Taos Habitat for Humanity Build – Reflections Part 1

20141027_090419Oh Taos, New Mexico.  I whined about traveling to your sunny, high desert mountain land.  After enduring the brutal Idaho heat, I get protective about where I want to spend my vacation time which is to scurry to the ocean mist and cool off.  Finally, I committed to join my favorite Habitat for Humanity team for the second week of the build.   I should learn by now that when I drag my feet going somewhere, the trip will be super extraordinary.

Two weeks after returning home, I huddled under blankets on the couch after six inches of snow dumped on Boise, Idaho. The temperature hovered around 10 degrees, and I confess  that I missed the warmth of the Taos sun and fresh mountain air.  I played a CD purchased from the charming guitar playing singer that entertained the Sunday market crowd in Santa Fe.  What a beautiful voice, loving personality, and he blossomed as his hippie chicks gathered around to groove on his songs.

The autograph of Canta Chris Abeyta on my CD highlights his charming, compassionate heart.  “To Susan E.  Music is our spirit, it never dies.”

Taos was a hauntingly beautiful trip from beginning to end.  First I reunited with my Habitat family, minus dear Terese, Kate, Pat, Mara, and Maria, but delighted to meet two new additions, Brian and Bev.  After a weekend of relaxing in Santa Fe with the team visiting art galleries, examining gorgeous jewelry, devouring chili rellenos and key lime pie, we headed to Taos.1280 (1)

The road that Rick drove from Santa Fe to Taos illuminated one glorious fall colored view after another.  High desert straight roads grew curvy as we ascended to high elevation mountains with little towns nestled along the way.   Oddly, the terrain seemed familiar and resembled mountain driving in Idaho. Then I saw the sign  to Espanola – a town my grandparents lived in when I was a girl growing up in Boulder, Colorado.

My family had traveled the road from Boulder through Taos and on to Espanola many times.Old memories wove their way to the surface, and I experienced sentimental feelings of coming home.

20141027_072509My teammates gave me a tour of my home.  We stayed in an old convent, mattresses on the floor, two or three to the room with a couple of bathrooms to share.  A walk across the parking lot took us to the kitchen where we consumed excellent cuisine planned and prepared by Susan Latham.


Work site of the The Mares Home Taos Habitat for Humanity

Monday morning I stumbled out of my bed early for morning coffee.  When I stepped outside I could smell a skunk and spotted a pair of bushy black and white tails frolicking in the front yard of the church office.  I reported my wildlife experience to the group, but the skunks had disappeared by the time Nancy went looking for them.  I thought the charming creatures a good omen, and felt excited to experience my week with Taos Habitat for Humanity.



Habitat for Humanity Taos, New Mexico

Adobe House in Progress

Adobe House in Progress

New Habitat adventure to Taos, New Mexico.

Smooth flights, easy connections and a variety of unusual airport conversations were the order of the day as I traveled Friday to arrive in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There I joined with some of my favorite Habitat for Humanity buddies.

They team has already been in Taos for a week building, and the weekend of October 25 is a rest and relaxation break.  Excellent timing on my part!

We spent a lovely Saturday walking through the local farmers market, visiting the abundance of artist galleries in Santa Fe, and marveling over the glorious, colorful fall weather. I stuffed myself with green chilies and flavorful salsa throughout the day wishing I could transport the homemade spicy delights home. Though I am bringing home a delicious jar of raspberry red chile ginger jam.   I ate the best Chile Rellenos last night for dinner and am still feeling the fire in my belly!

This afternoon we check out of our hotel and head down the road to Taos, and plan to stop for photo opportunities in this extraordinary landscape.  Monday the work begins for me and I look forward to building with this eclectic group of friends.

Best Team Ever!

Best Team Ever!


To PhD or not to PhD, Part 2 – Onward with Life!

DSC_0602nal banjoTo PhD or not to PhD, Part 2 –  continued from Part 1:

The mystical irony was in the timing that I received the no go PhD news. Relaxed from a Cascade, Idaho cabin retreat with my inspirational women friends, I immediately spotted the letter on the kitchen  table.  The weekend was rich with soul-searching conversations, vision boards, dream exploration, laughter, delicious food, and plenty of opportunity to snooze.   I tore into the envelope ready to accept my next challenge in life.

“Dear Ms Emerson – I regret to inform you that your admission to the PhD in Public Policy and Administration, State and Local Government has been denied.”

My fall higher education plans completely derailed, and mixed emotions swirled in a recipe of bruised ego, anger, and disappointment.  Then I felt embarrassed because for over a year, I talked incessantly to friends and family about my PhD plans. Next, a simple, subdued  thought, “Now what do I do. Reapply next year or apply to other universities?”   Finally, a curious feeling emerged  – relief.

Then the big question, do I want a PhD  and why? I know I can achieve that goal, but is that how I want to spend my time. Lack of a PhD does not prevent active involvement in affordable housing advocacy.

Since that March 2014 spring day when I opened the “No” letter, my life rapidly changed. Fall 2013, I had received a promotion into a new job as a Proposal Development Specialist with the Research Computing department. As a result, the rest of my spring 2014 melted into a flurry of travel to trainings and conferences that revitalized my talents and put my MPA to use.

I went on a glorious trip to the Washington Olympic peninsula, camped out, took long walks on foggy beaches, and explored the rain forest. I visited my daughter in Portland, Oregon and we shared an incredible weekend in Cannon Beach. My other daughter returned from New Zealand with loads of stories and pictures.

I decided to downsize, simplify, and sell my house, move into a smaller apartment and use precious time and money to travel, visit friends, and write. Instead of mowing the lawn or home maintenance projects, I plan to devote time playing the banjo, going to bluegrass festivals, writer workshops, and blogging conferences.

My PhD plotting plans did not leave a void for long. Other opportunities rushed in to seize the moment. As the gorgeous, cooling fall weather eases into the Treasure Valley, I am able to pause, thoroughly enjoy the transition, and not worry about getting an assignment completed, or that next paper written.

In October, I travel to Taos, New Mexico to join friends for one week to work on Habitat for Humanity build. I became involved with Boise Valley Habitat in 1994, when hired into a support staff position. After the position had ended, I remained involved with the organization locally, national and internationally. In addition to local builds, I joined Global Village teams in Northern Ireland, Romania, Guatemala, Hawaii, and a Jimmy Carter build in Valdosta, Georgia.
I look forward to additional volunteer opportunities and a chance to spend time with friends as result of my long involvement. Onward with an adventurous life!

photo (13)photo (10) (1)I look forward to additional volunteer opportunities and a chance to spend time with friends as result of my long involvement. Onward now with an adventurous life!

Reflections, last Saturday in Kauai

SAM_2773Saturday, November 16, after a luxurious swim/snorkel beach time,  our team split into two groups with a larger faction taking the Napali coastline cruise.

The remaining four, Nancy, Pat, Susan and myself toured the Kauai coffee plantation, and shopped a bit.SAM_2779

Later, we checked out Poipu beach where a  large sea turtle had crawled ashore to rest.   Earlier in the week, we had the opportunity to swim with a turtle which was a thrilling experience.

We treated ourselves to a happy hour hors d’oeuvres, fluffy, sugary mango drinks and then chased a gorgeous sunset.SAM_2785

By  9:26 pm our time three of our team has already departed.  Rick, Kate, Nancy, Paul lounged at the kitchen table, and Susan and Pat  kitchen visiting.  Maria and Barb on the couch discussed  books.  I rallied and stayed up late Saturday evening to play a competitive  game of dominoes with Maria, Nancy, and Pat.

The end of a Habitat build always sneaks up.  Months and weeks before the build the anticipation grows daily as preparation for the gathering begins.  At the beginning, the days seem to stretch out in front of us.  We wonder what the workload will be and hope that we can provide a useful, skilled dent in the build process.

Then suddenly our build time is over and members of our team begin to peel out.  While our electronic age allows connection with family and friends back home, I still experienced moments where I nearly forgot I had another life in Idaho.20131112_132641 (1)

Kauai:  I am going to miss looking out the back window, seeing the mountains and on some days the rain clouds draping down the hills.  And from the front yard the view of the ocean.  I struggled at times with the tropical heat and sun, though I had some reprieve with clouds, cool evenings, and even a rainy day.   However, in 2 weeks, I grew accustomed to the lush green of the land, open space, fresh air and being close to the ocean.  I enjoyed snorkeling and swimming in the ocean.  I brought my banjo with me and played publicly which is living a long time dream.

The on site constructions managers supplied patient, supportive instructions as they assigned work tasks to our team. I appreciated learning to use a variety of SAM_2786power tools, exercise math and measurement skills as we finished the trim on one house.

 As in my prior builds,  I leave our two-week Kauai, Hawaii Global Village experience feeling that I belong to a big family.  I plan to continue with Habitat for Humanity and advocate for decent, affordable housing.  SAM_2702

Time Warp – Friday November 15 already!

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Nearly full moon at the beach Mahalo dinner.

The now predictable flow of traffic and chorus of roosters at 4 am signal another incredible day in Kauai.  I dozed until 5:30 and then followed the rich smell of freshly brewed coffee to the kitchen where the usual early morning folks, Barb, Susan, Joe, Ann and Rick have gathered.

Usually I remain in my room for a bit, but this morning ventured out to the living room to blog where a code of silence exists until about, well, 5:30 am when Ms Nancy enters the room (in all fairness, she honored the quiet time successfully this morning.)

Today is Friday, our last build day and the week has flown by in a blur of building, island touring, snorkeling, eating, sharing photos, laughing, and our ukulele/banjo jam session.

Ms Nancy receiving instructions.

Ms Nancy receiving instructions.

Last night, Thursday, was the Mahalo gathering at the beach with Kauai Affiliate staff, construction managers, families and our team. For our last workday, we split our team again between the rehab home to finish detail work while others travel to the Anahola work site to work on the roof.photo (32)

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The majority of our group will leave the warm, moist, tropical Kauai environment and plunge into winter, so we cling to the warmth.  However, a few will return to sunny states such as Arizona and Texas.

Time feels suspended. The rhythm of the island has tucked and lulled us all into a soothing existence.  Our skin is soft and hair fluffy from the moisture and big smiles are the order of the day as we anticipate the fun of attending a traditional Hawaiian Luau this evening.

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Team Kauai, Fall 2013

photo (21)For this build we are located in a Habitat neighborhood and staying in SAM_2715a house currently retained by the Kauai affiliate for volunteer teams.

Past builds, our teams have stayed in hotels, and in Belfast, Northern Ireland a retreat center.

Renting the house has significantly decreased the cost of the trip, and the team organized to cook 90 percent of our meals.  We bunk 3 to a bedroom, have a comfortable living roomkitchen area, and a porch with a view of the ocean.

Backyard view, mountains on the horizon and coffee plantation located behind the barrier.

Backyard view, mountains on the horizon and coffee plantation located behind the barrier.

I can already tell I am going to miss interacting and being around this group of folks.  What we all have in common is a desire to travel and participate in activity, such as volunteering for Habitat Builds, that works with the community to give something back.

We all have our quirks, routines, distinct personalities, stories, have snippy, tired irritable moments, and yet the cohesiveness of our team is quite remarkable. And I am going to miss each person terribly.



Our massive shoe collection.