Sunday, April 15, 2018

A woman of influence!

I never thought of myself as a woman of influence, but I guess I am. Here are three stories:

1. I have a friend named Ellen. I met her at a Habitat for Humanity build seven years ago in Lafayette, Louisiana. We became Facebook friends. She visited us briefly in Tucson several years ago. Then, last spring, Art and I decided to go to Greece for a month to volunteer at a refugee camp there. We decided to leave Larisa, our Designer Cat, at our place in Tucson while we were gone, since she'd already been there with us for five months.

I posted on Facebook that we were looking for someone to stay in our Tucson place to keep company with Larisa while we were gone. Ellen said she would like to do that. She drove from Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she has lived for the last 12 years. Before we left I introduced her to one of my friends. By the time we got back from Greece, Ellen had bought a place in our community! She said, "I have made more friends here in the last six weeks than I did in Fayetteville in 12 years." She went home for the summer, preparing to return in the fall, but decided to sell her Fayetteville house and move to Tucson permanently!

Ellen says she wouldn't be living here if it weren't for me. It is very nice to have her here.

2. We have friends named Shirley and Tom. We met them through a hospitality exchange group; we stayed with them twice at their place in Henderson, Nevada, when we were still driving between Seattle and Tucson for the winter. We became Facebook friends. Shirley and Tom sold their Nevada place and became housesitters for a year or so, then decided they'd like a permanent base from which to travel. They checked out the Voyager, the 55+ resort where we live in the winter, and looked online at all the places for sale here. They found one they liked and watched, hoping the price would drop. It did. They made plans for Tom to fly down to see it.

Shirley texted me to tell me about the plan. I said, "Would you like me to go over and check it out?" Shirley said yes and I did. A neighbor was watering the yard and had a key. I went in and looked around and asked the neighbor lots of questions. I texted Shirley and suggested she call me. She did. I told her what I thought and she asked the neighbor some questions herself. Then we hung up.

Two hours later Shirley texted me again. She and Tom had made an offer on the phone without even seeing the place, based on our conversation and pictures they'd seen. They arrive next month.

It's a little intimidating being a woman of such influence!

3. I've been thinking for several years that it might be time to sell our family home in Washington and find something smaller, and without stairs, and without a steep driveway and a big yard. My husband Art has not been at all ready for that. For the last six years we have spent the winter in Tucson. The first year we were there two months, then three, then four. This year we will have been here five months and three weeks when we fly home next Saturday.

Yesterday we looked at a resale manufactured home about three quarters of a mile from where we live now in our park model. The home is in the same 55+ resort. It is on one level, with an open floor plan, a great kitchen and a small low-maintenance yard. Actually, I looked first with my friend Ellen, then took Art over. We spent 45 minutes talking to the current owners.

Then Art and I talked. We still want to spend our summers in Washington. Several of our children and grandchildren live there, and the summer weather is glorious, with long daylight hours and very little rain. We had considered buying a smaller place, but housing prices in the Seattle area are very high. Then we considered leasing. In either case, though, the residence would sit empty for most of the year (a winter away and travel at other times can do that).

Then I thought about Airbnb and checked it out. We could rent a place for three months. Not just in Washington, but just about anywhere. That would get us out of the most daunting months of Arizona's summer.

Then I thought, well, what if one of us dies? Which is a certainty. And just this morning I remembered: there are always independent living or assisted living places if they're needed. And they could be in Washington.

So, if we sold our Washington home, we wouldn't be exiling ourselves from Washington or from our family. We would be freeing ourselves from our financial and upkeep obligations to a house we are, more and more, not living in.

This is not quite dreaming. Because we could either buy the place we looked at yesterday, or we could stay in the park model, which has been our winter residence for six years and which we like very much.

The most important thing, to me, is that both of us can see where we might step next. It's no longer "Let's rightsize and then maybe move to a smaller place." Instead, it might be "Let's get ready to move."

We may not move physically. But we are moving forward toward a lighter lifestyle. It's no longer me nagging a reluctant husband. It's both of us looking at the possibilities.

Does that make me a woman of influence?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Bag Lady reviews the snowbird season

Two weeks from today I fly from Tucson with my husband Art and our Designer Cat, Larisa. We are going home to Seattle after six months in the winter sun. It rained here about seven times in six months. The sun shone most days, even when the temperatures were less than warm.

We're leaving soon because we're close to the sweet spot: Tucson is less than 100 degrees during the day, and Seattle's rain is getting close to its springtime end. 

This is our sixth season as Arizona snowbirds. We've lived in the same park model and driven the same car. We've expanded our friendships, lost a few friends, taken up a variety of activities, dropped some of them. Each year it's a little different.

This year I continued with activities I've enjoyed before. I played handbells in Oregon when my children were small, and I picked them up again as a snowbird. I love the camaraderie and teamwork of playing bells. I play the lowest bells because I'm one of the younger ringers and don't have arthritis in my hands yet. We performed half a dozen times in the nondenominational church services at Voyager. 

I continue to enjoy the current events group that meets on Wednesday afternoons. This week we talked about Facebook's current data problems and about the potential impact of tariffs. The current events group used to be contentious - it has a diverse political mix - but these days it's a wealth of thought and wisdom, and I'm grateful to be part of it.

I've facilitated a Great Decisions foreign affairs group on Thursdays for the last six years. This year I eased myself out as leader as my friend JoAnne stepped in to replace me. She has been my backup for several seasons now. Next year I'll stay in the group, but without the responsibilities of the moderator. 

Two years ago I was responsible for ticket sales for the Voyager's theatre group. Last year I assisted the producer. This year I was in the cast. I've also served as the treasurer and room scheduler. Next year I don't plan to do anything with the theatre group. There are a couple of other possibilities, but time will tell. Twice a week rehearsals and a production meeting every Thursday were a big responsibility, and I like the idea of being a little less busy.

New to me this year was volunteering at Keep Tucson Together at their every-other-Saturday asylum clinic. We work with immigrants seeking asylum, helping them to fill out their paperwork and fleshing out the stories they tell in explaining why their lives will be in danger if they return home. It's not too far removed from the volunteer work I did in Greece in the last couple of years. I don't speak Farsi and not much Spanish, but I find I can communicate in other ways. It's very rewarding to make a connection with someone whose life is in danger or chaos. Whatever difference I can make, I want to do that. One of my current goals is to learn Spanish so that, within two years, I'll be conversant enough to talk to the asylum clients without an interpreter. I spend some time most days with Duolingo on my phone and Rosetta Stone on my laptop, and I'm looking into Spanish classes while I'm home this summer.

Someone asked me last week if I'm glad to be coming home. I told her that it's a transition, and it will take time. The people I know at home have been continuing on with their lives without me, and I'll need to ease myself back into that environment. It's much easier to come to Tucson in the fall, because everyone is arriving and glad to see each other again. Still, we have two homes and I love them both.

I have a friend, Ellen, who drove from Arkansas last spring to keep company with Larisa for the five weeks Art and I spent in Greece. By the time we got back Ellen had bought a park model (trailer) at Voyager! She said she'd made more friends in six weeks at Voyager than in several years in Arkansas. That's the kind of place Voyager is.

As I was writing this, my friend Bev called from home. We talked for 45 minutes and we're getting together for coffee the first Wednesday I'm home. So the transition is beginning already!

Lucky, lucky me. Such a life I get to have.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Journey to the Northern Lights: Lessons Learned

I've been back in Tucson for three days. Here's what I'm remembering from my journey to Churchill, Manitoba, to see the Northern Lights.
  • Dogsledding is FUN. Not just for the people in the sled, but also for the dogs. Our outfitter had 26 dogs and every one of them was excited when they saw the sleds getting set up. 


  • If you have the proper clothing, you can handle the weather.


  • The camera's eye sees the Northern Lights as green. The human eye, just barely.
Photo by Ron Waldron, taken 3/22/2018

Painting at the Itsanitaq Museum, Churchill, Manitoba

  • You remember studying the Hudson Bay Company and the fur trade when you were in school 50 years ago. You didn't realize you'd be standing on the shore of the Hudson Bay in winter.



  • If some people meet a competitive hula hooper in the airport, it's hard to resist giving it a try themselves.


    • If your traveling companion comes down with pneumonia, it may be up to you to get you both home a day early. It may be hard if you have to call United Airlines in the middle of the night from Winnipeg, but you don't have a Canadian phone, and the international phone call button on your nightstand at the Hilton Airport Suites doesn't work. If you're lucky you may be able to talk United out of the $155 per person change fee. But you won't be able to talk United out of a $330 per person additional charge for the only two remaining seats on the earlier flight. Nor will you be able to collect on your trip interruption travel insurance, because when you bought it you said you were coming home a day earlier than you actually planned. So you decide to be grateful to have the money for the extra airfare.
    • You didn't realize how much you'd learn during the Road Scholar trip about astronomy, and the Northern Lights, and climate change, and the life of the polar bear.
    What a great trip!

      Friday, March 23, 2018

      Beneath the Northern Lights: Lady Aurora!

      I'm here in Churchill, Manitoba because seeing a sky full of Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for decades. Because I'm with a Road Scholar group, I'm also learning about polar bears, astronomy, ecology and biology of the far north, the mosaic that is Canada (rather than the melting pot that is the US). And I am reconfirming that Canadians are a class act.

      Three days ago we viewed our first Lights. They were mostly pale in the sky, greyish white. I had expected green and red. Our guide, Ron, told me that the human eye can't see the colors because at night we see using the rods in our eyes, and they see only black and white. The cones, which see the color, are for daytime use. "Well, how come the photos of the Lights always show vivid colors?" I asked. Ron said, "Because the camera's eye can see the colors."

      I wondered why I had never known that. Why people who raved about the Northern Lights had never mentioned it. For a while - that night and the next morning - I was disappointed and a little ticked off.

      I distracted myself a bit with other activities and the weather. So cold here! Yesterday the high was -3F. We were pulled by a snow machine to a nearby spot in the boreal forest as we learned about snow shelters and had a chance to try them out.


      Several of my fellow travelers tried snowshoeing. They all fell. I've had a previous experience where I did the same thing, so I chose to walk the half mile back to the Churchill Northern Studies Center, where we are staying. The sun was bright and the air was very cold and it was delightful.

      Then, last night, the Aurora was out again. I watched for a while from our dorm room, then went down the hall to the dome observation room. I climbed the metal spiral staircase in the dark to the top, where I could see the whole night sky.

      Those Lights were like a sentient being. They moved across the sky, in ripples and curtains, pulsing to our right and left, in front of the moon and around the Big Dipper. The palest of green with an occasional palest of rose at the fringes. I was transfixed. The last time I remember feeling this way was four years ago, in a land rover, amidst a family of elephants in the Masai Mara in Kenya. Spiritual, you know.

      These pictures were taken last night by our guide, Ron Waldron. His eyes saw the same as mine. His camera saw differently.






      It's nearly 11 p.m. I'm waiting for Ron's voice coming down the hall saying "show time" and knocking on doors. If it happens, I'll put on a robe over my pajamas and head for the dome to watch Lady Aurora one more time.

      Wednesday, March 21, 2018

      Journey to the Northern Lights: Settled in at Churchill

      We arrived by plane yesterday around lunchtime at the Churchill Northern Studies Center, quite close to the Hudson Bay.


      We have warm and convenient four-person dormitories, great food, and interesting experts. I had expected somewhat spartan accommodations, but I was wrong. It is all good. 

      This is the view from our dormitory window. 



      Last night we experienced the aurora. It was a pretty low level, but since we are directly beneath the aurora dome, we could see it. To my eye it was a white-gray shape shifter - the rods in our eyes see only black and white at night in low light - but the cameras caught it. This photo was taken by our instructor, Ron Waldron, and I have permission to use it.


      Tomorrow night is supposed to be the best time to see a glorious auroral display. Tonight, though, not so much. Right now it is snowing sideways outside and 10 degrees F. Tomorrow the high will be -2F.

      I spent a lot of time gathering my wardrobe for this trip. Tomorrow night I will wear long underwear top and bottom. On top, a long-sleeved shirt, fleece vest, warm jacket, neck warmer, hat and gloves. On the bottom, snow pants, thermal socks and boots. I will stay outside as long as possible, then come inside to watch from the viewing dome down the hall.

      What a great experience!


      Monday, March 19, 2018

      On my way to the Northern Lights - part 2: Winnipeg

      The Fort Garry Hotel is down the street from the Winnipeg train station. It's a grand old building. Our room is 220 square feet - about half the size of our park model in Tucson, but seems very spacious.

      There is snow on the ground here, temperature around 32 degrees. Not too bad. It has been a long time since I have worn a coat. Here is a view from our hotel room.



      We were driven here late Saturday evening by a Sikh driver. I said, "Do you own this taxi or do you work for a taxi company?" He told me his story. He's lived in Winnipeg for 20 years, raising his family. He paid $200,000 for a half share in his taxi, and now, he says, it's worth nothing. Lyft and Uber are coming into Winnipeg, he says, but even before that business from the airport is not as good as it used to be, because people used to have only one car and now they have more than one, and when people arrive at the Winnipeg airport they are picked up by family or friends. He has to pick up odd jobs to survive. But if he went back to Delhi, India, there would be no work for him, and besides, his kids are Canadians and don't want to go. So he is focusing on raising his kids.

      It's amazing what you hear when you ask an open-ended question.

      Yesterday we went to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a short walk from the hotel.  I am not much of a museum person, but this one held my interest for two hours. I have a fabulous 12-second video of the Welcoming Hall, but apparently it's too big to be uploaded here. I'm messing around with UTube for the first time ever. Stay tuned!

      Our Road Scholar group met up for dinner. Two couples and the other 19 all women. Many, like me, came here without their husbands. My Art said, "Why should I spend all that money to freeze?" Apparently the Northern Lights are mostly on women's bucket lists.

      The Manitoba Museum this morning. This time we took a guided tour rather than exploring independently. It was a good idea. Canada's history has some distinct differences. Apparently its people collaborated with the First Nations in mutual business interests before Canada became a Dominion, and the nation now appears to be more welcoming of immigrants. Maybe that was the tour guide's optimistic opinion.

      Our luggage has to be in the hotel hallway tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. Our flight leaves for Churchill at 7:00 a.m. I've decided to wear my insulated pants, thermal socks and boots, shirt and fleece vest and warm jacket and hat and gloves, but not the long underwear. Not yet. Tomorrow's high in Churchill is supposed to be 16F, and 1F the day after. That will probably be the long underwear day.

      Saturday, March 17, 2018

      On my way to the Northern Lights - part 1, maybe

      My friend Ellen and I are joining a Road Scholar (used to be Elderhostel) group for eight days. Three of those will be in Winnipeg and the other five at the Arctic Research Center in Churchill, Manitoba. Today is our travel day: Tucson to Minneapolis to Winnipeg.

      Our day has been uneventful but interesting. In the Tucson terminal I was offered a seat by a pleasant looking middle aged man. It still surprises me that men and young people offer me their seat sometimes. After all, I'm a senior, but I have blue streaks in my hair to remind people I'm still alive!

      A few minutes later, the pleasant man's wife, in a wheelchair, had to go to the bathroom. I spoke up. "Do you need some help? Would you like me to go with you?" She said yes and off we went. As recently as two years ago I wouldn't have made such an offer, but my time in Greece significantly broadened my comfort zone.

      When we got back, Ellen had struck up a conversation with the woman sitting on her other side. The woman was traveling home to Minnesota to meet her newest granddaughter, Londyn. She mentioned she lives in Mankato. I know a couple from that town, and said so. Turns out the woman knows my friends! Seems like a small world, but probably it isn't. I just happen to winter in a place with a lot of snowbirds from Minnesota.

      Our flight from Tucson to Minneapolis was full, but the seats were comfortable and leg room was ample. I pulled out my laptop and found a free offering of "The Shape of Water'. The movie is two hours and one minute long, and the flight was slightly longer than that, so I thought I'd have enough time to watch it. But I paused the movie a few times: to listen to the pilot, to go to the bathroom, and to order my snack. As a result, to my dismay, I had to close down my laptop ten minutes before the end of the movie. As I gathered my stuff from the overhead bin, I commented to Ellen that I would need to watch the ending some other time. The man behind me in the aisle said, "Oh, that's an excellent movie. The best part is the last ten minutes." I said, "Well, that's disappointing." He said, "Do you want me to tell you what happens? I'll whisper so no one who hasn't yet seen the movie will hear." I said yes and he did. Now, for sure, I will watch the rest of the movie!

      Our three-hour layover in Minneapolis went quickly. We found an actual restaurant - not a fast-food place. Now we're at the gate, waiting for our 90-minute flight to Winnipeg. We're scheduled to arrive at 11:20, where the temperature will be a springlike 35 degrees. We're coming in a day early, so we'll take a taxi to the Fort Garry Hotel, where the group will be staying for the first two mights.

      Sunday, March 11, 2018

      The play's the thing

      In high school, in the early 60s, I was in two musicals (Liesl in The Sound of Music and some lesser part in Camelot) and the senior play (Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians). During my college years, in the late 60s, I was in two summer community theatre musicals (HMS Pinafore and The Mikado).

      I minored in drama because I love the theatre.

      As a newlywed in a tiny desert town (Rosamond, CA), I directed the district's first high school play (Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap).

      That was nearly 50 years ago.

      At the Voyager RV resort, where Art and I live in the winter, there is usually a musical or a play. Rehearsals start in early November and the production is in early March. Art has been cast for the last four years. I helped for two; I headed up ticket sales two years ago and was associate producer and stage manager last year. I had no interest in acting. For one thing, it is Art's delight and I wanted him to have an activity I wasn't involved in. For another, it's time consuming to do two rehearsals a week for four months.

      This year my friend Dee, the director, said, "Linda, would you consider taking a part?" I said, "Only if you can't find anyone else." I suspect she didn't try to find anyone else. And I didn't ever say no.

      So I was in rehearsals every Monday and Thursday afternoon from November 4 to March 5. I played Sylvia Axley, the bitchy former program chairman of a woman's club, in an hourlong one-act play called "Guess Who's Coming to Lunch." I'm not bitchy myself, I don't think, but I've known my share, so I had some behaviors to observe and draw on.

      I learned, to my chagrin, that lines are much harder to memorize at 69 than they are at 19. Much, much harder.

      Our performances were Thursday and Friday evenings this week. We had audiences of just under 300 people each night. I would call it a "friends and family" performance.

      I was a pretty good bitch, I've been told!

      Tomorrow there's a production meeting for next season's play. I will go to hear about it and probably to find out what Art will be up to next year. But after this year I am calling myself a retired actress.

      Sunday, March 4, 2018

      Higher education in the nail salon

      There are nail salons closer to our winter place. This one is nine miles away and I almost didn't go. But my friend Lynne had a dentist appointment right after her pedicure, so we drove in separate cars. Lynne and I like to chat while we're getting our pedicures.

      My pedicurist was a Vietnamese man, Thomas. As he washed my feet I said "cảm ơn" - thank you, the only Vietnamese word I know. I say this every time I get a pedicure in a Vietnamese nail salon. This time, though, Thomas grinned from ear to ear. I was grateful I've been to Vietnam and learned the word, and remembered it.

      Lynne's pedicurist is an American woman, Janie. A recent Tucsonian arrival, in her 20s, born and raised in the South, she's getting a fresh start with her life. Her eyes are bright and calm. We are both Friends of Bill W, so we chatted briefly about that. I was grateful that I've learned to be curious and friendly to people I might not have spoken to before. My eyes are wider these days.

      Then a new client arrived. A man. Long white beard. Long white hair. Carrying two guns in leather holsters. I watched, startled, as he crossed the room. In my entire life I have never seen a person carrying a gun other than a police officer. I have only heard of it.

      Janie had finished Lynne's pedicure, and the carrying fellow was her next client. They greeted each other. Janie started filling the water in the foot basin and the man took off his boots, then his socks, before seating himself in the station next to me.

      I almost didn't say anything to him. Then I said, "Janie, what is your client's name?"

      "Rusty."

      I looked at him and said, "Hi, Rusty. My name is Linda. Would you mind if I take your picture? In my whole 69 years, I have never seen anyone carrying. And I would never have thought I'd see it in a nail salon!"

      I continued, "I've been told I should never take a picture of a person without asking permission. I don't want to offend you."

      Rusty laughed. "Sure," he said.

      "How often do you get a pedicure?"
      "Every couple of months."

      Just like me. Every couple of months.

      I said, "Will you sit so that I can see that you are carrying and include that in my shot?"

      He did.



      I said, "Thanks. I wanted to take the picture to remind me about stereotyping, and that we are more alike than we are different."

      "But," I continued, "If you'd been carrying an AK-15 I wouldn't have asked if I could take your picture."

      We both laughed. So did Janie.

      As I got up to pay, Rusty said, "God bless you."

      "You too," I said.

      Good thing I drove those extra miles for my pedicure. I would have missed the higher education.

      Thursday, February 22, 2018

      One hour and fifteen minutes

      I gave my lecture today. It was called "Refugees and Me: A Voyager in Greece." I called it that because we live at the Voyager RV Resort in the winter, and everyone who came to the lecture lives here as well." The talk lasted one hour and fifteen minutes.

      I worked on this talk for about 40 hours in the last two weeks. The presentation had 36 PowerPoint slides which included about 50 photos. And a script, to keep me from talking too much or getting off the topic.

      I have given other talks about my experiences in Greece:
      • Four and a half minutes last summer, for my church, to explain what Do Your Part does. DYP was the charity for the congregation for July and August 2016. They raised $4,000.
      • Fifteen minutes last fall for a luncheon celebrating the Year of the Girl.
      • Conversations at informal gatherings with friends.
      Today was still not all I had to say, but it was the most I'd ever said.

      About 60 people attended the lecture. No one left before the end. And there were questions. I couldn't have expected anything better.

      This talk I will keep, to give again if asked. As I told several people today, "I will talk to you about my experience at the Greek refugee camp any time, anywhere."

      This project felt like a term paper. Maybe a master's thesis!

      Worth it, though.

      Wednesday, February 7, 2018

      The question I ask myself

      "How did I ever have time to go to work?"

      I quit my last full-time paid job in June of 2010. Nearly eight years ago. I envisioned quiet days, long walks, lots of reading.

      I should have known better. That happened for about four months. Then I got busy.

      We could have just traveled. As it is, I've taken 63 trips of three days or longer in the last eight years. But on one of them, I came across a couple hundred refugees in the Saltzburg train station, and within a year I became a volunteer at a refugee camp in Greece. After my first time there, I went back three more times. I joined the board of Do Your Part, the disaster recovery nonprofit I worked for at the camp.

      I could have spent time on just one hobby. I love genealogy and have been working on my family history for nearly 20 years.  Hours can go by while I explore online.  But instead of focusing on genealogy, I took 140 hours of mediation training and got certified. As a volunteer, I've done about 80 mediations in the last four years - some at the dispute resolution center in my county, some at small claims court, some out in the world. I've gotten better at it, and I still love it.

      We spend winters in Tucson. For the first four years mostly I played: swimming, discussion groups, line dancing, handbells. And then the Voyager Theatre Company came along. The first year I did ticket sales; the second, assistant to the producer; this year, I'm part of the cast for a one-act play. Just for this year, though. Next year I want to have a quieter winter. I think.

      In the meantime, I've started volunteering with Keep Tucson Together, doing work similar to what I did at the refugee camp. Talking to people now in the US who fear for their lives should they be forced to relocate to Mexico or Central America. Helping as I can. For KTT, I took on a new project this week. It's only three hours a week - at my request - but still, it's three hours.

      And two weeks from tomorrow I'm giving a lecture on my experience at the refugee camp. I really need to get started on preparing for that. Most of it is in my head, but it needs to get transferred to a script and a PowerPoint presentation.

      Almost everything I'm doing is important to me. I'm not sure what I will give up. I know for sure that I want to keep the friendships I've made in all of these endeavors.

      But about having a quieter time. My sister reminds me every now and then that when I'm quiet, I think too much. She and I both say "our minds are a dangerous neighborhood. We should never go in there alone." When I'm busy and engaged, my mind is useful, and that's a good thing.

      I had time to go to work because I volunteered very little. I traveled only a couple of times a year. I raised two kids and established bonds with six stepkids. It was a full life, and mostly satisfying.

      I can say the same thing now. I have a full life and it is almost always satisfying.

      Still. Every now and then I'd like to spend an afternoon lying on the couch, reading a book. Maybe I'll do that.



      Sunday, January 28, 2018

      A different kind of risk

      I've never been much of a risk taker. My father was a military officer, and I grew up believing in following the rules. I've actually done that most of my life, with a few exceptions that I won't go into here.

      I've done a fair bit of traveling in the last 15 years. I used to think it was risky to get on an airplane, but I found my fear diminishing as I flew more. My husband Art and I flew to Washington DC on 9/21/01, just a few days after planes were ungrounded after 9/11. It was very, very quiet. Even the subways. Even the monuments. There were no lines. We were careful, but we didn't feel like we were taking risks. It was probably one of the safest times to be in the nation's capital.

      In 2005 we went to Vietnam on a journey of reconciliation and healing for Art. We visited numerous places that were quite dangerous 45 years ago: My Lai, the Cu Chi tunnels, Hanoi. But I felt entirely safe. Miserably hot and sweaty, but safe.

      Four years ago, in 2013, we went to Kenya. I remember being raised on "darkest Africa", but what I found there was friendly people, beautiful countryside, fabulous animals and some of the finest customer service I've ever experienced. The tented camps were anything but primitive; we felt like honored guests.

      In the summer of 2016 I went to Greece, to volunteer in a refugee camp. I returned three times over the next 15 months. For about three months altogether. I spent my days - and many evenings - in what had been an abandoned chemical factory, converted to small rooms housing families, mostly from Afghanistan and mostly Muslim. I walked alone through that camp many times and felt not the slightest fear, whether in daylight or darkness. In that culture, older people are honored. Some of the residents called me Grandmother. With respect.

      I got comments from friends on all these trips.

      In 2001: "Oh, my God! You are so brave to fly so soon after 9/11. And to Washington!"
      In 2005: "Wasn't it scary going to all those places where we were fighting? Did the people look at you with hate?"
      In 2013: "Isn't it dangerous in Africa? I'd be afraid of a terrorist attack."
      In 2016: "All those refugees! Weren't you afraid there would be someone from ISIS at the camp?"

      Nope. I wasn't afraid. It didn't feel like I was taking a risk. Like I said, I've never been much of a risk taker.

      Then, this week, I had a conversation with my sister Alyx. She commented that my life is very interesting now, that I'm not afraid to take a risk. I said I didn't feel like I was. She said, "You have a risky heart."

      I had never heard that before.

      "You go these places and connect with people there. You listen to people tell their stories. When you come home you keep in touch with them on Facebook. Sometimes they keep telling you their stories. You talk about your experiences to groups of people."

      I thought, well, yeah.

      Then Alyx told me about a friend of hers, a nurse, who'd recently read about the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis. The friend said it had changed how she looks at life. I said, "Tell your friend I will talk to her about the refugees any time, anywhere."

      And Alyx said, "See? There's your risky heart again."

      So I guess I do take risks. But what's the alternative? Fly home on my American passport and remember from a safe distance? Delete the pictures from my phone? Talk about the weather to refugees waiting in hopes of getting asylum somewhere? Pass up opportunities to share my experiences with friends here at home?

      Nope.

      Me and my risky heart.

      Sunday, January 21, 2018

      The Bag Lady reflects on "Not Greece"

      It is 37 degrees this morning here in Tucson. I set the alarm for 7:20 because my handbell choir is playing at today's nondenominational service at the RV resort where we live in the winter. We begin our setup at 8:00 and have a quick rehearsal. By 8:45 I'm home for breakfast, ready to return for the service in an hour.

      I am grateful to be able to spend the winter in a sunny place. Chilly mornings are not too common here, and I bought a fleece vest through LLBean last week, so I get to enjoy the bracing air and not shiver.

      And, this morning, I am reflecting.
      • In the last 18 months I went to Greece four times to volunteer at the Oinofyta refugee camp: for six days, then two weeks, then a month, then five weeks. My mind is full of memories and I have been enriched beyond imagining by those journeys. The camp was closed on November 3 by the Greek government, and Do Your Part, the American nonprofit I'm affiliated with, still has a presence in Greece as it supervises Oinofyta Wares, the business begun by the refugees in the camp and then moved to a nearby town. The business will provide jobs for nearly a dozen families as they begin their integration into Greek life. Do Your Part is also developing a community center in that same Greek town, so that former Oinofyta residents can gather and learn. I serve on the Do Your Part board, so I am still busy at home, but my work is mostly done alone, at my computer, as I maintain the accounting for the agency and assure our compliance with various governmental agencies. Not as interesting, but necessary.
      August 2016

      August 2016 - photo by Jenean Campos
      August 2017
      • Now I am not planning another trip to Greece. When people ask me when I am going back, I say, "I have no idea, but probably never." And it is this "Not Greece" thing that occupies my mind sometimes. It is a sad thing. For a year and a half it was Greece all the time, whether I was there or at home. It was relationships and friendships established and nurtured. It was personal challenges and growth. I spoke at several events - at my church and at our winter home. Ordinarily a decent conversationalist, I was pretty much a one-topic talker. These days I can talk about handbells, or the play I'm rehearsing, or the volunteer work I'm doing in Tucson to help people at risk of deportation - or whatever the other person brings up.
      • In 2001 I trained for the Breast Cancer Three-Day event - months of preparation for three days of 20-mile walks. I was focused on wicking shirts and underwear and socks, custom orthotics for my New Balance walking shoes, and my training schedule. For four months. The only people who were remotely interested in talking to me were other Three-Dayers. No one else in my world "got it". I wrote 92 personal letters to raise the $1,800 required for participation in the walk. The weekend of the walk there was a heat wave in Seattle, and I ended up in the hospital with heat exhaustion - alongwith 200 other walkers. I walked only two of the three days. But I remember that whole experience as a marker in my life. 
      • It's the same with Greece. And now, Not Greece. I am in regular contact with others who have volunteered, at Oinofyta and other sites in Greece. They are from the US and Canada, the UK and Spain and Portugal and Switzerland. Some of them are still there, some have come home for a few months, or for the last time. We talk online about how it feels to be home in body but still in Greece otherwise, and how isolating and lonely it sometimes feels. How hard it is to get back to "normal life", and how we wonder if we will ever feel normal in that normal life - or content with it.

      Lunch!
      Lunch spot



      Volunteer haircuts


      • And I remain in contact with a number of refugees, as they await family reunification elsewhere in Europe ("It should happen by January...but maybe not.") or begin jobs or school in Greece while they wait for their asylum interview. A few of them call me their American mother.




      • I pay attention to what's happening with the refugees in Europe - a few good things, but mostly not good. And I now work with people in a similar situation on the border of my own country. I am meeting people who have that same commitment, and that helps me feel like I'm part of something bigger than me. 
      • And, at home, I settle into my "normal" life and my too-busy calendar. 
      It's Not Greece.


      I just read this blog post to my husband Art, who accompanied me on my two monthlong trips. When I finished, I said, "Do you relate to this?" 

      He said, "Oh, yeah."

      Tuesday, January 9, 2018

      Something new on my bucket list

      Actually, I wasn't the first person to have the idea. Several members of my spiritual community acknowledged they wanted, someday, to be "arrested for civil disobedience".

      My father was a military officer, and one of the primary values in our family was loyalty and discretion. I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara in the 1960s. I was in Isla Vista the night the Bank of America was burned to the ground as a protest against the Kent State killings. That same night, my father was in Da Nang, Vietnam, and he was paying for my college. I remained on the sidelines of any disobedience, civil or otherwise.

      I am outspoken, but I've been compliant in most areas of my life. Civil disobedience witnessed on TV looked a little scary and "leftist" to me, so I stayed on the sidelines again. I was busy, after all, raising my children and working to support my family. And, to be honest, not thinking too much about life outside my Circle of Concern.

      Now I am retired. In the last year and a half I've been drawn into the issue of immigration in a personal, on-the-ground way. I traveled to Greece four times to volunteer at a refugee camp. I spent time with the people who lived there and I heard their stories and I realized that, after all, we are all the same, and I wanted to help them. Mostly I listened and solved problems and worked collaboratively with other volunteers, but I have also given several talks and done some fundraising for Do Your Part, the American nonprofit for whom I volunteer.

      I live in Tucson in the winter. I've been led to an organization called Keep Tucson Together, which provides a variety of services, including assistance to people who have either sought asylum in the US or who have been in the States for years and are now in danger of being deported. On three Saturdays in the last couple of months I've worked with other volunteers, listening to the stories of our clients, with the goal of preparing their paperwork for a deportation or an asylum hearing.

      Last Saturday, after the Keep Tucson Together clinic, the organization leader, Peter, asked me to go with two other people to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Center in Eloy, Arizona. A Spanish-speaking volunteer and I will listen to detainees tell their stories and help with paperwork. Peter says the place looks like a prison. Volunteers visit the detention center a couple of times a week, and I will go when I am able.

      I am not a "leftist", but I am a believer in social justice. I will be doing my work in an ICE facility. As I see it, I am not breaking the law, but rather helping people comply with it.

      However, I now get the civil disobedience thing. And I think being arrested for standing up for one's convictions is a reasonable thing to add to a bucket list.