Monday, April 8, 2019

Rattlesnake crossing!

This year in Arizona I took up bicycling. One of my friends started a group called "Easy Riders". We started off riding, I think, about eight miles, and by the end of the season we were doing fifteen. I usually rode once a week. There's a 55-mile bike loop around the city of Tucson. At first we began our ride at a trailhead a couple of miles from home. Eventually we were traveling half an hour to get to our start point. By the end of high season we'd ridden the entire Loop, one segment at a time.

Turnaround point
"High season" in Arizona is January to March. Our RV resort is full of snowbirds for those months. On about April 1, people start leaving for home - unless there's still snow in Minnesota or Michigan or Wisconsin, or still rain in Washington or Oregon. Many of the activities at the resort end in the last week of March, so there are LOTS of end-of-season potlucks. We say goodbye to the people we discussed current events or foreign affairs with, or quilted with, or hiked with, or played handbells with. It slows down at Voyager, so instead of a bus-every-day life, days are wide open for things like sleeping or sitting on the front porch reading or catching up with whatever has been put off for the several previous months. I like this time of year.

Last Saturday - April 6 - I went for a bike ride on the Loop with my friend Tom. We'd both missed a ride the previous week on this particular section of the trail, and we wanted to accrue another 15 or 16 miles on our bikes. Our start point was at the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial River Park, just to the north of the city. Christina was born on September 11, 2001 and was killed January 8, 2011 by a shooter who was targeting Gabby Giffords at a constituent meeting in the parking lot of a Tucson supermarket.

The ride was especially beautiful; we had a lot of rain this winter and the desert blooms were spectacular. About five miles in, we saw a dozen people standing on the trail ahead of us. We slowed.

A rattlesnake was crossing the trail.

I stopped. Tom threaded his way through the bystanders and passed the snake, which rattled.

I had never seen a live rattlesnake outside of a zoo.

As Tom continued on his way, I heard a couple of remarks about how "He should show some respect." I said, joking, "Well, you know, he's a snowbird from Minnesota. He didn't know." They nodded, and when the snake reached the side of the trail, I rode away.

When I caught up to Tom, I told him what had happened. He said, "It's MICHIGAN, Linda. And we have rattlesnakes there."

Yesterday afternoon, a friend told me that last year she had seen a rattlesnake inside the RV resort, on a main street. "April is when they come out."

I guess Larisa, our Designer Cat, will need to stay inside this spring. I wonder if cats stalk snakes. I don't want to risk it.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

What the Bag Lady learned this month

Even in normal life there are learnings. Here are some of my recent ones.

1. If your husband is in a play, rehearsals are the most important thing. Once it's over, the calendar opens way, way up.

2. I can experience Las Vegas with some appreciation about every five years.

3. A criminal investigation has to gather enough evidence to convince a jury. The expert witness has to know every detail in the report they filed, because the opposing attorney will question their competence if they need to refer to their report at all.

4. Walking the Strip on a Wednesday evening is a colorful and safe experience. If you are a grandmother with purple hair, a slightly inebriated millennial may give you a high five.

5. Cirque de Soleil has come a long way in the last 25 years. The gymnasts are still astonishing athletes, but the sets and lights and sound are just about overwhelming, in a good way.

6. If you catch your husband's cold just before a road trip, you will absolutely pass the cold along to your travel companion.

7. One cold requires at least five boxes of kleenex.

8. Walking in a slot canyon is more impressive than the photographs you've seen.

9. Sometimes if you decide you're not going to buy a recliner for the front room this year, you meet a new neighbor who would love to help you shop for one. Or maybe two.

10. In a winter resort, sometimes your friends will move away. You will be glad for them and sad for you. Where you live in the summer, someone will die while you're away and you won't know about it until months later. You will wish you could have gone to the memorial service.

These things happen.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

I can only juggle four balls

When I was in my 40s, I had a busy life: full-time job, single mom with two kids. Then, still a full-time job, second marriage, two kids and six stepkids. You know, all the accoutrements of the peak years. I was juggling about nine balls without dropping them very often. I had a day planner to keep track of things. I didn't have a calendar on my computer that synched with my phone to remind me what I was doing. A day planner was enough, and some days I didn't even look at it.

At some point, probably in my early 50s, I dropped a ball more often. Maybe I'd forget an appointment or to return a phone call. Or I'd forget my shopping list at home and, when I got home, look at it and realized I'd forgotten to buy two of the nine items I had on the list. I was uncomfortable to think I might be losing it.

Then I realized I wasn't. I just wasn't good at juggling nine balls any more. So I dropped my expectations and decided to juggle only eight. That was the perfect number. 

A few years later, seven was the right number of balls to juggle. And so on. For the last few years I've been juggling five balls with a fair degree of success. 

In the last month or so I've forgotten a few names, gotten stressed out and even anxious about issues that used to be easier to cope with. I thought maybe I was losing it again, or maybe I was beginning the last long decline. It scared me a little. I'm only 70, after all.
I'm in the throes of making decisions about how I will spend my time. My brain got all wound up around itself trying to decide. I'm analytical by nature so I was pretty sure I could figure it out in a rational way.

I've learned, though, in recent years, that if I've got a problem where a solution is eluding me,  I can "turn it over" to something greater than me. Some people call that something God, or Higher Power, or Heavenly Father. I call it the Universe. So I turned the problem over on Friday. In my experience, once I turn it over, the solution appears within 48 hours or so. A "Sign", you know.

And it did. I was given a solution to the problem that I hadn't even considered before. That's how I know it wasn't my brain working, but Something Else.

Then came yesterday. I walked home from my water exercise class and stopped to talk to my neighbor. I'd agreed to go for a bike ride with my good friend Ellen; she would be by at 1:00 to pick me up. At 12:45 I realized I only had 15 minutes left. But my neighbor had expressed an interest in seeing the dining room table I'd bought for our park model. I said, "Come on over. I'm heading out in 15 minutes, but you can take a look." So she did. While she was chatting with my husband, I retrieved my biking helmet from its closet and laid it on the couch. I removed my ID, insurance card and credit card from my wallet and put it in my biking pack. 

Ellen arrived promptly at 1, just as she always does. I said a hasty goodbye to my neighbor and headed out. 

Halfway to the biking start point, I realized I'd left my helmet on the couch, and my phone on the charger. I decided I'd be okay without them. I've been on the Tucson biking trails numerous times and it had always been uneventful. I felt a little uneasy about the helmet, but didn't want to take the time to go back.

About a mile along the trail, Ellen said, "Oh, Linda, look!" She was about eight feet in front of me. I looked where she was pointing and, at that same time, she slowed down. I turned my head back and she was two feet in front of me. I knew I was going to run into her. I had about half a second to prepare for my fall. But my brain wasn't nimble enough to call out a warning so she could brace herself as well. We both went down. Ellen's foot was caught in the spokes of her front wheel, which I extricated. She was bruised and shaken but otherwise uninjured. The rear wheel of her bike had been immobilized by a jammed brake. Four people came along the trail and stopped to help while I stood there watching, having no idea how I could be useful. Twenty minutes later, after much tugging and pushing, they managed to detach the brake and free the wheel, and we returned to the parking lot, Ellen riding carefully with only her front brake operational. On the way home we stopped at a bike shop to have both bikes checked out and adjusted. The shop didn't charge anything for the labor, so Ellen bought a mirror and I bought a pair of bicycling gloves and a small toolkit for my bike.

I'd been juggling too many balls. I'd added a visit with my neighbor to my schedule for the day. I'd left my helmet on the couch and my phone in the charger. But worst of all, I hadn't thought to warn Ellen I was going to run into her.

Clearly, another Sign. These days, I can only juggle four balls. Not five. Four.

I'll be a fine juggler of four balls. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Bag Lady is mortified

I've had a housekeeper every other week for the last 29 years. At first, I was a single mom raising two boys. My first housekeeper was the mom of one of the other kids on my younger son's soccer team. Kathy spent her housekeeping money on the care and feeding of her three horses. Kathy kept my first Washington house pretty well maintained.

Then, for three years, right after Art and I moved to a bigger house to accommodate all of our children - the ones who lived with us and the ones who visited on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other weekend - Art's daughter Melissa was our housekeeper. Her husband was deployed in  Bosnia and she was taking prerequisite classes for pharmacy school. She studied and slept in our motorhome at the rear of our property, and, for her room and board she cooked twice a week and cleaned our house once a week. Melissa was fabulous and conscientious.

Then we found another housekeeper, Jenny, who still keeps our house in order when we're home in Seattle. I met Jenny through the church we both belong to. She is a single mom wanting to work just part time.

Seven years ago we started spending our winters in Tucson, living in a 55+ community, in a park model (trailer). Our place here is much smaller than the one in Washington - just 620 square feet. Still, after a few weeks of keeping it clean myself, I put a "housekeeper wanted" ad on the community bulletin board. The next morning I got an email from a man who'd read my request. He said, "Contact Ana. She and her sister Isabella have been cleaning for me for several years. They are wonderful."

So I emailed Ana. She said she and her sister would be at our place the next Tuesday at 2, if that was acceptable. I said of course.

Ana and Isabella are a powerhouse housekeeping team. They arrive on time, every time, dressed in pretty matching blouses and slacks. We exchange pleasantries - in English for several years, since I didn't know Spanish - and they get to work. There is no chatter between them. They bring our little place back to clean and orderly in just over an hour. Sometimes I'm there when they arrive and leave, sometimes not. We see Ana and Isabella every other week between early November and late April. This is the seventh year they have been our housekeepers in Tucson.

This season I have been volunteering on Saturday evenings at a refugee shelter. Between listening to the Spanish speakers at the shelter and spending a few minutes each day online with Duolingo, I have now been described as a "pidgin Spanish speaker". I can string words together and, while often not grammatically correct, can usually make myself understood by our guests at the shelter.

Last week, when Ana and Isabella arrived at our place, I greeted them in Spanish. I told them I was excited to be able to use the language, even if not very well. I had told them last year I wanted to learn Spanish, but this was the first time I had used it with them. They were as pleased as I was. I told them I volunteer at the refugee shelter at St. Francis in the Foothills. Isabella said she might be interested in helping out, and I told her to give me a call if she wanted to find out more about it.

Last night we arrived at the shelter for our 5-to-9 shift. A smiling woman with long dark hair gave me a hug. I knew I had seen her before, but I didn't remember where. She said, "Do you remember me?" I hesitated. She said, "I'm Isabella."

This woman had been at my house 50 times in the last seven years, and I didn't recognize her out of her work clothes, with her hair down instead of pinned up. I was mortified, and said so. Isabella smiled and said, "It is not a problem."

Then Diane, the refugee project coordinator, said "Isabella arrived this afternoon with two of her boys. She has saved my life today with her work and her Spanish interpreting. And her boys have played all afternoon with the children here, teaching them English and how to play Uno. I really hope she will come back often."

Isabella stayed for an hour longer and we talked. Away from her work, she is a vivacious woman, interacting with our guests the other volunteers with ease. She and John, another regular Saturday volunteer, agreed that she would help him with his Spanish and he would help her with her English.

I knew that Isabella was a young widow with four sons, and that she had come to the US from Mexico.

I didn't know - until last night - that in Mexico she had been a social worker.

Mortified again.

Isabella said that in order to work in her field here in the US, she has to pass a difficult English test. That is her goal.

I pride myself on knowing the people in my life. How could I have missed this for seven years?

You probably know why. I had stereotyped Maria and Isabella.

Mortified. I have volunteered at a refugee camp in Greece five times. I spend every Saturday evening at a refugee shelter in Tucson. But in my own home, I had been oblivious.

I deserve to be mortified. Such a lesson. I hope I have learned it well.

Monday, February 18, 2019

What's going on in the borderlands?

Art and I continue to volunteer on Saturday evenings at a refugee shelter in Tucson. This article, sent to me by a friend, gives the best description I have read about what's happening there.

I haven't attended a church service since we arrived in Tucson on October 31. But after four hours on Saturday evening, at St. Francis in the Foothills Methodist Church, I feel like I have been to church. Truly, it's about love and service.

Monday, February 4, 2019

I never had a master plan

As I look back on my life so far (the first 70 years), I'm aware that what's led me to this point has been largely unplanned. Here's what I mean.

1. My father was a military officer, so we moved around a lot. I was pretty much an obedient daughter - expected in the military environment - interested by nature in academics, music and theatre. The closest I ever came to a life plan was "I'll go to college and then get married and have kids."

2. I was accepted as a high school junior to the College of William and Mary in Virginia, when my father was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I wanted to go there, but my father was then transferred to Camp Smith on Oahu. My parents thought 5,000 miles was too great a distance between my college and their home. My mother had been a Marine during World War II, stationed at Santa Barbara. She said it was a nice place. I applied to UCSB, and that is where I spent my four years of college.

  • Outcome of not going to William and Mary: didn't spend my college years on the east coast and marry an east coast person and have east coast kids; didn't go to a smaller school where I would probably have been more comfortable. 
  • Outcome of going to UCSB instead: spent my college years on the west coast and married a west coast person and had west coast kids; went to a large party school (I have never been a partier); experienced anti-war activity and got tear gassed through my apartment window; felt some guilt that I had anti-war preferences though my father was in Vietnam and paying for my college education.
3. I got married and had kids (two sons) . Part of the plan.

4. I got divorced after 15 years. NOT part of the plan.
  • Outcome of getting divorced: I went back to school to earn a degree that I could use to support myself and my children. I learned how to take care of myself and my household.
  • Outcome of the degree: I moved from a small town in Oregon to a large city in Washington for the job I got. I didn't keep that job, but I've lived in Washington ever since. And I have used some element of that degree every day for the last 30 years.
5. I was a single mom for nine years. Not part of the plan.

6. I got remarried and acquired six more kids. Part of the REVISED plan.
  • Outcome of getting remarried: I found a partner I never would have met in college. We have been together for 27 years.
  • Outcome of acquiring six more kids: Got to have as many kids - and more - as I'd hoped for. Got to experience the differences between boy kids and girl kids. Got to be a role model for young women.
7. I retired after working for 25 years. Part of the plan, though in my heart of hearts I couldn't imagine such a thing without more than a twinge of worry and fear. That's when I started my blog, "Thoughts from a Bag Lady In Waiting".

8. As a retiree, I could choose how I spent my time. Part of the plan, though I had no idea at first what I would do other than sleep as long as I wanted in the morning and read a lot of books.

9. I said yes to what came along, but only since I turned 60. Before that I was pretty much still the military officer's daughter. Here's what's come along since I started saying yes:
  • Took 140 hours of training in 18 months and became a certified mediator. 
  • Mediated about 100 conflicts at a dispute resolution center and in small claims court. Still have the skill, which I use nearly every day.
  • Took 69 trips of three days or more, within the US and elsewhere. Still have the memories, the blog posts and the photos.
  • Volunteered five times at a refugee camp in Greece. It has changed my life.
  • Bought a small home at a +55-plus community in Tucson for winters. Found a community in this "camp for grandmas". 
  • Started adding blue and purple and burgundy highlights to my hair. Still love it!

  • Got a tattoo of the world. My first and last. Still love it!
  • Volunteer each week at a refugee shelter in Tucson. I am continuing to say yes to this amazing work. Greece or Tucson? It's just about the same. And I know beyond a doubt that We Are All The Same.
But I feel especially blessed and lucky. No master plan. But it's all worked out to be more than I would ever have imagined.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Bag Lady visits a refugee detention facility

Two evenings ago, I drove with another volunteer - I'll call her Ana - to have a conversation with a refugee from South America - I'll call him Roberto - now detained in Eloy, Arizona. I wanted to see what the detention facility was like, and have a conversion with a person actually there, and learn more about what was going on. Here's what happened:

1. In the La Palma facility, the staff is friendly - almost welcoming - to visitors. On entering, we left everything behind except driver's license and car keys. And when going through security, we left license and keys behind as well.

2. Between the second and third security gates, I viewed a glorious sunset beyond the concertina wire, but couldn't take a picture because I'd had to leave my phone in the car.

3. Ana and I sat at a round table across from Roberto for an a hour-long conversation. The room, a cafeteria, was full of such tables and such conversations. 

4. Our conversation was entirely in Spanish, though Ana translated any questions I had. I'd say I understood about 20 percent of it.

5. Roberto, detained in Eloy, has a wife similarly detained at a facility in another state. They are not allowed to talk to each other because facility-to-facility phone calls are prohibited. Their only contact is between each of them and Ana.

6. Roberto's wife has applied for asylum on behalf of herself and her husband. Her hearing was the day before our meeting with Roberto, but none of us had heard the outcome of that event.

7. Roberto has been in detention for four months without a hearing. He will also apply for asylum on behalf of himself and his wife. I asked if there's a database that will show the same two people applying for asylum in two locations. Roberto said he does not think there is such a database.

8. Roberto and his wife are in fear for their lives. As I listened to their story, I know for certain their lives are indeed in danger.

9. Roberto said, "It isn't fair that people who come across the border illegally are getting hearings more quickly than people who came across legally."

10. I know more of Roberto's story, but I'm not going to say more here, for the sake of his safety.

Last evening, my husband and I spent our usual four hours volunteering at a refugee shelter in Tucson.  We had 20 guests - ten adults and ten children. Most of the people this week were from Guatemala. 

Our shelter is serving only families - one or two adults with one or more of their children. Children cannot be detained for more than 20 days, so this shelter system has been devised. Within a two-day period, the families will travel to sponsors in other parts of the US to apply for asylum there.

I understand that in times of rapid policy change, agencies may scramble to comply. The children are being kept with their families, but where is the fair treatment of cases for people like Roberto, whose lives are in danger, where their hearings are not close at hand?

Over all these things, I know I am powerless. So I listen to Roberto, and provide a safe place for the shelter guests, one person at a time.