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Girl Getaways are the best!

Up until 2020, for the past 11 years I have traveled with two former co-workers to remote places in November during the week of the Veteran’s Day holiday.  We worked together for years and when our kids went off to college we decided to give a “girl getaway” a try.  Since our Pacific Northwest rains usually really start that month we have found it to be an easy way to find some relaxation in the sun.  A vacation with girlfriends is different than with a husband or family.  We eat when we want, sleep when we want, read when we want and do what we want – there is no guilt and no one to take care of.  I highly recommend making this a tradition if you can, before you retire! Our sacred week always occurs before the snow flies in the Puget Sound area and the frenzy of the holidays begins.

When we first started, we weren’t super brave so we went to Cabo San Lucas.  A quick four hour flight from Seattle, which is in the same time zone, got us friendly welcoming people, warm sunny beaches, margaritas, fresh fish and shrimp, chips and salsa all in a swimsuit with our feet in the sand.  We went back to Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo several more times before we ventured to Costa Rica, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker in Belize, Cancun and Isla Mujeres, Loretto and Laz Paz, all in Mexico.

There are those that say traveling in Mexico is not safe. When I hear this I don’t imagine they have ever traveled there.  We haven’t had any problems, but I think that is because we are thoughtful and cautious when we travel.  We are all grandmothers now, so we are not foolish.  A few simple rules have guided us all these years and we look forward to our girl getaways as a highlight to our year.  In fact, we choose a new destination and start planning our next year’s trip on the plane ride home.  We all take turns booking our accommodations, excursions and airfare.  Meeting for lunch and wine tasting in the subsequent months, dreaming and talking about our next trip makes the year fly by.

Here are a few of the things we do to have fun and stay safe:

We choose a location that is warm, exotic and welcoming.

We talk to friends about places they have travelled to in the past and value their recommendations.

We find safe walkable downtowns to stay in.

Sometimes we go to a luxury resort and other times we rent a condo, hotel or a cabana on the beach. 

We stay in a large place with security guards one year and then look for little “off the beaten track places” and check them out for future trips.

We form personal relationships with the locals and ask them for recommendations for their favorite places to eat and activities. (Amazing food and fun things we would have never thought of….cheaper too!)

We rarely rent or drive a car ourselves.

We take a pre-scheduled shuttle from the airport, walk everywhere during our stay and take a shuttle back to the airport when we depart.

We go to a local grocery on our way from the airport and ask the shuttle driver to wait for us.

We get items for breakfast each morning, snacks, adult beverages and a few dinners we can cook ourselves. (We make our shopping lists on the plane ride.)

We make our main meal a huge lunch on the beach or somewhere interesting.

We are always back to our room at dark and “in for the night”, unless we choose to go out to dinner.

We make reservations for a few nights during the week for a nice dinner and always have the restaurant host/owner get us a taxi.

We never walk home alone in the dark.

We monitor the state department travel advisories to be sure we understand the political situation in the country and whether it has changed.  But we have found you can’t always trust this – we have gone when there were travel warnings and as welcomed tourists have never been afraid or even nervous.  In fact we usually feel much safer in Mexico than we ever would in a large US city.

Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our 2020 girl getaway to an island in the Caribbean will have to wait until 2021. By then, I’ll be retired though and maybe I can stay much longer than a week.  I have a year from now to hope and dream that things like international travel can resume and to plan our next adventure and our “girl-getaway”.

Sharing our Blessings

After our long weekend at Priest Lake, our friends all had to return back to work. Since we had already driven so far and I had more time off, my husband and I continued south
to Lake Pend Oreille and camped at Farragut State Park.

I believe we may have been the oldest people staying in a tent for three nights! We haven’t made decisions about our “envisioned retirement” and so haven’t invested in a recreational vehicle of choice yet. We saw lots of people from all over the country in RVs trailers and campers. Because we were towing a boat we needed a tent and camping supplies. We had packed up all of our old equipment that we’ve had for years stored in the garage. It was a surprise to me that working together to get everything set up, it was kind of romantic! I know dirt camping doesn’t sound romantic but it was so much easier without little kids. That evening before crawling into our sleeping bags, we took a walk to a swimming area at dusk and visited with families with kids playing in the man-made swimming area. The night sounds, warm breezes, sitting by a campfire and seeing so many stars, it was dreamy.

Our first morning, we put on our hiking boots and rounded the viewpoint and walked about three miles. We ended up in a tiny town called Bayview. In reading the history of Bayview we learned how its tiny population exploded to over 40,000 people when the area was used by the U.S. Navy to train recruits in 1942. Lake Pend Oreille is a deep lake and training for sailors on submarines was done here. Hundreds of thousands of sailors were stationed here and went through basic training on the base that has now become a state park. In the intervening years the growth after the war was slow but now, apparently other retirees have found it too. We saw rows and rows of house boats (or rather homes that are floating) in Scenic Bay right next to the naval station. It is interesting to think about how many people are actually living right on the lake edge. The community is changing because more and more people are retiring to this community because the land and the homes are more affordable.

During our walk, we talked and asked ourselves “who could we bless today”? Here we were, with access to a beautiful lake on a hot day. It was just the two of us with a speed boat that would seat at least 10 people, comfortably. We started looking for someone to share an afternoon with some old folks. It just seemed a shame to not share this gift with some unsuspecting family.

I have to say it was fun to imagine who we could invite. After we made lunch, it ended up being our next-door “camp” neighbors. They were in the spot right next to us! Jared and Raquel, an adorable young couple from Spokane, were camping for an entire week. I imagine it was a little odd for them when a couple of seniors walked up and asked, “Hey, would you like to go for a boat ride this afternoon?”

Since it was only about 1 p.m. and already 97 degrees, they didn’t hesitate and said they would love to come along for the ride. We learned that Jared works in technology and also serves with the chaplain corps in the Air Force National Guard. His lovely wife, Raquel is from the Philippines and works at at the Spokane Airport. She said she grew up in an inland village where there wasn’t water so she had never learned to swim!
It was not only fun to bless them by taking them for a boat ride but sharing our respective love stories made the afternoon fly by. It took some doing but as we were taking a dip in the cool refreshing waters of Buttonhole Bay, I was able to gently and gradually convince Raquel to put on a life jacket and sit on the swim step. Then with some more encouragement from all of us she actually went into the water! When she got out of the water, smiling and refreshed and feeling really brave, her husband mouthed over her shoulder , “Thank you so much, she has never done that before!” We were all so proud of her. I think that unexpectedly becoming a part of that special time coaxing someone into the water will be an eternal moment I’ll never forget.

We toured many little bays over the next several hours, shared some interesting conversations about marriage and life and decided to share our dinner time together. We had planned on having barbecued steaks for dinner and they were having what they called Filipino street food. We came to learn it is called “Pancit”. Apparently she used to cook on the streets with her sister before she came to the United States with her husband. We had a feast that night. We were so glad to share our Costco New York steaks in return for her homemade glorious noodle, beef, and vegetable deliciousness. Over the years, I continue to learn that sometimes when you share your blessings with strangers, you can make a friend and are blessed even more!

Practicing for Retirement

Barbara Mock's Retirement JourneyI had the opportunity for the past two weeks to “practice” for my retirement. Because of the pandemic all major family activities, weddings and travel were put on hold. However, I was thrilled that somehow we were able to put together a very impromptu getaway to the wilds of northern Idaho. The idea for a trip came together very quickly. My friend of over 25 years and her husband purchased a small lot near Priest Lake and they have a little camp spot there. Another couple we’ve been friends with for 40 years decided to rent a cabin. We pitched our tent the first night and then enjoyed the luxury of a cabin with bedrooms and plumbing the next three nights!

My son and his wife generously loaned us their speed boat and it was amazing to be able to go to such a gorgeous place and explore a mountain lake. This remote area has a very small local population year-round

Priest Lake

Priest Lake

and even during the summer it isn’t as crowded as what we experience in the Puget Sound area. The day time temperatures were in the mid-90’s so having the opportunity to float on a lake with clean, crystal-clear blue water where you can see almost to the bottom was spectacular. Priest Lake is huge but with my friend as our guide we found our way to a connection to Upper Priest Lake called the “thoroughfare”. This is a natural 2 mile channel with a no-wake zone that we found filled with people using kayaks, canoes, pontoon boats, inner tubes and stand-up paddle boards. We packed snacks and adult beverages and stopped in a little bay on Upper Priest Lake where we turned on some tunes and just floated. We took frequent dips in the cold water and enjoyed a chance to catch up, all while enjoying the soft breezes and the mountain scenery.

I know that strong friendships, especially those that go back decades are incredibly important, especially now as I am starting this journey toward retirement. The fact that we enjoy the same activities and we’ve grown up together means we have shared life experiences. We’ve been there for each other during celebrations as well as sad times.

After our morning activity which was golfing nine holes (more on that later) the three “girls” decided to get a view of the lake. It was really hot that day so while the “boys” were finishing up their round we hiked about 2 1/2 miles to the top of a hill to see a panoramic view of Priest Lake.

I believe maintaining long-term positive friendships with the people who will join me someday in my future retirement adventures is wise. As long as we stay healthy and don’t break any bones we plan on traveling, skiing, hiking and biking together, with and without our husbands.

When we arrived at the top and took in the views I had a new perspective. There is a big world out there ready to discover and I can’t wait to get started! For now I’ll just keep practicing for retirement – the real thing will be here soon!

Things I like to do

Barbara Mock on things she likes to doI’ve always been active. I was a sprinter in track during high school and I’ve been a snow skier since junior high. We live in an incredibly beautiful area, even if it does rain quite a bit. I enjoy hiking in the mountains around our home in what is called the Cascade mountain range which is east of where we live. We are surrounded by tall mountains and miles and miles of trail systems including Mount Rainier to the south, Mount Baker to the north and the Olympic Peninsula to the west.

I also love to bicycle. Within less than a mile of my home, I have access to the Centennial Trail where I can ride for miles and miles on a paved former railroad grade that is protected and away from traffic.

I also love to do alpine snow skiing. We have dear friends that live in Eastern Washington so we usually go to Mission Ridge in the Wenatchee area several times each the winter.

My real passion is international travel. My love of travel began when my daughter was in high school. I went on a spring break trip with her as a chaperone along with her French and Latin teacher and 21 classmates. In the spring of 2000, during her junior year of high school, we travelled to Amsterdam, Rome and Paris. This first trip was life-changing for both of us. It gave her a vision for her life and for where she wanted to go to college. It sparked a love of travel for me and the confidence to plan trips myself.

Four years later, when she was a junior in college, she had the opportunity to study abroad and lived in Aix en Provence in southern France for an entire school year. Along with her college courses, she lived with a host family so that she could be immersed in the French language. In the spring of 2004, I planned a trip for my husband, mother-in-law and me to spend 17 days in France with our daughter before she returned home the next year to continue her studies and senior year in Oregon. We started in Paris, were able to enjoy a homemade five course meal with her host family in Aix en Provence and spent a weekend in Nice and Monaco. Then we went to Cinque Terra, Italy and hiked the hills enjoying pesto and white wine. Then we visited Siena and Florence in Tuscany and ended with a tour of the Vatican and the ruins in Rome before flying home.

Our daughter later became a High School French teacher. The idea for another trip took root and it felt like we had come full circle. In 2008, together we planned a trip for her upper level French language students and once again I was a chaperone. Three other parents and ten students joined us for a two week spring break journey. Once again, we started in Paris, stopped by Aix to see her school and flew home out of Nice. By the way, I highly recommend touring with someone who is fluent in French. It makes everything easier, efficient and richer when you are with someone who can communicate. My favorite highlight was when she would tell our waiters to only speak French to the students and correct their grammar if it was incorrect. What a great way to teach!

Barbara Mock Retirement JourneyI love to travel. I love learning about different cultures and meeting new people. It has been my motivation for working and saving for the future. One of my favorite activities is to spend time making travel plans, marking the calendar and having something to look forward to in the future. Before Covid-19, I usually had at least two or three trips in the planning stages. I can’t wait until it is safe to travel again – I miss the anticipation and excitement of trying new foods, learning a language and experiencing a different place.

Introverts, extroverts and parents during a pandemic

Barbara Mock- Life in a pandemicI’ve worked for the county for nearly 44 years. I always said as long as it is still fun, I would continue to work. Unfortunately with the pandemic it’s not as fun for me. I miss seeing 130 people every day. I miss trying to build a culture of customer service, trust and teamwork. I miss problem solving and brainstorming in a live setting with a particular energy in the room. I am finding it very isolating for an extrovert like me to be working from home remotely.

The people that work for PDS are some of the smartest, most hardworking people I know. As a planning department, we are made up of a diverse set of specialists. There are civil and traffic engineers, fire investigators, GIS (mapping) analysts, accountants, IT programmers, planners, technicians, biologists and demographers. They are all brilliant people who are very analytical and in a few cases quite introverted.

I’ve had a new insight into the differences between how we prefer to interact with the world. I have noticed that some of our introverts are knocking it out of the park. During this time of stay at home executive orders they are so productive. My observation is that they are getting so much more done because they are in a quiet workspace at home. I see that the work they are producing and the analysis they are performing is amazing. I think they’re actually working harder than they were before because they don’t have a commute that saps their energy. They are bringing even more energy and passion to their work.

I’m observing the extroverts, on the other hand, are not faring as well. I’ve experienced some signs of depression on my own and witnessed it in conversations with colleagues. While I can’t be sure, I think that there could be the possibility of previous substance abuse or marital strife and now having to work from home hasn’t been helpful. People are craving time together, community and informal conversation.

The greatest empathy I have is for the working parents, both men and women. When our governor shut down the state, the schools ended abruptly and people had to quickly transition from working in an office with structure and child care to working from home. Now their babies and their children are right there with them throughout their work day. I know how terribly difficult it has been for them. As a former working mom and now a grandmother, I have a huge respect and compassion for my employees with kids. While working from home has allowed them flexibility, as a government agency that is fully on line, it really means that we are never closed. With our online services offered 24 hours a day it has eliminated the boundary between home and the office, everything has become a bit blurred.

I know that they are getting their hours in each day but I’ve noticed that some of them are working from about 5 am in the morning until 8 am when their children awaken. Then it is likely that childcare duties overtake them. Then when friends, grandparents or spouses are available they are working late into the evening. I don’t think this is sustainable for the long term. The availability of affordable, consistently high quality childcare will be so important to working families in the future. My commitment to them is to do my best to try to find ways to help them balance their workload by providing flexibility in what our expectations are as an employer.

No matter what the situation with the pandemic, as a department, we have to fulfill our purpose; which is to get land use and building applications into the process, get the projects reviewed and permits out the door so that the required inspections can be completed. If we don’t, there is an entire industry that gets delayed or shut down. In Washington state, especially in the Puget Sound area there’s a critical housing shortage, so anything we can do as local government to assure that our customers have access to high-quality services in a reasonable timeframe helps not only our overall economy but could serve to help to keep housing prices lower.

Whether an introvert, extrovert, or working parent, finding a way to survive and get through this unprecedented time is something worth working on. Between now and my last day, I’m fully committed to seeking to find ways to make this situation better for our staff because as it is right now in August, we will not be able to return to our office at least until after January 8th.

Announcement Aftermath

Barbara Mock- Retirement announcementOn Friday afternoon, I sent out my official announcement email. On Monday, the words below of encouragement and congratulations were what I received throughout the day. Not to be morbid, but I’ve always wondered what it would be like to hear the words that might be spoken at my own memorial service. That is how it feels right now. I’m feeling a tinge of grief and loss but I’m also excited and joyful. I’m overwhelmed with blessings and gratitude for the responses that filled my email inbox today. I’m including these very personal messages in this journal for a time in the future when I might need to remind myself that I had an awesome career. If there are some hard days I know that these words will bring healing to me. I’ll read these to remind me how amazing it has been to work with these great people. I wish more people knew the part of government that no one ever writes about. The hard work, compassion and commitment of public servants around the globe; somehow with all of the bad news, this part gets overlooked.

“Wow – What an end of an era. I am super happy for you but sad for us☺”

“NOOOOOOO! You can’t go ….! Seriously – this makes me very sad but also very happy for you at the same time. I want you to know how much I’ve really enjoyed working with you and having you as mentor during the Leadership Academy. Getting paired up with you was a delight and I learned a lot and enjoyed all the time we got to spend discussing work, goals, and life. You are an inspirational lady and I’ll really miss you. Hopefully I’ll be able to see you at some point and give you a big hug! I hope I like working with your replacement as much as I’ve enjoyed working with you, but that will be a tough act to follow ☺ “

“Congratulations!  Exciting but scary.
You will succeed and be happy in everything you choose to do!
Thank you for your kindness, compassion and love.
You will truly be missed by all of us.”

“Snohomish County needs you. The value you bring, years of experience, leadership and vision are hard to find.  However, after 44 years….totally understandable that you should move forward to the next chapter with a “life reimagined”.  You and I did not get to work directly, but your reputation precedes you and the few opportunities to be in meetings and at public open houses has been heartwarming and provided me a glimpse of your energy, tactfully share your opinion, give acknowledgements/kudos for innovative ideas, and your willingness to roll up your sleeve to get things done. Truly inspiration and a model for those moving up the ranks in this county environment. Congratulations as I’m sure it was a difficult decision, but excited and happy for you as well.  Much deserved.”

“Just to let you know, you are my favorite director. Of anywhere I’ve worked.”

“Wow!!!  Congrats, Barb! I know you will be missed so very much. A PDS without Barb Mock will be very strange indeed. Very best wishes for your new chapter in life!”

“Beautiful- like you – as always Barb”

“I can’t say I am totally surprised but I am very sad (for me) to hear your news. 
On the other hand, I am very excited (for you) that you will be taking on new adventures!”

“I just saw a message that you’ll be retiring this coming March. Congratulations! I am so happy for you. You will be leaving quite the legacy from your career at Sno Co. You’ve had a great influence on the department and it has been a real blessing to get to work with you during my short time. Of all the directors I’ve had the opportunity to interact with, no one has been as welcoming and open as you have been and I really appreciate that. You have had a tremendous impact on me that I am very grateful for. I hope we can continue to stay in touch after you’ve retired. Congrats again! ☺ “

“I have so enjoyed your openness and honesty in our Cabinet meetings, and the positive impact you have made on so many of our lives.  “

“Thank you for the 44 years of service to the citizens of Snohomish County.  Your dedication is remarkable!  I am blessed to have crossed paths with you.  I wish you all the very best in the next portion of your journey.”

“This is so exciting! For all of those reasons you mentioned, and more! Congratulations is an understatement! I can’t think of the word big enough to express the joy and pleasure on the announcement of your beautiful life reimagined. Salute’ to many years of happiness, dream making, travel and family. I wish you good health for your adventures ahead! Salute’”

“Congratulations Barb!  You will be missed as the best director ever and as a great co-worker and friend.  I wish you the best; and I will again in 7 months.”

“Atta way Barb, Congratulations on the decision to pursue a life reimagined! Nice perspective. I was wondering when the time would arrive for you to “chop life” (pigeon English of Cameroonian slang) in the third age, yet you've been living in a carpe diem way for decades with no end in sight. We appreciate how you guided PDS through many highs and lows with style and grace, plus putting up with characters like myself. Thanks again for all you've done for PDS and the greater citizens of Snohomish County!”

“Wow, big news! Congratulations on beginning this next chapter of your life, although you will be severely missed by PDS (and me of course)! “

“Very quickly into my tenure at PDS I was impressed by your strength, confidence, and expertise in seemingly all things planning related. I’ve worked with a number of individuals in leadership roles, although I have never had the pleasure of looking up to someone who is so obviously in love with what her job could be. No one can love all of their job, all of the time, although I think the most inspirational leaders see the potential. The potential in themselves, in others, and in their organization. They strive for innovation while understanding that change will likely be incremental, and politics will play a role. Simply put, you are the type of leader I hope to be one day. Thank you for your 44 years of service, and for being a guiding light to PDS.”

Needless to say, the many responses to my announcement have been overwhelming. I'm grateful for the feedback and best wishes and for the many conversations I've had this week about my retirement decision.

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