Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Another case of synchronicity: where I'm going in August

When I was in college in California in the 60s, my parents lived on Oahu. I spent a couple of summers there. I acted in a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan musicals in the community of Kailua. That was where I met Jenean, a local girl also in the cast. She was 16 and I was 19 and we became good friends, sharing laughs and dreams and "deep conversations". Years later I lost my address book in one of my moves, and Jenean's information was among the missing. Two years ago, while vacationing on Hawaii, I suddenly remembered the unusual spelling of Jenean's name. I looked her up on Facebook. She now lives in the Bay Area and works for Facebook! We had a long FB conversation and decided to get together when she traveled to Tacoma, where her mother currently lives. So far, that hasn't happened.

Several years ago I hosted a couchsurfer named Stacey, who lives in Fairfield, Iowa. Stacey was traveling up the West Coast looking for venues to display her artwork. My husband Art was out of town, so Stacey and I spent a couple of evenings talking at our dining room table. A year or so later, Art and I took a road trip to Iowa and Stacey hosted us in her beautiful off-the-grid place. We became Facebook friends soon after.

Last September Art and I took a trip to Eastern Europe. Our travel plans happened to intersect, in Budapest and Salzburg, with many refugees from Syria and other countries. You can read about those encounters here:

When we got back, I couldn't get those refugees out of my mind. I wondered if I was supposed to help refugees in some way, whether as a mediator or otherwise. When we were in Tucson I looked for opportunities to help Mexican immigrants, but didn't find any that were a good fit.

At the same time, Stacey was posting about her experiences working as a volunteer in Lesvos, Greece. Stacey is a second-generation Greek-American so I'm pretty sure that's why she was there.

So. One evening last weekend I was on Facebook and I noticed that Jenean was online. I asked her what was up and she said, "I've just finished making my travel arrangements for a weeklong trip to Lesvos, Greece in August. I feel like I'm being called to help there as a volunteer."

I remembered the refugees I'd seen. Without my usual thoughtful caution I said, "Can I go with you?" Jenean said yes, that I was the only one she had told who had asked if they could go.

I asked Jenean where she was planning on volunteering. I know the refugee situation in Greece is pretty fluid, and I wanted to be reasonably certain we wouldn't just be turning up on Lesvos hoping to find some refugees to help. Jenean said she'd heard from a friend about an organization there called "Dirty Girls", where volunteers are washing the clothes and blankets of the arriving refugees. She thought that would be a good place to start inquiring. I suggested she friend Stacey on Facebook. Within five minutes, the two of them were friends.

I found the Dirty Girls Facebook page. And scrolling down, who should I see smiling from the page but my friend Stacey!

Good grief!

I messaged Stacey and told her what Jenean and I had in mind. I asked how we could volunteer. Stacey suggested I friend Alison, the founder of Dirty Girls. So I did.

My plan is to meet Jenean in Paris and fly on to Athens and then Lesvos. We'll have a car and a comfortable place to sleep at night. We'll be there for a little less than a week. It will be hot and humid - my least favorite kind of weather - but I can do anything for a short time. Besides, the refugees have no choice.

This is about the least-planned trip I've ever taken. I guess I'm learning to trust the process.

I guess Jenean and I will have plenty of time to catch up!

Synchronicity usually means I'm supposed to learn and grow. So, once again, I'll say yes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Up in the air

That's where I am now, literally. Due east of Redding, California and due south of Boise, Idaho. Left home in Tucson this morning and going home to Seattle this afternoon.

Someone asked me last week, "Which home do you like best?" I answered right away. "We love them both."

In each place we have a place we love and people we love. Friends and activities. Twelve-step meetings.

And the Internet. For finding out what's going on in the world and at the home we're not at. For staying in touch in real time. For online ordering of what we need, which will be waiting for us at our appropriate address. For streaming Netflix and reading blogs and texting. For taking online classes. For playing Candy Crush (I'm now on level 1526, which is synched among my phone, laptop and Kindle).

In Tucson, we have blue skies and sunshine most days. In Brier we have beautiful green and a fruit and vegetable garden. In Tucson we have doves and in Brier we have crows. In Tucson, we have friends. In Brier we have friends and family. It's flat in Tucson and hilly in Brier.

We have Larisa the Designer Cat in both places. Wonderful food (Art's the shopper and the cook) in both places.  A comfortable bed in both places.

We're ready to go home. It's warming up a bit in Tucson, and the rain is lightening up in Brier. We found the sweet spot!

Our time in Tucson was rich and rewarding. I expect our time in Brier will be good. I am blessed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What? I'm not bored?

It's been three weeks since most activities ended at our winter community in Tucson. Nearly all of the seasonal residents - including most of our friends - have left for home in places like Wisconsin, Washington, Michigan and Oregon.

So why are we still here?
  • We want to stay in Arizona long enough to avoid most of the seasonal rain in Washington. But we don't want to broil while we're waiting. We figured April 20 - a week from tomorrow - would be a reasonable day to leave. The weather is still pleasant here; the thermometer has hit 90 degrees only once, and that was last month. Alaska Airlines is picking us up next Wednesday at the airport, and we'll land at our home airport - SeaTac - about three hours later.
  • Off season is quite different, with lots of quiet and little traffic. Fewer voices on the street, fewer cars in driveways, no waiting for a seat in the restaurant. Mostly I hear birds celebrating spring. I'm watching a pair of quails building a nest in a palm tree just off our deck and right at eye level. I hear occasional jets from the air force base, and trains on the dual tracks by the interstate. Nothing rushed, though, or very noisy. It's nice to be here in this quiet time.
And what are we doing?
  • We had a few things we wanted to do around our little place this season, but we were both so busy with Oklahoma! - Art was in the cast and I was responsible for ticket sales - that we didn't have the time or energy to get to them. Now the shelving has been put up in the new shed and the old, falling-apart shed has been relieved of its storage responsibility and dismantled. We've moved a bookcase to the shed and agreed that next year we'll change out a few lamps in the Arizona room, move the recycle boxes to the laundry room and replace the TV table that came with our park model with something more functional and visually appealing. We'll buy a couple of silk plants to disguise the electrical cords.
  • I've scheduled appointments at home for next week and beyond. Haircuts, massages, mediation workshops, lunches with Washington friends. 
  • I'm looking at ways of modifying my exercise routines. I've been doing water exercise for three years, but I find it's not aerobic enough. I'll need to walk on the hills in our neighborhood at home or ride my bicycle. There is one water class, two days a week, that emphasizes balance and strength, and I'll probably continue to do that. We've made a decision to sign up for a Road Scholar program next year to walk portions of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It will be in May or October - and I want to be fit enough to do that without being too tired or footsore in the evenings. 
  • I'm writing. I now have enough blocks of time to work most days on my next book. So far it's called "Why We Travel: A Love Story." In the current quiet, my mind is opening back up to all our times away. The memories are clear and draw me back into this work. 
  • We're reading. Magazines left over from last year. Brene Brown's book "Rising Strong" as I finish up her online course. "The Poet of Tolstoy Park", aloud to Art at night before we go to sleep. John Shelby Spong's latest book for my spiritual reading. And Art is reading mystery and espionage as Larisa the Designer Cat sleeps next to him on the back of the sofa.
  • We're riding our bicycles in the park. 
  • We're watching "The Americans" via Netflix DVD most evenings. We finished "House of Cards" and "The Good Wife". Last week we watched "Field of Dreams" again - one of my all-time favorites - and "The Intern". 
We have a lovely, quiet calm routine. Until next week. Then we'll be home, reentering the activities we love there.

Nope. I'm not bored!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

End-of-season gratitudes

With two weeks left before we return to Seattle, I'm sitting here full of gratitude. Here's my list:

1. The outside is just beyond the screen door. I can hear doves and the Corinthian chimes on our deck. Most of the neighbors have left already. It is quiet. So quiet. No road noise, no voices. I get to sit here in all this peace.

2. The temperature hit 90 yesterday and I was okay with it. As a matter of fact, it was 86 inside and we never turned on the air conditioner. It was more pleasant to leave the doors open for the outside sounds. I am finally, finally becoming acclimatized to dry desert heat.

3. I got a massage this morning. I get to do that every week.

4. I met this afternoon with the director and the production coordinator for next year's Voyager Light Opera Company musical, "Anything Goes." We're working on the budget because I'm doing the production finances next year. It is very good to be useful in a project I love.

5. I got a text from my friend Marion. Her husband Mike broke his wrist playing pickleball last week. Marion drove the 1400 miles from here to Oregon. They arrived home today. She said, "I miss you already." Marion and I and our friend Pete started a new 12-step meeting here this year, for friends and families of people afflicted with addiction. We got to make a difference in our winter community.

6. My friend Tamara posted one of her usual thoughtful pieces so I know she and her husband Tim made it back to Wisconsin.

7. I watched "Field of Dreams" last night with my husband Art. It's one of my all-time favorites.

8. I get to have lunch today with my good friend Joan, a sister of my heart.

9.  People ask if we're glad to be going home. I say, "We love both our places." We feel so fortunate to be able to say that.

10. I read it was sunny in Seattle yesterday, so I think our garden will be ready to plant when we get home.

I am a fortunate woman.

Monday, March 28, 2016

All of a sudden, they're gone

We've been busy this winter in Tucson.

I took water aerobics at 8 a.m. three days a week. I played handbells on Tuesday, in preparation for three performances during the season. We had 12-step meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings; one of those groups was new this year, started by me and two other people. On Wednesday I went to current events; the people in this group are a lively, politically diverse bunch, and we have learned to respect each other. Thursday was Great Decisions (a foreign affairs discussion group); I was the facilitator for this group for the third year.

Art had a lead role in our resort's Voyager Light Opera Company production of Oklahoma!, so he had rehearsals on Monday and Thursday afternoons, and spent lots of extra time working on his role, both alone and with others.

I was responsible for setting up and supervising a box office for Oklahoma! ticket sales. We recruited 15 volunteers to staff the box office for two months, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. We sold nearly 900 tickets from that box office. Art deposited the money at the end of each shift in the bank branch on the resort.

I'm also taking an online class by Brene Brown. And there is the usual grocery shopping, haircuts, pedicures, lunches out, a movie, visits with friends on the other side of Tucson, trips to the dentist in Nogales, Mexico.

During the three-month high season, we interacted with multiple people every day. Some of them became our friends. We bonded over common activities or common interests. The bonding happens quickly in our winter home.

Then came the end-of-season potlucks. We went to four of them. People say when they'll be leaving the park for home. Kathy said, "I usually stay into April, but I'm going home early so I can spend Easter with my family." JoAnne said, "We were planning on leaving next Monday, but we ran out of propane and the next delivery isn't until Tuesday, so we're going home tomorrow." Our neighbor Carl, who heads up the group that sets up chairs for the large events in the ballroom, said, "We're leaving on Wednesday." Marion said, "We're taking the long way home so we can see Bryce and Zion National Parks." The talk and laughter swirls around the tables as we celebrate another season together. 

And then Kathy isn't in water aerobics. And Dick and JoAnne's park model is dark when we walk their street at sunset. And Carl's car is covered in his carport. Our friends Marion and Mike leave on Monday. All of a sudden, they're gone. 

On April 21, someone will walk by our place on 4th Street and notice the blinds drawn and the deck furniture and bicycles put away. Because we'll be gone.

Until next year.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The man from "Oklahoma!" speaks

When I was in high school I played Liesl in "The Sound of Music" and was in the cast of "Camelot" and Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians".  In college I minored in drama and traveled to England to study theatre and see some of the world's finest actors. During college summers I performed in community theatre musicals. After college I directed a high school play and assisted directed a community college play. That was over 40 years ago. Participating in a theatrical production is a labor- and energy-intensive experience. Totally exhausting and exhilarating.

My husband Art had no theatre experience until last year, when he was cast as a gambler in "Guys and Dolls" at the Voyager RV Resort, where we live in the winter. He had two lines. He got that part without an audition, after we had already returned home to Seattle.

Two weeks after "Guys and Dolls" ended, Art auditioned for a part in "Oklahoma!", which was this year's production. He was cast as Will Parker - one of the three male leads. The play ran last week for two nights. Over 400 people attended each performance.

As it happens, we're now on a road trip to the real Oklahoma to attend a family wedding. After we settled into our motel room tonight, I asked Art to tell me how he got into acting. Here's his story.


It was seeing "Pirates of Penzance" two winters ago at our park. You said, "You could do that. Would you like to try it?" And I said, "I suppose I can try." So I put my name on a list.

That summer the director sent me a notice saying that I was in the play "Guys and Dolls" and I was Angie the Ox. They sent me the script. It didn't look too bad. I only had two lines. I saw there were a bunch of songs I had to learn.

We got to the park in December and they had already started practicing. So we got the movie from Netflix so I could see what it was about. It was Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. They had a lot of dancing in that one.They always have more dancing in the movies. And they had more verses to the songs. I'm glad our play didn't have all the verses. So I got to see where things were, but I didn't know who I was!

We met with Al, the director. He took over because the original director had some personal problems and had to go home. So everybody welcomed me and showed me how to, you know, write in pencil on the script where we enter and where we leave the stage. So we could practice that.

The practicing went on for a couple of months, but it was a little frustrating because the director kept changing the blocking and we never knew which set of blocking they wanted to do on a specific day.

We had practice three times a week and there was, you know, camaraderie with the people in the play. I could see that the main stars had a lot of lines. I was glad I had just two, because I was having trouble with them!

Anyway, the play came off as a big hit. I thought one of the best things about it was Kathy and Mac doing the Spanish dance. It was really outstanding.

After "Guys and Dolls" was over they had a day for tryouts for "Oklahoma!", the next year's play, and I went down to the rehearsal room and there was hardly anybody there. Maybe two other people. Diane, the new director, was there with Dee, the stage manager. They gave me a script and wanted me to read it. And then to sing something. I don't remember what I sang. Maybe I sang the humility song. I don't know.

In July we got notification of our parts, along with the script and the CDs. And it was real scary, because instead of 2 lines I had 43, plus a solo and a duet.  I had the CD for the songs. They were pretty easy to learn because I had the CD in the car and whenever I went anywhere I got to learn it along with everybody else who was riding with me!

I tried to learn the lines but I didn't quite follow what was going on in the story. We went on the internet and watched the play version on uTube so I could get the story line. There was a lot more dancing in the play. I didn't think I was going to be able to do the part.

We got to the park in December and they had already been practicing for a month. I knew the songs fairly well but I was really strung out on the lines. The director gave me a URL of a site to learn how to learn my lines, and the only thing I didn't do was do flashcards.

We practiced a few times with the scripts so that we could read the lines rather than trying to go from memory. But some of the cast members had their lines down pat already, so I had to practice. In January I'd wake up in the middle of the night and try to go over the lines.

People were quitting right and left. I told one of the guys that I knew from the year before, "I don't think I'm going to make it. I'm having troubles with the lines." And he said, "Well, you can't quit. You're the only one with a bad enough voice to sing Will's solo." (laughs) So we just did practice and more practice. We rented the original film of "Oklahoma!" And it was a lot better, and I could see my part and what they were doing a lot better than the newer version. But I was still waiting for all the women, so I could grab them and kiss them like they did in the movie, which wasn't even in our script!

Some of the cast were just outstanding, and some other people had trouble with their lines. Everybody was helping everybody, and some people stepped in when others couldn't remember their lines. And it was just amazing that they could pick it up. From the first practice I saw that Mary, who played Ado Annie and was with me on the duet, was just outstanding. I found out later that she had done a lot of chorus line work, but this was a big step up for her because she had a part with words!

Two weeks before the show people started getting sick, which wasn't a good sign. People were missing practice because they were deathly ill. But the director hit upon the spots where we were really weak, and boosted them up. And the thing started really to jell, and then we started having fun.

I thought I was the only one who was messing up my lines, but the closer we got to the days of the play, the more people started dropping their lines. But when it came to opening night, they just seemed to get into it. I know that me and Ado Annie were practicing two or three times a week to get down our parts.

The opening night was a little scary because we hadn't practiced that much on the stage and people were kind of bumping into each other. We had been working in another room because the room with the stage wasn't available until the last two weeks before the play. But it came off okay. (laughs). Friday night, though, everything just came together from all directions, and everything was just in shape. Yeah. Everybody was just having so much fun, and the "oops" that we had on Thursday night were taken care of and people knew what they had done and it was ironed out. It was really something else. A lot of fun.

Tryouts for next year's production are next week. Art will be there.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sometimes we need to wait

When the Voyager RV Resort (the park where we live in the winter) came into being back in the 80s, internet access was not an issue. But in recent years, adequate internet service has been an ongoing problem. Before wireless internet was available, we were told that faster internet would require the installation of eight miles of T-1 lines, which would be prohibitively expensive.

For many of the 3,000+ snowbirds who live here in the winter, slow internet service is almost a deal breaker. The service in our park model (trailer) was pretty good for our first three winters here. But we're most likely in a fortuitous location, because I have friends whose service was so bad they had to take their laptops or tablets to the lobby of the on-site restaurant to access the internet. The situation was especially difficult for those who work from their RV or park model.

When we arrived in December there was a lot of aggravated chatter in the park's email and Facebook groups about the inadequacy of the internet service. Some unkind remarks were directed at the park manager and the internet provider, Jabba Communications, because the Voyager currently has a contract provision with Jabba that no other company can install equipment inside the park. Several people threatened to notify the FCC. Finally, in early February, a competitor, Bluespan, was allowed in the park, because they were not installing "equipment" as defined in the Jabba contract. Now we have a choice of two wireless internet providers - Bluespan and Jabba - and people are happy.

Sometimes we need to wait for technology to catch up with our needs.

We called the Bluespan people and they installed a device on our roof. The technician, Steve, told me we needed a new router to optimize the service to the two laptops, two Kindles, two phones and one television in our 620-square-foot park model. I set off for Target to acquire a Netgear 600 router.

As usual, I wandered around in the electronics section, hoping for a knowledgeable employee to appear. A young woman approached. "Can I help you?" I told her what I needed and she led me to the correct shelf. She told me what a router does, and the differences between the various Netgear models. I understood exactly what she said, in contrast to what the tech guy, Steve, had told me, which sounded like a long, rapid string of some indecipherable language ending with "you need a Netgear 600 router."

I asked the young woman her name - "Jessica" - and told her I was impressed with how well she had explained the technical stuff to me. "Well," she said, "I am a geek at heart." I told her I'm always impressed when I'm helped by a knowledgeable woman - especially in electronics departments and hardware stores! She laughed. "I have a troop of young Girl Scouts, and I'm introducing them to STEM so they can learn to be independent."

(My Google search tells me that "STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education. We focus on these areas together not only because the skills and knowledge in each discipline are essential for student success, but also because these fields are deeply intertwined in the real world and in how students learn most effectively.")

I was impressed and gratified that Jessica will have such a positive impact on her Girl Scout troop. And glad she consented to have me take her picture as she sold me the router.


I'm feeling very good about the Voyager and Bluespan. And I'm feeling great about Jessica and others like her who are guiding and encouraging girls to become competent, independent women.

I'm thinking we've waited long enough.