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?

Monday, June 19, 2017

What the Bag Lady learned during jury duty

I showed up for jury duty on Monday at 8:15 a.m.. I walked out of the courthouse on Wednesday at 2:10 p.m. I'm done with jury duty after three days. We found the defendant guilty of possession of heroin with intent to deliver.

Here's what I learned, about the jury experience and about myself:

1. Forty percent of people who receive a summons to jury duty don't respond. The law says they can get a bench warrant, but it's not cost effective. It wouldn't even occur to me to try to get out of jury duty. I'd heard people say it was a pain, but I was always curious about what the experience would be like.

2. The gathering and dispersing of juries in Snohomish County Superior Court is very well organized. The waiting is necessary - whether in the jury reporting room or as an individual jury - but we were informed that would be the case. I appreciate the thought and planning that went into the existing procedure.

3. As a juror, I felt valued. It was pretty cool, as the door to the courtroom opened to the jury room where we were waiting in line to enter, to hear, "All rise for the jury." It's respect being paid not to the actual people in the jury, but to the concept of a person's right to a jury of his peers, and the presence of those peers.

4. It was almost always quiet in the jury room. We had one chatty man who initiated conversations about woodcarving and world travel, but mostly we read or surfed with our phones or looked out the window. I took my laptop one day to do some work during our waiting times, but I was the only one who did.

5. During a break on the second day, one of the female jurors got sick. I saw her sitting on the floor in the bathroom just beside the open door. The bailiff went to call a marshal. I don't think a sick person in a strange place should be alone, so I went to her and knelt on the floor beside her. I put my right hand on her right hand. She was cool and clammy. She said, "I haven't been sick in decades. I think I caught the stomach flu from my daughter. I feel like I'm going to throw up." I said, "I have heard that is going around." I stayed with her, my hand on hers, until the marshal arrived. I said, "Stomach flu" and went into the other bathroom to wash my hands, then returned to my seat at the jury table. The other jurors looked at me. No one said anything. If I get sick, I get sick. (I didn't, but I worried a little, knowing if I did get sick, the judge would have to declare a mistrial.)

6. Our courtroom was on the second floor. I took the steps rather than the elevator, but I noticed that I had to focus on my breathing. I was diagnosed with asthma last winter, but I don't take the prescribed medications unless I have to. I am not at all happy with having to focus on my breathing when climbing stairs.

7. I'm 68, but I think of myself as about 42. I don't color my hair any more. I have about 60 extra pounds on my body. My mind is still sharp and I am much more open minded and calm than when I really was 42. But other people who look at me probably see an overweight retired person, and it's possible that any stereotypes they might have about older people could be applied: (grandchild obsessed, slightly dim in the brain, garden putterer, knitter) - none of which I happen to be. I'm thinking that during the jury selection process I might have been viewed with interest as a "retired white female" because that demographic is one needed on a jury. But by the time the jury selection was complete, I'm guessing they saw me as an articulate, pragmatic, intelligent person who happens to be retired. I'm hoping so, anyway.

8. Looking back at #6, there's a possibility that climbing stairs would be less of an effort if I didn't have 60 extra pounds on my body. I am working on that - in the middle of week 5 of Weight Watchers. It is my intention that my blood pressure reading, my sensitive feet, and my degree of stamina be only a function of my age, rather than being partially a function of my weight. If I am able to wear more of the clothes in my closet, that will be fine too. This, of course, has nothing to with jury duty, but those stairs are a reminder of the worthiness of my Weight Watchers project.

9. As part of the jury pool and as a juror, I confirmed that I have the following opinions:
  • People of color are not the cause of the current drug problem in our society.
  • Immigrants are not the cause of the current drug problem.
  • If a defendant needs a translator, it does not mean they are guilty. Along this same line, I am glad to see that translators are hired to assist in the justice process.
  • If a defendant does not testify in their own behalf, it does not mean they are guilty.
  • If a witness has lived in the US for four years and still needs a translator, it does not mean that he has an inaccurate memory. 
  • Just because I know people who have spent time in jail because of drugs does not mean that a defendant in jail for drugs is guilty.
  • Just because a defendant has a quantity of heroin in their backpack does not mean they have an "intent to deliver". However, I can't think of any reason why a defendant with a quantity of heroin in their backpack would also have a scale, unless there was some intention other than personal use of the heroin.
  • I am not afraid to be in the minority on an opinion, but I have learned there is a fine line between "beyond a reasonable doubt" and stubbornness.
  • The hardest part of jury deliberations for me was that I couldn't question why some evidence was NOT presented. I could only consider the evidence that was. I had to remind myself of that more than once.
  • It is not necessary to talk more in order to be heard. Sometimes, talking less is more useful.
10. I may be a "retired white female," but I was selected as master juror (foreperson). Someone said, "Who wants to be foreman?" I said, "Well, I am a mediator, and I will do it if no one else wants to." I was elected unanimously. The toughest part was signing my name to the verdict: guilty of possession of heroin with intent to deliver. The evidence was beyond a reasonable doubt, but not far beyond.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Jury duty: a new adventure!

When I was in my 20s, living in El Paso with my army officer husband, I got a jury summons from California, where we were registered to vote. I called and explained and got excused.

Fifteen years ago I was summoned. I drove to Everett, Washington and sat in a big room for two days and got sent home.

Last December I got summoned, told to report to Everett in February. I explained that I live in Tucson in the winter and wouldn't be home yet. I got another summons in February and told to report in April. I explained that I'd be in Greece at that time. They gave me one more chance, told me to report this week. So I did.

On Monday morning I followed instructions from the detailed phone recording. Found a parking place three levels down, rode the elevator to the surface, took the wide walkway to the criminal justice building, and checked into the jury room. There were 120 of us, sitting in rows in near silence. Waiting. Like at the departure gate at the airport, only without carryons.

Juries were to be selected for three trials. My name was called for the third group. I was given the number 17 of 35 jurors called for Judge A's courtroom. Numbers 1 to 13 were seated in the jury box and the rest of us, in numerical order, were seated in the first two rows of the regular courtroom.

The judge asked people to raise their hands if serving as a juror would be a hardship for a trial expected to last two to three days. When the first four dismissals for hardship had left the jury box, I was asked to take my place in the jury box.

The attorneys for the prosecution and the defense had half an hour each to ask questions of the jury pool: for example, "Do any of you have any problems with an interpreter being present for the defendant?" "Do any of you believe that the drug problem is caused mostly by people of color?" "Do any of you believe the drug laws are too strict or not strict enough?"

Then each attorney was given seven opportunities to dismiss members of the jury without having to give a reason. As a juror was dismissed, their spot was filled in by someone from the first two rows of the courtroom. I felt like I was on display. I was sure one of them would say, "The prosecution/defendant thanks and dismisses Juror Number 17." But they didn't.

When jury selection was complete, there was one person remaining out of the original 35. Twelve jurors were selected and 22 were dismissed. Our jury ended up with eight men and four women. Four of us - two men and two women - were retired, and the others were still working. We all received new numbers and I was now Juror Number 4.

I arrived at the courthouse on Monday at 8:20 a.m. and left at 4:30 p.m. At the end of the day the jury had been selected and one witness had been called. This was a slow, deliberate process.

Tuesday I arrived at the courthouse at 8:45. The jury probably spent half an hour listening to testimony and the rest of the time waiting in the jury room while the attorneys and the judge had conversations the jury was not supposed to hear. During one of our waits, one of the female jurors got sick. We were moved to another jury room while the one we'd been in was sanitized. Then we were released for lunch.

More of the same in the afternoon. Members of our jury were beginning to chat. Personalities were emerging. I was pretty quiet. We had been told we were not to communicate during the trial, so I blogged as we went but delay this post until the trial was over.

In the witness testimony, I heard a few discrepancies. I noticed some body language. We had been told that the defendant in a criminal matter is presumed innocent until proven guilty. I remembered that.

Wednesday we only heard from one witness. The judge read us our instructions and the two attorneys gave their closing arguments. The jury then left the courtroom to begin its deliberations. We ate lunch in the jury room, deliberated and reached a verdict in two hours.

The case: Back in March, police responded to a 9-1-1 call from a minimarket at about 1 a.m.. A man had been in the bathroom for 45 minutes, talking and yelling, and the clerk wanted him removed. The police removed the man, and while the clerk was filling out the report the man's possessions were picked up. As that happened, a metal spoon fell out of a jacket pocket. The police then searched him and his backpack and found a substance resembling heroin, syringes, plastic baggies and a scale. He was charged with possession of heroin with intent to deliver, with possession of heroin as a secondary crime.

In the jury room, the initial count was eight people for guilty, three for not guilty and one undecided. The second count was ten guilty and two not guilty. I was one of the not guilties. But I couldn't get past one of the pieces of evidence. The third count was a unanimous verdict:

Guilty of possession of heroin with intent to deliver.

We returned to the courtroom and delivered our verdict to the judge. Then we were dismissed.

Three days of jury duty and I'm done!

I'll talk more about my jury experience in my next blog post.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The blessings of the ordinary

There's a quote I see from time to time on Facebook:

"Life is amazing. And then it's awful. And then it's amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful it's ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That's just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life...." L.R.Knost

There are blessings in the ordinary. Here are mine from the last two weeks.
  • The strawberries and raspberries and blueberries and grapes in our garden know when and how to grow. We get the fruits of their ordinary lives. The strawberries will be ripe in a couple of weeks.
  • The spin cycle on the washing machine stopped working yesterday. I went online and found a UTube video for troubleshooting and another one for fixing the problem. I stayed online and found the part and ordered it. The part will arrive tomorrow and the washer will get fixed. I didn't have to leave the house or replace the washer.
  • One of our sons' business went through a crisis. He called for my counsel. He asked me to go with him to meet with an accountant and a lawyer. He is moving past the crisis. He called to tell me. James is 37 and I am proud of him.
  • Another of our sons got his driver's license back after a ten-year loss. Russ is 39 and I rejoiced with him.
  • Another of our sons will be working in our area next week. He called to ask if he could stay with us for four nights. We have an extra room. Jason is 44 and I am glad he's choosing to spend his evenings with us.
  • Another of our sons has been living with us since he started nursing school two years ago. He graduated in March, passed his Boards in April and got a job in May. He loves taking care of the garden. Peter is 33 and I am glad to have him as a tenant.
  • Larisa the Designer Cat gets to be an indoor-outdoor, indoor-outdoor, indoor-outdoor cat here in Washington. She loves her cat door and I love her independence. She still sleeps on the bed, though.
  • I met my friend Vicki for coffee yesterday. In the winter I live in a park model trailer in Tucson and she lives on a boat in Mexico. We hadn't seen each other for eight months, but it seemed way less than that. You know how you pick up with some people just where you left off? Vicki and I are like that.
  • My nine-year-old neighbor, Jesse, needed to earn five dollars. He weeded under my grape arbor. He did a good job and was thrilled to have the money in his pocket.
  • Reentry into my ordinary life is hard sometimes. Today I got frustrated and sent an email to six friends. I know they all understand.
Between the amazing and the awful is the ordinary. It's a good thing.