Tuesday, December 12, 2017

He used to be shy!

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

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


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





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

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

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






All the world's a stage, I guess.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

It's not quite time to decorate

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

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

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

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

Tis the Season!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Making a few changes

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Bag Lady's week in review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Snowbirds again!

We've only been here in Tucson for a week, but it seems like longer. Voyager RV Resort, where we have lived for the past five winters, is deeply familiar. It's like I think a small town would be. I walk to everywhere. I wave or say hello to people I pass. Each year I make new friends. I think I know as many people here as I do at home in Washington State, where I have lived for 30 years. The Voyager is that kind of place. People from all over North America spend their winters here; in high season - January to March - there are about 3500 of us. I call it "camp for grandmas". It is a fun place.

We live in a park model (trailer) with an Arizona room - kind of like a screened-in porch, but with walls. 620 square feet plus a carport. And it is plenty of room for us. Our place in Washington, more than three times larger, is challenging to maintain. 

We came a bit earlier this year because both Art and I have been cast in one-act plays, and rehearsals started Monday. So did handbell practice. We only do these things during the winter. And current events discussions, and dinner with friends, and bicycle rides. And gorgeous sunsets, and quiet nights.

Though we are physically in Tucson, we are tethered in our hearts and minds to our home in Washington and to Oinofyta, Greece. That's one of the great things about technology. We know what's going on in both other places. On Monday night I streamed an event to my laptop that was happening in Seattle. Each morning I read on Facebook what's happening in Greece. I may be a snowbird but I am still in my other places too, paying attention.

We got here on Wednesday. On Friday it snowed in Seattle. Just in time!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Taking care of business

My son-in-law Scott prides himself on his efficiency. On one visit we were talking about time management. I said I spent about an hour a day on paperwork. Scott said, "Oh, you just do it once a week for a couple of hours and then you're done with it."

Really? I can't imagine. Scott is 30 years younger than me but I don't think I've slowed down THAT much. Maybe it's that he has one grown child and we have eight. Maybe it's that he has a dog and we have a cat. That he lives in San Diego and we live in Seattle. That he has an enormous, diverse music collection and I don't. That he doesn't play Candy Crush.

Anyway, my husband Art and I are leaving for Tucson in five days, where we'll live until April. I'm trying to get it all done, paperwork and otherwise. And it will take a LOT longer than a couple of hours.

For one thing, I'm the bookkeeper for Do Your Part, the nonprofit I volunteer for, and last year we had about an eight hundred percent increase in revenue and expenses because of the refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece. So instead of filing a postcard with the IRS, we have to file a GINORMOUS, INTIMIDATING FORM 990. We hired a CPA to help, but even so, it's taken me many hours to get ready. I just became the bookkeeper a year ago, and the previous person wasn't available, so I had to do a major research project to get the numbers I needed. Ordinarily I enjoy a challenge, but this was beyond the pale. I think I'm about finished but I have sent at least four less-than-kind emails to a couple of the other volunteers who had information I needed but were busy doing other things.

A couple of friends said, "Well, if it's that frustrating, don't do it again this year." Are you kidding? I've got it figured out now! That's what I tell myself. Besides, I am completely committed to Do Your Part, however I am needed.

I'm also taking care of our personal paperwork. Change our address for Netflix and Blue Apron. Cancel one of the papers but not the other since son Peter wants to read the Seattle Times while we're gone. Start the Tucson paper and Bluespan. Change the car and truck insurance. Get the passports out of the safe (we have a dentist two blocks on the other side of the Mexican border).

And some other things. Make arrangements for a Lyft ride to the airport for a 7:30 a.m. flight on Wednesday. Make sure I have a tranquilizer for Larisa, our Designer Cat, who will ride under the seat in front of me in a soft-sided carrier. Finish going through my closet to pull out the rest of the clothes going to Goodwill so we can take the maximum deduction for this year.

And several of our family members have hiccups in their lives right now, which pulls our thoughts and hearts toward them.

Anyway, my next post will be from Tucson. We'll be in our 620 square foot trailer instead of our family home. In the sun!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Comes the rain

The Washington rains usually start in October, after a wonderful long and dry summer. While the sun is shining then, I rejoice to live in the Pacific Northwest. Even though, for the last two years, I've spent much of the season elsewhere.

My husband Art and I have a small winter place in Tucson. The date we leave for Arizona each year isn't decided too long in advance. It depends upon when the rain arrives. This year it was Monday of this week - a wild and windy four days that included our first power outage of the season. On Tuesday I made our flight arrangements. Within two weeks we'll be gone.

I've made plans to have lunch or coffee with friends most days between now and November 1. I call these special women "sisters of my heart", and I miss them when we're gone. I'll look forward to the last two congregational services, this week and next, where I share time with like-minded others. I'll be running errands: taking old eyeglasses to an optometrist's office to be donated to the Lions Club; recycling a broken Kindle and a worn-out iPhone; picking up prescriptions and getting my flu shot. I've got reminders on my calendar to cancel the paper in Seattle and start it up in Tucson, change the car insurance to put the Washington car in storage and take the Arizona car out, change the address on our Blue Apron and Netflix accounts.

We've already got plans for Tucson: a friend waiting in the cell phone lot, dinner that night with friends, play rehearsals that begin the next day, hair appointment with my "dry climate" stylist, massages. High season - when many of the activities start - begins in January, but the slower autumn pace is relaxing too. And, after three days, neither of us feels any arthritis. It's all good.

The transition between summer and winter is familiar now, with its losses and its gains.

On a parallel note, I spent a lot of time and energy and passion this year volunteering for Do Your Part at the Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece. That project is coming to an end.  It feels bittersweet, like a loss, to know we've made our last trip there. Still, I know something new will come along. I wonder what it will be!




Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The refugee camp at Oinofyta is closing. Here's what comes next.

This post was written by Lisa Campbell, my friend and Executive Director of Do Your Part, the nonprofit I volunteer for at the Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece. Her words are better than mine would be.

Linda
.....

Hello to all of our friends and supporters,

Fall has arrived and has brought many more changes to the camp and for the residents of Oinofyta. Last week the Ministry of Migration announced that the camp WILL be closing this year, and Friday it was confirmed that they plan to close it in November - next month.

This has come as a huge disappointment to us, but we have been anticipating this inevitable decision for a few months. We have a come up with a plan, and with your continued support and financial assistance, we will be able to continue to provide services to our former residents. These services will be much more targeted towards integration for them into the Greek society. This is necessary because migration to other countries is, in most cases, no longer available, so integration is essential.

As with everything else we have done here, we have consulted with the residents to find out their needs, and they have asked us to create a Community Center here in Oinofyta. We have found a large building to rent which  will provide space for a Community Center where we will still be able to offer Greek lessons, English lessons, Computer classes, a women’s space and some distribution. It will also allow us to move the Oinofyta Wares shop into the space.

Oinofyta Wares began as a social enterprise with the generous donations of several sewing machines and supplies from LDS Charities, and now employs 19 residents. These residents work 5 days a week making products from recycled tents, clothing and other items from the old factory. We are in the process of incorporating it as a Greek business and already have two contracts for bulk orders! The business is run and managed by the residents themselves. Some of them were trained as tailors back in their home countries and one of them is a clothing designer. Others have learned to sew here in the camp. This business will eventually give those who work there the ability to support themselves and become contributing members of Greek society. 

We have been in contact with the Mayor’s office in Schimitari and he is very supportive of our plan. We will be working with them to provide us assistance in the Community Center with teaching the residents how to navigate the Greek medical and social assistance systems as well as helping them find work.

In the past few months, we have been providing more integration activities and programs for the residents. We hired a teacher to give conversational Greek lessons to the adults. This will be essential to them as they move out into the communities. We have also been purchasing monthly train passes for the residents who are going to Athens to attend classes there. We have residents taking Greek, English and German classes as well as many who are taking computer classes. We are currently providing 57 train passes at a cost of 70 euros each. We are still looking for sponsors for this program. Once the residents are resettled in other locations, these train passes will be invaluable for them to be able to continue to get their education from wherever they are living. Two of our residents have been able to secure employment because they were able to take classes to improve their English enough to become translators.

We have been told that those who do not get offered housing will be transferred to other camps. The residents who are working in the Oinofyta Wares shop will be looking for housing here in the area. We are asking for sponsors to assist these families with their rent so that they can become established here in the area and continue to work. Housing prices here in the Tanagra municipality are much less expensive than Athens. For a family of 6 or less, rent can be as little as €250 per month. If you are interested in sponsoring a family for rent, please let us know, and we will give you information on family size and needs.

Much of what we have in Oinofyta as far as supplies and infrastructure will be able to be moved into the new Community Center. Our warehouse will be boxed up and the majority of its contents will be sent to the Pampiraiki warehouse in Athens so that we will still be assisting the refugee and homeless population in Greece. We will utilize some of the items to help supply the homes of the Oinofyta Wares team. We have been given access to a piece of land to place our containers until we can find another organization to donate them to, or sell them to be able to offset the cost of moving everything from the camp.

We will still need volunteers to run the Community Center and we will still need the financial support that we have had in the past so that we can continue to help those who have come here to escape the war and persecution in their own country. 

For those of you who follow our activities here, you know that this is a bittersweet time for us. Many of the families have been moved into housing in Athens and there are still more to follow. What we have learned from those who have gone to Athens is, there is no support system in place to help them integrate. They are dropped off at their housing and left to fend for themselves. This is why a Community Center is so vital to them. It will give them support and assistance to learn how to live here in Greece.

We are very grateful for all of those who have supported our work here in the past and look forward to continuing to be able to offer dignity and hope to our residents through your generosity as they make this transition to life in a new country. If you are interested in helping us continue our work and need any further information, please email me at DYPLisa@gmail.com.

As always, please feel free to share this update with those you feel would be interested.

Lisa

.....

I know many of these families. Their faces are in my head even when I'm home. They are good people. I'm reminded of the saying: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." I believe we - the volunteers and the financial sponsors - are doing just that.

You can find out more about Oinofyta Wares on their Facebook page or at www.oinofytawares.com.

If you'd like to help these families by sponsoring them for train tickets or for rent, let Lisa know. If you have any questions,  let me know in a comment to this post.

Linda

Friday, October 6, 2017

These things take time

I've been quieter than usual since we got home from Greece just over three weeks ago. Resting and thinking and reading. A couple of lunches with friends, a simple activity at church. I'm not sick, though. Just quiet.

These things take time:

1. Being fully home in body, mind and spirit, after being fully away for six weeks.

2. Sleeping and awakening at times appropriate for the Pacific Northwest rather than southeastern Europe.

3. Becoming accustomed to my older body's response to increased humidity and decreased heat, and taking walks on hills, and driving in traffic.

4. Deciding what I will do with my time and energy when the Oinofyta refugee camp closes and I'm not going to Greece every three or four months. Not just my time and energy, but the passion and involvement that keeps me out of my own head and fully engaged in something bigger than me. Or whether I'll go back to my "normal" life and activities - and if I do, whether that will be "enough".

5. Considering how I want to participate in civic affairs in the current political and social climate. That would be both outside my home and online. I can decide to remain silent and not read the verbal wrangling and name-calling and feel the hostility. Or I can decide to participate, my message being "if we're respectful to each other, we'll be more inclined to be heard and to listen." And then being respectful to everyone, and listening.

6. Pondering whether, as a mediator, I have an ethical responsibility to participate in our current cultural challenges. I think that might be the case.

7. Figuring out how to discern whether what I'm reading and hearing is true.


I am blogging a little less often these days. That's because I want to be aware of the threads of thought in my mind and see if I can find a commonality among them. I find that's usually the case, and once the theme becomes clear I want to write about it. In the case of this blog, it's about transitions.

These things take time.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Bag Lady's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

It happens now and then. I have a bad day. I'm an optimist by nature, but every now and then the stars do not align.

Yesterday was that day. Here's what happened:
  • For the last five years we've carried an umbrella liability policy. I figured if we had a business issue we'd be covered. Yesterday I read the policy and then called the insurance company. Turns out, nope, the policy would cover us if we were sued under our homeowner or auto policy for more than the policy limits. But not for a business interest. "You're on your own, honey," I said to myself.
  • I owe the Bank of America $1.50 in interest charges. We had a credit card bill arrive while we were in Greece. The bill was for $11.30. Before we got home, we missed the cycle. When the new bill came I owed $11.30 plus $1.50. I paid it. Then the new bill came. I still owed $1.50! I called the bank and, after making numerous selections on the automatic line, finally chose, "Yes, I want a one-time courtesy reversal of the interest I owe." How convenient! I must not be the only person who's gotten on that merry-go-round.
  • My husband Art told me he'd called to check on his massage appointment and had been told he didn't have one. We both have weekly appointments. His had been cancelled for today and all the others, through November, had been cancelled also. I called about my appointment. No appointment, for today or any time in the future. Someone had a field day with the delete button, apparently. I had been looking forward to that time on a table in a peaceful room. I was annoyed but there was no one to shout at. Besides, I am not a shouter.
  • I am the treasurer for a nonprofit company that grew tenfold last year, so we can no longer file a postcard with the IRS. Instead, we have to fill out a longish form with numbers I have no idea about, since I was not the treasurer last year. We hired a CPA to do the tax work for 2016. The return is due on October 15. Three weeks ago I sent an email to the other principals asking for the information I needed to send to the CPA. No response from anyone. Yesterday, I sent another email. This time I sort of yelled. I don't yell very often either.  I got a response, but I had unkind thoughts about the quality of other people's helpfulness.
  • I failed my optometrist's vision test. I've had two cataract surgeries in the last five years and I haven't been wearing glasses to drive. I was fine without the cataracts. Yesterday when i took the test, the top line of letters on the chart looked like Chinese and the other lines were blurs. Turns out my distance vision is quite bad. Who knew?  So now, in addition to an office prescription (computer and reading) and readers (reading only), I have to buy distance glasses. I went to Costco and paid $379 for the glasses.
  • My iPhone battery died when we were in Greece. I have a second phone I used there, waiting until I got home to replace the battery. The same iPhone has a crack across the screen. I took the phone to the Apple store for a new battery, which costs about $80. The guy told me that when the tech person opened the phone to replace the battery, the crack on the screen would get worse. He suggested an upgrade; I could replace my iPhone 6 for ONLY $299, since the model been discontinued. I decided to put it in a drawer and use my other phone.
  • I had a slightly heated discussion with one of my grown children for the first time in several years. He and his girlfriend had come to Seattle for the weekend. I saw them for ten minutes. His version of the story was that he tried several times to get in touch with me to come over for a longer visit. My version is that I held several parts of my weekend open to see him and he didn't make it over any of those times. The truth is somewhere in the middle, I guess. I managed not to say several things my own mother would have said to me. But barely.
  • I had a spat with my husband about the remote. We were watching the Seahawks game. He changed the channel and all of a sudden the players on the screen were wearing different uniforms. I said, "Why did you change the channel?" "It's halftime. What's it to you?" I said, "There are two of us sitting here and you don't check with me. You just change the channel." He said, "You always want to be in charge." The conversation went downhill from there.
As I look at this list, I realize I may be cranky. That doesn't happen very often. None of the issues in the list are a major deal. But there are more issues than usual. I suspect it's because since I got home from Greece two weeks ago, I've been quieter than usual. When I was working in the refugee camp I was in near-constant conversations, with very little down time. Now I am taking that time. And the world is interrupting me.

Breathe in, breathe out. Be grateful. That's what I'm telling myself.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Found in Translation: making the connection

I speak no Farsi, the primary first language of residents at the Oinofyta refugee camp. And most of them speak no English. Fortunately, there are some people there - mostly men or children - who speak both. Some of the men worked for the U.S. in Afghanistan as translators. And the children at the camp have picked up English quickly, as it is the common language of the volunteers.

So there is usually someone around who can help the rest of us understand each other.

One Friday evening I was speaking to the residents, through my translator Kakar, at the weekly community meeting. If residents have been accepted as registered in the camp by the Greek Ministry of Migration, they get cash cards via the EU through MercyCorps, which provide them enough for basic sustenance. If they haven't been accepted as registered - which is the case for residents who have arrived at Oinofyta in the last four months - they don't have cash cards.

No one knows why registration is not happening. At the present time there are 63 residents without cash cards. Do Your Part is the American nonprofit I volunteer for, and we feed the 63 residents.

At the community meeting, residents asked about the cash cards, as they had at every community meeting for the last few months. And I told them there was nothing we could do, but that as soon as we knew something, they would know something. I hated saying the same thing the residents had heard multiple times before. I felt like I was a part of the problem, even though I knew I wasn't.

After the meeting I asked Kakar to help me continue the conversation with a group of eight women sitting together at a table nearby. The women were older residents. Their faces were familiar to me, but I had not spoken to them before.

"How many of you receive cash cards?" Four women raised their hands.

"And how many of you do not?" The other four.

Kakar translated as the women told me their concerns. They talked over each other, not shouting, but with urgency. The women with cash cards did not have enough money for their families. The women without cash cards, being fed by Do Your Part, did not have enough food for their families.

After a few minutes of listening, I said, "Kakar, please translate for me, sentence by sentence."

Then I said, "If I were the queen of the world, all of you who have cash cards would have as much money as you need. And all of you who do not have cash cards would have all the food you need."

I added, "But I am not the queen of the world."

The women nodded and laughed. Through the words of the translator, they heard me, as I had heard them.

The next afternoon, the women were sitting at a picnic table outside in the late afternoon sun. As I approached their table, they smiled and gestured me to join them. Sumaya, an 11-year-old girl, was standing near her mother. This time, she was my translator.

The women asked me their first question. "How old are you?"

"Sixty-eight." Then I looked at the woman across from me. "How old are you?" Sumaya translated. "Forty-eight." Then the others. "Fifty-one." "Fifty-six." "Forty-seven." "Fifty-nine." "Fifty-three."

I was the only woman with gray hair, but every other face at the table was lined and worn.

The second question: "How many children do you have?"

"Eight," I said. "How many do you have?" Around the table we went again. I had the largest number of children. "But," I said, "I have had two husbands." Everyone nodded. For some reason, that made sense!

The next day, one of the women brought me a flat loaf of warm bread. Delicious, fresh from the oven. And the next day, a different woman, the same wonderful bread.

From that day until the day I left the camp, when I would meet one of these women, we would exchange the greeting of left cheek kiss, right cheek kiss, left cheek kiss. And from the lined, worn face, a pair of bright eyes would smile at me.

I wish I were the queen of the world!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What the Bag Lady learned in Greece this time

I've been to Greece four times since August of last year.  Each time I have volunteered at the refugee camp in Oinofyta, about 45 minutes north of Athens. But this is the first trip when I've spent any time in Just Greece.

For the last five days my husband Art and I have been staying in the village of Pyrgos on the island of Tinos. We took a four-hour ferry ride from the port of Rafina, near Athens, then rented a tiny car for a 45-minute drive on winding roads to get to Pyrgos. For the first three days we didn't leave the village; we slept and ate simple meals and slept some more. We absorbed the quiet of the island as we let go of the energy and activity of Oinofyta. 

Tomorrow morning we leave Tinos and return to Rafina for an overnight before our 6:00 a.m. flight out of Athens on Tuesday. We are ready to go home, refreshed and relaxed after our nearly six weeks away.

Here's what I learned in Greece this time:
  • When people go to a taverna for a coffee or a beer or a meal, they talk. They converse. They laugh. Usually they're sitting at little tables outside. Often they have known each other for years or decades. Many of them smoke. Some of them have phones, but as they sit at the little tables they talk to each other. They linger. Except for the young people, who seem entranced by their devices.


  • Every little cafe has its own version of Greek salad, or beetroot salad, or fried potatoes. 
  • I know the Greek words for good morning, good afternoon, goodbye, yes, no, thank you, thank you very much, and iced cappucino. That has been enough. (I also know the Farsi words for hello, translator, get out!, what?, and thank you). 
  • If you have to climb six flights of marble stairs to get to your house, you can do it more easily if you take a deep breath at the bottom of each flight and rest for a few seconds between them.


  • Hanging clothes on a drying rack is a fun surprise.  


    • The Greek bureaucracy is sluggish and inconsistent, not well integrated among its various components. I have learned to shrug my shoulders, as do my Greek friends. One said to me, "Every day I break some law. If I obey one law, I may be breaking another."
    • A stop sign is really just a yield.
    • Every now and then I see a car-chasing dog with a limp, but most of the time they're pretty skilled chasers.
    • Women, middle aged or older, don't seem as concerned about their bodies or their appearance as in the States. I've felt quite comfortable without makeup or a slim body or trendy clothes here. I love the lack of hype.
    • We, and the refugees, and the Greeks? We are all the same.

    Sunday, September 3, 2017

    Saying goodbye again

    In two days my husband Art and I will leave Oinofyta, the refugee camp where we have been volunteering for the last 31 days. We'll take a ferry to the Greek island of Tinos, where we'll relax and recuperate for a week before flying home to Seattle.

    So it's time to say goodbye. Again.

    In Dilesi, the village on the Aegean where we live, I'll say goodbye and thanks to "the Pakistani guy" who runs the minimarket and patiently installs every data chip I need for my phone without asking for my passport every time. He knows I'm part of Lisa's team. I may stop at Katarina's restaurant and say thanks to her and her family who have welcomed us several times a week for an excellent Greek meal. I'll stop by the coffee place where they knew my drink (cappucino fredo with a sprinkle of chocolate) after three days.

    At camp, we've been invited for lunch again by Amir, who lives in tent 49. He's from Iran and speaks very little English, but he's fed me three times in the last month. We sit on a blanket on the floor of his tent as he brings us bowls of food with high fives. He shows me pictures of his wife and son on his phone. He tells me his story. He was a trainer in the Iranian army, but he's not a Muslim, so he had to leave.

    I'll have a chat with Elias, a welder in Afghanistan and also here in Greece. I met him first when he came to see if his glasses were ready. An optometric group was here at camp just before we arrived last month. Over a hundred pairs of glasses were ordered for residents, and Elias' were late. He came after work every day for a week to ask if they had arrived. When they did come, he thanked me with face lit up when I handed them to him - as though I'd made them for him personally. Yesterday he brought a finished piece of artwork to show me: a peacock made from rolled paper. A truly unique, beautiful creation.

    I'll exchange a handshake with Esmatulla, an older man who returned from Serbia recently with his family. When he sees me he says, "I am fine, how are you?" and then he laughs, knowing he's deliberately delivering a backward greeting.

    I'll kiss several women (left cheek, right cheek, left cheek) as I give them a hug and say, "Salam". I have had conversations with them, and we all remember.

    At least half a dozen residents will knock on the door of our office trailer for one reason or another - a noisy neighbor, maybe, or a pair of shoes they really need from the warehouse even if it's not their day to shop, or a request for an extra room because, after all, they have a large family, or to ask whether mail has come for them from their sister in Switzerland. I may need to ask them to find a translator or I may be able to figure it out on my own using gestures and a smile. They may not know we are leaving, but that will be all right. I will carry their faces along with me anyway.

    I'll probably hug or shake hands with the volunteers who are staying on, thanking them for the great gift of their time and talents.

    I'll visit Oinofyta Wares one more time and maybe buy another of their custom bags, the kind with a long shoulder strap. I'll say goodbye to Sam, our long-term volunteer who runs the enterprise, and tell her to go home by 8 p.m. every night before she wears herself out - even though I know she'll ignore me.

    I'll find Lisa. She'll be in the office, or in the computer lab, or in the shade space smoking a cigarette with her phone in her hand. I'll tell her we're leaving and she'll make an ironic comment of some kind and she may get a little teary eyed. I will tell her how grateful I am for this piece of my life and she will thank me for what I am doing, and we will probably not hug, but we will both know how it is to work together and to know each other. And tomorrow I'll greet her on Facebook in the morning and the evening, as I have done for months, and she'll tell me she doesn't have time to chat, or maybe she'll vent a little about the aggravations that come along with the job she's doing. And, once again, I will say, "Art and I will come back if you need us." And she will say, "That's good to know."

    And then we'll drive across the dirt and gravel grounds as children stand gleefully in our path or reach their hands through the car window. We'll wave at the half dozen men standing at the gate, only this time we won't say, "See you tomorrow."

    Because it's goodbye again.

    Tuesday, August 29, 2017

    At Oinofyta camp: Where will they go from here?

    The 450 residents at the Oinofyta Accommodation Center never asked to be here. They were just passing through Greece, most of them, on their way to more northern European countries like Germany, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Belgium or one of the Scandinavian countries. The timing of the closing of borders was bad for them, and they remained here in Greece.

    Some of them left camp on foot with smugglers. Some made it and some were stopped and returned. Then the last border closed in Hungary.

    Some left camp by plane with false passports - I've heard upwards of 4,000 euros per person (about $4500). Some made it from the Athens airport, but then security was ramped up. Then some made it by flying first from a Greek island and then to Europe. I'm thinking someone at Oinofyta found a good smuggler, and word of mouth is the best advertising.

    Yesterday I heard that a resident who made it to Luxembourg, when applying to register in that country, had their fingerprints matched from earlier ones taken in Greece, and is being returned to Greece. I suspect that will happen more often as the rest of the EU finds ways to curb the influx of refugees.

    So, where will they go from here?

    Some vulnerable families are being provided with apartments in Athens where they can receive the extra help they need. One of our families left camp last week and is now living in an apartment in the city.

    Many of the Oinofyta residents will apply for asylum in Greece and make a new life in this country.

    Do Your Part, the nonprofit organization I volunteer for here in Greece, will now provide train fare for people wanting to take classes in Athens. Any classes. Greek and English instruction is an excellent first step.  One of our residents, a welder in Afghanistan, took Greek classes here and has now been hired by a local company as a welder. He rides his bicycle eight miles every day to work at the town just north of Oinofyta.

    Camp coordinator Lisa announced the educational opportunity at last Friday's community meeting. A resident goes to class and gets a letter from the school confirming their enrollment. Do Your Part then provides money for the train ticket - 70 euros for a monthly pass. Since Friday, at least five people have decided to go to school. That will be a good thing not only for the educational and professional opportunity, but for a way to get out of the camp environment where they wait for something to happen.

    If you're interested in helping a refugee get to school, you can donate to doyourpart.org and specify the donation is toward a train pass for school.

    Meanwhile, a few mischievous residents jumped on the roof of our office trailer this weekend. There's an open strip in the roof now, and it's expected to rain early tomorrow morning. I believe it will be fixed with a sprayed-on foam insulation. Hopefully before the rain arrives.







    Saturday, August 26, 2017

    What? Another Facebook week at Oinofyta camp?

    I feel guilty posting summaries of my week based on Facebook posts. But not too guilty. 

    For one thing, so many interesting and funny and heartbreaking and baffling things happen here, it would be hard to choose what to blog about. 

    For another, I have more than a dozen Facebook friends who live in the camp. And my blog post shows up on Facebook. I have done that on purpose for a while now because I found myself writing many of the same things on Facebook and on my blog. And some things happen at camp that I think should remain at camp. I want to protect and honor the lives and experiences of my Facebook friends who live and volunteer at Oinofyta.

    So, until my husband Art and I end our month-long commitment as volunteers in the camp, I'll be cheating a bit in this blog. We plan to spend a week at the end of this trip to Greece being tourists. We have considered Crete as a destination but are now leaning more towards one of the smaller, less touristed islands, for some quiet days before our return to Seattle.

    So, here's Facebook for the week.

    August 20, 10:24 a.m.
    Peaceful Sunday morning. I will go into camp today for about half an hour to do three tasks that cannot wait until tomorrow. Otherwise, we will read and relax today.

    August 22, 1:11 p.m.

    Whoosh! Four volunteers from Spain leaving camp today. Three volunteers arriving from Portugal. Volunteers are cleaning rooms, supervising the computer lab, driving to the train station, preparing lunch, distributing water, hugging children. Such a fine day!

    August 22, 10:01 p.m.

    Home by 8:30 tonight. Eating pork skewers and bread baked by a camp resident. A fine day all around.

    August 23, 3:16 p.m.

    Very busy day. Mediation, communication, tour with donor, cleaning out empty rooms, finding a couple of volunteers to take the hour-long CPR class this afternoon, talking to another camp agency about repair of several broken windows. Brief lunch with our other volunteers. I am getting to be quite fond of this job!

    August 24, 3:25 p.m.

    My last full day as camp coordinator! Mixed emotions, as usual.

    August 24, 3:52 p.m.

    A resident gave me fresh bread, hot from the oven. So delicious! I took two bites, and others ate the rest. Such a treat!




    August 26. 1:24 p.m.

    My friend Lisa is back at camp. We will be working together until Art and I leave on September 5 to be tourists for a week. It is good to have Lisa back at Oinofyta.

    Saturday, August 19, 2017

    My Facebook week at Oinofyta camp

    So much has happened this week I can hardly remember. So I'm going to cheat a little by compiling my Facebook posts for this week.

    August 12, 8:49 p.m.
    Two scoops of ice cream for dinner!

    August 13, 10:33 p.m.
    Sunday. Day of rest. Several naps. Adopted by a friendly dog at dinner. He followed us to the ice cream place and waited outside for us! We walked back to car and he trotted off to find another friend.

    August 15, 9:57 a.m.

    Still very busy at the camp, but my learning curve is getting a bit shallower. I work with good people! Last night two of our Spanish volunteers cooked the evening meal - Cuban rice. Tomato sauce over fried bananas over rice over a fried egg. Delicious!

    August 15, 12:36 p.m.

    I stand against racism with 460 refugees - Afghan, Pakistani, and Iranian - and dozens of workers - Spanish, British, Swiss, Colombian, Greek, and American - here at Oinofyta camp in Greece.

    August 15, 7:32 p.m.

    So, we have an emergency. A fire is approaching Malakasa, the refugee camp just down the road. We have been told that somewhere between 250 and 700 people are being evacuated to our camp. Or maybe not. At any rate, we are preparing for a bunch of people. Talk about disaster relief!

    August 16, 10:21 a.m.

    All is quiet at camp this morning. We should soon have official notice that the evacuation from Malakasa will not happen. Our three team leads spent the night at camp. Everyone else went home and slept.

    August 16, 7:44 p.m.

    We were on standby again today for the Malakasa evacuation because the fire changed directions. At 7 we were notified that we can go home.

    August 18, 3:23 p.m.

    Very busy Friday. I could use a clone of myself and at least three other people.

    August 20, 12:00 p.m.

    Saturdays are supposed to be quiet at camp! So far we have two significant donations from groups arriving at the warehouse, and the water not working for any bathrooms, and electricity out in part of the camp.

    August 20, 3:30 p.m.

    Water and electricity are back with us, deliveries are complete, and all of our volunteers are enjoying a lunch prepared by a resident.

    August 20, 7:44 p.m.

    Still here at camp, waiting my turn for a ride home. Twelve people, one small car today.

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Nine days now at the Oinofyta camp

    We've been at the Oinofyta refugee camp for nine days now. The camp coordinator, Lisa, left on Wednesday morning for a much needed two-week break. She is with her family in Virginia. I am taking her place as camp coordinator. I am four days in with thirteen to go. My husband Art is the shopper for camp and volunteer house, and the breakfast and lunch fixer for the volunteers. And the errand runner.

    I've had some moments of despair and some of delight. The despair comes when I'm overloaded with issues I don't know how to resolve. Not the big issues, like:
    • Why we can't accept new residents into the camp even though we have a few empty rooms (the answer is that this is a rule currently imposed by the Greek government; we must comply with the rule). One family has been sleeping on the ground within  the camp gates for five days now. They are pleading to be given a room. Some residents want them to stay. I say, "This is a Greek law. We must obey it. I am sad but I cannot give you permission." Or
    • Why 48 of our residents have not received permission to live in the camp (they came here before the new Greek rule was put in place), so they have no money cards (a monthly stipend available to most refugees). We have sent emails to the Greek agency in charge, but have not yet received a response. In the meantime, we feed the 48 people.
    These big issues I can live with, because I know I am powerless. I am decent at letting go of that kind of thing.

    It's the little issues - some of them cultural, some not:
    • A resident's phone was stolen. They will pay 20 euros to get just the SIM card back.
    • A volunteer's set of camp keys has gone missing.
    • A resident left her room for five minutes, and her entire monthly cash stipend disappeared.
    • Dirty diapers and watermelon rinds litter the camp grounds.
    • In my office, I listen to a doctor talk to me about the medical challenges at camp.
    • I can't figure out how to answer Lisa's Greek phone. Or how to recharge the radio.
    The moments of delight? Examples:
    • A nine-year-old child sees me and comes up to me and wraps their arms around my waist.
    • A three-year-old child paints my mouth crookedly with her lipstick.
    • A young man decides it is worth the inconvenience to be ready for a bus at 3:30 a.m. on Monday so he can go to his asylum appointment at 9 a.m. in Athens. When I say, "You've had a bad day" - through a translator - a faint smile replaces the scowl for a moment.
    • I put chocolate out on my desk and the volunteers get a small reward for their large work.
    • Art buys small chocolate- and cream-filled donuts from the bakery on the way to camp. I split them in half and by noon they have been eaten by volunteers.
    • Amir in tent 49 fixes me lunch one day, and brings a salad the next day to my office.
    • I give a shoulder massage to a volunteer and it helps her headache.
    • Our team of 12 shares a Friday night meal at a wonderful restaurant in the village where we live.
    I think I've said before that the Greece refugee issue is no longer much in the news. Some NGOs are cutting back on their resources here - or leaving the camp entirely. They may go to new camps - in Iraq, for example - where conditions are far more dire. Our Oinofyta residents are housed and fed and they have activities available to them. Some of them have jobs. But they are all here because they can't go anywhere else. All the borders to the north in Europe are closed to them. That was where they wanted to go. Now they are in Greece. They may stay here and become integrated into the culture. They may decide to go back to their homelands - Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iran. They may try to cross the border illegally. A few may successfully be reunified with family members in Europe. 

    In the meantime, they are here. 

    Even when I feel like what I most want to do is go home - which happens from time to time during stressful days - I know this is where I am supposed to be. Not in Brier, Washington, where the temperature is less than 101 and everyone speaks the same language as me and I have my own bathroom and laundry facilities and a cat that ignores me most of the time. Instead, here in Oinofyta, where I hear Farsi and Urdu and Greek and Spanish and I share a bathroom and a washing machine with others. I am surrounded by inspiring young volunteers and strong, tough residents, and little children, and boys who kick the ball onto the roof so they can climb onto it.

    We are here, doing what we can. Doing our part.

    Garden seating area, built by volunteers

    Lunch - residents and volunteers

    Sunday, August 6, 2017

    She sent me a box full of dolls

    My friend Beth is an artist. She had accumulated a number of Bratz dolls, with their high-style fashion and their glamorous makeup. She decided to scrub their faces and create a more natural look and to dress them as normal children.

    Here are some "befores"



    Here are a few dolls after Beth transformed them:



    Beth got the idea from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG-7e1vaB18

    Beth posted a note on her Facebook page, asking if any of her friends would like one of these dolls. I responded right away. "I'd like to have them all. I'm sure there are children at Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece, where I volunteer, who would love to have one of these dolls." Beth said that would be great, and she mailed me a box full of dolls.

    I checked around to see if anyone I knew was going to Europe who'd be willing to take them along, but everyone who responded was either already in Europe or not planning to go. So I took them to the post office and, for $61, sent them on their way.

    The dolls arrived at camp at the end of Ramadan. There's a celebration at the end called Eid, and traditionally children receive gifts at that time. Camp volunteers prepared gift bags for the children, and each of the twelve dolls went into a bag.

    I asked Lisa, the camp manager, if pictures could be taken of the dolls with the children who received them. I wanted to send the picture to Beth so she could see the outcome of her generosity. But I had forgotten that if a child's picture is taken, the parent must approve. And all of the parents said no. A privacy issue at least, and perhaps for safety as well.

    Now I'm at the camp myself. This week I'll try to find out who got the dolls and see if I can take a picture of just the doll, in the room of the owner. It's a balance of my own curiosity with respect for the culture of camp residents.

    Thank you, Beth, for your gift to the children of Oinofyta.

    Tuesday, July 25, 2017

    A tiny change in our summer plans

    August was supposed to be a month of relaxed enjoyment: napping, sitting in my Adirondack chair under the grapes in the garden, reading at least four books and four magazines, relishing the beautiful weather that is our Seattle summer.

    Except I had made a promise to my friend Lisa Campbell, who heads up the Do Your Part disaster relief effort at a refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece. My husband Art and I spent a month there in late March and early April. Art did the errand running and food shopping and meal preparation for volunteers. I worked on the accounting for DYP and, for the two weeks Lisa was in the States on a speaking tour, sat in her chair at camp.

    As we were leaving at the end of our month, I said, "Lisa, Art and I will come back if you need us."

    Between April and last week, we did our summer thing here in Seattle - interrupted by Art's kidney stone surgery and follow up, and Art's two cataract surgeries and follow up. Very few social plans, lots of reading and relaxing.

    Then, last Friday, Lisa called. "I need you to come the first week in August, for a month."

    So, we're going back to Greece. Next week. Several of the camp's long-term volunteers are leaving, and Lisa is going to visit her family in the States. Again, I will sit in her chair for two weeks. Well, actually, not much sitting. Mostly doing, with a dozen volunteers and 500 residents of the camp. And listening. Whatever comes along.

    I had planned on finishing our income taxes in August. On spending three days with my son and my granddaughters. On maybe flying to Colorado to visit a friend for a few days.

    It's a tiny change in plans.

    I am hoping our luggage will not get lost, like last time. That Art's pacemaker will not beep, like last time. That we won't hit the curb in our rental car and pay for damages, like last time. And that we'll be able to be tourists for the last week, not like last time when we flew home early to treat a kidney stone.

    Until last summer, I had never done this kind of thing. Now I have. It is still unbelievable to me that I have taken this on. But I'm sure it's something I'm supposed to do.

    You just never know what will happen when you say yes.


    Monday, July 17, 2017

    Books and cellphones and cords. Oh, my!

    The rightsizing continues at our house. I bought an AARP book called Downsizing the Family Home. I read it and then I suggested Art read it. He is doing that. He commented yesterday that the book is mainly for people working with their aging parents to part with years of accumulation before they move into a smaller place, or taking care of everything themselves after one or both parents have died.

    Still, there are helpful sections in the book. I note from the placement of the bookmark that Art is about two thirds of the way through it. That's a good sign.

    We went through our "book closet" last week. One box of books went to the local library, to be sold as a fundraiser. Three more boxes went to Goodwill. We now have the following sections remaining in the book closet:

    • Books I have not yet read but intend to in the next couple of years. Maybe 25.
    • Books on writing that I have read and intend to read again - think Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing; AMemoir of the Craft.
    • Books on writing that I know I will read (about six; the others went to Goodwill).
    • Recovery books; we have many years of 12-step experience and we still refer to these.
    • Travel books (mostly Rick Steves), pocket language books (about eight), and half a dozen local maps (the two dozen others went to Goodwill; if we ever go back through Wyoming, Montana and Utah again, we're likely to use Google maps on our phones).
    • Two Thompson guides of the Seattle area, for Art, who loves the old familiar ways.
    Also on the floor of the book closet was a box half full of photos in their frames (mostly of high school seniors and offspring getting married). The top half of the box was a jumble of cords and plugs for ten years' worth of electronics. I left the photos for the kids to go through after we're gone.

    I put the cords on the dining room table. I'd emptied a plastic bin of candle stubs, so I asked Art to organize the cords. You never know when someone will come along with an ancient device and need a cord or a car charger and you can be useful with your plastic bin. Art's eyes lit up when he saw the cords. He said, "I have some old phones in the sidebar drawers." He pulled out six old flip phones, the kind he used until just last year when there was such a good deal on a refurbished iPhone 5 ($50!) that he couldn't resist. For two hours he sat at the table and matched up the old phones to cords and to car charges. These he bundled together and put in a sack to recycle. We'll be taking them to a place that collects old phones for soldiers and vets. Art was a soldier and is a vet himself, so it seemed like a good choice.

    The mismatched cords are still in the plastic bin, just in case. But there aren't very many of them. My friend Gail came over earlier this week, missing a car charger for her cell phone. We had one that fit!

    I emptied a shoebox-sized plastic bin and suggested that it would be a good place to store batteries. Art emptied the sidebar drawers and filled the little bin with the batteries he's collected. Probably mostly from work, when he worked. Seven years ago. He tested most of the 75 batteries. So we are ready for a prolonged power outage, and we know where the batteries are.

    Yesterday Art took all the books off the lower shelf of the living room coffee table. Nine of them go to Goodwill. Six go in the book closet. He did this without asking, as though it was a ho hum job. Can you believe it?

    We're moving slowly. Five boxes get filled at the  top of the entryway stairs. They go into the trunk of my car. They get delivered to wherever. We start in on five more boxes. No rush, but getting there.

    It's kind of fun, actually. 

    Sunday, July 9, 2017

    I'm not stuck. I'm waiting.

    Last week I saw a meme on Facebook that was so perfect for me that I printed it out and taped it to my computer desk:

    Everything will fall into place.
    You just gotta be patient
    and trust the process.


    I took that to heart. Here's what's happening.

    1. Downsizing. I had told my husband Art, "I want us to downsize inside the house and outside, and then look for a new place to live that doesn't have stairs or a big yard." He went silent but reluctantly started getting rid of stuff. 

    Then, out of the blue, I got a different thought. I said, "I want us to declutter and rightsize inside and outside of the house, but make no plans to move. That way we'll be more ready, if and when a good opportunity comes along." It's a compromise that works for both of us.

    2. I do the accounting for the nonprofit agency at the refugee camp in Greece where I've volunteered. I wait for others to send me receipts, tax records, and bank statements. The 2016 taxes have been hanging over my head. I just dawned on me - much later than it should have - that there is not much more I can do until I get what I need. In a couple of days I'll be caught up with my part. Then I will be patient. Everything will fall into place. I can trust the process.

    3. I am helping one of my sons through a business crisis. I'm more of a consultant than anything. He is tearing his hair out. I know what I'd do a little differently if I were him, but I'm only the consultant. He is the decision maker. I think he will come out all right. I am not losing sleep over someone else's issue. Everything will fall into place. I'm grateful for the help I can give him.

    4. I have been doing family mediations for several years and they're not as fun as they had been. So recently I've not signed up to do them. But there's a training coming up next week for mediators interested in working with a Native American tribe in my county. I figure if I can mediate at a refugee camp in Greece for seven men who, except for one, speak only Farsi, I'll be fine with the Native cultural differences. I know I trust that process!

    5. I am in week seven of Weight Watchers. Today I moved a couple of pairs of pants from the "it's a little too small" side of my closet to the "I can wear this" side. I am looking forward, several months down the road, to lower blood pressure, more stamina and happier feet. I am following directions. I trust the process.

    Sometimes when I'm just going about my daily business, and it looks pretty similar day after day, I think I'm stuck in a rut. Often, though, I'm just waiting.

    Everything will fall into place.
    You just gotta be patient
    and trust the process.

    And here's one story about our downsizing adventure:

    Twenty years ago I bought a stoneware dinner set: salad and dinner plates, cups and saucers, butter dish and sugar and creamer and salt and pepper shakers, serving plates and serving bowls. We have a big family, after all, and I like to set a nice table every now and then. The rest of the time we use Corelle.

    Now we're doing the downsizing thing. I don't think we've ever used the stoneware cups and saucers. Today, going through one of the kitchen cabinets, I told Art I thought we could get rid of them. eBay has them for sale for $2.50 apiece, so they're a good Goodwill item. Art reached to the top shelf and handed me the cups one by one, and then the saucers. I was going to find a box to put them in, when Art said, "I think I may have the original box in the garage."

    "You're kidding!"

    He was right. We will take the cups and saucers to Goodwill in the box they came in 20 years ago!

    I can hardly wait until we start working on the garage.

    Saturday, July 1, 2017

    Living normal

    Last year I took eight trips between May and November:
    1. Tucson in late May, to get a root canal and a crown in Nogales, Mexico.
    2. Road trip to Oregon in late June for a family gathering.
    3. Muskoka, Ontario, in mid July, to visit a friend.
    4. Chautauqua, New York for a week of culture and education in early August.
    5. Oinofyta, Greece, in late August, to volunteer for six days at a refugee camp.
    6. Rockland, Maine, for a six-day schooner cruise in September.
    7. Vashon Island, Washington in early October for a five-day writing retreat.
    8. Oinofyta, Greece again, for two weeks of volunteering, in late October.
    That was a lot of travel! 

    This year I spent a month in the spring again at the refugee camp in Oinofyta. Since then, no travel other than one trip to Tucson to close up our winter place and bring Larisa, our Designer Cat, home to Seattle.

    Now it is summer and I am having a normal life. It feels oddly quiet. Not exactly dull, but different. Here's the kind of activity I'm doing:
    • Picking strawberries from our yard and freezing them.
    • Wrapping the cat in a towel so my husband Art can trim her toenails.
    • Reading magazines as they come in the mail rather than letting them stack up.
    • Being the driver and advocate for Art as he has surgery for a kidney stone, the removal of a stent, and two cataracts. 
    • Hiring a new teenage yard person now that our grandson Kyle has outgrown the job.
    • Going through cupboards and drawers and closets for Goodwill runs. Today I took a bunch of toys outgrown by my grandchildren. I have fond memories of the Fisher-Price garage. And an umbrella stroller, which Goodwill won't take because of "safety issues". I'll wait until my teenage granddaughters visit to go through the dress-up boxes.
    • Keeping track of my eating and exercise as I head into week six of Weight Watchers.
    • Walking the two-mile route in my neighborhood several times a week.
    • Signing up for a yoga class for the first time in ten years.
    • Meditating for at least 20 minutes every day using the Insight Timer app on my iPhone.
    I'm spending my days in such an ordinary way! I have absolutely no inclination to travel again this year. I probably need the rest.

    And now the sun is out in Seattle. And the days are long. And there are two Adirondack chairs under my grape arbor, just right for a talk with a friend.

    I get to be normal for a while. I like it. 

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    Downsizing: a difference of opinion

    My husband Art and I have lived in our house in Washington State for 22 years. We have eight children between us. When we bought the house, three of the kids lived with us and two of them visited on Tuesday and Thursday and every other weekend. We needed the space as well as the RV we kept in the back of the house. We were both still working.

    Today, the kids are grown and gone, except for one son, who's been renting a room from us for the two years he went to nursing school. He's graduated now, passed his boards, and found a job. He'll be finding his own place before too long.

    We love the house, but we no longer need the space.

    Or the stairs: five up to the front porch, one more to the split entry, five more to the main floor or 13 down to the laundry room, second bathroom and garage. Art slipped on the ice on the outside stairs about five years ago and broke two ribs.

    Or the steep downhill driveway, created a dozen years ago when the city installed sidewalks for the safety of the kids walking to school. Workers had to raise the top of the driveway by several feet to accommodate the sidewalk and then pour asphalt to make up the difference. Soon after, Art slipped on the ice in that driveway and tore a rotator cuff.

    Or the big yard, with its raised beds for vegetables and its grape arbor and its strawberries and raspberries and blueberries. We love the food but don't have the stamina to take care of it. At present our resident son is growing the vegetables, but we have had to hire a young person to do the weeding. Again, it's the stamina thing. Plus, we travel.

    In the 22 years we have lived in that house, we have acquired "stuff". We have boxes of stuff and drawers of stuff and closets of stuff and a shed full of stuff. We have clothes in the sizes we wear now and in the sizes we wish we wore now. We have books we have read and hope to read. We have spices in the kitchen with long-expired shelf lives.

    Four years ago we began to spend our winters in Tucson. We rented, then bought, a park model (trailer) in a 55+ RV resort. Four steps up. We live on one level. In 620 square feet. Contentedly.
    We don't have much stuff in Tucson. We have acquired only what we need. It is gloriously simple.

    Our plan for the next few years is to spend five months a year in Tucson, and the rest of the time here in Washington State. With some travel time from each location. Art and I agree on this plan.

    Here's where we differ: I want to downsize and find a smaller place here in Washington. Maybe a condo to buy or rent, or a single-level home with a small yard and low maintenance. Art wants to stay where we are.

    I am the talker of the two of us, and Art is the no talker. He knows exactly what I think and how I feel about downsizing. I wasn't so sure about his thoughts or feelings on the subject. Last week I said, "Are you reluctant to move because (1) this house is full of memories or (2) this house is full of stuff we will have to get rid of or (3) moving will be an acknowledgment that we are getting old?" And he said, "Probably some of all three." So now I know!

    I've been suggesting for years that he go through some of his stuff. Recently I've been describing the process as "lightening our load". Art usually hears this as me trying to control him. As recently as last week, I'm embarrassed to admit, I said, "You know, if you die first you will be leaving all your stuff for me and the kids to take care of." I may even have said he was being selfish. I hope I didn't, but I might have. Art has never responded positively to my suggestions.

    I've been pretty discouraged lately about whether we'll ever downsize. About how many falls one of us may take on the stairs or the driveway. About who will be the first to break a hip.

    Then yesterday, I came home and found two large plastic bags on the floor of our bedroom. They were full, with twist ties. Art was in our closet, working. Going through his clothes. Taking out the ones that no longer fit. Downsizing! "I found a dozen pairs of brand new socks," he told me, "from when I worked and when we spent the winters here. I don't need them any more. I'm going to see if any of the boys can use them." I said I thought that was a magnificent idea. I restrained myself from doing a happy dance.

    Then I went into the closet myself. I pulled out my 35-year-old plastic sewing box, from when I used to sew. I gave my sewing machine to a friend nearly 20 years ago. I have two pocket sewing kits now. I texted my neighbor and asked her if she'd like the box. If not, it's going to Goodwill this week.

    I'm tempted to go look at apartments. But I don't want to rush either of us. We can simplify first, lighten our load. Then we can find another place for our months in Washington State.

    Or maybe somewhere else. Who knows?