoy heard this in Beijing and told the Seventh Dalai Lama about it. Shortly afterwards, he sent people to look for a huge tree. Finally he found one in Tibet and sent it here as a gift to the Emperor to express his thanks because Emperor Qianlong had sent troops to Tibet to put down a rebellion and turn back the power to the Seventh Dalai Lama. It took three years to ship this huge tree from the banks of the Yangtze River, though the Grand Canal and up to Beijing and another three years for carving and erection. The hall was built later. In 1750 it was entirely completed. Behind the Great Buddha, there are ten thousand small Buddhas on three stories. Hence the name, Ten-Thousand-Happiness Pavilion.First refurbished in 1953, the temple was again restored in 1978, and opened to the public in 1981. The latest effort, which started in 1992, focused on the renewal of the Giant Buddhist Maitreya and was completed in October 1993. The two-year facelift cost more than 500,000 yuan ($87,719) state funds most of which was spent on coating the statue with 2.5 kilos of gold foil. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Maitreya is the tallest and biggest in the world today.”       

We had a grand time touring the “old city” hutongs by pedicab. China Daily: says “The word hutong came from the Mongolian language about 700 years ago. The original Mongolian word was hottog, meaning ” water well.” In other words, it means a place where people live, because people always gather where there is water. Today in Beijing, the word hutong means a small alleyway or lane. They are typical of the old part of Beijing and are formed by lines of siheyuan (a compound made up of rooms around a courtyard ) in which most Beijing residents used to live.”       

Mr. Zhang & his first "Window Card"

Halfway through the tour we visited an old, authentic Chinese home that if sold, would be worth $5 million U.S. dollars today. It was neither large nor particularly nice, but certainly interesting. The various rooms were not connected – so you had to go into the open air central courtyard to reach another room. The family does not want to sell, so they offer tours. The highlight was when I gave a little Compendium “window card” to Mr. Zhang, the homeowner. He wanted to be sure it was not a religious message – and when Josephine translated it into Chinese for him, he was delighted by the special message .       


Josephine had never been to the “798 Arts District” and I had heard from a family member (thank you Jennifer) that it was a special place. Indeed, it was quite eclectic and you no doubt will enjoy the pictures from there. Who gnu that one would find dinosaurs and cotton candy in Beijing? Not to mention giants and Vikings on Harleys.  Those Harley Davidson guys were making lots of noise.  They sped by so quickly that I was thrilled that I actually managed to get a picture.       

Viking (?) on a Harley

We stopped at Lei Garden, Beijing’s best Dim Sum restaurant for mid afternoon lunch. Josephine ordered for us, and we had our first opportunity to sample her favorite “Chicken Feet” and also pork bellies. We bravely tasted the chicken feet (the smallest possible bites),  but decided to leave most for our Josephine who loved them so much.  Quite challenging to chew the cartilage and then extract it from your mouth in polite company. Oh my. Josephine told us that there is little osteoporosis in Asia because they eat all parts of the animal – she explained that chicken feet are full of collagen. (I don’t know about you, but those sure look like mighty BIG feet to me…..).       

Garnishes for Roasted Duck

That night we went to what Josephine thinks is Beijing’s best Peking Duck restaurant, “Dadong”.  We loved the Peking Duck, but skipped the “duck tongues” and let our sweet Josephine have the whole platter (yikes!) The duck was carved right at our table and each of us was given a wonderful square plate of garnishes. Josephine showed us how the garnishes were to be eaten. My surprise favorite was a piece of roasted duck dipped in sugar crystals. It was an amazing combination of tastes.       

After that wonderful Peking Duck dinner at DaDong, Josephine had the driver take us to see the night view of the Olympic Venue “Water Cube”. We were so tired due to the time change that we could barely keep our heads up – yet very impressive.       

"Water Cube" - Beijing Olympics

Here are a few pictures of the largest video screen in the world. Note how big it is when compared to the buses below. Can’t wait to share with you about our second day in Beijing.       

World's Biggest Video Screen



Dementia and Perpetual Delight

December, 2005

I help Mom these days with birthday and Christmas shopping for her grandkids, as she is not able to do it on her own.  I found the most adorable little nightgown and boa feather slippers for her 6-year-old granddaughter.  One of the things Mom can do well is to help wrap the gifts, even though this has to be carefully managed.  I’ve watched as she’d painstakingly wrap a gift, only to forget what was inside and unwrap the gift.  Then she would rewrap the gift, put the ribbon on, and once again, forget what was inside.  I’ve tried many things to help her out. I’d put a sticky note on the table saying what is inside to help her remember.  Left to her own devices she forgets all about the sticky note and unwraps and rewraps the gift repeatedly.

Although one can see sadness in this, she is not sad.  She just doesn’t remember.  I see that it’s not the circumstances that are necessarily sad, it’s the meaning we add. What I noticed in particular this holiday season is her enormous and seemingly endless capacity to experience delight.

The first time I held up the little nightgown and boa slippers she was so tickled.  She held them and admired them and talked of how much her granddaughter would love them.  A few minutes later she found the nightgown and slippers on the table again.  She held them up and found just as much delight as the first time she had seen them.  This happened a few more times before the gift was wrapped and I saw that it can be seen as a blessing of dementia to have an endless capacity for delight.  How bad can that be?  You and I would be delighted the first time, less so the second time, and have a tough time generating too much enthusiasm the 4th or 5th time we saw the same thing.  Mom’s capacity to experience delight was a joy to see.

Perpetual delight.  What a lovely concept and what a blessing! Rather than be sad about her inability to remember, I can enjoy her enchantment over and over.  In my Mom’s world she is just fine and it looks to me as though perpetual delight is among the blessings of dementia.

Beijing #1 – November 2010

Cousin Cathy with “Welcome Lilies”
Pink Roses from Ritz Carlton

Cousin Cathy arrived from Australia earlier in the day and she is still sleeping this morning. It is 4AM in Beijing and 1PM (yesterday) in Seattle. I am sitting on the edge of the enormous luxurious bathtub with my laptop carefully balanced over one of the sinks in our bathroom at the Ritz Carlton Financial Street in Beijing.  The only light is a soft glow coming from a very fancy make-up mirror on the wall. I arrived late last night and the only transformer in our room so far is in the bathroom. Shhhh…..I am typing quietly, hoping not to wake Cathy just yet.

I was met as I walked off the plane in Beijing by a young man holding a sign with my name on it. He took my carry-on bag & briefcase and guided me through the expansive Beijing Airport. Even with my long legs I literally had to run every now and then to keep up with him but I was grateful for the assistance after a 12 hour flight from Seattle. I did not take time to ‘freshen up” at the airport, thinking that I’d sneak into the Ritz Carlton, find a ladies room, freshen up, then check in and see if my friend Josephine was still awake. Cancel that thought. The car that picked me up at the airport drove into the Ritz Carlton drive through. Waiting there to greet me was my sweet friend Josephine and Lydia who also works here, holding two dozen beautiful pink roses for me. No necessity of stopping for a luggage claim check or check in – they whisked me immediately up to my room – and within 30 seconds my luggage, briefcase and coat had arrived. They are very efficient here and I can tell already that THIS is another of Josephine’s hotels. Waiting on my nightstand were framed pictures of my three Tibetan Spaniels and a picture of me at Lake Tahoe…..Josephine’s “fingerprints”. It may say Ritz Carlton on the sign out front, but Josephine is one of my favorite demonstrations of the difference one person can make. It is no wonder that she was honored as Marriott & Ritz Carlton’s “best employee in the world” in 2006. I have just arrived and I already feel as though I belong.

It was a great reunion with Cousin Cathy who enjoyed similar treatment when she arrived from Brisbane earlier in the day. She was presented on arrival with a huge bouquet of Stargazer Lilies.  Our room smells delicious from the fragrance of lilies and roses. We will need lessons today in how to work all the fancy gadgets in our room. There is a panel between our beds with multiple buttons to dim or brighten the lights, open the drapes, call for services, etc. Cathy reports that how to work the shower is still somewhat of a mystery. It’s Josephine’s day off, so she will come touring with us for a few hours today as we see some of the sights of Beijing. Tomorrow we will go out to the Summer Palace, the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

This has been quite an adventure already. I met two amazing women at the Delta Crown Room in Seattle. When I arrived in Beijing I received emails from them saying they watched my plane take off.  One gave me a “wish come true” card good for free technical support from Microsoft.

Delta Sommelier with Offerings

When I boarded my flight I kept looking for the person coming down the aisle who would be my seat-mate. I always end up sitting by the greatest people and I just can hardly wait to see who it will be this time. No one had shown up as the cabin doors were closed, and I felt a wave of disappointment at having an empty seat next to me. Most people would be thrilled. I don’t sleep much on planes because I don’t want to miss anything. I realized that I’d have to look somewhere other than the (empty) seat next to me for great people on the flight.  A sweet looking Chinese man who spoke no English sat in front of me, and often turned around to look at me between the seats. Another Chinese man sat across the aisle and he snored so loudly that several rows of seats trembled. They spoke no English, so I got to know the flight attendants on this flight. Passengers often mistake me for a flight attendant because I am tall and blonde – so I told the flight attendants I’d be glad to pick up trash if they needed help. That always gets them laughing, but I don’t think they realize that I’m serious. Just wanting to ensure that I can sleep when I reach the destination.

I arrived at the Seattle airport early enough to enjoy Halibut & Chips at Anthony’s Restaurant. I sat at the counter and struck up a conversation with Laurence, a joyful black man, who was cooking. He was as full of life and smiles as anyone I’ve ever met in my life. I told him I was going on a grand adventure in search of wisdom from people I met along the way and that he was the first. I asked him what he loved about his life. He said he thanked the Lord every day for his wonderful life and that every day he hoped to be able to bring a smile to someone’s face.  So Laurence – thank you for bringing a smile to MY face as I set out for an adventure halfway around the world to discover more of what we all have in common. I hope my Seattle friends who travel might look up my friend Laurence next time you’re at Anythony’s at Seatac Airport….and tell him you received a picture of him from Beijing.

An account of our first day in Beijing will follow.