Friday, October 30, 2015

Homeless Car Camp

My church community has been interested for over a year in undertaking a project to house the homeless. Members visited a community of tiny houses (Quixote Village in Olympia) and then discussed the feasibility of such a project in our county. Numerous issues emerged: who should live in such houses; must they be clean and sober; how can we afford land for the project, since undeveloped land in this area is rare and expensive?

Eventually the volunteers decided to start small. Beginning on November 16, the church will be hosting five families in a car camp in the church parking lot. Here's some of what we know so far:
  • Families will be referred by the homeless advocate for the local school district, so each resident family will have at least one student attending school in the district.
  • Everyone over 13 will have a background check - both volunteers and campers.
  • Families will arrive between 8:30 and 9:15 in the evening and will leave between 6:00 and 9:15 in the morning.
  • No alcohol or drugs can be used in the camp.
  • A porta-potty will be available.
  • A cellphone charging area will be provided.  
  • A church volunteer will have a 24/7 phone available for campers to call as needs arise.
  • One day a week (to start) campers will have morning access to a shower inside the church. The number of shower days will increase as more volunteers sign up for the early morning shift.
  • Volunteers will welcome campers in the evenings, supervise showers in the mornings, and wash towels. Volunteers get to sign up for what they want to do and how often.
  • If temperatures drop below 34 degrees, a cold weather shelter opens in town. On those nights, the car camp will be closed. We want the families to go to the cold weather shelter because that facility will provide them with a hot meal in the evening, breakfast, and a sack lunch. Our church community is responsible for the cold weather shelter on Mondays.
  • Volunteers have become familiar with the "companionship" model. No counseling or professional services will be offered, though an information sheet will be provided for each family.
  • After 90 days of residence, a family has to reapply to the car camp. The intention is that camping will be a temporary situation for the families.
The team organizing this project called an information meeting this week, and I'd say more than 50 people showed up. Team members acknowledged we're kind of making it up as we go - flexibility has to be the key even while we comply with the law.

I'm one of two volunteer coordinators, making sure we have signups for each available position, and calling or emailing volunteers to remind them of their time slots. I'll be in Tucson for the winter, but this is something I can do no matter where I live. I'm glad to be able to participate in this project.

The team says we are the only church in our county to try this, and that others are watching. If we're successful, we may be the first of many to provide this help to the homeless.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Introducing you to the Best of Boomers

I was recently invited to join a group of Baby Boomer bloggers who combine posts each week and take turns sending them out to their own followers. I'm happy to introduce them to you today - Meryl, Laura, Tom and Rita - and I expect you may want to add your name to their list of blog followers.

This week, we Boomers are traveling or enjoying the wonder of early winter, and thinking about health, compassion and hope.

Meryl Baer, at Six Decades and Counting, is on the road again this week, beginning a ten day trip to Italy with three girlfriends. In her first post about her adventure, she talks about a subject dear to her heart - food. Read all about it in Arrivederci USA Ciao Italy!

Laura Lee, at Adventures of the New (and Improved) Old Farts, is excited to see the first major snow storm in the mountains southwest of her.Go look at her beautiful photos of the Sangre de Cristos mountains.

Tom Sightings, at Sightings Over Sixty, saw a story in the New York Times which got him thinking about how much compassion we have for others, and what elicits our sympathy and what blocks it. Are some people naturally more sympathetic, and others more hard-hearted and self-absorbed? Or do circumstances determine how we feel about other people's adversities? See some of the surprising and counterintuitive results in his recent post How Deep is the Well of Compassion?

Rita Robison, at Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, is thinking about the new guidelines for breast cancer screening released this week by the American Cancer Society.

And then there's me, Linda Myers. You might take another look at my thoughts on the Active Hope workshop I attended last weekend.

I hope all of you have a great week, whether you're a Boomer or a Something Else!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Active Hope workshop

The workshop last Saturday on Active Hope was an eye opener for me. Thirty-two of us spent about six hours together in a combination of large group, small group and lecture. I came away with some insights I expect to be helpful in my "saying yes" campaign for myself.

As our icebreaker, we went around the circle and said no more than six words about Hope. Opinions varied widely. My words were "I live in hope." Other people said things like "I have a hard time with hope," "I have no hope," "I wish I had more hope." I'd say my statement was one of the more positive ones. 

We were thinking mostly about the larger challenges currently facing our country and the world: income inequality, refugees, climate change, political gridlock, and other issues. Our facilitator, Barbara Ford, began with "three stories we tell": (1) Business as usual; (2) The Great Unraveling (current media reports on disasters, the "ain't it awfuls" we all hear about; and (3) The Great Turning (movements and activities for change; for example, the rise of alternative energy, cohousing, walkable cities). All these stories coexist, but her interest focuses on (3).

We talked about power, and how we think of it primarily as a bad or corrupt thing. Then, in groups of four, we talked about "a time when something you did or said made a difference for good". After each person talked for five minutes, the other three commented on what they heard about the person that made the effort successful.  Barbara collected the groups' comments on an easel:

What we ended up with was positive qualities of power. We know these things apply at the individual or grassroots level, so it's worth taking a look at expanding this kind of power. 

So, for example, I can make a difference as a mediator working in small claims court on disputes or on parenting plans between divorcing couples. I wouldn't say I have power in these situations, but the qualities on the easel are all useful in coming up with win-win solutions. The idea is that all of us can have that power to influence for the good.

Something else I came away with is that we all contribute in different ways. I will probably never march in a demonstration, but I can be a coordinator and that is just as valuable as the people who actually go out there. I have felt a little guilty sometimes in the past that I'm not a visible activist. But I do other things. That's good to remember. I do believe that "we're all in this together".

And we're all connected. I believe this more and more. To that end, I spent time this week with four women friends, on three days. In every conversation we talked about connection. My mediation work is about connection; my work as liaison for our business is about connection. I'm not sure where these insights will take me. But I know they will take me somewhere.

I'm so grateful to be retired! Who knows what's up next for me?

You can find out more about Barbara at

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Flip flops walk

This post is still about the Vashonistas - six women bloggers who have gathered for a weekend each October for four years. The flip flops walk happened over two weeks ago, but I still remember it well as an unexpected surprise.

We'd been together at Lavender Hill Farm, on Vashon Island, for five days. Six women. Writing and talking and laughing and eating. A lot of time spent together, most of it very good.

Still. Six women. After a while, you know, it can get a little, uh, less than very good. Maybe someone talks too much. Maybe someone goes to bed too late and misses early morning activities. Maybe someone goes to bed too early and misses evening activities. Maybe someone is gluten free or vegetarian or allergic to peanuts or dairy or alcohol. We all care, of course, about each other's well being. And after all that caring, we probably need an outing together where we can get some fresh air. So, on our last day together, five of us had an "adventure day", while one of us stayed at home to work (Jann is a grant writer, even in retirement).

The day was sunny, temperatures in the 60s. Deb assured us our adventure wouldn't require walking shoes, so most of us wore flip flops. We decided to walk on the beach at Point Robinson; there's a lighthouse there and keepers' quarters, and some nice driftwood. A perfect spot for conversations in twos and threes or a little time alone.

Everyone but me visited the keepers' houses, which are available for rent. I sat at a picnic table. I'm not much for visiting interiors of places, probably since I just returned from Europe where I had more than my fill of such things.

We then set off for the Dockton Historic Interpretive Trail, which begins and ends at Quartermaster Harbor. This was Deb's idea, and I admit I was a little cranky about it, since the beginning of the trail is uphill along a highway. I kept most of my crankiness to myself, though. 

What we found as we walked the route, less than two miles in length, was a charming local area of farms and homes. We'd expected mostly historical markers, but the area was full of life and beauty.

 The old sidewalk

 A faithful gardener

 Not in the city!

 Where to store the ladder?

 For observant dogs

 DJan and Sally

 Blackberries in October

 Deb stepped in something!

 Leftover cornstalks

 Island grasses

 Welcome home

By the time we arrived back at the car, we were a mostly happy group again. Such a visual feast we'd experienced together!

We met up with Jann, Vashonista #6, for a late lunch at The Hardware Store, a favorite place of ours. We laughed and talked and ate, as usual, as we reminisced about this time together. Tomorrow morning we will be leaving and we have to do at least a little planning. Jann agreed that next year she will plan the adventure day. She wants us to go kayaking!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Vashonista celebration

Last weekend, when the six Vashonista bloggers wrote together, workshop style, our last prompt was for a ten-minute write on the famous last line of Mary Oliver's poem, "The Summer Day": "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Here's what I wrote:

I plan to say yes. To whatever comes along, especially if it's unexpected. I've said this often recently: I'm standing in an open field, forest all around me. I'm waiting, with my arms stretched up and out, for what it is I am supposed to be. Not do. Be.

I have at my feet all my gifts: intelligence, articulate expression in the spoken and written word, the ability to listen with sensitivity and care, a passion for creating understanding between and among. At this point I have no idea how that will turn out. Who will enter the clearing? Will they arrive on two legs or four or none? Will they be visible or just a spirit or essence? I am sure I will recognize their arrival quite quickly, regardless of their form.

Most of my bucket list items have been crossed off. I have only a half dozen more travel destinations to experience. What's left, I think, are the intangibles; what I don't yet recognize should be on that list. Three opportunities have arisen this year, all related to connectedness in different arenas. And two workshops have caught my attention after months of "not much out there". Next Saturday is "Mental Health First Aid for Faith Communities" and the following Saturday is "Active Hope - How to Face the Mess We're In Without Going Crazy." So far, I am still saying yes, knowing I'm on a right path.

Who am I to know what it is I'm supposed to do? What will the yesses to come be about? "We are all in this together" has been my mantra for a while now. Who are we, and what is together? I have to keep saying yes. That's the only way I'll know.

What would you write?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Waking up with a clear heart

I'm a Vashonista. Three years ago, six bloggers gathered for the first time at Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island, just across the water from Seattle.

Most of us knew each other only from reading each other's blogs. Now we're a community for a few days in October each year.

This year we decided to spend part of each day in a writing workshop. On Thursday night, at our first session together, our facilitator Deb gave us our first prompt: "What is it that I want from this experience"? Once all six of us had written and shared our writing with each other, commonalities emerged: a sense of discovery, a search for authenticity, a writing community. Deb created other writing prompts to help us reach our goal.

We spent yesterday writing and listening, laughing and shedding a few tears. We relaxed into the safe, accepting place we've known for several years.

I'd been doing some grieving about the loss of a friend for several months. After a couple of quiet conversations and a short prompted write, I was finally able to let go of the friend. This morning, when I woke up, morning light was streaming through the windows. I heard faint voices downstairs, and laughter. And my heart was clear.

Today we went to the Saturday Farmer's Market, as we always do. We all got a little crazy and had our feet or arms henna'ed. I chose feet.

I had a lively conversation with Colin, a fellow selling honey and hoping to make a living with his Vashon goat farm.

There's nothing quite so comforting and fun as a room full of friends.