Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Journey to the Northern Lights: Settled in at Churchill

We arrived by plane yesterday around lunchtime at the Churchill Northern Studies Center, quite close to the Hudson Bay.

We have warm and convenient four-person dormitories, great food, and interesting experts. I had expected somewhat spartan accommodations, but I was wrong. It is all good. 

This is the view from our dormitory window. 

Last night we experienced the aurora. It was a pretty low level, but since we are directly beneath the aurora dome, we could see it. To my eye it was a white-gray shape shifter - the rods in our eyes see only black and white at night in low light - but the cameras caught it. This photo was taken by our instructor, Ron Waldron, and I have permission to use it.

Tomorrow night is supposed to be the best time to see a glorious auroral display. Tonight, though, not so much. Right now it is snowing sideways outside and 10 degrees F. Tomorrow the high will be -2F.

I spent a lot of time gathering my wardrobe for this trip. Tomorrow night I will wear long underwear top and bottom. On top, a long-sleeved shirt, fleece vest, warm jacket, neck warmer, hat and gloves. On the bottom, snow pants, thermal socks and boots. I will stay outside as long as possible, then come inside to watch from the viewing dome down the hall.

What a great experience!

Monday, March 19, 2018

On my way to the Northern Lights - part 2: Winnipeg

The Fort Garry Hotel is down the street from the Winnipeg train station. It's a grand old building. Our room is 220 square feet - about half the size of our park model in Tucson, but seems very spacious.

There is snow on the ground here, temperature around 32 degrees. Not too bad. It has been a long time since I have worn a coat. Here is a view from our hotel room.

We were driven here late Saturday evening by a Sikh driver. I said, "Do you own this taxi or do you work for a taxi company?" He told me his story. He's lived in Winnipeg for 20 years, raising his family. He paid $200,000 for a half share in his taxi, and now, he says, it's worth nothing. Lyft and Uber are coming into Winnipeg, he says, but even before that business from the airport is not as good as it used to be, because people used to have only one car and now they have more than one, and when people arrive at the Winnipeg airport they are picked up by family or friends. He has to pick up odd jobs to survive. But if he went back to Delhi, India, there would be no work for him, and besides, his kids are Canadians and don't want to go. So he is focusing on raising his kids.

It's amazing what you hear when you ask an open-ended question.

Yesterday we went to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a short walk from the hotel.  I am not much of a museum person, but this one held my interest for two hours. I have a fabulous 12-second video of the Welcoming Hall, but apparently it's too big to be uploaded here. I'm messing around with UTube for the first time ever. Stay tuned!

Our Road Scholar group met up for dinner. Two couples and the other 19 all women. Many, like me, came here without their husbands. My Art said, "Why should I spend all that money to freeze?" Apparently the Northern Lights are mostly on women's bucket lists.

The Manitoba Museum this morning. This time we took a guided tour rather than exploring independently. It was a good idea. Canada's history has some distinct differences. Apparently its people collaborated with the First Nationals in mutual business interests before Canada became a Dominion, and the nation now appears to be more welcoming of immigrants. Maybe that was the tour guide's optimistic opinion.

Our luggage has to be in the hotel hallway tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. Our flight leaves for Churchill at 7:00 a.m. I've decided to wear my insulated pants, thermal socks and boots, shirt and fleece vest and warm jacket and hat and gloves, but not the long underwear. Not yet. Tomorrow's high in Churchill is supposed to be 16F, and 1F the day after. That will probably be the long underwear day.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

On my way to the Northern Lights - part 1, maybe

My friend Ellen and I are joining a Road Scholar (used to be Elderhostel) group for eight days. Three of those will be in Winnipeg and the other five at the Arctic Research Center in Churchill, Manitoba. Today is our travel day: Tucson to Minneapolis to Winnipeg.

Our day has been uneventful but interesting. In the Tucson terminal I was offered a seat by a pleasant looking middle aged man. It still surprises me that men and young people offer me their seat sometimes. After all, I'm a senior, but I have blue streaks in my hair to remind people I'm still alive!

A few minutes later, the pleasant man's wife, in a wheelchair, had to go to the bathroom. I spoke up. "Do you need some help? Would you like me to go with you?" She said yes and off we went. As recently as two years ago I wouldn't have made such an offer, but my time in Greece significantly broadened my comfort zone.

When we got back, Ellen had struck up a conversation with the woman sitting on her other side. The woman was traveling home to Minnesota to meet her newest granddaughter, Londyn. She mentioned she lives in Mankato. I know a couple from that town, and said so. Turns out the woman knows my friends! Seems like a small world, but probably it isn't. I just happen to winter in a place with a lot of snowbirds from Minnesota.

Our flight from Tucson to Minneapolis was full, but the seats were comfortable and leg room was ample. I pulled out my laptop and found a free offering of "The Shape of Water'. The movie is two hours and one minute long, and the flight was slightly longer than that, so I thought I'd have enough time to watch it. But I paused the movie a few times: to listen to the pilot, to go to the bathroom, and to order my snack. As a result, to my dismay, I had to close down my laptop ten minutes before the end of the movie. As I gathered my stuff from the overhead bin, I commented to Ellen that I would need to watch the ending some other time. The man behind me in the aisle said, "Oh, that's an excellent movie. The best part is the last ten minutes." I said, "Well, that's disappointing." He said, "Do you want me to tell you what happens? I'll whisper so no one who hasn't yet seen the movie will hear." I said yes and he did. Now, for sure, I will watch the rest of the movie!

Our three-hour layover in Minneapolis went quickly. We found an actual restaurant - not a fast-food place. Now we're at the gate, waiting for our 90-minute flight to Winnipeg. We're scheduled to arrive at 11:20, where the temperature will be a springlike 35 degrees. We're coming in a day early, so we'll take a taxi to the Fort Garry Hotel, where the group will be staying for the first two mights.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The play's the thing

In high school, in the early 60s, I was in two musicals (Liesl in The Sound of Music and some lesser part in Camelot) and the senior play (Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians). During my college years, in the late 60s, I was in two summer community theatre musicals (HMS Pinafore and The Mikado).

I minored in drama because I love the theatre.

As a newlywed in a tiny desert town (Rosamond, CA), I directed the district's first high school play (Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap).

That was nearly 50 years ago.

At the Voyager RV resort, where Art and I live in the winter, there is usually a musical or a play. Rehearsals start in early November and the production is in early March. Art has been cast for the last four years. I helped for two; I headed up ticket sales two years ago and was associate producer and stage manager last year. I had no interest in acting. For one thing, it is Art's delight and I wanted him to have an activity I wasn't involved in. For another, it's time consuming to do two rehearsals a week for four months.

This year my friend Dee, the director, said, "Linda, would you consider taking a part?" I said, "Only if you can't find anyone else." I suspect she didn't try to find anyone else. And I didn't ever say no.

So I was in rehearsals every Monday and Thursday afternoon from November 4 to March 5. I played Sylvia Axley, the bitchy former program chairman of a woman's club, in an hourlong one-act play called "Guess Who's Coming to Lunch." I'm not bitchy myself, I don't think, but I've known my share, so I had some behaviors to observe and draw on.

I learned, to my chagrin, that lines are much harder to memorize at 69 than they are at 19. Much, much harder.

Our performances were Thursday and Friday evenings this week. We had audiences of just under 300 people each night. I would call it a "friends and family" performance.

I was a pretty good bitch, I've been told!

Tomorrow there's a production meeting for next season's play. I will go to hear about it and probably to find out what Art will be up to next year. But after this year I am calling myself a retired actress.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Higher education in the nail salon

There are nail salons closer to our winter place. This one is nine miles away and I almost didn't go. But my friend Lynne had a dentist appointment right after her pedicure, so we drove in separate cars. Lynne and I like to chat while we're getting our pedicures.

My pedicurist was a Vietnamese man, Thomas. As he washed my feet I said "cảm ơn" - thank you, the only Vietnamese word I know. I say this every time I get a pedicure in a Vietnamese nail salon. This time, though, Thomas grinned from ear to ear. I was grateful I've been to Vietnam and learned the word, and remembered it.

Lynne's pedicurist is an American woman, Janie. A recent Tucsonian arrival, in her 20s, born and raised in the South, she's getting a fresh start with her life. Her eyes are bright and calm. We are both Friends of Bill W, so we chatted briefly about that. I was grateful that I've learned to be curious and friendly to people I might not have spoken to before. My eyes are wider these days.

Then a new client arrived. A man. Long white beard. Long white hair. Carrying two guns in leather holsters. I watched, startled, as he crossed the room. In my entire life I have never seen a person carrying a gun other than a police officer. I have only heard of it.

Janie had finished Lynne's pedicure, and the carrying fellow was her next client. They greeted each other. Janie started filling the water in the foot basin and the man took off his boots, then his socks, before seating himself in the station next to me.

I almost didn't say anything to him. Then I said, "Janie, what is your client's name?"


I looked at him and said, "Hi, Rusty. My name is Linda. Would you mind if I take your picture? In my whole 69 years, I have never seen anyone carrying. And I would never have thought I'd see it in a nail salon!"

I continued, "I've been told I should never take a picture of a person without asking permission. I don't want to offend you."

Rusty laughed. "Sure," he said.

"How often do you get a pedicure?"
"Every couple of months."

Just like me. Every couple of months.

I said, "Will you sit so that I can see that you are carrying and include that in my shot?"

He did.

I said, "Thanks. I wanted to take the picture to remind me about stereotyping, and that we are more alike than we are different."

"But," I continued, "If you'd been carrying an AK-15 I wouldn't have asked if I could take your picture."

We both laughed. So did Janie.

As I got up to pay, Rusty said, "God bless you."

"You too," I said.

Good thing I drove those extra miles for my pedicure. I would have missed the higher education.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

One hour and fifteen minutes

I gave my lecture today. It was called "Refugees and Me: A Voyager in Greece." I called it that because we live at the Voyager RV Resort in the winter, and everyone who came to the lecture lives here as well." The talk lasted one hour and fifteen minutes.

I worked on this talk for about 40 hours in the last two weeks. The presentation had 36 PowerPoint slides which included about 50 photos. And a script, to keep me from talking too much or getting off the topic.

I have given other talks about my experiences in Greece:
  • Four and a half minutes last summer, for my church, to explain what Do Your Part does. DYP was the charity for the congregation for July and August 2016. They raised $4,000.
  • Fifteen minutes last fall for a luncheon celebrating the Year of the Girl.
  • Conversations at informal gatherings with friends.
Today was still not all I had to say, but it was the most I'd ever said.

About 60 people attended the lecture. No one left before the end. And there were questions. I couldn't have expected anything better.

This talk I will keep, to give again if asked. As I told several people today, "I will talk to you about my experience at the Greek refugee camp any time, anywhere."

This project felt like a term paper. Maybe a master's thesis!

Worth it, though.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The question I ask myself

"How did I ever have time to go to work?"

I quit my last full-time paid job in June of 2010. Nearly eight years ago. I envisioned quiet days, long walks, lots of reading.

I should have known better. That happened for about four months. Then I got busy.

We could have just traveled. As it is, I've taken 63 trips of three days or longer in the last eight years. But on one of them, I came across a couple hundred refugees in the Saltzburg train station, and within a year I became a volunteer at a refugee camp in Greece. After my first time there, I went back three more times. I joined the board of Do Your Part, the disaster recovery nonprofit I worked for at the camp.

I could have spent time on just one hobby. I love genealogy and have been working on my family history for nearly 20 years.  Hours can go by while I explore online.  But instead of focusing on genealogy, I took 140 hours of mediation training and got certified. As a volunteer, I've done about 80 mediations in the last four years - some at the dispute resolution center in my county, some at small claims court, some out in the world. I've gotten better at it, and I still love it.

We spend winters in Tucson. For the first four years mostly I played: swimming, discussion groups, line dancing, handbells. And then the Voyager Theatre Company came along. The first year I did ticket sales; the second, assistant to the producer; this year, I'm part of the cast for a one-act play. Just for this year, though. Next year I want to have a quieter winter. I think.

In the meantime, I've started volunteering with Keep Tucson Together, doing work similar to what I did at the refugee camp. Talking to people now in the US who fear for their lives should they be forced to relocate to Mexico or Central America. Helping as I can. For KTT, I took on a new project this week. It's only three hours a week - at my request - but still, it's three hours.

And two weeks from tomorrow I'm giving a lecture on my experience at the refugee camp. I really need to get started on preparing for that. Most of it is in my head, but it needs to get transferred to a script and a PowerPoint presentation.

Almost everything I'm doing is important to me. I'm not sure what I will give up. I know for sure that I want to keep the friendships I've made in all of these endeavors.

But about having a quieter time. My sister reminds me every now and then that when I'm quiet, I think too much. She and I both say "our minds are a dangerous neighborhood. We should never go in there alone." When I'm busy and engaged, my mind is useful, and that's a good thing.

I had time to go to work because I volunteered very little. I traveled only a couple of times a year. I raised two kids and established bonds with six stepkids. It was a full life, and mostly satisfying.

I can say the same thing now. I have a full life and it is almost always satisfying.

Still. Every now and then I'd like to spend an afternoon lying on the couch, reading a book. Maybe I'll do that.