I love going to the annual scholarship ceremony at  Saddleback College.  It is an afternoon of smiles, excitement, good feelings all around.  An organization I belong to, the National League of American Pen Women, is one of the donors invited to come to the ceremony.  This year, the college raised more money than ever — $393,000 distributed to 209 students.

In the large gym, seats are set aside on one side for the donors, and the other side for the recipients.  Happy families sit in the bleachers.  The Board of Trustees sit on a balloon and flower bedecked podium.  During the 90 minutes, the donors stand and applaud the recipients.  The recipients stand and applaud the donors.  The Trustees applaud both.

Each recipient has the opportunity to walk on the podium, have his/her picture taken with two of the Trustees, and shake the hands of the other Trustees while the names and amounts of the scholarships are read off.  Even though the amount of the scholarships ranged from $250 to $10,000,  the smiles on the faces of the recipients were equally wide and happy.

In our present economy, times are harder for colleges and students.  Even in the best of times, these students have additional problems to deal with.  Many are immigrants from other countries.  Some are single parents, male and female veterans, all ages.  Some are disabled and most work part time or full time in addition to school.  All have financial need.

Among the many happy faces, some stood out.  One student was determined to walk the full length of the stage with a cast on her leg.  A mother and daughter followed one another to receive their scholarships.  Three former students spoke of what the college and the scholarships had meant in their own lives.   Each was inspiring.  One got a standing ovation for a tale simply told of how she hadn’t finished high school, had a baby, and needed a direction in life.  The people in the college had more confidence in her than she had in herself.  With emotional and financial support,  she kept going.  She will graduate from the University of California at Irvine later this month.  She was able to tell her young son, “Of course you will go to college too.”

After the official ceremony, donors had the opportunity to meet the recipients of their scholarships while munching on some fruit and pastry.  As I passed one smiling Trustee, he simply said “Thank you for being a donor.”  We had come in strangers, but smiles united us.

I’ve been going to the Scholarship Ceremony for 5 years already.  I look forward to it every time and leave feeling good, my hands red from clapping, and yes, still smiling.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

Where an infinite blue sky and a blue-green sea meet is where we left the ashes of a dear artist friend who passed away.  She was 84 years young — young because of her vibrancy, enthusiasm, and creativity with color and brush.  Nothing about her was ordinary, including the journey we took in a private yellow railroad car owned by her son to carry her ashes there.

Her friends reminisced about Marian Spinn,  their artist/friend who died with many paintings accomplished, yet still many in her mind yet to paint.  She held the joy of creativity close to her heart even as she dealt with the cruelties of aging diseases and wanted only to be able to paint again.

She had told me that she had unknowingly painted spirits into her paintings and only saw them after someone else pointed them out to her.  But they were friendly spirits, and so were welcome to inhabit her paintings.

Her son let each of us choose one of her prints.  I chose a spouting volcano, filled with the power of intense color cascading up and down it.  It was an easy choice for me because she had always talked about how much she loved the years she lived in Hawaii, and I had at one time personally stood near that same volcano during another eruption.  And yes, I quickly located the spirit inhabiting that painting.

She was as colorful and beautiful as the extensive artwork that will continue to live on after her.  It was a life that was easy to celebrate, and a fitting send-off for a fine artist, mother, grandmother,  friend, and a long time member of the National League of American Pen Women.

Comments??  Please e-mail Suellen@ZimaTravels.com


May 13, 2011

Smiles are definitely contagious!  I so enjoyed my afternoon at the Saddleback Community College Scholarship Awards Ceremony.  As President of the Laguna Beach Branch of the National League of American Pen Women, I was there to represent our organization as one of the 250 donors.  This community college had its first ceremony in 1976, which included 45 donors contributing $12,000 to about 60 students.  Today, scholarships totaling more than $273,000 were awarded to over 200 very hard-working students.  In fact, many, if not most of them, are also working at least part time while going to school.

Community colleges are very special places.  Generally two years, they provide a less expensive gateway to higher education for many poor and minority students.  Some go on to finish in four year universities.  Many of the beaming students we clapped for today are first-time ever higher education students in their families.  Some of them received several scholarships, and a very few received $10,000 scholarships, but the smiles were just as broad and happy on the faces of those who were awarded a $500 scholarship, or even less.  Supportive family members sat on the sidelines, waving and hooting when their favorite student’s name was called and s/he walked up to receive the award and shake hands with the college officials.

This was probably my fourth Awards Ceremony, and I’ve left each one smiling and happy after being in the wide aura of smiles,  happiness, and mutual appreciation.  The college used to offer a rather complete buffet prepared by their culinary students, but severe budget cuts have reduced the refreshments to desserts only, but still festive and attractive.

Students are notified in advance that they’ve won a scholarship and are invited to come.  However, they do not know which scholarships they have received until the day of the awards.   Some organizations, like ours, have certain requirements for our recipients and can even make the selection out of three candidates.  Since the National League of American Pen Women is an organization to promote creativity in art, writing, or music composition for women, the requirements we have set for our recipient are that it must be a woman who is interested in one of the three creative pursuits, and that she will remain at Saddleback for the following year.  The last requirement is so that we can form some kind of relationship, have her come to meet the members of our Branch, and offer mentoring to her for the coming year.

The community college concept has appeal to a wide range of students, including older or re-entry students.  This year, our recipient is a mother of eight children, aged 5 to 18, who has decided to finally pursue her dream of becoming a writer.  I expected a rather tired, overworked person to fit that description, but she was pretty, vivacious, and full of energy and dreams for her future.  It will be a pleasure to do what we can to help her along in her dream.

Comments??  Please e-mail Suellen@ZimaTravels.com

I’m getting ready to go on vacation for three weeks, first to visit a good friend, and then to spend my granddaughter’s winter break with her when I don’t have to share her with school.   It strikes me as strange to take a vacation from retirement.  After all, isn’t retirement a never-ending vacation?  Your time is your own and how to use that time is totally in your control.

But wait!  Retirement isn’t quite all that free.  First of all, there’s 60 to 90 minutes of exercise 6 days a week required for my self-imposed mandatory heart medicine.  Since I no longer drive, that means taking a bus to get to the fitness center for weight training and cardio, to the gym for aerobics, and to the senior center for yoga.  Of course, I have to fit in a shower at some point in the day to wash off the sweat.

So much for the body.  But then there’s the brain.  How many times have I been told that the brains of seniors must be stimulated to keep it from atrophying?  I have friends who love doing  jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, making up original riddles, doing crossword puzzles, finding the hidden words, and beating themselves on electronic games.  I hate all those things, and always have.  But when I was younger, I didn’t see any need for exercising my brain.  It just happened.  Now, as I regularly forget people’s names and why I walked into a room, I wonder if I shouldn’t force myself to do those brain stimulating games I hate.

They say that learning languages is a good way for an old brain to stay active.  I’ve studied Chinese off and on for years, never progressing past a certain level of survival Chinese.  But a Chinese resident of our retirement community has offered to give a class once a week, so I’m trying again.  Most of what I’ve accomplished so far is just re-learning what I’ve forgotten over the years.

Volunteering has always been a part of my week, so I continue to volunteer for clubs and committees, am the President of a local branch of the National League of American Pen Women, and am entering the tenth year of spending my Sunday afternoons as a docent with seals and sea lions at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.

I noticed a shift as I aged from “doing” to “being.”  So, I make time for “being,” going down to a pretty creek near my home and sitting in a tree, taking solitary night walks, meditating and deep breathing.  I am usually reading a few books at a time, which is another form of “being” because it brings me to different ideas, new places, stationary travels, without “doing.”  I try, but don’t often succeed, in getting through one Saturday and one Sunday newspaper a week.  I used to get magazines, but they were an expense I’ve had to cut out of my dwindling budget.

Socializing is necessary for mental well-being, and mutual enjoyment.  Since I live alone, I need to allot time for being social and nurturing  friendships.  Living in a retirement community helps by offering many activities, club events, and chances to be with other people.  I won’t say there aren’t any isolated people among the 18,000 of us who live here, but there are numerous, convenient, and easy opportunities to be social.

I used to spend a lot of mental energy on planning what comes next, where to live, where to go next, how to find a job.  Although I like to be thinking a few months or a year in advance of travels, my future planning doesn’t extend too far into the future anymore.  It is in proportion to my lower energy level and my severe financial restraints.

Reluctantly, more of my mental energy seems to be going into physical realms.  Blood pressure and cholesterol and keeping down my food intake are daily thoughts.  There seems to be an increasing rate of “little” problems — strange twinges, tweaks, creaks, and pains that weren’t there when I went to bed.  Of course, Medicare reminds me regularly of all those regular preventive tests they think I should be taking.  It’s boring – and scary – as friends succumb to all sorts of ills.  I count my health blessings daily along with wondering, as I did today, if I really should still be climbing up a ladder to clean the outside of the my bedroom windows.  I still do all my own housecleaning, but it’s more tiring than it used to be.

In fact, retirement is a busy time.  No wonder I need a vacation!

Comments??  Please e-mail to Suellen@ZimaTravels.com

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