Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Two sets of plane tickets

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

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

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

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






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

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

And the second set of tickets?

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

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

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

So I'm traveling again! 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Bag Lady releases some stress

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

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

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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rightsizing: a paradigm shift



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

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

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

It doesn't feel much like home here now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

913 - Surprised!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprised!



Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Drenched in privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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






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

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

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


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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Bag Lady tries a few new things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm just trying a few new things.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Settled in Seattle - and waiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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