Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Bag Lady's refugee wish

I have made two trips to volunteer at a refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece. My first was in August 2016, for six days. I went with an old friend, Jenean. I learned a lot about the refugee situation and about myself. You can read about that trip on these blog posts:

The second was in October of the same year, for two weeks. I took another friend, Jann. Here are two blog posts about that trip.

Most of the time I was watching and listening and learning and doing, from moment to moment. My head and heart filled up. The experience was not at all about me. It was much bigger.

The day before I left I had a conversation with two refugees, Abdul and Ali. Abdul told me his story in Farsi and Ali translated for him. Here's the blog post about that.

As of today, the post "Abdul tells me his story" has been read 966 times. I know that because Blogger, my blog host, keeps track. But I have no idea who the readers were. If I add the total number of followers of my blog and the total number of my Facebook friends (I post my blog to my Facebook page), I'm short by 450 people. Who else has come upon Abdul's story?

As a blogger, I have a responsibility to honor and care for people I talk about. Abdul and Ali both reviewed my Abdul post before I hit the "publish" button on November 9. Now they are public figures of a sort, through my blog.

I heard from both Abdul and Ali this week. Abdul is still at Oinofyta with his wife and two-year-old daughter and newborn baby girl. He wants to leave camp in the spring and move on. Ali is now in Serbia at a camp there, with his wife and baby and his parents and his brother. His baby has been in the hospital for a week with a chest infection. Ali wants to move on into an EU country in the spring.

Abdul and Ali have both asked for my help.

I still cannot give them money. I can give them my time and my listening ear and my voice. I cannot imagine their circumstances. Abdul was a tailor in Afghanistan. Ali worked for the US government in Afghanistan as an IT professional. Both left their homeland because their lives or their families' lives were in danger. In the refugee camps, they are safer now. But their lives are very, very uncertain. These men have families to take care of, and they are doing their very best with very little.

I am returning to Oinofyta in March. This time I will be there for a month, and I am taking my husband Art along. We volunteer for, a small American nonprofit. The camp manager, Lisa Campbell, was a cofounder of DoYourPart ten years ago. She is a walking wonder, the linchpin of Oinofyta. It is an honor to work with her and to observe the work she and other volunteers do to make the camp a liveable place for refugees, for however long they stay. I want to continue to be a part of that. It has been a life-shifting experience for me.

If you want to help the refugees at Oinofyta, you can contribute at Everyone is a volunteer, so all money is used "on the ground".

I wish I could do more for Abdul and Ali. And all the others. We are all the same. And we are all in this together.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bye Bye Javalina!

Art woke me early this morning. "There's a javalina in the trap."

And so there was. From the window of our Arizona room I could see it easily.

I texted Marc, the "javalina whisperer" from Animal Experts Wildlife Control. "We have a creature in our trap." I heard back from him right away. "I am on my way. Your neighbor Eldon already called me."

I watched as Eldon came out of his rig and took pictures. The javalina was not happy to see him. It rose to its feet, bared its teeth and hissed.

Left alone again, the animal alternated between periods of quiet - like it was thinking - and charging the crate from within, snouting at the seams and kicking. I hoped the container was strong enough to hold it.

Marc arrived in his truck.

He looked at the javalina. A male, he said. Most likely, it was the alpha male in a herd and was challenged by a younger male for the alpha position, lost the challenge, and now lived alone. "Javalinas don't do well alone." It made sense that the solitary animal would seek a safe place - like under our park model.

Marc got his dolly and manipulated the crate beneath it.

He looked inside and said, "Uh oh. He's wrapped an interior chain around his leg and he isn't going to be able to get out of it." Marc thought for a minute, then went to his truck. He came back with a small saw. He opened the lid of the crate and, talking to the javalina, leaned into the container to cut the chain off.

Once the animal was freed up, Marc resumed his work with the dolly and loaded the crate into his truck.

The javalina calmed down once in the truck. Marc said he'd drop him off at Dove Mountain, between Tucson and Phoenix, where there are several herds. "Our" javalina may be accepted by the herd.

We've been thinking about this fellow for over two months. Now we can send him off with our best wishes for a good life elsewhere.

I hope he was the only one who lived under our place!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Javalina Saga Part 2

After an absence of over a month, the javalina is back. Sometimes.

Earlier this week a neighbor knocked on our door. "Did you know the javalina is under your park model again? It was about 3 in the afternoon. The neighbor led me out to the back yard. "See that hole? We were just standing here and it came out."

Sure enough, another hole in the skirting.

"It came out yesterday, too, at just about this same time."

I texted Marc, our "javalina whisperer". He agreed it was time to trap the animal and move it to another location.

Here's the humane trap now set in our back yard. The idea is that the javalina will approach the trap and eat the potato and the peanut outside safely, then come back for more, with more confidence.When it steps into the trap for the food inside, the gate will come down.

For the curious, here's a video about javalinas, sent to me by my old friend HeeSun Gerhardt.

Marc says he will relocate the animal in an area where other javalinas live so it can join a new family.

First, though, we wait. My husband Art thinks the animal may seek shelter under our place when it's cold, and we're heading into a warm spell, so we may need to wait.

I can wait.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My worker guy

Now that my husband Art is older, Washington State's climate in fall, winter and spring is troublesome. For one thing, he has allergies too many to name. Just about the only thing he's not allergic to is Larisa, our Designer Cat, who is hypoallergenic. For another, he has arthritis when there's a lot of moisture in the air. On those days, he mostly sits and reads or watches TV and I think he's going to become one with the sofa.

Arizona is a different story. Once he's been here for three days, the arthritis melts away. Art feels no pain and his "worker guy" persona comes to life. In less than two months, he has finished his chores and everything on my "honey do" list. It has been a remarkable thing to watch.

His first challenge was participating in the removal of the javalina living under our park model. The "javalina whisperer" worked with us for a couple of weeks, in person and via text. Art found it necessary to drive to Ace Hardware for a headlamp and a pair of knee pads just in case. He didn't need them for that project, but they were required the day he crawled underneath the animal-free zone to repair the dryer vent.

We had a palo verde tree on our back property that had grown so large that its limbs were scraping on our metal roof.

It also shed needles, to the annoyance of the neighbors. Our summer care guy said he didn't want to keep us as customers because of the tree. The park said removal of the tree was our responsibility. So we got four estimates ranging from $350 to $1200. Then we flew home for Thanksgiving.

When we got back, I encouraged Art to call the tree guys to come out, but he wanted to make their job easier. He bought a stepladder at Ace Hardware, and a set of new saw blades for his little electric saw. I came home one afternoon and saw that he had climbed the ladder into the tree, and then climbed the tree into the high branches. Art was an electrical lineman when he worked, but he was older now, and a bit out of shape, and without a hardhat or a spotter. I said, "It scares me when I see you do that." He said, "Then go in the house." My neighbor Dellann was just as worried. She said his risk-taking behavior was causing her blood pressure to go up!

Art limbed the tree on two days, then called the tree guys. They came out. Art decided to stand on our metal roof to supervise the cutting down of the tree. He has a pretty good eye for how and where to cut so the branch falls in a safe place rather than on the motorhome 12 feet away. While he was on the roof, he swept. I stood in the driveway with my cellphone, listening to the screech of the metal shingles, ready to call 9-1-1.

The palo verde tree in the back yard taken care of, Art turned his attention to the palm tree in the front yard. For the five years we have lived here, Christmas lights have been wound around the trunk. None of them worked. I had asked Art to either fix them or take them down, but he had other things to do instead. But now that he had a ladder - and three strings of solar lights I'd bought after Christmas last year - he spent an hour or two on the ladder taking down the old and putting up the new. This time I stayed inside and didn't look.

If we put a bag or a box on the floor, our cat Larisa gets into it. We call it a "cat trap". If boxes of unassembled furniture are dropped off by UPS or USPS or Fedex, Art opens them and begins to put the contents together. I call that a "man trap". It happened twice this month; I ordered a TV shelving unit and a new dining set. Art put them both together with nary a curse word. So I knew the directions were easy to follow and all the parts and bolts and washers were included in the packaging. And now I have just want I want in the Arizona room and in our little dining area.

I used to say that Art could fix anything. In Arizona, he still can. There is nothing like a dry climate!

In March I am going back to Oinofyta, the refugee camp in Greece. This time I am going for a month, and I am taking Art with me. He will be part-time handyman, driver and shopper and dinnertime cook. All things he loves to do. He will be very appreciated by people other than me.

The whiteboard on the fridge is blank now. Art has completed every task. Maybe now he can read his book in peace.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Bag Lady's 2016 Christmas letter

Christmas 2016

We’re in Tucson again, year five, for the winter. This time we arrived on November 4th. Longer each year, it seems. But we have no plans to move here permanently. We are Washington people!

Since we got here we appear to have dislodged the javalina who’d made a home under our park model. We’ve successfully removed a palo verde tree that, while beautiful, was a nuisance to the neighborhood with its messy needles and plentiful pollen. Art was delighted to be able to climb the tree to limb it before the professionals came in, and to supervise those pros from the roof.    

Indoors, we’re enhancing our winter home little by little, with silk plants and other touches. Just 620 square feet. Just right.

At home, we had a full house for most of the year, but that is changing. My sister Alyx and her husband Virgil found a place of their own in Snoqualmie – a rural house with plenty of room for their cats and chickens. They moved in November after two and a half years in their RV in our back yard.

And Peter, Art’s son, will be graduating from nursing school in March, taking his boards and then, he hopes, finding a job and a place of his own.

It will be quiet with just Art and me and the cat again. And more work for us, since we’ll be responsible for the garden after two years of other residents tending it. We were spoiled with good organic vegetables grown on our property but produced by others.

Here in Arizona, Art had a leading role last March in the Voyager’s production of Oklahoma! Our winter last year was scheduled around his rehearsals. Art’s daughter Laura and son Peter flew in for the production, which delighted Art.  

Summer was full of travel. I flew from Seattle to Tucson in May to go to the dentist in Mexico. I needed a root canal and a crown, and even with the airfare the cost was half of what it would have been in Washington.  

In June Art and I took a road trip ending in Bend, Oregon, at a family gathering planned by Art’s daughter Melissa and son-in-law Scott. We especially enjoyed a moonlight canoe outing.

I took solo trips to Muskoka, Ontario to visit my friend Judy; to Chautauqua, New York for a fascinating week themed “The Future of Cities”; to Oinofyta, Greece to volunteer for a week at a refugee camp; to a five-day writers’ workshop on Vashon Island, Washington; and back to Oinofyta for two weeks in October.

Art and I flew to Maine in September for yet another cruise on the Schooner Heritage.

Now, back at the Voyager, it’s not even high season yet, but already Art is busy with rehearsals for this year’s Evening of One-Act Plays. I’m helping out as assistant producer.

In late March I’m planning to return to the refugee camp in Greece for a month. And Art will be coming with me. He’ll be very useful as handyman, driver and shopper/cook.

We’re wishing you all a Merry Christmas!

Art and Linda

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A bunch of good things

It's been nearly two weeks since my last blog post and nothing large has happened. Just a bunch of small things.

  • We flew home to Washington for Thanksgiving. Our daughter and son-in-law live in San Diego, and they had asked to take over our house for a family Thanksgiving. We said "of course!"My husband Art cooked the turkey, but otherwise we did just nothing of the hosting activities. The 18 who sat down to dinner included one of my children, four of Art's, various spouses and grandchildren, my sister and her husband, Art's ex-wife and her husband and their son. The day was full of talk and laughter and excellent food from scratch.  
  • I traveled more than usual this year and I realized a few weeks ago that I was only about 2,000 miles short of MVP status for next year on Alaska Airlines. So one day during our week home I flew to San Jose, California, sat at the gate for 15 minutes, and flew home. I got my "Congratulations on your MVP status" email four days ago. That means an extra suitcase I can check for free, priority boarding, upgrades to first class if available and - most important to me - an extra half mile for each mile I fly next year. Frequent flyer miles can be very helpful. One year I flew to Houston and back in a day to pick up the extra miles. 
  • When we got back to Tucson, we found out the javalinas had vacated the premises. They haven't been around for at least a week now, so yesterday the "javalina whisperer" removed the strobe lights he'd placed under our park model. Art will be boarding up the hole and replacing the siding in the next couple of days. I was glad the animal/s decided to move on so they didn't have to be relocated.
  • Tucson friends are returning to the Voyager. Today I walked to the activity center with a flyer to put on the bulletin board. I had conversations with three people I know along the way. Not just acquaintances, either. Friends. I especially like that about our winter home in Arizona. It is easy to make friends, and we all live close enough to each other that it's easy to get together.
  • I have an active behind-the-scenes role in this year's theatrical production. Rather than a musical, we're presenting an evening of four one-act plays. I'm kind of the right arm of the producer. I do the money and the liaison with the activity office, plus "other duties as assigned".  It will be fun, I think, and not as time consuming as last year when I was responsible for ticket sales. This year the activities office has taken that on. Art has a role as well; it will require he dress in Shakespearean costume and be a "diva". I expect he can pull that off.
  • I explored online and bought three silk plants to mask my computer wires in the sitting room and the TV room. Also replaced a table that was here when we bought the place with a TV table. Looks much better, with shelves for books and a wicker basket to hold our recycle stuff. I am still on the lookout for a rectangular table in our dining area to replace the round one that was here. Art says, "Why do we need a table? We already have a table." He has yielded to my preference but says he does not want to participate in choosing it. Fine by me!
  • I met my new neighbor today. I was astonished to hear that she decided to drive from Kentucky to the Voyager this year after reading my past descriptions of the place on my blog. It amazes me that people make vacation decisions based on what I've written about! As I sit here in my living room, putting words on my electronic page, I try to be interesting and engaging and upbeat. But I'm always surprised when someone says, "I want to sail in Maine" or "I want to go to Greece and volunteer in a refugee camp" or "I want to spent two months at the Voyager" because I've written about my own experiences. I always feel honored, I hope readers use my words only as a starting point for their own explorations. 
  • I believe I have talked my husband into going to Greece with me in March, to work at the refugee camp for a month! Last night I said, "Have you decided to go to Greece with me because you love me?" He said, "No." I said, "Have you decided to go to Greece with me because you want to be with me?" He said, "No." I said, "Have you decided to go to Greece with me because you're curious?" He said, "I think so." I think that is wonderful. 
  • It has been sunny almost every day since we arrived in Tucson on November 7. The sun sets in brilliance. I can hear the trains. What a fabulous place to live in the winter!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Javalina saga

Here in Arizona, javalinas are part of the native wildlife. Here's what they look like.

They are a collared peccary, most closely related to pigs and hippopotamuses. We think they're both cute and ugly, probably because Bud, our potbellied pig who lived nearly 19 years, was also both cute and ugly.

A month ago we got a text message from Bob, our summer care person. He said, "I think you have a javalina living under your park model. I will keep an eye on it." The reason for his suspicion was a torn place in the skirting at the back of our park model. Bob and his wife Sue boarded up the tear and used a couple of cement bricks to hold up the board.

Two weeks later, just before we arrived in Tucson for the winter, another message from Bob: "They are back. Best give me a call." He included a photograph showing the animal had broken through the barrier. Strong and determined javalina!

Art repaired the tear in the skirting and boarded it up.

The next night the javalina broke through the skirting along the side of the park model.

This skirting was boarded up and the javalina broke through another spot in the back. By this time it felt like a chess game between the javalina and us. We felt a grudging admiration for its tenacity.

We called a wildlife animal expert to discuss next steps. Mark came out, crawled under the park model, and confirmed he'd found the nest but that the javalina was not in residence at the moment. He laid down red pepper just outside the park model. The next morning, javalina tracks leading to the park model confirmed the animal had returned but had not been deterred, as there were no departing tracks.

Mark came out again. He taped strips of plastic to the opening in the side of our place; we'd be able to tell whether the javalina came through them, and whether they were coming or going.

The answer was "both coming and going", as we discovered. Each morning the lowest strip of plastic was torn away. Sometimes the strip was torn inward and sometimes outward.

Mark came out yet again. He installed strobe lights beneath the park model. He'd had success getting raccoons out of attics with this approach, though he'd never tried it with javalinas. Apparently the javalina didn't mind the flickering lights!

By now we were seriously considering the possibility the animal would have to be trapped and relocated. I contacted the park manager and presented our case as one of safety for older residents. He agreed to pay for the relocation. I called Arizona Fish and Game to get approval for the relocation; javalinas are a protected species in Arizona and Mark told us we'd need to get permission from them. We did. The Fish and Game guy suggested Mark send away for mountain lion urine, but Mark convinced the guy that we'd been dealing with the issue for long enough.

Mark asked us to put out some food so we could see what the animal was eating this time of year, so he could bait a humane trap with something that would be attractive. We  bought a small pumpkin, a carrot, an apple and a potato - and added half an avocado from the fridge.

That night? None of the strips were torn away, and none of the food was eaten.

The next night? Same thing.

The next morning we left for Thanksgiving week, and we're still away. I'm hoping the javalina has decided to take up residence elsewhere.

Thoughts on this experience:

  • I believe the javalina has just as much of a right to shelter as any other creature. Just not underneath where we live.
  • I have a friend who's a shaman. Last week she and several others took a shamanic journey to meet up with the javalina. Apparently the animals - she believes there are three, not just the one - felt displaced and were strongly attracted to something under our park model that needed to be "rooted out". The journeyers asked the creatures to find another place to live. I'm pretty open minded; it's possible we have seen the last of the animal as the result of the journeyers.
  • The "rooted out" piece brought to mind the oversized palo verde tree in our back yard that has become a nuisance and needs to be cut down. Could it be growing roots under the park model that might do damage?
  • It helps to be patient!