Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Amazing generosity - part 2

My friend Lisa Campbell, the project manager for Do Your Part in Greece, posted this today:

"We have exciting news to share!!!!

Last Wednesday, we were able to start a new service for the pregnant women of the Oinofyta Camp! We have partnered with the Hellenic Midwives Association to come to the Community Center to provide prenatal care for the many pregnant women. This is huge since there still isn't a permanent daily medical presence in the camp. We were able to create a separate space for private exams.
Their first visit was a huge success! We are looking forward to their bi-monthly visits."

I wrote in my last blog post that the Hellenic midwives are in dire need of a portable ultrasound machine for their work with the women. And that my friend Craig had said he thought money could be raised for such a cause.

Craig has set up a Go Fund Me page for that purpose. If you're interested in helping out, you can do that at

Here's what the machine looks like:

My plan is to take this machine with me to Greece on August 21, along with six boxes of catheters for the disabled girl. I will order those catheters tomorrow from a Canadian supplier.

You know I'm not usually a seeker of funds, but this project is close to my heart and I want to share it. Thanks to any of you for your generosity.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Amazing generosity as I prepare for Greece

I'm leaving for Greece on August 21 and returning on September 6. This will be my fifth trip to volunteer for Do Your Part. But I expect it to be quite different.

Last summer the Oinofyta camp was open, a community for about 400 refugees, most of them from Afghanistan with a few from Pakistan and Iran. The camp had a school, a computer lab, an exercise room, a women's space, a kitchen, even a soccer field. Do Your Part distributed food and sundries and multiple volunteer agencies provided other kinds of support.

The camp was closed by the government in November. The volunteer agencies were given four days to vacate. The residents were bused to apartments in Athens or to other camps.

In March, Oinofyta reopened. This time it was to house vulnerable refugees from the Greek islands. Now, four months later, the residents are mostly Kurds who have fled from the Syrian city of Afrin. There are few services at the camp now, and the volunteer organizations who worked so hard in 2016 and 2017 have not returned.

Do Your Part runs a community center about five miles away in the village of Dilesi. There is a tailor shop there that makes unique bags to sell, and a space for women to come for respite, and for kids to get a little education. Every Tuesday MobileDoc volunteers spend the day providing medical care for refugees. Every other week legal volunteers come to assist with asylum applications. A Do Your Part vehicle transports the people from the camp at Oinofyta to the community center at Dilesi. Last week the Hellenic Midwives Association came for the day to provide prenatal care. The volunteers are working outside the camp now, doing what can be done for the Kurds who were forced out of Afrin.

The volunteer network in Greece is active. Because I'm traveling soon to Athens - with an extra suitcase, as usual - I was asked to help find some catheters for a little girl. Here's my Facebook post:
In a refugee camp southeast of Athens there is a 9-year-old severely disabled Kurdish girl who needs five catheters per day for urine, to prevent fluid building up in her brain. A five-day supply costs 60 euros (About 70 dollars) and the kind she needs is particularly hard to come by. [The little girl has scoliosis, hydrocephaly and is a paraplegic.]
I am going back to Greece on August 21. I have been asked to find out if anyone would be willing to donate some size CH-8, pre-lubricated catheters for this little girl. I will take them with me.
This is what the catheter looks like.
Please message me if you can help.
In response to my Facebook post, I was astonished to collect money from nine friends and a cousin totaling $650.

I found a supplier in Canada who would sell me a box for $25 American, and then contacted Leslie, another volunteer, who lives in Boston, She has been coordinating the catheter project. Leslie has a friend who travels often between Athens and Istanbul, and the catheters are much, much cheaper there. So the $650 may go from me to Leslie's friend via Paypal, and Berit, the little girl, will have the catheters she needs for the next several months.


One of my friends, Lillian, contacted a doctor she knows. The doctor, Jean, wanted to talk to me. She has medical supplies and a contact in Seattle for more. I asked Lisa Campbell, Do Your Part's Executive Director and the project manager in Greece, what items would be on a wish list for the medical people currently volunteering at the community center. Lisa said:
  • Durable equipment: blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, otoscopes, pulse oximeters
  • Prenatal vitamins - have to be halal for Muslim women
  • Solar anything, especially phone chargers
  • The Hellenic Midwives Association is in need of a portable ultrasound machine
I will be meeting up with Jean next week to see what she and the Seattle contact can provide. I am keeping a mental eye on the size of my extra suitcase. Jean also suggested I contact Philips, which has a facility near where I live, to see if they'd be willing to donate a portable ultrasound machine.

Then I posted this Facebook message:

Another request for my upcoming trip to Greece. There is a volunteer group of Greek midwives working with Do Your Part at the community center. They need a portable ultrasound machine. Does anyone know anyone who works at Philips who might have a name I could contact to request a donation?

Most unexpectedly, this morning I heard from a member of my spiritual congregation, who asked me how much the ultrasound machine would cost. I found one on eBay and told him the price. Then he wrote - and this is probably one of the great honors of my life - "Linda - imagine we could easily raise that amount based on the strength of your reputation and commitment to these people."

That may happen, or it may not, but I will remember my friend's words for the rest of my life.

So, my extra suitcase will hold medical supplies this time. And two bags of McD coffee for my friend Lisa. And whatever other surprises may come along.

I had been a bit nervous about this next trip because the circumstances in Greece are different from when I was there last, and because this time I am going alone. But the hearts I am taking along with me in the form of their gifts have pretty much dissolved my unease.

We are all in this together! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The gladness and the grief of rightsizing

The rightsizing continues at our place near Seattle. Some of the experience has been just excellent.

On the recommendation of Penni, our decluttering coach, my husband Art and I have agreed on who will be responsible for each area of our house, inside and outside and room by room. The agreement is that we will leave each other alone while we are doing this, offering advice only when asked. For the most part both of us have complied with that agreement.

Art decided to move unwanted items to the graveled parking area by our driveway. He hauled things from the garage and the basement and the shed behind the house. He spray painted a "Free" sign. Most things get taken within a week or so. If they don't, they go to Goodwill or the dump. 

I do my part a little differently. I discovered a Facebook group called Buy Nothing [Your Town]. For us, it's Buy Nothing Brier. I put the item I want to give away on a neutral surface, take a picture with my phone, send the picture to my desktop, and post it to the Buy Nothing Brier Facebook page with a brief note. I have done that about 75 times in the last month. Within minutes or hours, one or several people (in one case, 24 people!) express an interest. I give the recipient-to-be my address and put the item on the front porch to be picked up. I like that because I don't have to talk to the recipient and they don't have to talk to me. It's very efficient.

For example, I am finishing up with the cleanout of the toy closet. Here's what I posted today on Buy Nothing Brier:

Matchbox cars and vehicles. Ann said, "I would love these for my grandson."

Stuffed animals and dolls - Terry said, "Please consider me for the light blue baby doll."

Tutus - Jennifer said, "My girls would love to put these to good use."

I put everything out on the front porch, and by this evening it had all been picked up. I'm happy that other children and grandchildren will be enjoying these things that have been living in a closet in our house for the last five or ten years.

That's the gladness part.

Back in 1995 Art and I bought a hot tub. We had several teenagers still at home at that time and it seemed like a good idea. I remember it was 1995 because while we were preparing the lower deck we were listening on the radio to the Seattle Mariners in the playoffs. That doesn't happen often. We used the hot tub for about ten years and then got out of the habit - mostly because no one wanted to do the maintenance on the water, and someone at our house didn't want to pay to have it done.

This year we decided to get rid of the hot tub. It had developed some bubbles in the fiberglass and the hot tub guy said repairing it would be expensive. He offered to cut it up and haul the pieces away for $400. I thought that was a good idea. Art didn't. He wanted to roll it out to the front parking area and see if someone wanted a free hot tub.

Art is 75 years old. He has an artificial hip and an artificial knee and a pacemaker/defibrillator. I was his caregiver during his joint replacement recovery, and his life saver when he had his cardiac arrest four years ago. I did not want another event.  I told Art it was not okay with me for him to handle the hot tub alone. He ignored me. We had quite a heated argument that verged on the nasty.  

I came home from running errands on Friday. The hot tub was on its side at the bottom of the driveway with a piece of wood bracing it.

I looked around for Art and didn't find him lying on the ground anywhere. He was taking a break in the basement (we're having a heat wave this week).  I texted my son James and said Art could use some help. James and his friend Joel arrived within ten minutes to finish the job.

The hot tub was moved to the graveled area, labeled with a "free" sign. Two neighbors immediately expressed an interest.

I am reminded once again that when Art sets his mind to do something, there is nothing I can do about it. More than once in the recent past he has gone up a tree with a chain saw to take care of an errant branch or the entire upper section of a tree. I'll say, "I'm scared to see you doing that," and he will say, "Then go in the house."

Really, I am powerless over the choices of other people. That gives me grief.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A man, a dog, and a scooter

I've always owned cats. In my mind, they don't require much more than food and water and a clean litter box. In return, they keep pretty good - though independent - company.

Many of my neighbors own dogs. I see them especially in the morning during my walk, and in the evening from my bay window or my driveway, for two hours or so before dark. There they are - purebreds and mutts, little guys and behemoths, grizzled elders and manic pups. At the ends of their leashes are their owners, who walk singly or in pairs, with or without kids or strollers. What all the owners have in common is a plastic bag for what we used to call "dog doo" - as in, "Mom, I stepped in dog doo." That was in the days before the plastic bags.

I've mentioned before that my husband Art and I are decluttering and rightsizing our house, garage, underdecks and shed. For the most part, I take pictures of what I'm letting go of and post them on a Facebook page called "Buy Nothing Brier." Usually someone expresses an interest, I give them my address, and they come by to pick up their treasure on our front porch. Art's method is to put the items in our gravel parking area behind a hand-painted "FREE" sign. We've agreed that if something isn't taken in a week, we will dispose of it in another way.

So Art had been storing two scooters in the shed. I don't know how or when he acquired them, and I know they've never been used by anyone in our family. He just now said, "I got them at two different times. Maybe at a garage sale." He put the scooters out in the gravel area almost two weeks ago but neither of us had gotten around to taking them to Goodwill.

This evening I cleaned out the litter box and was taking the bag to the trash can at the curb. A man was walking past the driveway. In his right hand was the handle of his golden retriever's leash. Slung over his left shoulder was the blue scooter.

The man grinned at me. "Okay if I take this scooter?"

"Sure." I said.

"I'm expecting a son next Wednesday and I'd like to fix it up for him."

I congratulated him and asked if this was his first child. He said yes. I asked if he was nervous. He grinned again. "Yes."

I said, "You know, you could take the other scooter too. The wheels on that one are in a little better shape."

"Nah, it's pink. I'll pick up more wheels. I just want the frame of the scooter. You know, I used to ride a scooter just like this when I was a kid."

I waved as they walked on, thinking about the baby boy being born next Wednesday. He has a cool dad.

I'm quite a bit older than the young man walking his dog, so the scooters of my childhood looked different, but I still remember the pleasure of the ride. I'm glad we didn't get around a drive to Goodwill.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Two sets of plane tickets

I'm a frequent traveler, but so far this summer I've been mostly staying at home, preparing to rightsize and then maybe sell our Washington house. It's kept me busy since we got home in April. Now I think I'm ready to move forward on other fronts.

I serve on the board of directors of Do Your Part, an American nonprofit currently working in Greece with refugees. For a year and a half DYP managed the camp at Oinofyta. Then, in November of last year, the government shut down the camp. The volunteer groups serving the camp had less than a week to remove all the supplies and dismantle all the amenities that had helped residents of the camp become a community in spite of their tragic and frustrating circumstances. 

During the winter DYP rented a building in the nearby village of Dilesi to create a Community Center for refugees and to accommodate Oinofyta Wares, the tailor shop created at the camp. More than half a dozen tailors set up shop to make bags of various sizes from canvas tents the residents had lived in during the camp's first months, and from donated clothing, and from dismantled cots. 

In March 2018 the government reopened the Oinofyta camp. Because it was to be "temporary", few services were provided. Do Your Part did not return to work in the camp, but talked to residents to assess their needs. Since then, the Community Center in Dilesi has become a support and respite site. MobileDoc comes once a week to take care of medical needs; lawyers volunteer every other week to help residents with asylum issues; some children are taking classes; women can spend a few hours in a friendly place. DYP also distributes donated food and hygiene supplies. 

I have not seen the Community Center, which was created since I was in Greece last August. So Lisa, DYP's executive director and the driving force behind the project in Greece, asked me to come for two weeks in August, to see how it operates and to manage it for a week after she returns to the US.

I knew the chances were good that I'd be going back, but I didn't know when, or for how long, until last week. August 21 to September 15. So I've bought my tickets and will fly through Frankfurt on Lufthansa Airlines - a new one for me.

And the second set of tickets?

On my trip to the Northern Lights, I met a woman who lives about half an hour from my Tucson home. When we got home, she and I met for lunch several times. Her husband is a bit older than she is, and doesn't want to travel as much as she does these days. And my husband is a bit older than I am, and doesn't want to travel as much as I still do. So my new friend and I decided to take a trip together to see how we do as travel companions. After some discussion, we decided on three requirements: (1) Our destination should be a place neither of us has ever been. That ruled out the Baltic countries (she has been there) and Iceland (I was there in 2005). (2) It can't be hot, especially if it's humid. (3) It has to be a place where neither of our husbands want to go, since we'd go with them.

We arrived at three first-travel possibilities: Toronto (a weeklong Road Scholar trip to experience the religions of the world); Morocco; and Patagonia. We settled on Toronto, not because of the destination but because of our curiosity about the topic and the slightly shorter trip duration.

Both of us are organized planners, so we kind of delegated who would do what. My friend watched airfares and found a good one just yesterday. She used her credit card for both of us and I will write her a check.

So I'm traveling again! 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Bag Lady releases some stress

I got so stressed last week that my asthma got worse. 

Here's what's been happening:
  • I am a Unitarian Universalist and that affiliation is strong on social justice. Members of my congregation have been protesting for the last six weeks as part of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Campaign for Moral Revival. One week I participated in the protest in Olympia, the state capital. And last Tuesday I took the bus to the King County Jail in Seattle to be a "moral witness" for four people I know who were arrested last week for "pedestrian interference" - they blocked a downtown Seattle intersection by lying in the street to protest racism, poverty, and other enormous interrelated social issues.  In my entire life I have never been an activist.
  • We live in politically disruptive times, and I am a Facebook reader. I have ridden the ups and downs of the laments and accusations and rudenesses from both the right and the left. I have begun to hide the most distressing posts, which come from a few of my friends on both ends of the political spectrum and which are often accompanied by comments so nasty I wonder what happened to civility. On both sides. I am also a CNN checker, so I see the latest opinions from the "ain't it awful" side and from the "this is so great" side. Reading these online things have wound me into a state of agitation and dread. 
  • On the home front, my husband Art and I are decluttering and rightsizing, donating and giving away to neighbors, deciding what we might need if we move to an apartment or if we buy a bigger Tucson place in a year or if we rent out our Washington house in the winter. What do we need? What do we have a hard time leaving behind? Do we need to rent a storage unit for the short term? Do I have room for our stoneware in our Tucson place?
  • Also at home, our son Peter is moving out this week, to his own place. He's been with us for three years, since he started nursing school, and he's now solidly employed at a regional hospital. This will be the first time in five years that it will be just Art and me in our house. It will be up to us to do the yard maintenance and the care of our edible garden. 
  • We've been holding our summer open for a possible return to Greece, to volunteer again for Do Your Part. That nonprofit managed the Oinofyta refugee camp for a year and a half before it closed in November. The government reopened the camp in March, and Do Your Part now operates a tailor shop and community center about five miles away, providing services to the camp residents such as distribution of supplies, respite for women, school for kids, and conversational Greek lessons. Do Your Part now operates on a shoestring budget; the refugee crisis is still there, but the eyes of the world have turned to other emergencies. I told Lisa, the director of Do Your Part, that I would go back if I was needed. I learned yesterday that I'll most likely be returning to Greece in late August. 

Too much, too much for my brain, and for my body. So I made a few decisions:
  • There were a number of demonstrations yesterday about the issue of children being separated from their parents at the border. I didn't go to any of them. I read a book and talked to a friend on the phone instead.
  • I'm blocking political posts on Facebook.
  • I'm reading the Washington Post summary that arrives each day via email and making an effort to stay away from CNN.
  • Art and I are finishing our decluttering and rightsizing this summer, but we won't put our house on the market until next string. We'll rent out the house for the winter so it can be cared for. That will free us from a bunch of summer chaos.
  • I'm doing some breathing and some meditating.
  • I'm taking baths with Life with Two Angels Bath Bombs and water as hot as I can stand it.
  • I'm reading actual books.
I am accepting that I can't do everything, be everything. That I won't be of any use unless I take care of myself first. This is not a revelation to me. But it is becoming a commitment.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rightsizing: a paradigm shift

Just about exactly a year ago I wrote a post called "Downsizing: a difference of opinion". I talked about our big house, our eight kids grown and gone, icy stairs and driveways to fall on, and the "stuff" we've accumulated. You can read that blog post here.

A lot remains the same now, a year later. But there are changes in the wind.

When we got back from Tucson in April, after five months away, we were very aware of how much the traffic has increased in the Seattle. How many apartments are being built, without a corresponding expansion of the road system. Real estate values are sky high - "a new Silicon Valley" is one description I've heard - and some people have even been priced out of the rental market, contributing to the homeless situation. In the parking lot of my church there are nine spaces reserved at night for women - with or without children - living in their cars. We provide a safe place to sleep and shower.

It doesn't feel much like home here now.

So I started exploring the possibility of a move. At first I looked at downsizing to a smaller house in this area, or a condo, but it's all expensive. Then I thought about an apartment for a year or so. Art and I looked at several and found one we like. But we'd have to sign a 13-month lease even though we'd be gone for five months of that time. And the apartment rent is a bit higher than our mortgage! Also, parking is an issue, as are roads getting to the complex from the congested freeway. Still, it's an option.

Then we began talking about a full-time move to Tucson. We already have our little place there, furnished and equipped with everything we need and want. And, close by in the same 55+ resort are manufactured homes, quite a bit larger and much, much cheaper than anything here in Washington.

We could do that. In the current housing market our place would sell quickly and for almost four times as much as we paid for it 23 years ago. But we'd have to get rid of our "stuff" - if not before we put the house on the market, then before escrow closed six weeks later and we had to move.

I called Rhys, a real estate agent who goes to my church. He came over for a walkthrough. We were encouraged, though daunted by the magnitude of the getting-ready-to-sell part. He recommended a friend who is a decluttering coach. I made an appointment. Penni came over today and spent two hours with us.

Oh, my goodness. She had fabulous ideas. A strategy to help Art overcome his reluctance to rehoming or disposing of his possessions. A suggested order for doing things, and which of us would be responsible for what. By the time she left, Art was smiling and so was I.

With this plan in place, Art and I have committed to work on "right sizing" for two hours a day. It will take the time it takes. It will take calling 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, and hiring someone to go to the dump multiple, multiple times, and putting a "free" sign in the parking areas, and donating to Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity, and asking family and friends if they want anything, and finding a company that does estate sales.

Most likely our house won't go on the market until next spring. But when I made that prognostication to Art tonight he said, "Maybe sooner."

Maybe! With this paradigm shift, it's possible.