Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Telling the stories

I never thought of myself as a storyteller. I haven't got a lot of creative imagination, so when people would tell me I should write a book, I'd respond that I didn't have much to say.

But other people do. I've found that I can listen to their stories and write them down. The stories aren't mine, but I'm the keeper of their words.

Here's a story I heard in Greece from one of the residents of the Oinofyta camp. I met Abdul on my first trip to Greece, and he told me his story on my second trip.

I have seen Abdul on all the five trips I've made to Greece in the last two years. He now works at the Oinofyta Community center, lives in Athens, and has a second daughter. His circumstances have changed a bit, but every time I see him I remember the story of why he left his homeland.

Every refugee has a story.

This winter my husband Art and I are volunteering at a refugee shelter at a church in Tucson. Our shift is Saturday evenings from 5 to 9. We've cooked dinner, served a meal, offered coffee, done laundry, played with children, and transported refugees to the Greyhound bus station. Whatever is needed. Each week the sheltered guests are different. They're from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil and Peru. They've made their way to the US border and asked for asylum. They've had an initial interview by the Border Patrol or ICE and have been declared eligible to apply for asylum. Many of them left their homelands because of threats from drug gangs. Few of the people at the shelter speak English, but many of them are literate. At the shelter they are given an opportunity to write in a journal about the journey from their home, across the border and into Tucson. The stories are all in Spanish. I hope they will be translated eventually. I suspect some of the stories are quite a bit like Abdul's.



Last Thursday night I went with some friends to an event called Odyssey Storytelling, in downtown Tucson. Six people told a ten-minute story on the theme of "Mortified." The stories were hilarious and poignant and, because the audience was close to the speakers on the stage, we were kind of all together, sharing the experience with the storytellers. It was an intimate experience. Here's what the storytelling experience is about:
In an article in Borderlore, a publication of the Southwest Folklife Alliance, Odyssey Storytelling is described this way: “The big picture is that sharing stories is about building community. On a personal level it is about being honest and being seen for who you are. Both of these things are basic human needs. Everyone benefits from a storytelling event either as a teller or as a listener. Odyssey Storytelling offers a showcase for people of all ages, cultures, gender expressions and sexual orientations.”
All of us have a story.

At the Voyager RV Resort, where Art and I live in the winter, storytelling will make its debut in January. Six storytellers will present a ten-minute story. It will be a true story, and it will be about them. I've been asked to be one of the storytellers.

My story will probably be about the case of the beeping pacemaker.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Four weeks later, I've found my place

We arrived at our place at the Voyager, in Tucson, just a month ago and we've settled in to most of our schedule. Art has musical play rehearsals on Monday and Thursday afternoons (they're doing You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown this year, and he is playing Pigpen). My handbell choir practices on Monday afternoons and plays at the Voyager's nondenominational church service once a month, which is the only time I attend. There's a current events discussion group on Wednesday afternoons that I like; when I started six years ago most of the attendees were conservative, and now they're mostly liberal. Almost everyone is better informed than me, which is good because I can learn. In January there will also be a foreign affairs discussion group called Great Decisions. I do that on Thursdays.

In the last two years I've made five trips to Greece to volunteer at the Oinofyta refugee camp with Do Your Part, a small American nonprofit. I've become committed to supporting people who have left their homeland because of unsafe conditions and helping to provide the services they need during their time of transition.

Last winter I decided to volunteer in the Tucson community. I went to the asylum clinic for Keep Tucson Together every other Saturday to help people prepare their asylum paperwork. I loved the person-to-person contact, but the clinic didn't seem very well organized, and sometimes I wasn't able to be useful at all. When I first got to Tucson this year, I went to a volunteer training for KTT. It's much better organized now, with more options available for volunteers, but none of them felt right, so I didn't sign up. I decided to wait.

I found another group, Casa Alitas, which provides temporary accommodations for migrants and refugees who have been interviewed by the Border Patrol or ICE and allowed entry into the US to apply for asylum. They're at Casa Alitas for only a few days, until their US host - a friend or a relative in another city - has sent money for a bus ticket. Again, I went to the volunteer training. Again, it didn't feel right.

Then, last week, I heard about the Refugee Shelter Ministry at St. Francis in the Foothills, a very progressive Methodist Church in Tucson. This is a very new program at the church;  it had only been active for a week. It's just like the one at Casa Alitas providing temporary support and shelter for migrants and refugees on their way to hosts elsewhere in the country. Art and I signed up for a four-hour shift last Saturday. We received a quick introductory tour. He then went off to help prepare dinner for the 15 being sheltered, and I kept company with those in the social area. No one spoke any English at all, and I speak not much Spanish, but we managed. Dinner arrived and I was the hostess.

I love doing service work one on one. Every one of these people expressed their gratitude for the least little thing: help interpreting a bus route to Maryland, for example, with the five bus tickets that would be required; a cup of coffee con leche y azucar; a travel pack with food for each person leaving. I got hugs and smiles for just being there.

I told some friends about our experience. One of them has already signed up for three shifts!

We've signed up for another shift tonight. We leave in 45 minutes.

I've found my place to be of service.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

One more voter

This conversation happened in October, before the midterms, but it's worth sharing.

My husband Art and I have eight kids between us, ranging in age from 33 to 47. In most cases, I don't know how they vote or whether they vote at all.

For my two sons, I know one of them always votes. He's 41 now, and I suspect he is mostly conservative. The other, now 39, has never registered to vote at all. Last year I asked him why he didn't, and he said, "Oh, I don't know. I never pay much attention to stuff like that." I'm not naming names here, to avoid embarrassing either of my sons.

This summer, as the midterms heated up, I pushed a little on the nonvoter. I said, "I hope you will register to vote." He shrugged and said something vague. A couple of weeks later, I said, "If you will register to vote, I will take $100 off the amount you owe me." (He started a new business last year, so he owes me quite a bit more than that). This time he said he would, and the next week he told me he had.

In the middle of October I asked him if he had gotten his ballot yet. He said, "I think so. I'll have to check." I said, "I'm leaving for the winter on October 31. If you come over before then, we can go over the ballot. He said, "Yeah, okay."

In that same mid-October conversation I told him I wanted to draw up a repayment contract for the money he owes me, and would he please come over and sign it. He said he'd be over before I left.

On October 29 he texted me and said, "Mom, are you going to be home this afternoon?" I said yes. "I'll be over."

At 5 pm he arrived. I read him the contract and he signed it. Then I said, "Did you bring your ballot?" He said, "Yes." I didn't let him see my astonishment and relief.

Me: "Okay, are you a Republican or a Democrat?"

Him: "I don't know, but I'm NOT a liberal."

Me: "Well, historically, Republicans have supported smaller government and fiscal responsibility. And Democrats have supported social programs to protect the poor, elderly and disabled. Let's go through a few current issues and see what you think. That may help you decide who to vote for. What do you think about the Dreamers?"

Him: "Who are they?"

Me: "Say you have a buddy you've known most of your life. He went to middle school and high school with you. You played on the same soccer team for four years. He went to U Dub and is now working downtown. His parents came here from Mexico when he was two. Now there's talk about deporting him, and others like him, because he's here illegally."

Him: "Well, that's bad! He doesn't know any Spanish, or anyone in Mexico. He should sure get to stay here. But he should also do what he needs to do to be a US citizen."

Me: "Okay. Your opinion aligns mostly with the Democrats on this one."

Him: "Okay."

Me: "How about the gun issue?"

Him: "People should be allowed to have guns, but not those assault weapons. And no one who is mentally sick or violent should be allowed to have one. And they should all be registered. I have a gun - traded my old one for it from a guy who died - but I've never used it."

Me: "Is it registered?"

Him: "No, I never did that."

Me: "When you bought your car from your buddy, did you register it?"

Him: "Of course."

Me: "Might be a good idea for the gun."

Him: "Yeah, I need to do that."

Me: "Okay, your opinion on guns aligns mostly with the Democrats on this one." He marked his ballot.

We went over a few more national, state and local issues on the ballot: state initiatives around the environment, additional police training; local issues like a small use tax increase to maintain the streets and sidewalks of the town he lives in. He had opinions on all of them.

Me: "From what you've told me, I'd say you're an independent moderate."

Him: "Okay, good."

Me: "When I'm voting for people, I want to have someone representing me who pretty much shares my ideas, no matter whether they're a Democrat or a Republican."

Him: "Okay, yeah."

Me: "Sometimes, though, I will vote for someone because they're in a particular party. For example, in the national election this time, I voted for Democrats for the Senate and for the House of Representatives, because I want there to be checks and balances in government. That means that if the president wants something to happen, there should be enough people in the other political party to think about it and have a say in what happens, so the president doesn't get too much control. It's in the Constitution, the checks and balances."

Him: "Okay. I get it." He marked his ballot for the Senate and the House.

Me: "Now, the judges on the ballot. Let's look them up online and see what other people think."

We did. We used the Washington Bar Association's website to get their recommendations. And he marked his ballot.

Me: "Now, you tear off the edges of the ballot, and you put it in this little envelope."

Him: "Okay." He did.

Me: "And then you put the little envelope in the mailing envelope."

Him: "Okay."

Me: "And you sign it."

Him: "Okay."

Me: "And you mail it."

Him: "Okay. I'll drop it in the mail tomorrow."

Me: "How about you put it on the counter and Art will mail it tomorrow?"

Him: "Okay, good."

As he was leaving, he said, "Mom, this was easy. I'll do it all the time now."

May it be so!

In our family we have one more voter.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Decluttering miracles

This has been a long and satisfying summer. Not because of Seattle's weather, or because our travel schedule was lighter, or because of the fabulous strawberries, raspberries, apples and grapes. Because of the decluttering that happened at our house.

I'd say we're pretty typical of couples in or near retirement. We no longer need all the stuff we have, and the house is too big, and there are stairs and slippery winter driveways. I wrote about this last year in a post called Downsizing: a difference of opinion.

It took a year to get started on this very large project. I convinced Art that we should give it a shot, and we made a plan, which I talked about in Rightsizing: a paradigm shift.

So here we are, well into fall, and I am sitting in our living room in Tucson thinking about how the project went. Here's some of what happened:

  • The shed at the rear of the house: Art sold a 1982 Yamaha 750 (in pieces) and a sidecar for $60 and gave away a 1981 Yamaha 650 (not running). The new owners have a happy project to occupy their rainy winters. He gave the generator to his son Jason. All other inanimate objects in the shed were given away or carted away or taken to Goodwill. The shed is now occupied by Art's Ford Ranger for the winter. The truck has a shelter!
  • Under the upper deck behind the house: All the unusable wood and other items have been donated or hauled to the dump. The orphan garage door that used to be a wall sheltering the view of all the stuff from the street has been disposed of. Under the deck is an open area!
  • The basement great room. Used for storage for at least the last eight years, everything has been given away to kids or to neighbors via Buy Nothing Brier (like Freecycle). The inversion table was sold for $80 to a young couple for the woman's dad, who has a bad back. The pile of things belonging to Art's son Jason was picked up on Wednesday by Jason. The three metal shelving racks are partially empty, for use by our winter tenant.
  • The garage: Used for storage for the last 23 years, usable things have been put in the gravel area near our driveway with a spray-painted "FREE" sign. What wasn't taken was hauled to the dump last Tuesday. The workbench was given to Clare, our across-the-street neighbor who just bought her house. 
  • Inside the house and out: Buy Nothing Brier is a Facebook group with 961 members. I took pictures of each item we wanted to rehome and posted them with a comment.  From inside, picture frames, kids' toys and games and dressup boxes and books and bread-making machines and comforters and fanny packs and bamboo placemats and cosmetic bags and cold therapy systems and VCR recorders and snowshoes and fold-up dollies and candlestick holders and vases and Art's grandfather's lineman's climbing gear. And on and on. Someone or several people would express an interest. The taker got their name on the item which was set out on the front porch. Of all the people who stopped and picked up something from our porch, I only met one of them. It's an efficient system, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that someone will now enjoy and use what we no longer need.
Several weeks ago I said to Art, "If I ruled the world (I say this when I know it's an attempt to control him), your side of the garage will have room for me to park my Accord this winter, so our tenant can park his car on my side."

On Tuesday of this week, I came home from coffee with a friend to this sight: My car on Art's side of the garage. For the first time since we moved to this house 23 years ago.


I told Art it was the greatest gift of love I'd ever received from him. And that is saying a lot.

I asked Art just now what he thinks about this project. He said, "It's coming along. I didn't want to do it because most of the stuff was projects that I had planned to do at a later time. And the time just slipped away. So it felt like I was abandoning my projects. But looking at it over and over, I could see that I wasn't going to have time.  

"I don't think I could have done it without Penni, the decluttering coach. When I would get stymied she would say, "Do you have to do it?" And if I was still stymied, she'd say, "Well, put it aside. We'll get to that later." Not like the books and stuff that say you have to make a decision and then go do it. It was a working project. Where I could look at and think about things, and then if it was still too big a thing, take it up another day. No pressure. 

"It's not done. When we got the renter for the winter, I just started putting everything away to go through next year. Take a break from it.

"I've gone through the missing part of it. I'm glad it's done."

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Why Toronto?

I met my friend Terra in March, when we both went to Churchill, Manitoba to see the Northern Lights. We live half an hour from each other in Tucson, where I spend the winter.

Both of us have husbands who are five years older than we are. Both of us still want to travel even though our husbands are slowing down a bit in that area. So we decided to take a short trip together to see if we were compatible travel companions. Our requirement was that that the selected trip must be something neither of our husbands are interested in (I'd be going with Art in that case).

We decided to go with Road Scholar to Toronto for "Experiencing the Religions of the World." Today we finished up our last day of class. Tomorrow the group will visit the Royal Ontario Museum, with the afternoon free and the group gathering for a farewell dinner. Our plane leaves the next morning at 8 a.m.

We've had a busy, sometimes intense week. Our lecturer, Brian Carwana of the Encounter World Religions Center, has been fabulous, funny and knowledgeable.  Here's what we've done in the last six days:

Tuesday evening: Talk on Intro to World Religions
*****

Wednesday: Morning lectures (1) "To See, To Be, To Do: the Landscape of World Religion" and (2) "Hinduism: Thou Art That. Afternoon visits to the Hare Krishna Temple and a Hindu temple. Evening visit to another Hindu temple.

    OBSERVATIONS ON THE HINDU VISIT: Lots of light, sound, activity. Water. Fire. Food. Spectacle, I'd say.
*****

Thursday: Morning lectures (1) "Buddhism: All is Mind" and (2) Mormon: the Gospel Restored". Afternoon meditation at the Zen temple and a visit to the Cham Shan temple. Evening visit to a Mormon church.

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE BUDDHIST VISIT: Very peaceful meditation time. And in the temple, I felt like I was in China - lots of red (happiness), icons, a prayer wheel. I think the Buddhist community in Toronto has money.

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE MORMON VISIT: A conversation with a convert, a just-returned-yesterday-missionary, and an elder. Kindness everywhere.
*****

Friday: Morning lecture: "Islam: And Muhammad is His Prophet". Afternoon visit to a mosque and participation in the service. Evening lecture on "Judaism: A People Set Apart".

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE ISLAM VISIT: I loved this. Many men, many women, in everyday clothes, prostrating in unison. It's a devout and humble act. So beautiful.
*****

Saturday: Morning visit to Holy Blossom Synagogue and participation in the service. Afternoon lecture  (1) "Christianity: But I Say Unto You" and (2) "Evangelicalism: A Religion for the Modern World".

      OBSERVATIONS ON THE SYNAGOGUE VISIT: Beautiful. Wonderful choir, gifted cantor and exceptional rabbi, Yael Splansky. We celebrated a bat mitzvah.
*****

Sunday: Morning lecture "Sikhism:Disciples of the True Name" and Guided visit of Evangelical Church and participation in the service. Afternoon visit to a Sikh Gurdwara.

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH VISIT: The Meeting Place is a megachurch with Bruxy Cavey as the Teaching Minister. He is a wonder. After the service he spoke to our group for half an hour.

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE SIKH VISIT: Simple architecture, straightforward faith, many turbans! (I learned many Sikhs do not cut their hair or beards as "God has made me this way". They cover their hair with a turban.) We were served a simple meal.
*****

As it turns out, Terra and I travel well together. She reminds me when I leave my hoodie on a chair and I leave her alone when she seeks out a quiet place to read. Neither of us is a shopper. There is easy silence between us. We got separate rooms and found that allowed us to share meals and have conversations but still have privacy. I've never had a separate room when traveling without Art. I like it. We have begun a discussion about when and where a next trip might be.

Intense though this experience has been, it has been good to have time away from the busy-ness of volunteer obligations and decluttering. When I get home on Tuesday it will be time to prepare for the end of our summertime in Seattle and our journey to our Tucson winter.


Monday, October 1, 2018

There's a fine line

There's a fine line between curious and nosy.

I was recently taking my two-mile neighborhood walk when a young man approached me from the opposite direction, nearing the end of his own walk. He had passed me earlier, and this time I said, "You're a faster walker than me." We exchanged a few inconsequential remarks and then he said, "May I walk with you for a bit?" I thought it was a little unusual, since it would mean retracing his steps, but I said sure.

We walked half a mile together. I asked him about his job and he said he works with preverbal autistic kids. I was curious. I asked at what point a preverbal kid becomes a nonverbal one. He said that was an interesting question, and we talked then about how kids can learn a new language quite easily until they are about twelve. He said that's about when the preverbal/nonverbal distinction is made. We wondered if there is some kind of neural significance to that, or whether it's just a coincidence.

It wasn't a typical walking chat, but it was unusually interesting. We covered several other topics. Our mutual curiosity kept the conversation going. I asked him what his ideal job would be. He said, "Training service animals. When an autistic person goes from one room to another, it can look like a whole new world. A service animal is a familiar comfort." I found out he had moved here a couple of years ago from a southern state. I'm pretty sure it wasn't for the job, but he didn't say, and I didn't ask. I did ask if there was someone special in his life, and he said, "Not right now." Again, he didn't say anything more, and I didn't ask.

My experience has been that if I ask an open-ended question, the other person will say what they want to say. It may be quite a long story. Or it may be only a few words. I honor their choice.

When we got to my street, we stood at the intersection for a few minutes to finish up our chat. We introduced ourselves and I gave him a hug. "Good bye, Jay. Thanks for the walk." He said, "Thank you, Linda."

I haven't seen him since.

I've had a few other conversations recently where a person responded in some length to an open-ended question of mine. And, a couple of times, someone needed to talk and I happened to be there to listen. In those cases, I don't ask questions. I just listen. I'm still curious, but I know they're only telling me what they need to say. Sometimes I never hear the rest of the story, or any outcome. And that's okay.

Like I said, there's a fine line between curious and nosy.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Happy birthday to me

A couple of years ago I thought about getting a tattoo. I was serving at a refugee camp full of Afghans, and I thought a good way to honor them and the experience would be to get a kite tattoo. I looked around a little online, but I didn't find exactly the right thing. And I wasn't sure where I wanted the tattoo. Actually, I wanted it on my foot, but I'd been told that's a painful place. I asked my hairdresser in Tucson and friends here in Washington where I should get my tattoo. They all had their favorite artists. I pondered, but didn't take action.

Then, in July, my sister Alyx decided to get her first tattoo. She has chickens at her place, and she wanted to incorporate her love for them in a tattoo. She set up an appointment at Slave to the Needle, a reputable place in Seattle. I decided to go with her to see what it was like.

It was interesting! The tattoo artist, Lance, took Alyx's initial design and put it on his iPad. He made a few small modifications. When she approved, he made a stencil of the design. During her session, he applied the stencil to her upper arm. Then he traced the stencil with the ink needles.

Here's Alyx's tattoo:


A few days later, Alyx sent me a sample of a tattoo that was a world map. She said when she saw it, she said, "This is Linda's heart." I've taken 65 trips since I quit work eight years ago, so she was pretty right. We looked at a few designs together, and I made an appointment with Lance for September 11.

I'd hoped Alyx could come with me for my session, but she had to work. So I asked my friend and former business partner, Lillian, if she would come, and she said yes.

As before, Lance sat with me to apply the finishing touches to the design I'd chosen. Instead of an airplane, I wanted a heart in the sky, since I travel for love.

Here are the pictures Lillian took of my session:




It's been nine days since I got my tattoo. People ask if I am going to get any more, and I say no. They ask if I'm going to do anything more to this one. I think I might have the heart/plane colored red, but that's it.

Today I am 70 years old. I am glad I got the tattoo as a birthday gift to myself. 

Also for my birthday, I sent a check for a friend so she could travel from Greece to Italy. She will be the support for another friend who is giving a TEDx talk in Italy on October 6. I'm grateful for both of the friends and for the fact that I can afford to buy the ticket.

My day was just perfect. I got about 60 birthday wishes from Facebook friends. I met my friend/niece Colleen at Starbucks in Kenmore for a three-hour catchup conversation. Then I met my friend Vicki at Starbucks in Mountlake Terrace for another long talk. I don't often go to Starbucks except to meet up with friends. Then I had a great phone conversation with my friend Joan in Arizona. When I got home at 5 p.m. my husband Art was fixing dinner. And after dinner, for the first time in absolutely ages, I had a bowl of vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream with chocolate fudge syrup on top.

Colleen asked me what my goal in life is now. I said, "To use the gifts that have been given to me as well as I can, for as long as I am able."

It's odd. I've been almost dreading this birthday for six months. It's a pretty big number. But when I woke up this morning, my first thought was, "I have arrived."

How cool is that?