Wednesday, January 16, 2019


I'm usually an optimist. This week, though, not so much.

1. For eight days I've been just a little off healthwise. You know, the winter stuff. A sinus issue with off-and-on vertigo. Lower energy. A little anxiety. Passing up opportunities for walking, riding my bike and doing water exercise. Even foregoing a John Denver tribute concert last week. When I'm even a little bit sick, everything looks pointless. I've learned not to take my bleak thoughts seriously, but still.

2. My friend Ellen helped me arrange pictures on a wall of our little place. They're all from the refugee camp at Oinofyta where I have spent so much of my time, money, energy and passion in the last two year. I love the arrangement, but now every time I pass that wall I remember. And I am there again. And things at Oinofyta are quite different now, and not in a good way.

3. It has been cloudy and cool in Tucson for over a week now. I like the sun. I should say I NEED the sun.

4. ICE has released 100 people today after two weeks of very few. I wish asylum seekers weren't pawns in political maneuvering. I'm at least glad we have signed up for an extra shift this week.

Here's an email I just got this morning:

Volunteers needed TODAY
Wednesday, January 16th

Looking for Spanish Speaking volunteers to wait at the bus station with families.

Volunteers needed ALL day long

Due to high numbers of families released by ICE yesterday and today we are in need of trained Spanish Speaking volunteers to cover shifts at the bus station to allow for more room to receive families at the shelters. 

If you are comfortable with explaining bus tickets and can spend some time welcoming families being dropped off by Casa Alitas to the greyhound bus station and waiting with them please call or text
Katherine Smith (206)306-3569
OR reply to this Email with Subject: "GREYHOUND" 

Prefered shifts:
8:00pm-11:00pm *(If needed)

5. I'm almost reluctant to post this, given my usual positive outlook. Still, I'm sure I'm not the only one. Right?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A different Saturday night

For the last six Saturdays my husband Art and I have volunteered for the evening shift at the refugee shelter at St. Francis in the Foothills Methodist Church in Tucson. The shelter is part of the Inn2America project. We serve dinner and keep company with about a dozen refugees from Guatemala or Honduras or Mexico or El Salvador who have been released by ICE, on their way to family or friends in the United States who are sponsoring them. Our guests spend one to three days at the shelter, waiting for their sponsors to pay for bus tickets to their destination. While they're at the shelter, they're fed and clothed and housed - and welcomed to a place of safety. We do whatever is needed between 5 and 9 on Saturday evening.

It's a lot like the work we've done at a refugee camp in Greece for the last couple of years. Though three years ago the refugee situation was only a vague idea in my mind, it's become a passion for me. And I'm especially grateful that Art has chosen to do much of the work with me.

But tonight I'm at home instead. I got a text early this afternoon from the shelter coordinator. She said, "For the third day in a row there will be no guests at the Inn2America project. ICE is releasing very few people. We don't know why. So no need to come in this evening."

I have learned it is futile to get angry or frustrated over things I have no control over. ICE is one of those things. I suspect there's something political going on, most likely related to the government shutdown.

So I have tonight at home. As soon as I finish this blog post, I'll practice my Spanish on Duolingo and then probably read. I'm just about done with Michelle Obama's memoir. 

I'm inside my little home in Tucson, listening to the rain on the metal roof. I hope the refugees being held by ICE are warm and fed and safe tonight. And also the ones at the camp in Greece.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

My Advent list

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I am sitting quietly in my living room in Tucson, reflecting on the season so far. Things are almost entirely good. Here are my thoughts. I'm making a list to help me clarify them.

1. What has seemed in the past like obligations no longer does. Our kids are grown and gone and they all live in a state that isn't Arizona. We no longer have any little kid grandchildren. When we were first without children at Christmas I was sad. I remember one year I put up a live tree with all the memory-infused ornaments, listening to my ancient favorite seasonal music. When I finished, I stood back to look at the tree and started to cry. It was all over! I removed all the decorations and asked my husband Art to take the tree outside. It sat in its pot until spring and got planted in our yard, where it has grown tall and now nearly obstructs the driveway in our easement.

2. This year I sent no Christmas cards. I've kind of been easing up on them in recent years, sending actual cards only to people I don't see during the year or friends not on Facebook. In this time of constant communication, most everyone knows what we've been doing. If I were to write a Christmas letter it would mostly be a copy and paste from my 2018 blog posts.

3. This year I sent no gifts, not even gift cards to my grandchildren. I rarely see them, and most of them are in their late teens, and when I do send something I rarely know whether they were ever received. I expect that - it's different from when I was a kid, back before fire - but it makes me less inclined to spend the time and money. 

4. We're not going to Washington for Christmas. We considered it, but Art doesn't want to mess with the Seattle airport, plus we have a tenant this year in our house.  

5. My good friend Joan sent us an Advent devotional. She's a progressive Catholic and I'm a Unitarian Universalist, so the readings were lovely and appropriate for us, and each day, if I remember, I read it aloud to Art.

6. One of the things we've done this year is prepare a box for the food bank, which we'll deliver tomorrow. I found a list of things to put in the box each day, and Art was good about shopping for everything. It often happens that I come up with the idea and he does the work!

7. For the last five Saturday evenings Art and I have volunteered at a refugee shelter sponsored by a Methodist church across town. The people at the shelter have left their homes - mostly in Honduras or Guatemala - because their lives are in danger. ICE interviews them and identifies them as people eligible to apply for asylum in the US. They then make plans to travel to a family or friend who has agreed to sponsor them. The sponsor sends money for the family to take a bus from Tucson to the home of the sponsor - Florida, South Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Washington, California, Colorado, or wherever. The family stays at the shelter for one to three days until the bus tickets can be purchased. While they are with us, they're welcomed and fed and clothed. When they leave, they're given food to take with them on their bus trip.

8. For a week or two I collected reusable grocery bags to fill with food for the refugees' onward journeys. I put out a request on my winter community's Facebook page and, as usual, the response was generous. People went through their pantries, or stopped by Trader Joe's or WalMart, or ordered on Amazon. My Do Your Part colleague sent 35 bags made by refugees in Greece that didn't have our logo on them. I'd guess my community and friends gave 150 bags for the travelers to use. That feels good.

9. This morning my handbell group played at the nondenominational church service at our winter home. For our last piece, "Were You There," we were joined by the choir. It was lovely - spiritual - and I was grateful to have a way to express myself in music. I was a liturgical musician for a dozen years or so before my divorce, so today brought back very good memories.

10. I decided at the beginning of Advent to make an effort not to work on Sundays. For me that means the accounting work I do for Do Your Part, or personal paperwork. At first it was hard, but in the last couple of weeks I've actually looked forward to it. I have nearly all day to read, or blog, or nap, or "whatever"!

Tomorrow we're going to the home of new friends to play a card game - we haven't done that in ages, but we like the people and I think it will be fun. Tomorrow night we'll open the door for the Alanon meeting in case some family or friend of an alcoholic is feeling especially bad and wants to hang out with us. On Christmas Day we're having two friends over for dinner. That sounds just about right.

Here's hoping that your Advent, if you observe it, or your holiday season has been reasonably satisfactory and stress free. Merry Christmas!

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."