Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Two sets of plane tickets

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

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

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

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






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

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

And the second set of tickets?

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

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

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

So I'm traveling again! 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Bag Lady releases some stress

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

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

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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rightsizing: a paradigm shift



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

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

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

It doesn't feel much like home here now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

913 - Surprised!

My May 30 post was called "Drenched in Privilege." I wrote it after a day in Olympia, the state capital, serving as a "peace keeper" for protesters in the Poor People's Campaign. My first-ever protest participation.

Usually I get about 300 "hits" on my blog posts, and most of them happen in the first four or five days. The May 30 post has gotten 913 as of today. Astonishing!

I think what's happened is that people are sharing the post from Facebook, because my blog posts go there too. I'm guessing that my thoughts on privilege - something I apparently have but didn't realize it until a couple of years ago - are waking up other people like me. I hope it's not because the rest of the world is laughing at how clueless I have been.

I've seen the word "woke" more often in the last few weeks than before, and I think it means we're becoming awakened or aware of situations around us that we never thought much about before. And I think that's where change will happen.

I've got some other changes going on right now:

  • Thinking about selling our Washington house and living small. That means getting rid of 23 years of stuff.
  • Planning for just the two of us in our household again, after several years of offspring tenants.
  • Becoming more aware of LGBTQ issues as a result of the coming out of people I know.
  • And oh, you know, those aging issues.
I like to think I'm open to change. I guess what's really the case is I'm open to SOME change. Especially the kind of change I choose myself.  The change I don't choose is a little harder.

I wonder how many of the 913 are having similar thoughts.

Here's another change. How did it ever happen that I got old enough to have two grandchildren graduating from high school? 

Surprised!



Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Drenched in privilege

I can't take credit for the title of this post. I heard it just this week for the first time.

Until two years ago, I didn't realize I was a person of privilege. To my mind, that meant country clubs and expensive cars and a glamorous lifestyle. I have never been that, nor would I want to. 

What I had instead was a childhood as the daughter of a military officer. A university education. Not one day without enough to eat or a place to sleep. Enough money to pay the bills even when I was the single mother of two boys and without work for a few months. A job with good benefits and a decent retirement income.

I never thought much about it. I knew there were problems of discrimination and poverty and multiple other human difficulties in the United States and the rest of the world. I sympathized with all those affected by such things. I donated money to the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders and Habitat for Humanity and for several years sent money each month to some Children's Fund to support a child in an impoverished part of the world. 

Two years ago I was having dinner with six other women in Chautauqua, New York. We were discussing privilege, and I finally got it. I said, "I am just now realizing I am privileged." There was silence around the table and then one woman, Denny, said, "I commend you for your courage in acknowledging that around this table, to women you have just met."

A month later I made my first trip to Greece, to volunteer for six days in a refugee camp (I had planned this trip before I went to Chautauqua). I bought my ticket with frequent flyer miles. I was the oldest volunteer and lacked the stamina of the younger ones. I spent several hours each day in the air conditioned container that was the staff office. Fortunately, the director found me useful working with her. The other volunteers worked in the sweltering warehouse, distributing food and clothing to refugees.

Two months later I went back, this time for two weeks. And last year, I returned two more times, for a month each time. On my last two visits, I did two-week stints as vacation relief for the camp director. I took my husband with me, and we paid for our tickets from a travel savings account.

On these journeys to the camp, there was not one day when I didn't have enough to eat or a place to sleep. I shared a bathroom with eight other people, but had a hot shower each day. And wonderful food in the nearby village. And, sometimes, gelato.

I know now that we are all the same, no matter where we live or what kind of roof - or none - is over our heads when we sleep. Or where we were born, or how we worship - or not. I knew it not because I had read about it or watched it on the media, but because I had sat with refugee residents of the camp, and volunteers from around the world, and local Greek citizens. We are all the same. Really.


I belong to a progressive spiritual community. On Memorial Day this week some of our members participated in The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival". This movement was initiated by Dr. William Barber- whom I had heard speak at Chautauqua -  using Martin Luther King's work as a model. The Poor People's Campaign is led by people of color, with support by others. So Monday, we were led by two people of color in Olympia, but the 16 people who sat in the intersections were white and mostly middle aged or older. The theme for this week is "The War Economy", and talks were given on the steps of the capitol about the cost of US defense - in money and in lives - and on gun violence. I was a "peace keeper" and wore a yellow vest. My job was to protect the protesters if agitators were present.

From the beginning of the event, the police watched us - some on bicycles, others in vehicles with flashing lights. We marched, chanting and singing. We took over four consecutive intersections in Olympia while the police positioned themselves strategically to manage and divert traffic. The leaders wanted some of us to be arrested for civil disobedience, but that did not happen in the first three intersections. We finally surrounded a police car in the intersection just before freeway onramps to north I-5 (Seattle) and south I-5 (Portland). At one time there were 19 police vehicles with lights flashing.






And the protesters sat for over two hours before they were finally arrested. Remember, there were no people of color on the ground. Just older white people.

Here's what the Reverend Cecilia Kingman said last night:

I can’t sleep tonight. I can’t stop thinking about Sandra Bland. I can’t stop thinking about white privilege.
Today I led an action of civil disobedience in which we blocked a freeway on ramp, and then surrounded a police vehicle (which we then realized was the vehicle belonging to the Captain of the Washington State Patrol). In spite of our disruptive actions, police took hours to arrest us, gave us multiple warnings, and were polite and warm. They even asked if we needed to use the bathroom, and asked if we were comfortable.
They asked me how I wanted the arrests to go. Seriously! They did everything but offer us a cup of coffee.
Sandra Bland, SAY HER NAME, was pulled over for failure to use her turn signal, and died three days later in her jail cell. Her turn signal!
I was utterly drenched in my white privilege today. I could hardly get arrested, the cops were so reluctant. Hey y’all, if a bunch of young people of color had done what we did today, they would have been dragged by their hair. Or worse.
I’m sick to my stomach tonight.
I can’t wait for my court date.
Even better, I can’t wait to get back in the streets, ready to do whatever our leaders of color ask of me.
And on the same day, in Oinofyta, Greece, refugees blocked the road in front of the camp, which reopened in March with inadequate living conditions. Here's what Lisa Campbell, Do Your Part's Executive Director and now my friend, had to say:
Tensions at the Oinofyta camp have finally come to a head. The residents are blocking the road, demanding to speak with journalists and refusing to move until they have told their story.
Please share this to raise awareness.
UPDATE: representatives from the ministry of migration came. They told the residents they would not speak with them until they open the road. So the road is now open and a small group of residents is speaking with the representatives. The residents have said that if they are not satisfied with the negotiations they will close the national road next.
UPDATE 2: Conversations were had with the ministry officials to air the residents complaints and requests. The main request is for the most vulnerable to be removed to housing. Promises were made. Things have calmed down, for now. We will see. I hope this is the beginning of a major improvement in the situation in the camp.


When we left Olympia on Monday at 9:30 pm - after the 16 protesters had been arrested and then released immediately, my feet and legs were very tired and sore. When I got home I took a hot shower and slept in my own bed. The next morning I mediated a session in small claims court, then came home and took a warm bath and a nap.
Drenched in privilege. That would be me.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Bag Lady tries a few new things

A few years ago I identified the primary values which, if I prioritized and then practiced them, resulted in my feeling pretty good about my life: in order, they are spirituality, health, community, curiosity, and purpose.

When I am feeling out of sorts or out of balance I try to look at these values and see where my life is not aligned with them. I never have a problem with community, curiosity or purpose; I seem naturally inclined to incorporate these into my life. I almost always find that spirituality and health are where I am falling off.  I've tried in the past to move them lower in my priority list, but then I pay even less attention to them. They really need to be at the top of the list.

I have a 12-step program which I practice most of the time, and that provides a guide for my spiritual well being. I also have a Unitarian Universalist community which identifies itself as "standing on the side of Love." For this first priority of mine, the most important thing is that I show up. And I usually do.

Health is the second priority. At my last checkup, my doctor confirmed that all of my health concerns - sleep apnea, hypertension, and asthma - are at least partly the result of my extra weight. "If you were to lose even 30 pounds, most of these health issues would be diminished." And I recently learned from my dentist's office that I have extra soft tissue in my throat that makes my airway narrower. The only way to fix that is to lose weight.

So weight loss is not just cosmetic or wanting to wear the clothes on the right-hand side of my closet that will fit "in about eight pounds". It's about relieving my sleep apnea, lowering my blood pressure, minimizing my asthma, and breathing easily.

I recently watched a mindfulness video by Dr. Kelly McGonigal about habits that form "default states" and how to consciously create new ones. You know the saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear"? Well, this student is ready. I won't go into the details of Dr. McGonigal's talk here. Suffice it to say that I have initiated a strategy to align my values with what I actually do. It's about pairing up things I enjoy with things I don't.

Here's the deal: I want to eat fruits and vegetables, but also cheese and Healthy Choice fudge bars and Costco unsalted mixed nuts.  I want to play Candy Crush on my laptop and my phone. I want to maintain an active presence on Facebook. I want to watch Netflix with my husband at night.

So this is my plan, derived from Dr. McGonigal's video:
  • I want to eat Healthy Choice fudge bars in the evening - one or a few. But I will only do that if I have gotten enough exercise during the day. I use my Fitbit and the Weight Watchers point system to determine whether and how many. No exercise, no fudge bars. This part of my plan has gotten me out of the house for my two-mile walk for the last two days, and it was easier today than it was yesterday.
  • I want to learn Spanish in the next two years, so that when I volunteer at the asylum clinic in Tucson I can communicate with our clients without an interpreter. I am using Duolingo and Rosetta Stone as tools to do that. But on my computer I would rather play Candy Crush. So I will not play Candy Crush in a day until I have done three exercises in both Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. No Spanish practice, no Candy Crush. That has worked for the last two days, and it was easier today than yesterday.
I recently had a laser procedure done to tighten the soft tissue in the back of my throat. It's to prevent snoring. The doctor who did the procedure gave me exercises for twice a day, several days each week, to strengthen the muscles in my tongue, jaw, neck and throat. If I don't do the exercises, I'll need a repeat of the procedure in two years. If I do the exercises, I probably won't. But I don't like doing the exercises. They take about 15 minutes and they're an annoying interruption in my day. 

Guess what I found out today on my two-mile walk? If I do the exercises while I'm walking, it's easier for me to breathe on the hills! Who knew?

Back to my plan:
  • I like to check Facebook in the morning. But I won't do that unless I've done the morning exercises prescribed for the day.
  • I like to watch Netflix with my husband in the evening. But I won't do that unless I've done the evening exercises prescribed.
I believe I can do this, one day at a time. 

I'm just trying a few new things.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Settled in Seattle - and waiting

We've been home from our winter place in Tucson for two weeks now. I am finally settled into our family home in a suburb just north of Seattle. Here's what's happened so far.

1. I have Kaiser Permanente - an HMO - for medical insurance. Kaiser doesn't do business in Arizona, so I went nearly six months knowing that, except for urgent or emergency care, I'd have to cover medical expenses myself or fly home. Last year I was diagnosed with asthma, and I paid $950 for the diagnosis and treatment. If we decide to move to Arizona full time, I'll need to change my Medicare provider.

Anyway, I've been to Kaiser four times in the last two weeks to catch up with myself.

  • To the optometrist for a vision check. I've had cataract surgery in both eyes, and sometimes a film develops on the lens afterwards. Last year an ophthalmologist removed the film in my right eye but said the left eye wasn't "ready" yet. This year, the optometrist said it is. So I was able to get a referral for the ophthalmologist.
  • To the ophthalmologist for the five-minute procedure. Easy, and now the eyestrain that has bothered me for two months is gone.
  • For a mammogram - results normal.
  • To the audiologist for a hearing test. Apparently other people think I need hearing aids. The test results are almost the same as five years ago. No hearing aids needed yet. Apparently "other people" need to stop mumbling!
2. I got back into my summer mediation routine: mediated at small claims court in my county, did a role-play for the mock mediation for a mediator in training, and signed up to coach a mediator in training at a local high school. I've been certified as a mediator for over five years, and I still love it.

3. I am reminded of the meaning of a "family home". One of our eight kids has been renting a room for three years, while he went to nursing school. He is ready to move to his own place, but housing in the Seattle area is very expensive and competitive. A second of our kids lived here for a month or so before he moved out earlier this spring; I can tell he was here by the stuff left in his room and the less-than-spotless bathroom. The husband of our oldest daughter is staying with us while starting up his business and waiting to take possession of the house they bought; he's very easy to have around and works long hours. I suspect the husband of my niece will be with us for a few days, as they are moving from Tucson in June and he'll need to scout around for a place for them to live. I have invited a friend to stay here for a week in late June as she recovers from surgery.

These people are all welcome here. We have plenty of room. If we sell this house and move to Tucson full time, the story will change.

4. One of our cars spent the winter in the garage but needs servicing for a recall issue. The carpets need cleaning. And the windows. I did the maintenance on the raspberry bed, while one son and one neighbor have made the yard and garden presentable.

5. We have eaten in all but one of our favorite restaurants: Talay Thai for Thai; Tai Ho for Chinese; Las Espuelas for Mexican; Brier Family Restaurant for fish and chips; Voula's for breakfast. Next up is...wait for it...Taco del Mar for Baja bowls.

6. We have resumed ordering fresh fruits and vegetables from our CSA. A box of great food arrives on our front porch every Friday.

So we are home for the summer. But we are waiting.
 
There is something of a chance we'll be making one more trip to Greece. Maybe in July. But we won't know for a couple of weeks. To that end, we will be sending in our passport renewals tomorrow. Did you know we're no longer supposed to smile when our passport photos are taken?

There is something of a chance we will be getting our house ready to sell this summer. If that happens, we'll be doing very little else. 

I am very aware that the days are longer here now than in Tucson; that we're in the most beautiful part of the year here; that there hasn't been as much rain as we expected since we got home.  But the traffic is worse than it was this time last year. There is lots of apartment construction without a corresponding increase in road capacity. Property taxes have risen substantially.

Yep, we are waiting to see what we'll be doing this summer.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Home. Really?

I flew home to Seattle yesterday after six months in Tucson. Our house here is large; we bought it 23 years ago when our eight-kid blended family was growing up. Our place there is small; a park model (trailer) we bought four years ago - after two years of renting it - when we decided we wanted to spend our winters at the Voyager, a 55-plus RV resort.

The autumn transition to Arizona is always easy. We're returning to a simple but active life, with friends who are doing the same. Everyone is glad to see each other.

The spring return to our town, Brier, isn't so easy. I'm always amazed and overwhelmed by how much Stuff we have, and how little of it we use. I love the green beauty in this part of the country, but not the traffic. Our friends here have gone on with their lives without us for six months, and we need to kind of ease back in.

This year it's a little different. We have begun to think about selling our Washington home and relocating permanently to Tucson. Seriously thinking. Art is "still listening", but he says I can ask him once a week whether he is shifting from listening to thinking to planning. There will be a lot to do if we make the decision to sell and move.

Over the last six years we have come to think of our Tucson place as our second home. Not just a winter getaway. We love the little place we've fixed up to our liking. We love the Voyager community. We love the city of Tucson. Except for the beastly hot summers - which I think we can avoid - and the more conservative politics - which I hope we can influence.

Of course we love Seattle too. The physical beauty, the friends we have made here, our volunteer activities, the knowledge that four of our grown kids live in the area.

The family home here in Brier has stairs. Two sets. And a steep driveway. And a big yard. Too much for us these days, I think.

I'm pretty sure there's a family looking for a house like ours. And the Seattle housing market is sizzling right now. So next week, when I ask Art, I hope he'll be moving into his planning phase.

When we moved into this house I was 46 years old. I had never in my life lived in any house for longer than six years. This Brier place has been home, and part of my heart will remain here.

The other parts of my heart are ready to move on.



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."