Saturday, November 21, 2015

2015 and 1969: Tales of Two Boys

I returned home this week from a six-day trip to Santa Cruz, California. My Canadian friend Judy and her husband Ken are staying with their grandson Kaz while his father and stepmother and their two children attend a family wedding in the Philippines. Judy and I always have a good time together, so I accepted her invitation to visit with pleasure and anticipation.

We did have our usual fun, laughing and shopping (Judy is a wonderful shopper, and I am always grateful for her help). But one of my lingering memories is around the stories of two boys.

Kaz is nine years old, with the dark hair and eyes of his Japanese mother and the mischievious smile of his father (Judy's son Kent) and grandfather. Nine-year-old boys are a special treat; they're curious, open to meeting new people, and very willing to share their interests. Right now Kaz is into Minecraft, an online game, and Legos, and working on mastery of a boogie board at the beach. He can sometimes beat his grandfather at chess. He's not a picky eater but he definitely has his gustatory preferences.

On Saturday we all went to Capitola Beach. Kaz spent over an hour working on his boogie board skills.

Saturday night we all watched two movies; Kaz and I shared the loveseat, his feet sometimes on my lap. Sunday we played Mexican Train. All in all,  having Kaz around on my visit with Judy was a very special treat. On Tuesday morning, as I stirred in bed before packing to leave for home, I heard Kaz from downstairs. On his way out the door to school, he called out, "Bye, Linda."

On Friday night and the following Monday evening, I had dinner with Aaron. I met Aaron in 1969, when he was nine years old. I was nanny for him and his sisters Nicole and Rebecca for two years. I was a junior and senior at UC Santa Barbara, earning money for a theatre trip to England, and the kids' parents, Marilyn and Joe, were working and going to school. They knew their children needed consistency, and that was my job. I was around for after school and evening. I was the one who fed them dinner, listened to Aaron's jokes and other nine-year-old conversation, hung out while they played games or watched TV, and supervised homework. We went to parks and parades and other outings, sometimes with my boyfriend John, whom I later married. Aaron was a bright, curious kid with a wide streak of gullibility. Two years after I graduated the family moved from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz.

Aaron and his sisters' mom Marilyn died last January. In her last days, Aaron emailed me to tell me. He said, "You were like a second mother to me, so I thought you should know." Aaron was particularly close to his mother, and as I sat at the table across from him last Monday I could see the pain in his eyes. Aaron is 56 now, and a lawyer, and still bright and curious. It was easy for us to talk as adults. I'm ten years older than Aaron, but the ten years between 56 and 66 are much less than the ten between 9 and 19. Still, we were both aware of our very old connection.

It's easy for me to remember what a nine-year-old boy is like. First there was Aaron, all those years ago. Then there were my two boys, Russell and James, and my two stepsons, Peter and Greg, all now in their thirties. And now there is Kaz.

Nine comes easy for me. I'm lucky that way.

Friday, November 13, 2015

My veteran speaks to the D.A.R.

On Tuesday this week, I could have been the lead mediator at small claims court. Or I could have gone to a marketing gathering for our business. Instead, I went to the monthly meeting of the Rainier Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R) in Seattle. My husband Art had been invited to be the luncheon speaker, and I went along as his support as I usually do when he speaks.

Our friend Teresa asked Art to be the luncheon speaker  months ago. She knew he was a Vietnam veteran, and served in the Marine Corps, and Tuesday was the 240th anniversary of the creation of the Marine Corps. She also knew that Art and I had written a book about our 2005 visit to Vietnam.  

D.A.R membership requires documented proof that a woman is descended from a man or woman involved in the Revolutionary War. I have such proof myself, but I have no interest in becoming a member. I'm not much of a joiner and my interests are not in patriotism or politics. The Tuesday luncheon was the first D.A.R event I have ever attended.

That day I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time in at least five years. I led the group in reciting the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States (there was a card to read it from, but I memorized it in high school and still remember). We then went through a pleasant pasta-and-salad buffet.

The 25 women were about our age. They looked like the kind of women my mother would have liked - well dressed and attractive. I'm more casual about my own appearance - much to my mother's distress, even when she was elderly and I was a grandmother myself. But the few women I talked to before the lunch were friendly.

The last time Art talked about his Vietnam story, he was speaking to a group of veterans. His presentation was intense and tough - perfect for his audience. This time he was talking to women. I had suggested he speak to them as if they were his sisters. He did. He began with, "How many of you have friends or family members who are Vietnam vets?" Most of the women raised their hands. "And how many of them have talked to you about their experience?" Only one hand went up, and the rest of the women shook their heads.

Then Art talked about his experience. He was a radio repairman at Da Nang during the Tet Offensive in 1968, and one day he and a few other non-combat specialists created an undermanned platoon to guard a gate, and they ran into a battalion of North Vietnamese.  That one day affected Art for the rest of his life. In talking to the women, Art went right back to 1968 in his head, and he took the entire audience with him. Not a sound from the women for the 20 minutes he spoke. Just shock and sympathy. When he completed his talk, a few women came up to him, and one approached me to thank me for taking good care of him! I knew Art's adrenaline level was very high and that he would be exhausted within a couple of hours.

We had traveled to Vietnam in 2005 - me for the first time, and Art for the first time since 1968. We were part of a group led by a psychotherapist who specializes in veterans with PTSD. After our return we wrote a book about our experiences: Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of Healing. We had brought along a few copies to sell. I made a note to myself to download the app that will allow us to take credit cards.

On the way home I asked Art if he'd just as soon not do these speaking engagements, since it was emotionally difficult. He said, "No. It's important that people know." In our book, he says, "If just one vet, in hearing my story, can get rid of his nightmares, it will be worth it."

Thank you for your service, Art.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A matter of synchronicity

Every once in a while I look at the values I've defined for myself and my life in retirement to see how I'm doing. I list my values in this order: spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose. The list morphed in content and sequence at first, but hasn't changed in a couple of years. Before I retired I had no such list, but I've learned that if I'm aligning my life this way, I'm pretty content most of the time.

I looked again recently and discovered I'd been slacking on health, number two on my list. When I wondered why much of my clothing is about seven pounds too small, I realized I'd gotten into the daily habit of (1) one or two mochas; (2) a bowl of tortilla chips from the very large bag on the kitchen counter purchased by a male in the household; AND (3) a bowl of ice cream. Since that very day of realization, I only allow myself one of the above. I'm downsizing gradually!

Otherwise, I'm on track. And I find, somewhat to my surprise (though it shouldn't have been), that the result has been synchronity. Seemingly random things and events come together.

Here are a couple of examples: 

1. I've been processing a personal loss for several months and was finding it hard to move beyond it. I had a conversation over a month ago with a friend about the issue. I saw the same friend last week when we took a walk in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, about 80 miles south of where I live. The loss came up again in conversation. My friend said, "You're still stuck in this loss. It might be a kid issue." You know, one of those very old tapes playing that feels like it's happening right now. Turns out my "kid" was Ten, and she couldn't let go of the loss because she wanted to fix the problem that caused it - which she couldn't.  I get it now, thanks to my friend and my Ten, and the loss has eased.  

The day after my Nisqually walk with my friend, I met another friend for lunch in Seattle. This friend lives in Hawaii and I only see her about once a year. Her father died this year, and though she was present at his passing via Skype, she wished she could have been there, in Chicago, in person. She said she would have liked to climb into his bed and curl up next to him. I asked her how old the kid was in her who wanted that. She said Six! Then she said, "I hadn't thought much about it until earlier this week when I went for a walk with a friend at Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve and the subject came up."

Neither of us had ever been to Nisqually until last week. 

2. I was moved by our September experience with refugees in the Salzberg train station. I thought I might want to get involved with the immigration issue in Tucson, where we live in the winter. Then my church here at home decided to set up a homeless car camp and I will be coordinating the volunteers by email from Tucson. And there's an organization in Tucson, the Kino Border Initiative,  that provides services to Mexican immigrants traveling to be with families in the States. I now see a connection between refugees and the homeless and I think my mediation and communication skills will be a way I can help. 

When I'm open to possibilities, and conversation, and I'm willing, the most amazing things happen. 

When I honor spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose, synchronicity shows up.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Homeless Car Camp

My church community has been interested for over a year in undertaking a project to house the homeless. Members visited a community of tiny houses (Quixote Village in Olympia) and then discussed the feasibility of such a project in our county. Numerous issues emerged: who should live in such houses; must they be clean and sober; how can we afford land for the project, since undeveloped land in this area is rare and expensive?

Eventually the volunteers decided to start small. Beginning on November 16, the church will be hosting five families in a car camp in the church parking lot. Here's some of what we know so far:
  • Families will be referred by the homeless advocate for the local school district, so each resident family will have at least one student attending school in the district.
  • Everyone over 13 will have a background check - both volunteers and campers.
  • Families will arrive between 8:30 and 9:15 in the evening and will leave between 6:00 and 9:15 in the morning.
  • No alcohol or drugs can be used in the camp.
  • A porta-potty will be available.
  • A cellphone charging area will be provided.  
  • A church volunteer will have a 24/7 phone available for campers to call as needs arise.
  • One day a week (to start) campers will have morning access to a shower inside the church. The number of shower days will increase as more volunteers sign up for the early morning shift.
  • Volunteers will welcome campers in the evenings, supervise showers in the mornings, and wash towels. Volunteers get to sign up for what they want to do and how often.
  • If temperatures drop below 34 degrees, a cold weather shelter opens in town. On those nights, the car camp will be closed. We want the families to go to the cold weather shelter because that facility will provide them with a hot meal in the evening, breakfast, and a sack lunch. Our church community is responsible for the cold weather shelter on Mondays.
  • Volunteers have become familiar with the "companionship" model. No counseling or professional services will be offered, though an information sheet will be provided for each family.
  • After 90 days of residence, a family has to reapply to the car camp. The intention is that camping will be a temporary situation for the families.
The team organizing this project called an information meeting this week, and I'd say more than 50 people showed up. Team members acknowledged we're kind of making it up as we go - flexibility has to be the key even while we comply with the law.

I'm one of two volunteer coordinators, making sure we have signups for each available position, and calling or emailing volunteers to remind them of their time slots. I'll be in Tucson for the winter, but this is something I can do no matter where I live. I'm glad to be able to participate in this project.

The team says we are the only church in our county to try this, and that others are watching. If we're successful, we may be the first of many to provide this help to the homeless.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Introducing you to the Best of Boomers

I was recently invited to join a group of Baby Boomer bloggers who combine posts each week and take turns sending them out to their own followers. I'm happy to introduce them to you today - Meryl, Laura, Tom and Rita - and I expect you may want to add your name to their list of blog followers.

This week, we Boomers are traveling or enjoying the wonder of early winter, and thinking about health, compassion and hope.

Meryl Baer, at Six Decades and Counting, is on the road again this week, beginning a ten day trip to Italy with three girlfriends. In her first post about her adventure, she talks about a subject dear to her heart - food. Read all about it in Arrivederci USA Ciao Italy!

Laura Lee, at Adventures of the New (and Improved) Old Farts, is excited to see the first major snow storm in the mountains southwest of her.Go look at her beautiful photos of the Sangre de Cristos mountains.

Tom Sightings, at Sightings Over Sixty, saw a story in the New York Times which got him thinking about how much compassion we have for others, and what elicits our sympathy and what blocks it. Are some people naturally more sympathetic, and others more hard-hearted and self-absorbed? Or do circumstances determine how we feel about other people's adversities? See some of the surprising and counterintuitive results in his recent post How Deep is the Well of Compassion?

Rita Robison, at Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, is thinking about the new guidelines for breast cancer screening released this week by the American Cancer Society.

And then there's me, Linda Myers. You might take another look at my thoughts on the Active Hope workshop I attended last weekend.

I hope all of you have a great week, whether you're a Boomer or a Something Else!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Active Hope workshop

The workshop last Saturday on Active Hope was an eye opener for me. Thirty-two of us spent about six hours together in a combination of large group, small group and lecture. I came away with some insights I expect to be helpful in my "saying yes" campaign for myself.

As our icebreaker, we went around the circle and said no more than six words about Hope. Opinions varied widely. My words were "I live in hope." Other people said things like "I have a hard time with hope," "I have no hope," "I wish I had more hope." I'd say my statement was one of the more positive ones. 

We were thinking mostly about the larger challenges currently facing our country and the world: income inequality, refugees, climate change, political gridlock, and other issues. Our facilitator, Barbara Ford, began with "three stories we tell": (1) Business as usual; (2) The Great Unraveling (current media reports on disasters, the "ain't it awfuls" we all hear about; and (3) The Great Turning (movements and activities for change; for example, the rise of alternative energy, cohousing, walkable cities). All these stories coexist, but her interest focuses on (3).

We talked about power, and how we think of it primarily as a bad or corrupt thing. Then, in groups of four, we talked about "a time when something you did or said made a difference for good". After each person talked for five minutes, the other three commented on what they heard about the person that made the effort successful.  Barbara collected the groups' comments on an easel:

What we ended up with was positive qualities of power. We know these things apply at the individual or grassroots level, so it's worth taking a look at expanding this kind of power. 

So, for example, I can make a difference as a mediator working in small claims court on disputes or on parenting plans between divorcing couples. I wouldn't say I have power in these situations, but the qualities on the easel are all useful in coming up with win-win solutions. The idea is that all of us can have that power to influence for the good.

Something else I came away with is that we all contribute in different ways. I will probably never march in a demonstration, but I can be a coordinator and that is just as valuable as the people who actually go out there. I have felt a little guilty sometimes in the past that I'm not a visible activist. But I do other things. That's good to remember. I do believe that "we're all in this together".

And we're all connected. I believe this more and more. To that end, I spent time this week with four women friends, on three days. In every conversation we talked about connection. My mediation work is about connection; my work as liaison for our business is about connection. I'm not sure where these insights will take me. But I know they will take me somewhere.

I'm so grateful to be retired! Who knows what's up next for me?

You can find out more about Barbara at

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Flip flops walk

This post is still about the Vashonistas - six women bloggers who have gathered for a weekend each October for four years. The flip flops walk happened over two weeks ago, but I still remember it well as an unexpected surprise.

We'd been together at Lavender Hill Farm, on Vashon Island, for five days. Six women. Writing and talking and laughing and eating. A lot of time spent together, most of it very good.

Still. Six women. After a while, you know, it can get a little, uh, less than very good. Maybe someone talks too much. Maybe someone goes to bed too late and misses early morning activities. Maybe someone goes to bed too early and misses evening activities. Maybe someone is gluten free or vegetarian or allergic to peanuts or dairy or alcohol. We all care, of course, about each other's well being. And after all that caring, we probably need an outing together where we can get some fresh air. So, on our last day together, five of us had an "adventure day", while one of us stayed at home to work (Jann is a grant writer, even in retirement).

The day was sunny, temperatures in the 60s. Deb assured us our adventure wouldn't require walking shoes, so most of us wore flip flops. We decided to walk on the beach at Point Robinson; there's a lighthouse there and keepers' quarters, and some nice driftwood. A perfect spot for conversations in twos and threes or a little time alone.

Everyone but me visited the keepers' houses, which are available for rent. I sat at a picnic table. I'm not much for visiting interiors of places, probably since I just returned from Europe where I had more than my fill of such things.

We then set off for the Dockton Historic Interpretive Trail, which begins and ends at Quartermaster Harbor. This was Deb's idea, and I admit I was a little cranky about it, since the beginning of the trail is uphill along a highway. I kept most of my crankiness to myself, though. 

What we found as we walked the route, less than two miles in length, was a charming local area of farms and homes. We'd expected mostly historical markers, but the area was full of life and beauty.

 The old sidewalk

 A faithful gardener

 Not in the city!

 Where to store the ladder?

 For observant dogs

 DJan and Sally

 Blackberries in October

 Deb stepped in something!

 Leftover cornstalks

 Island grasses

 Welcome home

By the time we arrived back at the car, we were a mostly happy group again. Such a visual feast we'd experienced together!

We met up with Jann, Vashonista #6, for a late lunch at The Hardware Store, a favorite place of ours. We laughed and talked and ate, as usual, as we reminisced about this time together. Tomorrow morning we will be leaving and we have to do at least a little planning. Jann agreed that next year she will plan the adventure day. She wants us to go kayaking!