Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Something new on my bucket list

Actually, I wasn't the first person to have the idea. Several members of my spiritual community acknowledged they wanted, someday, to be "arrested for civil disobedience".

My father was a military officer, and one of the primary values in our family was loyalty and discretion. I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara in the 1960s. I was in Isla Vista the night the Bank of America was burned to the ground as a protest against the Kent State killings. That same night, my father was in Da Nang, Vietnam, and he was paying for my college. I remained on the sidelines of any disobedience, civil or otherwise.

I am outspoken, but I've been compliant in most areas of my life. Civil disobedience witnessed on TV looked a little scary and "leftist" to me, so I stayed on the sidelines again. I was busy, after all, raising my children and working to support my family. And, to be honest, not thinking too much about life outside my Circle of Concern.

Now I am retired. In the last year and a half I've been drawn into the issue of immigration in a personal, on-the-ground way. I traveled to Greece four times to volunteer at a refugee camp. I spent time with the people who lived there and I heard their stories and I realized that, after all, we are all the same, and I wanted to help them. Mostly I listened and solved problems and worked collaboratively with other volunteers, but I have also given several talks and done some fundraising for Do Your Part, the American nonprofit for whom I volunteer.

I live in Tucson in the winter. I've been led to an organization called Keep Tucson Together, which provides a variety of services, including assistance to people who have either sought asylum in the US or who have been in the States for years and are now in danger of being deported. On three Saturdays in the last couple of months I've worked with other volunteers, listening to the stories of our clients, with the goal of preparing their paperwork for a deportation or an asylum hearing.

Last Saturday, after the Keep Tucson Together clinic, the organization leader, Peter, asked me to go with two other people to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Center in Eloy, Arizona. A Spanish-speaking volunteer and I will listen to detainees tell their stories and help with paperwork. Peter says the place looks like a prison. Volunteers visit the detention center a couple of times a week, and I will go when I am able.

I am not a "leftist", but I am a believer in social justice. I will be doing my work in an ICE facility. As I see it, I am not breaking the law, but rather helping people comply with it.

However, I now get the civil disobedience thing. And I think being arrested for standing up for one's convictions is a reasonable thing to add to a bucket list.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Plans? What plans?

This morning I picked up my friend Ellen to go to church. I have been to St. Francis in the Foothills Church at least 20 times and I know the way.

Once, last month, I missed the Alvernon offramp and stayed on Interstate 10 about four miles too long. It took me an extra 20 minutes to get to the church. All we missed was "the hugging part at the beginning."

Today I took the Alvernon offramp but missed the left turn at Swan. By the time I noticed, I was 20 minutes from the church. Ellen and I decided to go out for breakfast instead.

I have a pretty good sense of direction and I am an excellent navigator, but if I am involved in a significant conversation I can get distracted. That is what happened both times.

In both cases, I wasn't lost. I knew exactly where I was. It just wasn't where I was supposed to be. In the first case we arrived late at our original destination. In the second, we skipped the planned endpoint completely and did something else instead.

Things don't always go as planned. And that is not always a bad thing.
  • We reserved two timeshare villas in Sedona for next weekend to accommodate up to 12 family members for a week. We thought it would be a great place for a winter gathering, especially since most of those family members live where it either rains or snows in the winter. That was the destination. What actually happened was that ten people said they'd be there and four then changed their plans. So there are now six of us, and almost everyone can only be there for two days. At first I was upset; all that planning, for a week for 12, ending up with two days for six. Then I realized that the outcome isn't the problem; it's my expectation of what the outcome should be. I now expect our smaller number of family members will have a delightful time.
  • One of our trips to Greece this year did not go at all as planned. My luggage got lost and took three days to arrive. My husband Art packed his medications in a checked bag, and a third of the meds disappeared between Seattle and Athens. The driver of our car - who shall remain nameless - hit a curb with the rental car and Enterprise charged us $600 for the repair.  I didn't take my CPAP machine, and my noisy sleep drove two roommates out, so I paid $250 to ship my CPAP from home - and it got stuck in Customs for two days until I paid another $200. Art got a small electrical shock on a kitchen stove and the shock messed with his pacemaker/ defibrillator, which then beeped inside his body every four hours until we drove to the ER in Athens to have it checked out. Our flight home was delayed for 24 hours. But the hiccups of this trip make for a memorable retelling.
  • We ordered blinds for the 19 windows in our winter place. We were assisted by excellent people at Lowe's. Two of the blinds didn't fit a corner correctly. We were assisted again by excellent people at Lowe's. Between Home Depot and Lowe's, I now have a definite preference. Excellent customer service - especially in the resolution of a problem - makes the difference for me.
  • Art and I had lunch on Wednesday at the cafe next to the theatre where we had matinee tickets to "Man of La Mancha". Something in my ham sandwich was troublesome, and my body responded with a total evacuation for the next 12 hours.  Someone commented, "Food poisoning is a terrible way to lose weight." But it is a way!
When I bought my Honda Accord in 1998, I had a license plate frame made that says, "Make God laugh; tell him your plans." In 2015 I replaced that Accord with a new one. And I moved the license plate frame from the old car to the new. It's still a great reminder for me.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Bag Lady Gratitudes

I've got a cold this week, so I've stayed pretty close to home. Still, I've pondered, as I usually do this time of year. Here are a few of my gratitudes:

  • We scaled down the holidays this year and so far I am content with the outcomes. No stress. Opportunities to say yes to the unexpected (handbells on Christmas Eve) and no to the obligatory (gift buying). A miniature holiday tree and a Santa hat for the javalina in our tiny yard.

  • Volunteering at a refugee camp - four times in one year.  Lots of stress and even more wonder - at innumerable sacrifices and kindnesses in the face of chaos and tragedy. 

  • New friends whose first language is Farsi or Greek.
  • Finding a niche to be of service at our winter home in Tucson. Every other Saturday I volunteer at a legal clinic listening to people tell their stories in preparation for the interviews that are part of the asylum process.
  • Identifying a compelling reason to learn Spanish! I've been advised to listen to the news in Spanish and watch Spanish soap operas. But Rosetta Stone is a big help also.
  • A haircut and color for the holidays!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

He used to be shy!

I'm more outgoing than my husband Art. That's been the case for as long as I've known him. When Art retired he took up reading as a hobby, and watching football and Bluebloods on TV.

This is our sixth winter in Tucson at the Voyager RV Resort. In Year 3 he discovered the Voyager Light Opera Company, and was cast in Guys and Dolls. In Year 4 he was cast in Oklahoma! There are no musicals in Years 5 and 6, so he is now performing in plays.

I would never have guessed he'd develop this interest. Never. Except for a pirate act he puts on when we sail on the Schooner Heritage, Art is pretty self-contained.

During the holidays the Voyager has an Electric Light Parade, where people decorate their bicycles and golf carts and assorted other vehicles. They meet up near the resort's baseball field and then snake through the streets of the Voyager, ending up at the ballroom. Santa and Mrs. Santa lead the parade in a decked-out Mustang.

Last week we got an email from the parade organizer saying that Santa and his Mrs. had been called away for a family emergency. She was looking for a substitute. I asked Art if he was interested and he said "sure". The organizer brought over a Santa suit. Our friend Joanne said she'd be Mrs. Santa (I said no immediately when I was asked).

Art and Joanne waved like professionals from the Mustang, sat for a photo op in the ballroom, and then led a Christmas carol from the stage.

All the world's a stage, I guess.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

It's not quite time to decorate

We live in an RV resort in Tucson in the winter. Many of our neighbors have put up their Christmas lights already. White and multicolored strings wind around palm trees and garnish deck railings. On 3rd Street every park model and RV has outside lights of some kind, and we're encouraged to drive the street after dark to see and admire them. Holiday events have already begun: concerts and dances and other special events. My handbell group played "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" last week at the nondenominational church service.

Art and I have not begun yet at our place. We agreed last week we would wait until December 10 to decorate, and that we would keep it simple this year.

We are not Scrooge or the Grinch. We are just waiting.

In the meantime, here's what happened this week:
  • I am learning my lines for a one-act play called Guess Who's Coming to Lunch? (or Just Desserts). It's one of two one-acts being performed the second week in March (my husband Art is in the other one). First I made index cards with a prompt on one side and my line on the other. Then, this week, I read it into an app on my phone. Now I listen to it several times a day. I'll feel better about this new undertaking of mine when I have my 63 lines learned. I haven't been in a play in nearly 50 years.
  • Tuesday evening I went to a panel discussion of the IRC (International Rescue Committee), which assists refugees in their resettlement in the US. One of the panel members was Noor, a man from Afghanistan. I talked with him afterwards and told him how glad I was that he has been successful in obtaining asylum here. We shared our thoughts about the current situation in Afghanistan and the difficulties its people have when they leave the country to find a safer place to live. Like I got to see "the other end" of the process after spending time with Afghans still in limbo at a refugee camp in Greece.
  •  My friend Martha teaches classes in Native American flute. Thursday afternoon she came over to see if I know enough - from a few classes four years ago - to join the beginner class in its fifth week. I do. The class was Saturday. Martha is a good teacher and I am sufficiently motivated to practice.
  • I spent a couple of hours yesterday observing a Keep Tucson Together immigration clinic at a local church. The volunteers work with people seeking asylum. It looks like a good fit for me, with relatively similar experiences this year at the Oinofyta camp. I want to be of service in the greater Tucson community for the five months I live here each year. The story I heard from the Guatemalan woman being helped sounded quite similar to stories I heard from Afghans. I told the coordinator I would be back in two weeks for the next clinic.
  • I worked on my Spanish with Rosetta Stone every day.
  • I found a Tucson church that feels like home.
A week from today I will put up our small tree and write a holiday letter. In that letter I will talk mostly about gratitude. 

Tis the Season!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Making a few changes

I'm not opposed to change. Sometimes I'm right there when it needs to happen, and sometimes I don't see the need until it's well past time.

Here are some changes I'm making, whether I realized the need early on or not.
  • We've lived in our winter place for five years now. This year we changed out the bed from the time when our park model was a rental. I didn't even think about a new bed until about a month ago, when I realized my back hurt when I was lying down. Who would have guessed that a new bed would fix the problem?
  • I've ridden my bicycle nearly every day for the last couple of weeks. I still feel a little clumsy and sluggish on it. I realized just yesterday that one of the problems is the basket bolted to the handlebars; it adds just a little too much weight to the front. So I'm going to take the basket off. I'll replace it with either something over the rear wheels or a daypack. I was so thrilled to have a place to carry a water bottle or sheet music that I didn't realize the downside of the basket.
  • I'm somewhat of an introvert. I've learned over the years that I'm not comfortable at social gatherings where I don't know most of the people already. I am best "one on one" or "one on a few". I have begun to turn down potluck dinners, or parties where I know only the hosts. Even if I love the hosts! I say, "I'm grateful and honored that you invited me, but I'm going to say no." I did that for a Thanksgiving invitation even though I knew my husband Art and I might end up spending the holiday alone. I'm pretty sure the hostess understood, and I'm looking forward to having lunch or coffee with her in the next week or so.
  • My husband Art is more of a homebody than I am. He is also a Vietnam veteran. He doesn't much like going to movies, where we're sitting in a dark space surrounded by strangers. He'd rather watch movies on Netflix at home, and we have been doing that for years. This year, I've decided I'll go to movies with friends if the opportunity arises. Then, if the movie is something I think he'll like, I'll add it to our Netflix queue. I have told Art I'd rather go places with him than anyone else, but I'll go with others if he wants to pass. Yesterday I went to see "Three Billboards..." with friends, and I've added it to our queue. I expect to see "Wonder" and "Lady Bird" in the next couple of weeks.
  • Holiday traditions get to change now. Art and I had a ten-minute conversation today about our ideas for the holiday season. We agreed on simple decorations (not put up until December 10), simple gifts for grandchildren, a few candles, maybe a cultural event of some kind. That's about it. This year will be the first in 45 years I don't send cards; I will write a holiday letter and post it on my blog and on Facebook. Art says we have been involved all year with refugees, so we've had Christmas all year.  
  • We have an 18-year-old grandson who's been in the county jail for over a month now, waiting to be sentenced for the outcome of a decision that "looked like a good idea at the time." None of his family members are bailing him out because this time of incarceration is a consequence of his decision and gives him time to think about what he wants to do differently in the future. There was a time when we might have bailed him out "under certain conditions". Or, at the very least, worried about him every day and visited him as often as we could. These days, we mind our own business. We love this kid and we're pretty sure the county jail will be a better teacher than we could be.
  • For the last five years, I have mostly spent my winters "playing" at the Voyager, where we live in the winter. This year I decided it was time to participate in some useful way in the larger Tucson community. Because of the time I've spent in the last year volunteering at the Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece, I've developed an acute consciousness of social injustice, and I want to continue to be useful.  So on Monday night I went to a meeting of a group called No More Deaths (No Mas Muertes). I looked at this group last year, but I had a scheduling conflict that kept me from attending the meetings. I learned last week that there's a legal clinic on the first and third Saturday of the month, where volunteers help people in danger of being deported prepare their cases. I have worked in the court at home and I am a mediator and I am familiar with communication issues and solutions where I speak a different language from the person I am assisting. So I will spend next Saturday afternoon at the legal clinic, seeing how I can help. And tomorrow, I will renew my commitment to learn Spanish using my Rosetta Stone software.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Bag Lady's week in review

When we first arrive in Tucson each year, I want to get everything done that needs doing. Life is slower before high season starts in January, and tradespeople are more available, and I have more energy.

We got here two weeks ago today. Play rehearsals have started, and handbell practice, and our recovery meetings. I've had coffee or lunch with friends. Art has stocked the kitchen. Larisa the Designer Cat has resumed her winter routine.

Here's what's happened of the non-everyday variety:

  • I'm in a play this year. Two years ago I headed up ticket sales for the Voyager musical. Last year I was kind of the assistant producer and stage manager. One day an actress was sick so I stood in for her. Soon after that, the director asked me if I was interested in being cast in a play this year. I said I would do it if I was needed. I continued to say the same thing all summer, and through the first week of rehearsal. No one has come along with a burning desire to take my part. So I have made up 62 index cards with the 62 lines I have. I play a bitchy woman and that will be fun!
  • Last year I came out of a building after dark, got on my bicycle and promptly fell off into the parking lot. Last week I did exactly the same thing, in exactly the same place. Just scrapes, but lesson learned. Walk the bike to a lighted place before getting on! Depth perception requires light. Six days later, I have an enormous bruise on my right quad, so I won't start water aerobics until next week because everyone will ask me what happened when they see the bruise. I also have a few very sore ribs that hurt when I sneeze or cough. I don't think there's anything broken, but I didn't go to the doc because even if there is, there's nothing that can be done. Plus, because I belong to an HMO in Washington, I don't have health insurance in Arizona. 
  • I've had trouble with the time change. Arizona and Washington are the same time until Washington falls back in the fall. And I made an appointment with my Arizona hairdresser before we came back. I somehow managed to be an hour late for my appointment, so Marissa the hairdresser made me a second appointment - and I was an hour late for that! I have examined my memory and I appear to still have most of it, so I need to be more careful with my schedule and my calendar.
  • Each year we make a few improvements to our little winter place. I found out about a great sale at Lowe's on two-inch window blinds and I told my husband Art I wanted to buy blinds for all 19 of our windows.  He said, "Why? We already have blinds." That is true, but they're varying ages (from two years to 25) and materials (plastic and metal) and multiple shades of off white and cream, and one inch wide. We brought home samples and when I asked Art what he liked, he said, "I don't care." A good answer! The measuring guy came out - the sale also includes free measurements - and by the middle of December we should have beautiful windows.
  • For our very small back yard we went to a nursery and bought a Meyer lemon and a Mandarin orange tree. When we got home I put a notice on the Voyager Facebook page asking for someone who knew how to plant trees in our desert soil. Within ten minutes I got a response from George, a guy we've known for four years from an activity the three of us do together. He came right over and he and Art talked about what we needed to plant the trees and to set up a watering system on a timer. Within 48 hours that job was done - George and Art worked like a couple of retired worker guys - which they actually are - and the trees are now happy. The lemon tree has produced half a dozen blooms in the last three days. The watering system is very simple and I love the timer idea.  
  • We bought a new bed. I have no idea how old the other one was, but when the delivery guys came one of them told me it was just about worn out. We slept in the new bed last night. I don't quite need a step stool! I was delighted to realize, this morning, that I slept through the night without getting up to go to the bathroom. I've heard that when you wake up in the night for whatever reason, you think it's because you have to go to the bathroom, but it might be because you are tossing and turning in the old bed without realizing it.

I am still keeping track of what's going on in Greece, of course. Oinofyta camp has been closed for a couple of weeks, but there are rumors it may open again soon. All the residents were moved to apartments or to other camps, but I know the camps on the Greek islands are insanely overcrowded so it could be the Greek government will repopulate Oinofyta with refugees from the islands. Do Your Part, the nonprofit I volunteer for, did weekend security and cleaned the rooms in case they are needed again. 

The camp's business, Oinofyta Wares, will be moving to a nearby town soon and will be starting up as a Greek business. Once it is up and running I will post the web page again. 

I have heard good news about two of the Oinofyta residents I know. Mahdi is 19. He was one of my translators. Last week he left Athens for Switzerland to be reunified with family members who are already there. And my friend Nasar found out that he and his two sons should be leaving for Germany by January, to be reunified with his wife and two other children. It's immensely satisfying to know the long journeys of Mahdi and Nasar are coming to an end.

It is 80 degrees and sunny here in Tucson. In a few minutes I'll walk up to the activities center for a two-hour current events discussion. Today's topic is immigration. Participants of this group are of all political persuasions, so it will be interesting as usual. I'll take Mahdi and Nasar along in my mind.