Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Telling the stories

I never thought of myself as a storyteller. I haven't got a lot of creative imagination, so when people would tell me I should write a book, I'd respond that I didn't have much to say.

But other people do. I've found that I can listen to their stories and write them down. The stories aren't mine, but I'm the keeper of their words.

Here's a story I heard in Greece from one of the residents of the Oinofyta camp. I met Abdul on my first trip to Greece, and he told me his story on my second trip.

I have seen Abdul on all the five trips I've made to Greece in the last two years. He now works at the Oinofyta Community center, lives in Athens, and has a second daughter. His circumstances have changed a bit, but every time I see him I remember the story of why he left his homeland.

Every refugee has a story.

This winter my husband Art and I are volunteering at a refugee shelter at a church in Tucson. Our shift is Saturday evenings from 5 to 9. We've cooked dinner, served a meal, offered coffee, done laundry, played with children, and transported refugees to the Greyhound bus station. Whatever is needed. Each week the sheltered guests are different. They're from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil and Peru. They've made their way to the US border and asked for asylum. They've had an initial interview by the Border Patrol or ICE and have been declared eligible to apply for asylum. Many of them left their homelands because of threats from drug gangs. Few of the people at the shelter speak English, but many of them are literate. At the shelter they are given an opportunity to write in a journal about the journey from their home, across the border and into Tucson. The stories are all in Spanish. I hope they will be translated eventually. I suspect some of the stories are quite a bit like Abdul's.



Last Thursday night I went with some friends to an event called Odyssey Storytelling, in downtown Tucson. Six people told a ten-minute story on the theme of "Mortified." The stories were hilarious and poignant and, because the audience was close to the speakers on the stage, we were kind of all together, sharing the experience with the storytellers. It was an intimate experience. Here's what the storytelling experience is about:
In an article in Borderlore, a publication of the Southwest Folklife Alliance, Odyssey Storytelling is described this way: “The big picture is that sharing stories is about building community. On a personal level it is about being honest and being seen for who you are. Both of these things are basic human needs. Everyone benefits from a storytelling event either as a teller or as a listener. Odyssey Storytelling offers a showcase for people of all ages, cultures, gender expressions and sexual orientations.”
All of us have a story.

At the Voyager RV Resort, where Art and I live in the winter, storytelling will make its debut in January. Six storytellers will present a ten-minute story. It will be a true story, and it will be about them. I've been asked to be one of the storytellers.

My story will probably be about the case of the beeping pacemaker.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Four weeks later, I've found my place

We arrived at our place at the Voyager, in Tucson, just a month ago and we've settled in to most of our schedule. Art has musical play rehearsals on Monday and Thursday afternoons (they're doing You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown this year, and he is playing Pigpen). My handbell choir practices on Monday afternoons and plays at the Voyager's nondenominational church service once a month, which is the only time I attend. There's a current events discussion group on Wednesday afternoons that I like; when I started six years ago most of the attendees were conservative, and now they're mostly liberal. Almost everyone is better informed than me, which is good because I can learn. In January there will also be a foreign affairs discussion group called Great Decisions. I do that on Thursdays.

In the last two years I've made five trips to Greece to volunteer at the Oinofyta refugee camp with Do Your Part, a small American nonprofit. I've become committed to supporting people who have left their homeland because of unsafe conditions and helping to provide the services they need during their time of transition.

Last winter I decided to volunteer in the Tucson community. I went to the asylum clinic for Keep Tucson Together every other Saturday to help people prepare their asylum paperwork. I loved the person-to-person contact, but the clinic didn't seem very well organized, and sometimes I wasn't able to be useful at all. When I first got to Tucson this year, I went to a volunteer training for KTT. It's much better organized now, with more options available for volunteers, but none of them felt right, so I didn't sign up. I decided to wait.

I found another group, Casa Alitas, which provides temporary accommodations for migrants and refugees who have been interviewed by the Border Patrol or ICE and allowed entry into the US to apply for asylum. They're at Casa Alitas for only a few days, until their US host - a friend or a relative in another city - has sent money for a bus ticket. Again, I went to the volunteer training. Again, it didn't feel right.

Then, last week, I heard about the Refugee Shelter Ministry at St. Francis in the Foothills, a very progressive Methodist Church in Tucson. This is a very new program at the church;  it had only been active for a week. It's just like the one at Casa Alitas providing temporary support and shelter for migrants and refugees on their way to hosts elsewhere in the country. Art and I signed up for a four-hour shift last Saturday. We received a quick introductory tour. He then went off to help prepare dinner for the 15 being sheltered, and I kept company with those in the social area. No one spoke any English at all, and I speak not much Spanish, but we managed. Dinner arrived and I was the hostess.

I love doing service work one on one. Every one of these people expressed their gratitude for the least little thing: help interpreting a bus route to Maryland, for example, with the five bus tickets that would be required; a cup of coffee con leche y azucar; a travel pack with food for each person leaving. I got hugs and smiles for just being there.

I told some friends about our experience. One of them has already signed up for three shifts!

We've signed up for another shift tonight. We leave in 45 minutes.

I've found my place to be of service.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

One more voter

This conversation happened in October, before the midterms, but it's worth sharing.

My husband Art and I have eight kids between us, ranging in age from 33 to 47. In most cases, I don't know how they vote or whether they vote at all.

For my two sons, I know one of them always votes. He's 41 now, and I suspect he is mostly conservative. The other, now 39, has never registered to vote at all. Last year I asked him why he didn't, and he said, "Oh, I don't know. I never pay much attention to stuff like that." I'm not naming names here, to avoid embarrassing either of my sons.

This summer, as the midterms heated up, I pushed a little on the nonvoter. I said, "I hope you will register to vote." He shrugged and said something vague. A couple of weeks later, I said, "If you will register to vote, I will take $100 off the amount you owe me." (He started a new business last year, so he owes me quite a bit more than that). This time he said he would, and the next week he told me he had.

In the middle of October I asked him if he had gotten his ballot yet. He said, "I think so. I'll have to check." I said, "I'm leaving for the winter on October 31. If you come over before then, we can go over the ballot. He said, "Yeah, okay."

In that same mid-October conversation I told him I wanted to draw up a repayment contract for the money he owes me, and would he please come over and sign it. He said he'd be over before I left.

On October 29 he texted me and said, "Mom, are you going to be home this afternoon?" I said yes. "I'll be over."

At 5 pm he arrived. I read him the contract and he signed it. Then I said, "Did you bring your ballot?" He said, "Yes." I didn't let him see my astonishment and relief.

Me: "Okay, are you a Republican or a Democrat?"

Him: "I don't know, but I'm NOT a liberal."

Me: "Well, historically, Republicans have supported smaller government and fiscal responsibility. And Democrats have supported social programs to protect the poor, elderly and disabled. Let's go through a few current issues and see what you think. That may help you decide who to vote for. What do you think about the Dreamers?"

Him: "Who are they?"

Me: "Say you have a buddy you've known most of your life. He went to middle school and high school with you. You played on the same soccer team for four years. He went to U Dub and is now working downtown. His parents came here from Mexico when he was two. Now there's talk about deporting him, and others like him, because he's here illegally."

Him: "Well, that's bad! He doesn't know any Spanish, or anyone in Mexico. He should sure get to stay here. But he should also do what he needs to do to be a US citizen."

Me: "Okay. Your opinion aligns mostly with the Democrats on this one."

Him: "Okay."

Me: "How about the gun issue?"

Him: "People should be allowed to have guns, but not those assault weapons. And no one who is mentally sick or violent should be allowed to have one. And they should all be registered. I have a gun - traded my old one for it from a guy who died - but I've never used it."

Me: "Is it registered?"

Him: "No, I never did that."

Me: "When you bought your car from your buddy, did you register it?"

Him: "Of course."

Me: "Might be a good idea for the gun."

Him: "Yeah, I need to do that."

Me: "Okay, your opinion on guns aligns mostly with the Democrats on this one." He marked his ballot.

We went over a few more national, state and local issues on the ballot: state initiatives around the environment, additional police training; local issues like a small use tax increase to maintain the streets and sidewalks of the town he lives in. He had opinions on all of them.

Me: "From what you've told me, I'd say you're an independent moderate."

Him: "Okay, good."

Me: "When I'm voting for people, I want to have someone representing me who pretty much shares my ideas, no matter whether they're a Democrat or a Republican."

Him: "Okay, yeah."

Me: "Sometimes, though, I will vote for someone because they're in a particular party. For example, in the national election this time, I voted for Democrats for the Senate and for the House of Representatives, because I want there to be checks and balances in government. That means that if the president wants something to happen, there should be enough people in the other political party to think about it and have a say in what happens, so the president doesn't get too much control. It's in the Constitution, the checks and balances."

Him: "Okay. I get it." He marked his ballot for the Senate and the House.

Me: "Now, the judges on the ballot. Let's look them up online and see what other people think."

We did. We used the Washington Bar Association's website to get their recommendations. And he marked his ballot.

Me: "Now, you tear off the edges of the ballot, and you put it in this little envelope."

Him: "Okay." He did.

Me: "And then you put the little envelope in the mailing envelope."

Him: "Okay."

Me: "And you sign it."

Him: "Okay."

Me: "And you mail it."

Him: "Okay. I'll drop it in the mail tomorrow."

Me: "How about you put it on the counter and Art will mail it tomorrow?"

Him: "Okay, good."

As he was leaving, he said, "Mom, this was easy. I'll do it all the time now."

May it be so!

In our family we have one more voter.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Decluttering miracles

This has been a long and satisfying summer. Not because of Seattle's weather, or because our travel schedule was lighter, or because of the fabulous strawberries, raspberries, apples and grapes. Because of the decluttering that happened at our house.

I'd say we're pretty typical of couples in or near retirement. We no longer need all the stuff we have, and the house is too big, and there are stairs and slippery winter driveways. I wrote about this last year in a post called Downsizing: a difference of opinion.

It took a year to get started on this very large project. I convinced Art that we should give it a shot, and we made a plan, which I talked about in Rightsizing: a paradigm shift.

So here we are, well into fall, and I am sitting in our living room in Tucson thinking about how the project went. Here's some of what happened:

  • The shed at the rear of the house: Art sold a 1982 Yamaha 750 (in pieces) and a sidecar for $60 and gave away a 1981 Yamaha 650 (not running). The new owners have a happy project to occupy their rainy winters. He gave the generator to his son Jason. All other inanimate objects in the shed were given away or carted away or taken to Goodwill. The shed is now occupied by Art's Ford Ranger for the winter. The truck has a shelter!
  • Under the upper deck behind the house: All the unusable wood and other items have been donated or hauled to the dump. The orphan garage door that used to be a wall sheltering the view of all the stuff from the street has been disposed of. Under the deck is an open area!
  • The basement great room. Used for storage for at least the last eight years, everything has been given away to kids or to neighbors via Buy Nothing Brier (like Freecycle). The inversion table was sold for $80 to a young couple for the woman's dad, who has a bad back. The pile of things belonging to Art's son Jason was picked up on Wednesday by Jason. The three metal shelving racks are partially empty, for use by our winter tenant.
  • The garage: Used for storage for the last 23 years, usable things have been put in the gravel area near our driveway with a spray-painted "FREE" sign. What wasn't taken was hauled to the dump last Tuesday. The workbench was given to Clare, our across-the-street neighbor who just bought her house. 
  • Inside the house and out: Buy Nothing Brier is a Facebook group with 961 members. I took pictures of each item we wanted to rehome and posted them with a comment.  From inside, picture frames, kids' toys and games and dressup boxes and books and bread-making machines and comforters and fanny packs and bamboo placemats and cosmetic bags and cold therapy systems and VCR recorders and snowshoes and fold-up dollies and candlestick holders and vases and Art's grandfather's lineman's climbing gear. And on and on. Someone or several people would express an interest. The taker got their name on the item which was set out on the front porch. Of all the people who stopped and picked up something from our porch, I only met one of them. It's an efficient system, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that someone will now enjoy and use what we no longer need.
Several weeks ago I said to Art, "If I ruled the world (I say this when I know it's an attempt to control him), your side of the garage will have room for me to park my Accord this winter, so our tenant can park his car on my side."

On Tuesday of this week, I came home from coffee with a friend to this sight: My car on Art's side of the garage. For the first time since we moved to this house 23 years ago.


I told Art it was the greatest gift of love I'd ever received from him. And that is saying a lot.

I asked Art just now what he thinks about this project. He said, "It's coming along. I didn't want to do it because most of the stuff was projects that I had planned to do at a later time. And the time just slipped away. So it felt like I was abandoning my projects. But looking at it over and over, I could see that I wasn't going to have time.  

"I don't think I could have done it without Penni, the decluttering coach. When I would get stymied she would say, "Do you have to do it?" And if I was still stymied, she'd say, "Well, put it aside. We'll get to that later." Not like the books and stuff that say you have to make a decision and then go do it. It was a working project. Where I could look at and think about things, and then if it was still too big a thing, take it up another day. No pressure. 

"It's not done. When we got the renter for the winter, I just started putting everything away to go through next year. Take a break from it.

"I've gone through the missing part of it. I'm glad it's done."

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Why Toronto?

I met my friend Terra in March, when we both went to Churchill, Manitoba to see the Northern Lights. We live half an hour from each other in Tucson, where I spend the winter.

Both of us have husbands who are five years older than we are. Both of us still want to travel even though our husbands are slowing down a bit in that area. So we decided to take a short trip together to see if we were compatible travel companions. Our requirement was that that the selected trip must be something neither of our husbands are interested in (I'd be going with Art in that case).

We decided to go with Road Scholar to Toronto for "Experiencing the Religions of the World." Today we finished up our last day of class. Tomorrow the group will visit the Royal Ontario Museum, with the afternoon free and the group gathering for a farewell dinner. Our plane leaves the next morning at 8 a.m.

We've had a busy, sometimes intense week. Our lecturer, Brian Carwana of the Encounter World Religions Center, has been fabulous, funny and knowledgeable.  Here's what we've done in the last six days:

Tuesday evening: Talk on Intro to World Religions
*****

Wednesday: Morning lectures (1) "To See, To Be, To Do: the Landscape of World Religion" and (2) "Hinduism: Thou Art That. Afternoon visits to the Hare Krishna Temple and a Hindu temple. Evening visit to another Hindu temple.

    OBSERVATIONS ON THE HINDU VISIT: Lots of light, sound, activity. Water. Fire. Food. Spectacle, I'd say.
*****

Thursday: Morning lectures (1) "Buddhism: All is Mind" and (2) Mormon: the Gospel Restored". Afternoon meditation at the Zen temple and a visit to the Cham Shan temple. Evening visit to a Mormon church.

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE BUDDHIST VISIT: Very peaceful meditation time. And in the temple, I felt like I was in China - lots of red (happiness), icons, a prayer wheel. I think the Buddhist community in Toronto has money.

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE MORMON VISIT: A conversation with a convert, a just-returned-yesterday-missionary, and an elder. Kindness everywhere.
*****

Friday: Morning lecture: "Islam: And Muhammad is His Prophet". Afternoon visit to a mosque and participation in the service. Evening lecture on "Judaism: A People Set Apart".

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE ISLAM VISIT: I loved this. Many men, many women, in everyday clothes, prostrating in unison. It's a devout and humble act. So beautiful.
*****

Saturday: Morning visit to Holy Blossom Synagogue and participation in the service. Afternoon lecture  (1) "Christianity: But I Say Unto You" and (2) "Evangelicalism: A Religion for the Modern World".

      OBSERVATIONS ON THE SYNAGOGUE VISIT: Beautiful. Wonderful choir, gifted cantor and exceptional rabbi, Yael Splansky. We celebrated a bat mitzvah.
*****

Sunday: Morning lecture "Sikhism:Disciples of the True Name" and Guided visit of Evangelical Church and participation in the service. Afternoon visit to a Sikh Gurdwara.

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH VISIT: The Meeting Place is a megachurch with Bruxy Cavey as the Teaching Minister. He is a wonder. After the service he spoke to our group for half an hour.

     OBSERVATIONS ON THE SIKH VISIT: Simple architecture, straightforward faith, many turbans! (I learned many Sikhs do not cut their hair or beards as "God has made me this way". They cover their hair with a turban.) We were served a simple meal.
*****

As it turns out, Terra and I travel well together. She reminds me when I leave my hoodie on a chair and I leave her alone when she seeks out a quiet place to read. Neither of us is a shopper. There is easy silence between us. We got separate rooms and found that allowed us to share meals and have conversations but still have privacy. I've never had a separate room when traveling without Art. I like it. We have begun a discussion about when and where a next trip might be.

Intense though this experience has been, it has been good to have time away from the busy-ness of volunteer obligations and decluttering. When I get home on Tuesday it will be time to prepare for the end of our summertime in Seattle and our journey to our Tucson winter.


Monday, October 1, 2018

There's a fine line

There's a fine line between curious and nosy.

I was recently taking my two-mile neighborhood walk when a young man approached me from the opposite direction, nearing the end of his own walk. He had passed me earlier, and this time I said, "You're a faster walker than me." We exchanged a few inconsequential remarks and then he said, "May I walk with you for a bit?" I thought it was a little unusual, since it would mean retracing his steps, but I said sure.

We walked half a mile together. I asked him about his job and he said he works with preverbal autistic kids. I was curious. I asked at what point a preverbal kid becomes a nonverbal one. He said that was an interesting question, and we talked then about how kids can learn a new language quite easily until they are about twelve. He said that's about when the preverbal/nonverbal distinction is made. We wondered if there is some kind of neural significance to that, or whether it's just a coincidence.

It wasn't a typical walking chat, but it was unusually interesting. We covered several other topics. Our mutual curiosity kept the conversation going. I asked him what his ideal job would be. He said, "Training service animals. When an autistic person goes from one room to another, it can look like a whole new world. A service animal is a familiar comfort." I found out he had moved here a couple of years ago from a southern state. I'm pretty sure it wasn't for the job, but he didn't say, and I didn't ask. I did ask if there was someone special in his life, and he said, "Not right now." Again, he didn't say anything more, and I didn't ask.

My experience has been that if I ask an open-ended question, the other person will say what they want to say. It may be quite a long story. Or it may be only a few words. I honor their choice.

When we got to my street, we stood at the intersection for a few minutes to finish up our chat. We introduced ourselves and I gave him a hug. "Good bye, Jay. Thanks for the walk." He said, "Thank you, Linda."

I haven't seen him since.

I've had a few other conversations recently where a person responded in some length to an open-ended question of mine. And, a couple of times, someone needed to talk and I happened to be there to listen. In those cases, I don't ask questions. I just listen. I'm still curious, but I know they're only telling me what they need to say. Sometimes I never hear the rest of the story, or any outcome. And that's okay.

Like I said, there's a fine line between curious and nosy.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Happy birthday to me

A couple of years ago I thought about getting a tattoo. I was serving at a refugee camp full of Afghans, and I thought a good way to honor them and the experience would be to get a kite tattoo. I looked around a little online, but I didn't find exactly the right thing. And I wasn't sure where I wanted the tattoo. Actually, I wanted it on my foot, but I'd been told that's a painful place. I asked my hairdresser in Tucson and friends here in Washington where I should get my tattoo. They all had their favorite artists. I pondered, but didn't take action.

Then, in July, my sister Alyx decided to get her first tattoo. She has chickens at her place, and she wanted to incorporate her love for them in a tattoo. She set up an appointment at Slave to the Needle, a reputable place in Seattle. I decided to go with her to see what it was like.

It was interesting! The tattoo artist, Lance, took Alyx's initial design and put it on his iPad. He made a few small modifications. When she approved, he made a stencil of the design. During her session, he applied the stencil to her upper arm. Then he traced the stencil with the ink needles.

Here's Alyx's tattoo:


A few days later, Alyx sent me a sample of a tattoo that was a world map. She said when she saw it, she said, "This is Linda's heart." I've taken 65 trips since I quit work eight years ago, so she was pretty right. We looked at a few designs together, and I made an appointment with Lance for September 11.

I'd hoped Alyx could come with me for my session, but she had to work. So I asked my friend and former business partner, Lillian, if she would come, and she said yes.

As before, Lance sat with me to apply the finishing touches to the design I'd chosen. Instead of an airplane, I wanted a heart in the sky, since I travel for love.

Here are the pictures Lillian took of my session:




It's been nine days since I got my tattoo. People ask if I am going to get any more, and I say no. They ask if I'm going to do anything more to this one. I think I might have the heart/plane colored red, but that's it.

Today I am 70 years old. I am glad I got the tattoo as a birthday gift to myself. 

Also for my birthday, I sent a check for a friend so she could travel from Greece to Italy. She will be the support for another friend who is giving a TEDx talk in Italy on October 6. I'm grateful for both of the friends and for the fact that I can afford to buy the ticket.

My day was just perfect. I got about 60 birthday wishes from Facebook friends. I met my friend/niece Colleen at Starbucks in Kenmore for a three-hour catchup conversation. Then I met my friend Vicki at Starbucks in Mountlake Terrace for another long talk. I don't often go to Starbucks except to meet up with friends. Then I had a great phone conversation with my friend Joan in Arizona. When I got home at 5 p.m. my husband Art was fixing dinner. And after dinner, for the first time in absolutely ages, I had a bowl of vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream with chocolate fudge syrup on top.

Colleen asked me what my goal in life is now. I said, "To use the gifts that have been given to me as well as I can, for as long as I am able."

It's odd. I've been almost dreading this birthday for six months. It's a pretty big number. But when I woke up this morning, my first thought was, "I have arrived."

How cool is that?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

About Greece: What the Bag Lady learned this time

I've been home for six days. I try to allow myself a little time to reflect before I write the final post in a travel experience. Here's what I learned:

1. I don't pay attention to where I'm going if someone else is driving. I have been to the village of Dilesi five times in the last two years, for a total of about ten weeks. But on the day I drove to the team house from the community center, I got lost. There are no street signs, and I could not find the right turn to the street leading to our house. I turned around and came back the other way. I still couldn't find it. I had to drive about five miles up the road, toward the camp at Oinofyta, and turn the car around, to find a street that looked familiar.

See, when I'm just the passenger I don't pay attention to landmarks. Now I know the street going to the team house is right after the butcher shop, and the street coming from the team house is right before the butcher shop. It was really kind of scary to be so lost. I wondered if I was losing it.

2. I love an excuse to eat fresh bread and feta cheese. When I travel I don't maintain my Weight Watchers discipline. It's a nice break. I think the perfect lunch in Greece is bread and cheese and fresh fruit. Really fresh fruit, bought from the produce stand across the street from the bakery and the coffee place. Like grapes and peaches. So good!


3. I am not a seafood fan, but I have learned to love fried calamari. Especially when I'm eating it at a little table ten feet from the Aegean Sea. And I have identified my perfect Greek salad: fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, oil, olives, and feta. No peppers, no onions. I think I had a Greek salad more than half a dozen times in my two weeks there - usually with a skewer or two of chicken.

4. In my neighborhood at home, dogs are required to be leashed when they're on the street. Not so in Dilesi. Dogs run singly or in packs, and some of them chase cars or people. One of the Do Your Part volunteers, Sara, went for a run one morning. She was approached and harassed by three dogs, one of which bit her. She found out later that people do run for exercise, but they're mostly tourists, because the residents know better. I also heard that if you're going to run, you should carry rocks and throw them toward the dogs. Quite a wild way to get exercise, I'd say.

5. On this trip my work was much easier. Do Your Part is in a community center five miles from the camp, and residents come in our van to the community center. Whether they're coming for food distribution, or clothes for babies, or to see the medical team, or just for some respite time, there are rarely more than 20 people visiting.

When we worked inside the Oinofyta camp last year, it was among several hundred residents. Outside the container we used as an office there were often people waiting to see the camp manager. Maybe they needed to make a copy of their ID card, or maybe they wanted a cooking pot as large as their neighbor since they had more people in their family than their neighbor did. If we had administrative things to attend to - like the accounting, in my case - we had very little uninterrupted time.

6. The camp residents this time were mostly Kurds from Syria. The language was a challenge because they speak Kurdish and we had only a couple of people who could translate for us. Last year, nearly everyone was Afghan, and there were a number of residents who could translate from Farsi. Sometimes body language just isn't enough. There were a few times I had to shake my head and shrug my shoulders; I didn't have any idea what was being said to me.

7. If you hold a baby for half an hour while their mother is choosing baby clothes, your arms get tired. At least mine did. Still, it was a lovely, lovely experience.

8. The Greek friends you made last year give you a hug when they see you: the Pakistani guy, the pharmacist, the restaurant owner. Sometimes they say, "Hello. Did you bring your husband with you?" Art says that's because Greek is a patriarchal culture, but I'm pretty sure it's because he's a nice guy. And one of your Greek friends calls a friend who drives a taxi, who calls another friend who drives a taxi, to pick me up at 3:30 a.m. for an hour-long trip to the airport. And checks to make sure the taxi arrives. Maria, you rock!

9. If you take the train to Athens to visit your friend Nasar, and he tells you to "Get off at Larisa Station", and the end of the line says "Athens", and you get off. And Nasar is not there, and you don't have any internet service to find him, and you wonder if you should just get on the next train and go home. But then he shows up, and you have a great afternoon. And the meal Nasar serves you was prepared by a friend of his in his camp, and the friend used to be the chef for the President of Afghanistan. And you meet that friend and another friend, and you feel honored that Nasar has asked you to spend time with him.

Nasar and me
I was asked to go to Greece this time so I could see what Do Your Part is doing now. I saw that we are still serving the refugee population, still caring, still doing our part, with a little help from our friends.

Or a lot.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Living differently

When I travel l usually notice the differences first. Terrain, you know, or traffic, or street signs, or food. The similarities are always there, too. We are all the same under the skin, after all, with the same basic needs, no matter where in the world we live.

When I am volunteering at Do Your Part, I live in the village of Dilesi. It’s about 45 miles north of Athens on the main road to northern Greece. You take the Oinofyta offramp and, after about three miles on the frontage road, turn right for three miles or so, mostly traveling downhill, passing olive grooves and brushy hills. You can see the Aegean Sea from the top of the hill as you begin the descent. Dilesi is right at the edge of the sea. It’s got a population of about 2,000.

The Do Your Part team house is two stacked apartments, each with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a living area. It’s not really a residence, though. It’s more where the volunteers sleep. No internet, no TV. Of the five times I’ve been here, I’ve only stayed once in the downstairs apartment.That was in April of 2017. My husband Art and I shared the place with five or six other volunteers, most of them far younger than us. After dinner, we’d go to our room and the rest of the roommates would stay up late, talking and laughing. The rest of the times I’ve been upstairs with Lisa, the Do Your Part project manager. It’s pretty quiet upstairs, and that’s fine with me. Art and I have eight children between us - now all grown - so noise is not particularly bothersome. But sharing one small bathroom with half a dozen young people is hard.




It surprises me how much trouble I have living without the internet. I take it for granted at home, available for research or work or reading the news or taking care of finances. Here I have to wait until we’re at the community center - from 10 a.m to about 6:00 p.m. I suppose I ought to feel freed up to read or write, but I’m not there yet. Lisa pays $10 a day to use her American phone here with all its services. If I had that option I don’t think I’d be willing to pay such a high cost. I could buy a Greek phone, but I don’t want to spend the money on a smartphone and I’m klutzy with the simpler ones. So I do without a phone.

I guess it sounds like I’m whining. I probably am. These are clearly first-world problems.

There is a simplicity to living here, though. I can pick up fresh bread at the bakery in the morning, and a cappuccino right next door to the bakery, and fresh produce right across the street. I can walk to any number of restaurants or snack shops in the village. There’s a pharmacy where I can buy meds that require a prescription in the US but not here.

Because the weather is warm and dry now, I’m not bothered by arthritis aches and pains or asthma. That’s a good thing!

Days at the community center are rich and varied. Right now, for example, about eight moms (Syrian Kurds who had to leave their homes in Afrin) are knitting or painting their nails while they chat. Their small children, 15 or so in number up to about age five,  are sitting around a table working puzzles and playing with dolls and pushing a pretend baby in a stroller. All just about exactly what a similar group of women and kids would be doing where I live in Washington State. Except these community center visitors live in tents or makeshift rooms at Oinofyta camp. We will take them back soon in Do Your Part's red van. It will take two runs from the community center.

Yesterday the volunteers put together food packets for the pregnant and nursing moms: a can of tuna, a can of milk, a pack of raisins, three pieces of fresh fruit, and three eggs. We took them to the camp gate and the women came out to meet us.



Other days this week we had a volunteer group of medical people spend the afternoon at the community center tending to camp residents. There is no medical presence at the camp, so Do Your Part is providing the space for the docs to do their work. There were a few prescriptions written, so volunteers took them to the local pharmacy to be filled and then delivered them to the camp.



Last Saturday most of the volunteers spent the day cleaning a fire-ravaged house in the municipality of Rafina, where rapidly spreading brush fires killed over 80 people. Do Your Part is a disaster recovery organization so our services were offered to the mayor of Rafina and he accepted. On Saturday night three of us - Executive Director Lisa, community center supervisor Samim, and me  - attended a meal of the Fisherman's Club, where we presented five people with grants to help them rebuild their businesses. The money had been donated by another volunteer agency, but Lisa was asked to present the grants.





Most of the time I am working on the accounting for Do Your Part, sitting quietly at a table near the center of the action.



The other volunteers work their hearts out, cleaning and planning activities and lesson plans. I am lucky to be part of this international group, from Syria, Afghanistan, Israel, USA, Italy, Finland, and Iran.



I am planning to fly home on Wednesday, five days from now. Back to my other life, where I live differently.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Greece: Getting there, Settling in

For me, the journey begins when we pull out of the driveway. On Tuesday, August 21, the drive to Sea-tac was unexpectedly smooth. In my daypack I carried my laptop, a portable prenatal ultrasound machine purchased with money from Go Fund Me donations, my passport and travel belt, three pairs of glasses and my meds; in my carry-on, my clothes for the two-week trip; in Checked Bag #1 (free on Lufthansa), the rest of the durable medical equipment that had been donated, plus a few gifts for Do Your Part team member. In Hopefully To Be Checked Bag #2, disposable medical supplies, also donated, and a remote-controlled car for the children of the Do Your Part community center. If I couldn't persuade the ticket agent to allow both checked bags for free, my husband would take the second bag home.

I told the ticket agent I was an aid worker at a refugee camp in Greece and both my checked bags contained medical equipment and supplies (80 percent true), but that I couldn't pay $100 for the second checked bag. He said he wouldn't charge me for the second bag! I kissed my husband Art goodbye. He left for the parking lot and I for the S gates.

International Departures gate S15 felt like I was already gone. I waited in line with several hundred travelers, most of whom were probably returning to their own countries, because I heard very few people speaking English. Or French or Spanish, the only other languages I recognize.

After a nine-hour flight to Frankfurt, I got my exercise for the day in a dash from my international flight (left Seattle an hour late due to smoky skies from fires in British Columbia and Eastern Washington), onto a bus which moved WAY too slowly to Terminal A, through passport control which moved WAY too slowly even though the line was short, down a LONG corridor (went under the runway, probably), through the duty-free section in Terminal B. Boarded my second flight right after I wiped off my sweaty face with my shirt! Talk about sophisticated traveling! However, I was relieved to note that I was not winded. No smoky skies today in Germany to aggravate my asthma.

On my flight from Frankfurt to Athens, I took too many bags on board: my CPAP, my carry-on, and my daypack. I didn't know I'd broken the rule for Lufthansa flights within Europe, since I'd been in compliance for the international segment. As the flight attendant told me about the rule, I listened with respect, explained what had happened and said I'd remember next time. Then she put my carryon in an overhead bin in business class because, she said, I had listened and heard her instead of complaining. I told her about this trip and, a few minutes later, she brought me a bag full of toys the airline keeps for kids! Wiebke is now my Facebook friend.

I arrived in Athens on schedule, but because of the short time in Frankfurt between flights, my checked bags were still in Germany. I almost expected it. I left my contact information with the Lost Baggage Specialists and met up with Lisa and Samim of Do Your Part, waiting for me just outside.

We made a brief stop at the Community Center for me to meet the other volunteers and take a quick tour of the facility, as well as change the time on my laptop and connect it to the internet. 



I was taken to the team house in Dilesi. I made a supreme effort to stay awake as long as possible but it was 8:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m. in Seattle) when I lay down in my bed. I heard a loud crack. Got up to turn out the light and lay down in bed. The frame broke completely and I accompanied the mattress six inches to the tile floor. I thought, "Well, I'm not THAT heavy!" I had slept in this same bed last summer just fine. I was tired enough that it didn't matter.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

What the Bag Lady learned this week

I'm leaving for Greece in two days, so I've had a week of odds and ends. Still, I learn.

1. If you ask people to help you with a project, they will come through.
  • Eleven friends and family donated $750 to buy catheters for a disabled girl at a refugee camp in Athens. I am taking 90 of those catheters with me and holding the remaining money for her future needs. Thank you Marilyn and Ginger from my church, Shelley and Ellen and Dee and Pete and Phyllis from our winter home, Linda and Karen from our summer home, Bonnie and Elaine who are travelers we have hosted, my cousin Joe and his Kathie.
  • I have a refugee friend who asked me to bring a radio-controlled car so he could play with the kids at the Oinofyta camp. It was outside my budget so I asked Buy Nothing Brier, a Facebook community where I live, if anyone had one they could give me. Jennifer lives across the street from the library and she left one for me on a shelf in her carport. I have never met Jennifer.
2. People will offer help even if you don't ask
  • My friend Craig offered to set up a Go Fund Me page to buy a prenatal ultrasound machine for the Hellenic Midwives, who come to the community center near the Oinofyta camp every other week. The ultrasound has arrived at my house. Through Craig's fundraiser, 30 donors paid for the machine and provided an additional $1,000, which will be used to buy supplemental food for pregnant and nursing women at the camp. 
Thank you Craig and Eric and Marilyn and Vicky and Barb and Pam and Ginny from my church, Mer and Jim and Bob from our winter home, Vicki from our summer home, sister-in-law Mary and daughter Melissa, Ed who got us to go to Africa, Chelsey who volunteered with me last year, Meryl and Gene and Kathy and Linda from my blog, five people I don't know, and seven people named Anonymous!
  • My friend Lillian introduced me to her friend Jean, who's a doctor. On Thursday Jean and Lillian and I went to Seattle Surgical Supply, and Jean spent two hours choosing durable medical equipment being donated by her friend Jared, who works at the place.
  • My blogging friend Nancy, who lives in Minnesota, sent me a blood pressure monitor and stethoscope she no longer uses. I didn't even ask! And my snowbird friend JoAnne sent me diabetic supplies, with a check tucked into the box. 
  • Four other friends mailed me checks! Thank you to Sophie and Rick and Denise and my friend Barbara whom I last saw over 45 years ago when we were both young Army wives living on Fort Bliss in El Paso.
When I fly to Greece on Tuesday, I will take all of you with a grateful heart. You are amazing.

3. If you go with your sister Alyx to get her first tattoo, it gives you enough familiarity and courage to make an appointment for your own, next month. It will probably look something like this:


I would like to put it on my foot, but I'm told that would hurt. So it will go on my shoulder.

4. If you clean out your refrigerator and remove the crisper, it is sometimes hard to see how to put it back together again.  

5. If you don't mind being the oldest person in the store, you can buy five oversized, comfy shirts at Old Navy for $63. 

6. If you have two comforters that have been in a bin in the guest room closet for eight years, you can take a picture of them and post them on Buy Nothing Brier and two people will think they are just right for their own homes and pick them up from your front porch.

7. You're glad to hear from your grown son even when he calls to tell you his work truck needs a new transmission. 

8. You really can wash your Merino shoes in the kitchen sink.

9. The pencil marks left by little girls on the guest room duvet come out when you wash it.

10. I can pack in my head without even taking out a suitcase.  Good to know!  

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Amazing generosity - part 2

My friend Lisa Campbell, the project manager for Do Your Part in Greece, posted this today:

"We have exciting news to share!!!!

Last Wednesday, we were able to start a new service for the pregnant women of the Oinofyta Camp! We have partnered with the Hellenic Midwives Association to come to the Community Center to provide prenatal care for the many pregnant women. This is huge since there still isn't a permanent daily medical presence in the camp. We were able to create a separate space for private exams.
Their first visit was a huge success! We are looking forward to their bi-monthly visits."

I wrote in my last blog post that the Hellenic midwives are in dire need of a portable ultrasound machine for their work with the women. And that my friend Craig had said he thought money could be raised for such a cause.

Craig has set up a Go Fund Me page for that purpose. If you're interested in helping out, you can do that at https://www.gofundme.com/portable-digital-ultrasound-scanner.

Here's what the machine looks like:



My plan is to take this machine with me to Greece on August 21, along with six boxes of catheters for the disabled girl. I will order those catheters tomorrow from a Canadian supplier.

You know I'm not usually a seeker of funds, but this project is close to my heart and I want to share it. Thanks to any of you for your generosity.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Amazing generosity as I prepare for Greece

I'm leaving for Greece on August 21 and returning on September 6. This will be my fifth trip to volunteer for Do Your Part. But I expect it to be quite different.

Last summer the Oinofyta camp was open, a community for about 400 refugees, most of them from Afghanistan with a few from Pakistan and Iran. The camp had a school, a computer lab, an exercise room, a women's space, a kitchen, even a soccer field. Do Your Part distributed food and sundries and multiple volunteer agencies provided other kinds of support.

The camp was closed by the government in November. The volunteer agencies were given four days to vacate. The residents were bused to apartments in Athens or to other camps.

In March, Oinofyta reopened. This time it was to house vulnerable refugees from the Greek islands. Now, four months later, the residents are mostly Kurds who have fled from the Syrian city of Afrin. There are few services at the camp now, and the volunteer organizations who worked so hard in 2016 and 2017 have not returned.

Do Your Part runs a community center about five miles away in the village of Dilesi. There is a tailor shop there that makes unique bags to sell, and a space for women to come for respite, and for kids to get a little education. Every Tuesday MobileDoc volunteers spend the day providing medical care for refugees. Every other week legal volunteers come to assist with asylum applications. A Do Your Part vehicle transports the people from the camp at Oinofyta to the community center at Dilesi. Last week the Hellenic Midwives Association came for the day to provide prenatal care. The volunteers are working outside the camp now, doing what can be done for the Kurds who were forced out of Afrin.

The volunteer network in Greece is active. Because I'm traveling soon to Athens - with an extra suitcase, as usual - I was asked to help find some catheters for a little girl. Here's my Facebook post:
In a refugee camp southeast of Athens there is a 9-year-old severely disabled Kurdish girl who needs five catheters per day for urine, to prevent fluid building up in her brain. A five-day supply costs 60 euros (About 70 dollars) and the kind she needs is particularly hard to come by. [The little girl has scoliosis, hydrocephaly and is a paraplegic.]
I am going back to Greece on August 21. I have been asked to find out if anyone would be willing to donate some size CH-8, pre-lubricated catheters for this little girl. I will take them with me.
This is what the catheter looks like.
Please message me if you can help.
In response to my Facebook post, I was astonished to collect money from nine friends and a cousin totaling $650.

I found a supplier in Canada who would sell me a box for $25 American, and then contacted Leslie, another volunteer, who lives in Boston, She has been coordinating the catheter project. Leslie has a friend who travels often between Athens and Istanbul, and the catheters are much, much cheaper there. So the $650 may go from me to Leslie's friend via Paypal, and Berit, the little girl, will have the catheters she needs for the next several months.

Amazing.

One of my friends, Lillian, contacted a doctor she knows. The doctor, Jean, wanted to talk to me. She has medical supplies and a contact in Seattle for more. I asked Lisa Campbell, Do Your Part's Executive Director and the project manager in Greece, what items would be on a wish list for the medical people currently volunteering at the community center. Lisa said:
  • Durable equipment: blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, otoscopes, pulse oximeters
  • Prenatal vitamins - have to be halal for Muslim women
  • Solar anything, especially phone chargers
  • The Hellenic Midwives Association is in need of a portable ultrasound machine
I will be meeting up with Jean next week to see what she and the Seattle contact can provide. I am keeping a mental eye on the size of my extra suitcase. Jean also suggested I contact Philips, which has a facility near where I live, to see if they'd be willing to donate a portable ultrasound machine.

Then I posted this Facebook message:

Another request for my upcoming trip to Greece. There is a volunteer group of Greek midwives working with Do Your Part at the community center. They need a portable ultrasound machine. Does anyone know anyone who works at Philips who might have a name I could contact to request a donation?

Most unexpectedly, this morning I heard from a member of my spiritual congregation, who asked me how much the ultrasound machine would cost. I found one on eBay and told him the price. Then he wrote - and this is probably one of the great honors of my life - "Linda - imagine we could easily raise that amount based on the strength of your reputation and commitment to these people."

That may happen, or it may not, but I will remember my friend's words for the rest of my life.

So, my extra suitcase will hold medical supplies this time. And two bags of McD coffee for my friend Lisa. And whatever other surprises may come along.

I had been a bit nervous about this next trip because the circumstances in Greece are different from when I was there last, and because this time I am going alone. But the hearts I am taking along with me in the form of their gifts have pretty much dissolved my unease.

We are all in this together! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The gladness and the grief of rightsizing

The rightsizing continues at our place near Seattle. Some of the experience has been just excellent.

On the recommendation of Penni, our decluttering coach, my husband Art and I have agreed on who will be responsible for each area of our house, inside and outside and room by room. The agreement is that we will leave each other alone while we are doing this, offering advice only when asked. For the most part both of us have complied with that agreement.

Art decided to move unwanted items to the graveled parking area by our driveway. He hauled things from the garage and the basement and the shed behind the house. He spray painted a "Free" sign. Most things get taken within a week or so. If they don't, they go to Goodwill or the dump. 

I do my part a little differently. I discovered a Facebook group called Buy Nothing [Your Town]. For us, it's Buy Nothing Brier. I put the item I want to give away on a neutral surface, take a picture with my phone, send the picture to my desktop, and post it to the Buy Nothing Brier Facebook page with a brief note. I have done that about 75 times in the last month. Within minutes or hours, one or several people (in one case, 24 people!) express an interest. I give the recipient-to-be my address and put the item on the front porch to be picked up. I like that because I don't have to talk to the recipient and they don't have to talk to me. It's very efficient.

For example, I am finishing up with the cleanout of the toy closet. Here's what I posted today on Buy Nothing Brier:

Matchbox cars and vehicles. Ann said, "I would love these for my grandson."

Stuffed animals and dolls - Terry said, "Please consider me for the light blue baby doll."


Tutus - Jennifer said, "My girls would love to put these to good use."

I put everything out on the front porch, and by this evening it had all been picked up. I'm happy that other children and grandchildren will be enjoying these things that have been living in a closet in our house for the last five or ten years.

That's the gladness part.


Back in 1995 Art and I bought a hot tub. We had several teenagers still at home at that time and it seemed like a good idea. I remember it was 1995 because while we were preparing the lower deck we were listening on the radio to the Seattle Mariners in the playoffs. That doesn't happen often. We used the hot tub for about ten years and then got out of the habit - mostly because no one wanted to do the maintenance on the water, and someone at our house didn't want to pay to have it done.

This year we decided to get rid of the hot tub. It had developed some bubbles in the fiberglass and the hot tub guy said repairing it would be expensive. He offered to cut it up and haul the pieces away for $400. I thought that was a good idea. Art didn't. He wanted to roll it out to the front parking area and see if someone wanted a free hot tub.

Art is 75 years old. He has an artificial hip and an artificial knee and a pacemaker/defibrillator. I was his caregiver during his joint replacement recovery, and his life saver when he had his cardiac arrest four years ago. I did not want another event.  I told Art it was not okay with me for him to handle the hot tub alone. He ignored me. We had quite a heated argument that verged on the nasty.  

I came home from running errands on Friday. The hot tub was on its side at the bottom of the driveway with a piece of wood bracing it.


I looked around for Art and didn't find him lying on the ground anywhere. He was taking a break in the basement (we're having a heat wave this week).  I texted my son James and said Art could use some help. James and his friend Joel arrived within ten minutes to finish the job.




The hot tub was moved to the graveled area, labeled with a "free" sign. Two neighbors immediately expressed an interest.

I am reminded once again that when Art sets his mind to do something, there is nothing I can do about it. More than once in the recent past he has gone up a tree with a chain saw to take care of an errant branch or the entire upper section of a tree. I'll say, "I'm scared to see you doing that," and he will say, "Then go in the house."

Really, I am powerless over the choices of other people. That gives me grief.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A man, a dog, and a scooter

I've always owned cats. In my mind, they don't require much more than food and water and a clean litter box. In return, they keep pretty good - though independent - company.

Many of my neighbors own dogs. I see them especially in the morning during my walk, and in the evening from my bay window or my driveway, for two hours or so before dark. There they are - purebreds and mutts, little guys and behemoths, grizzled elders and manic pups. At the ends of their leashes are their owners, who walk singly or in pairs, with or without kids or strollers. What all the owners have in common is a plastic bag for what we used to call "dog doo" - as in, "Mom, I stepped in dog doo." That was in the days before the plastic bags.

I've mentioned before that my husband Art and I are decluttering and rightsizing our house, garage, underdecks and shed. For the most part, I take pictures of what I'm letting go of and post them on a Facebook page called "Buy Nothing Brier." Usually someone expresses an interest, I give them my address, and they come by to pick up their treasure on our front porch. Art's method is to put the items in our gravel parking area behind a hand-painted "FREE" sign. We've agreed that if something isn't taken in a week, we will dispose of it in another way.

So Art had been storing two scooters in the shed. I don't know how or when he acquired them, and I know they've never been used by anyone in our family. He just now said, "I got them at two different times. Maybe at a garage sale." He put the scooters out in the gravel area almost two weeks ago but neither of us had gotten around to taking them to Goodwill.


This evening I cleaned out the litter box and was taking the bag to the trash can at the curb. A man was walking past the driveway. In his right hand was the handle of his golden retriever's leash. Slung over his left shoulder was the blue scooter.

The man grinned at me. "Okay if I take this scooter?"

"Sure." I said.

"I'm expecting a son next Wednesday and I'd like to fix it up for him."

I congratulated him and asked if this was his first child. He said yes. I asked if he was nervous. He grinned again. "Yes."

I said, "You know, you could take the other scooter too. The wheels on that one are in a little better shape."

"Nah, it's pink. I'll pick up more wheels. I just want the frame of the scooter. You know, I used to ride a scooter just like this when I was a kid."

I waved as they walked on, thinking about the baby boy being born next Wednesday. He has a cool dad.

I'm quite a bit older than the young man walking his dog, so the scooters of my childhood looked different, but I still remember the pleasure of the ride. I'm glad we didn't get around a drive to Goodwill.

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.