Saturday, December 5, 2020

Four men and their ladders

#1 - Art

My husband Art stopped smoking before I met him in 1992. I asked him how he'd managed to do it, and he said, "It's as easy as falling off a ladder." Apparently he'd broken two ribs when he fell at some point, and it hurt too much to breathe, so he had to give up smoking.

This summer we remodeled the daylight basement of our home in Brier. Art did all of the wiring and electrical work. He was there three times: for five weeks in June, a week in July and three weeks in September. He spent a lot of time on ladders, leaning and twisting and reaching upwards and through.

Art did a phenomenal job on the project, but it was too much for his back. He has spinal stenosis anyway, but his nerves and muscles got inflamed, and he developed sciatica and muscle cramps in his legs. By September he was walking hunched over at nearly 90 degrees because that position lessened his pain. He saw a physical therapist three times, and got a lower lumbar injection which helped somewhat on his left side. 

We returned to Tucson on October 31. About a week later he got a call from the Washington clinic where he'd gotten the lumbar injection, asking how he was doing. He said he was feeling better. They asked if he wanted to get a second shot. He said no. 

A week after the phone call, the shower curtain rod in our tiny Tucson bathroom fell down. Art, ever the handyman, wanted to remount it. He stood for 45 minutes, left foot on the toilet seat and right foot on a chair, while he twisted and stretched upward. Eventually he gave up, in too much pain to continue. It turned out that a small piece of the rod had broken off where it attaches to the wall. I went to a nearby store and bought a new one for $8.99, and our across-the-street neighbor, Mike, came over and put it up in about ten minutes.

It's been a month since then. Art has seen the physical therapist in Tucson and has more exercises to do. He has begun water walking three times a week. He has a cane, a pair of walking poles and walker. His doctor says the walking poles would be the best to use, as it would support him standing up, but he prefers the cane and the walker for some reason. He's been prescribed a couple of medications but they haven't given him the relief he needs.

We are researching a second lumbar spine injection, but his insurance won't cover the procedure here in Tucson until January 1. Otherwise we'll pay cash as soon as we find a doctor here who is available.

All this, and he didn't even fall off a ladder!

#2:  Dick

Dick and JoAnne are friends here in Tucson in our retirement community. One day last month JoAnne went into town to play golf with a few friends. Afterwards they stopped for breakfast at a favorite eatery. Just as the food arrived JoAnne got a call from a neighbor. At home, Dick had decided to put battery-operated lights above the kitchen cupboards. As he was descending on the stepladder, he fell and broke his leg near the hip. He knew he needed to get help. The closest door was in the living room, but there was carpeting, and he knew it would be tough to drag himself across the carpet. So he headed for the kitchen door across the flooring. The door was locked but he managed to get it open and shout for help. A neighbor heard him, an ambulance was called, and he was taken to the hospital. The ambulance had just pulled away when JoAnne got the call. The neighbor wasn't sure which hospital Dick had been taken to. Eventually Dick was located. After surgery to repair the break, and a few days in the hospital - where JoAnne couldn't visit him because of the coronavirus, Dick went to rehab. He is home now, using a walker until his leg heals and he regains his strength. 

Last night four couples gathered for dinner, masked and social distancing. Two of them were Art and Dick, both on walkers.

#3: John

John and Joan are Tucson friends living across town. Last week, John decided to put up the outside Christmas lights. For the first batch, he asked Joan to hold the ladder while he climbed it. Afterwards, Joan didn't realize John had more work to do on the lights, so she went inside. John went back up the ladder. The ladder collapsed and John was left hanging on the tree branches. When he dropped to the ground he sprained his ankle. Apparently John made one more attempt. This time the ladder fell over sideways, and John fell across the ladder on the ground, resulting in multiple bruises.

#4: Al

Al and Bonnie live in our Tucson retirement community. Al's mishap happened some time ago, but I just found out about it this morning.

Al decided to climb a ladder to the roof of the couple's park model mobile home. Bonnie says she didn't know why he needed to go up there, but Al was insistent. The ladder didn't reach all the way to the roof, but on the ascent Al had no trouble reaching it. It was when he was coming down that he got into trouble. He couldn't get onto the ladder from the roof, so Bonnie had to call security to give him a hand. She said Al was pretty embarrassed!

I'm not going to talk about Art and the tree stories. Maybe another time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Trash talk

My husband Art and I recycle just about everything. He's been known to go through the kitchen trash can in search of items that I've neglected to recycle. One of his endearing qualities, I guess.

At our family home in Brier, Washington, we've been customers of Waste Management Northwest for decades. We have the largest yard waste bin (green), the largest recycle bin (blue), and the smallest trash bin (gray). Art takes pride in rarely having a full trash bin on Wednesdays, when the Waste Management truck comes by at 7:00 a.m. or so.

For the last year we were in Tucson and one of our sons rented the house. We paid the trash bill each month. Then, in May, we started the remodel of the lower level of the house. Son and family began renting the upstairs only. 

In September the remodel was done. We flew to Seattle to spend a couple of months setting up housekeeping. We ordered what we needed - from Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, Overstock, Wayfair and other online places - and the boxes began to arrive. We had a lot of boxes to recycle. A lot. We left them at the bottom of the steep driveway, nested. We knew we could leave them at the curb, broken down next to the recycle bin, which was full of everything else to be recycled. Eventually someone took them to the recycling facility at the Lynnwood dump because it would have taken a month or so to get all those boxes to the curb.

One difference between us and our son is that we recycle everything, and they usually don't. So the gray trash bin was full two days after the truck had come by. Full as in the lid wouldn't close. Full as in the crows got into the topmost trash bag, broke it open, and scattered trash and garbage and broke a bottle when it fell to the ground. 

So I called Waste Management Northwest and explained our problem. The very nice lady said that, for $9 a month, we could have a medium-sized bin for the trash. "Leave the bin out as usual on Wednesday," she said. "Later in the day another truck will come by, take your small bin away and leave a larger one." That was great, I thought. 

The next Wednesday we put out the bins. The gray trash bin got emptied, but no truck came by to leave something larger to replace it. That afternoon I got an email from Waste Management, apologizing for not leaving a new bin, and telling us it would happen the next week, and thanking us for our patience.

The next Wednesday, the same thing happened. No new bin, email of apology, promise of next week.

By this time we were up early on Wednesdays, listening for the trash truck. As soon as we heard it drive off, one of us raced out to the curb in our pajamas with a couple of bags of trash. We had asked our son and his family if they would please recycle what they could, and they said sure. So, of course, the recycle bin was full within three days after pickup. So on our Wednesday races to the curb, we carried all the broken-down boxes to go into the recycling bin.

And the next Wednesday. I finally called Waste Management Northwest and asked what was happening. I got a different lady, who was also very nice. "There is a shortage of bins in the Pacific Northwest," she said. "With Covid, and so many people working from home, they all needed bins, so we ran out. And the manufacturing plants couldn't keep up because so many of the people who worked there were sick."

And then, the next Wednesday - two weeks before the end of our trip to Washington - a larger trash bin arrived at the curb.

You would think that, with one family living upstairs and another one living in the new apartment downstairs, the biggest problem would be sharing the laundry room. But it was easy. We had Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and the upstairs people got Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 

We also had to teach Amazon, FedEx, UPS  and the meal delivery services how to find us. Our address on all of them said, "Lower level, right side of house." Apparently the delivery people didn't read the second line of the address. At least twice a week, one of the upstairs people came down with something that had been delivered to their front door. They were good sports about it.

But I'm thinking they were mighty glad when we got on the airplane for Tucson!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Amazon is my friend, I guess.

The remodel of the lower level of our home is complete, and now we are setting up housekeeping. We're frequent flyers on Amazon these days. Here's what we've ordered for our new place.

7/29 - 8 flush-mount ceiling lights. Operate on dimmer switches. Wonderful light for dark days.

7/30 - Armarket cat bed - exactly like Larisa's bed in Tucson. So far she has not slept in it at all.

8/7 - Aposen cordless vacuum cleaner. Like the one in Tucson, it's easy to clean the vinyl plank flooring.

8/13 - Keurig classic coffeemaker

8/15 - Cuisinart cast-iron double burner - because the municipal code in our small city doesn't allow two dwellings in a single structure on a property with less than 20,000 square feet, and "kitchen" is defined as a range with a vent. So we have a wet bar with everything else.

8/15 - KitchenAid dual convection counter toaster oven

8/19 - Heavy duty clothing garment rack. No closet in the tiny bedroom, we hang clothes on this rack in the bathroom.

8/22 - Bed sheet set. We had to buy a new queen bed, since the two queens we had are in use by our tenants upstairs. We've rehomed a double and two twin beds.

8/22 - Fitted mattress pad, queen

8/22 - Lightweight quilt coverlet, oversized queen

8 /22 - Set of two pillows

9/9 - Bi-fold fitness mat - for physical therapy exercises over vinyl plank floors.

9/13 - Waterproof wireless doorbell kit - for new downstairs entrance

9/21 - 3-piece set of kitchen cutting boards

9/22 - digital bathroom scale

9/22 - Set of four woven storage boxes, teal. In an attempt to keep desktop and tabletop clutter corraled

9/22 - Power cord cable for downstairs TV - tenants are using the old one upstairs

9/22 - AC/DC adapter for CPAP cleaner; I brought my smaller machine along

9/24 - Commercial plastic cutting board - the other three are "too small"

9/26 - Noise-reduction headphones for TV watching when the other person is reading close by

9/26 - Toilet brush set. A brush in a plastic container won't cut it for a new bathroom layout

9/28 - iPhone case for the new, larger phone that replaced the one I dropped in the toilet

9/30 - 16-piece set of drinking glasses

9/30 - 36-piece kitchen utensil set

9/30 - 45-piece flatwear cutlery set

9/30 - Set of six porcelain salad pasta bowls

10/1 - Five decorative glass bowls, teal - to warm up the room

10/1 - Tissue box cover - new bathroom 

10/2 - Cuisinart 6-piece steak knife set

10/4 - Expanding file folder, teal - setting up the desk

10/4 - Pen holder, teal

10/7 - Two more sets of woven storage boxes, teal. They appear to be working to contain the clutter.

10/10 - Electric stapler.

10/10 - Box of standard staples

10/11 - Two oil-filled electric radiator heaters

And from other stores:

1 8x10 rug for living room

1 sofa-back table

2 end tables

1 TV console

1 dresser

1 nightstand

1 bookshelf

On order:

1 small dining room table and four chairs

1 sleeper sofa with matching loveseat

1 5x8 rug for entryway

1 coffee table with lifting surface

I have never spent money like this in my life. We're like not-starting-out-poor newlyweds.

It is nearly finished, I think. And in two weeks we return to Tucson, leaving this nice little apartment vacant for six months. Probably. Maybe. Who knows?

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Room Where It Happened

We've remodeled the lower level of our family home in Brier, Washington, a northern suburb of Seattle. We want to live more simply now, with less space and no stairs. Our son James did all of the work except the electrical, and my husband Art did that part, in two trips from Tucson during the summer.

My requirement was "light and bright and warm and welcoming." And minimalist. Art's requirement was a functional kitchen. Actually, it's against the Brier municipal code to have a "kitchen", which is defined to include a stove and venting. So instead we have a "wet bar", with a countertop oven/toaster, a two-burner hot plate and a microwave. Everything else in the room looks just like a kitchen.

The footprint of the room hasn't changed from before the remodel. We divided up a larger guest room into the wet bar and a smaller bedroom, and enlarged the bathroom slightly while making the laundry room a bit smaller. We share the laundry room with the tenants upstairs - currently our son Jason and his family.

Here's how it went. I struggled with the photos, so there are a few out of place and one duplicate.

Art's design



Framing the kitchen

Moving the door, adding a slider

New slider


Wiring for the kitchen and new bedroom

Dimming lights

Tearing out the old vanity

New bathroom vanity

Kitchen cabinets

Flooring going in

Barn door to bedroom

Small bedroom

Waiting for kitchen countertops

Completed kitchen

The apartment deck

Joining the new deck to the old

Now we're settling in to the room where it happened. We have a lot of work still: buying what we need, letting go of years of things now stored in the garage. But it is our own place, with no stairs. Just right for who we are now - from May to October.

Grateful, grateful!

Friday, August 28, 2020

A bazillion little things

It's been over 100 degrees every day for the last month here in Tucson. Once I ride eight miles on my e-bike in the early morning, I'm mostly indoors with gratitude for A/C.

It may look like I'm just sitting in my recliner with my laptop. But I'm really doing a bazillion little things.

We are remodeling the daylight basement of our family home in Brier, a Seattle suburb. Last summer I found it was difficult and sometimes painful to carry the laundry basket down the stairs with dirty clothes, and carry it back up with clean, folded ones. Aging hip and knee, you know. It was time for single-story living. Since we split our year between Tucson and Brier, it wasn't practical to lease a condo or to buy anything. So we decided to create a one-bedroom space downstairs, with a wet bar (municipal code doesn't permit a stove, because that would define an "accessory dwelling unit," not allowable in our small city unless the lot size is 20,000 square feet. Which ours is not).

The project is nearly complete, and we'll return to Washington next week to settle in and do another massive downsizing. We'll be living in 780 square feet - larger than our 620-square-foot place in Tucson. And one of our kids will live upstairs with his family.

There have been a bazillion little things. My husband Art came up with the design with my input. My contractor son James agreed to do the work, except for the electrical which Art would be responsible for.

How do we create a light and bright space? By moving windows and adding a sliding glass door to replace a regular one. By installing ceiling lights on a dimmer.

How do we add a food space? By dividing a regular bedroom into a very small bedroom and a small kitchenette.

How do we want the kitchen to look? Several hours spent at Home Depot, choosing cabinets. Art is the kitchen person, and he wanted a lot of cabinet space and adequate counter space. He wanted an under-cabinet microwave, a dishwasher and a garbage disposal (both of which I do without in Tucson).

Should we keep the 40-year-old vanity in the bathroom or change it out for something contemporary? Art wanted to keep it since it was still functional, but James told him it would cost more money to restore it than to replace it, so that's what we did.

And so on. Paint colors, flooring (we chose vinyl planking), where to put the cable for TV and internet, what to buy from Amazon, Overstock, Wayfair, Home Depot and Lowes, and what to scrounge from stuff stored in the garage.

I thought I was doing well with the bazillion little details - several hours a day online to buy what we would need: microwave, Keurig coffeemaker, countertop convection oven/toaster, countertop double-burner to replace the not-allowed stovetop, rolling laundry hamper, ceiling lights. I had to create a new address for our Brier place: Jason Myers (our oldest son, living upstairs with his family) for Art. Otherwise, the smaller items might have been forwarded to us here in Tucson, or sent back to the source.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself for managing this project 1200 miles to the north, making sure everything was taken care of and ready when it was needed.

Then, yesterday, I talked to my auto insurance carrier. I'd called to take the Ranger, currently in Brier, out of storage, and to put the Accord and the Prius, currently here in Tucson, in storage. I do that when we move back and forth, to save money on insurance. Art had flown to Seattle on May 22 to launch the remodel, returning to Tucson on June 23. The insurance person said to me yesterday, "I show the Prius has been in storage since May 22." Oh, my gosh. I had forgotten to take the Prius out of storage when Art returned to Tucson in June. So he has been driving around without insurance for THREE MONTHS! 

My friend Ellen told me this morning that it's because I'm getting older. I don't like that explanation. I think it's because, if I'm responsible for a billion little details, I will probably make one mistake.

I hope my opinion is the correct one!

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The hula hoop saga and the wedding shirt

One July morning in 1997, Art and I decided to get a marriage license. We had been together for five years. We'd already combined most of our individual resources anyway, and were parenting - full time or part time - most of the children each of us had from our first marriages.

Our minister friend Chuck Davis agreed to marry us. He suggested we create some kind of ritual for the informal service. We came up with the idea of decorating a hula hoop and standing within it as we said our vows. I'm not the least creative, but Art's daughters Laura and Melissa wound inch-wide satin ribbon around the hoop and added silk ivy. I went to Michael's and bought a yard each of ribbon in the colors of each of our children's birthstones. 

Two weeks later, we were married on the sailboat of our friends Bob and Sheila Airis. The only others joining us were Chuck and his wife Barbara, and our eight children. 

At the end of the ceremony, each of the kids - Melissa, Jason, Karl, Russell, Laura, James, Peter and Greg - tied their respective ribbons onto the hula hoop. Then they all jumped into Lake Washington for a swim. 

The decorated hula hoop lived in a closet in our basement for 22 years. I'm not a saver by nature, but it seemed callous and irreverent to get rid of it. 

Until one day in May of this year. Art and I had traveled from our winter place in Tucson to Brier, the northern Seattle suburb where we live the rest of the year. We'd decided to remodel our daylight basement to create an apartment for ourselves. It will be light and bright, with no-stairs access to the garage, side garden, and laundry room. Jason and his wife Kalei and our grandson Kaleb have been living in our furnished house this year. Once we decided to remodel, they moved upstairs and put everything of ours that they weren't using on one side of the garage. 

The garage was pretty full when we arrived. Within a couple of days I had sold the office desk and chair, the treadmill, the Bowflex and one of the twin beds. I offered some things for free on the Buy Nothing Brier Facebook page. I took the eight ribbons off the hula hoop and found the shirt Art had worn at our wedding (!). I have an artistic friend in Tucson I thought might create something for our remodeled place.

I set the hula hoop outside the garage. I said, "This may be of interest for a crafter." 

A woman named Zoe responded, "I could use it for a fairy-themed one-year-old birthday backdrop." How delightful!

Zoe picked it up the next day and sent me this picture of how she'd transformed the wedding hoop:

When I flew back to Tucson on June 1, I brought the ribbons and Art's wedding shirt. 

I took them to my friend Connie Remetch. I had no idea what I wanted except for size - about a square foot. I said I'd like to somewhat match the framed wedding announcement that hung on our bedroom wall for those 22 years. Art was still in Washington; he took a picture of the announcement and sent it to me.

Three days later Connie called me. "Come see."


I'll hang the wedding announcement and Connie's beautiful creation on a wall in our new remodeled space. 

I am a fortunate and grateful woman.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Something new and different

We're living in Tucson right now while our Seattle home's basement is being remodeled. We're in the middle of summer; yesterday the high was 113 degrees. I ride my bicycle at 6:00 a.m. when it's already 80 degrees. But I'm okay with the heat as long as the a/c in house and car are working. 

This is normal for Arizona summers, and I wanted to experience one. The night before last we had our first monsoon of the season: wind, dust, a bit of rain and a spectacular electrical storm. 

It's a little harder doing the social distancing thing. We don't have people in our house, and it's too hot to sit outside and talk, and it's too hot to walk. Last night it was 100 degrees at 10 p.m. 

Back in April Johns Hopkins offered a free online course in contact tracing, where you talk to a person diagnosed with covid. They're infectious from two days before they develop symptoms until their symptoms are improving and they haven't had a fever (without tylenol) for three days. So you want to find out who they have been with during that time - especially before they develop symptoms. Then you contact the exposed people and recommend they self-quarantine for two weeks, providing them with access to resources they might need to successfully do that.

I read recently that 240,000 people signed up for the Johns Hopkins course, and 180,000 obtained the certificate of completion. I was one of those people. When I was done I contacted Pima County (where Tucson is) and expressed my interest in being a contact tracer.

I didn't hear anything from the county. And then I watched the number of covid cases soar in June. It was a couple of weeks after the governor opened the bars and restaurants and similar businesses. The young people, released from their lockdown, congregated in those places. And they are the ones who are most commonly experiencing the virus now. The older people, like me, tend to remain at home, knowing their increased risk.

Then today I got an email:

Good afternoon Ms. Myers,

I wanted to reach out to you about your email on April 13, 2020, inquiring about contact tracing.  Thank you for willingness to assist the Pima County community as a Contact Tracer.  At the time of your inquiry we were working on developing a process for contact tracing.  

We have recently contracted with Maximus for contact tracing.  If you are still interested in being a contact tracer then contact  for contact tracing positions.  Once you email expressing interest for a contact tracing position in Pima County/Tucson, Arizona then your application will be moved accordingly through the application process.

Thank you.

Emergency Operations Center
Volunteer Coordinator 2

I wrote to Maximum to express my interest:

In April I applied to Pima County, Arizona to assist with contact tracing. Today I got an email saying they have contracted with you and said I should send you an email.

I completed the Contact Tracing course offered by Johns Hopkins in April. Though not a healthcare professional, I have been a certified mediator, made five trips to Greece in the last four years to volunteer at a refugee camp, managing that camp twice as vacation relief. I spent 20 years working in IT as a business systems analyst. 

I divide my time during the year between Tucson and Seattle. Since this is remote work, I could be useful anywhere I’m needed.

Looking forward to hearing from you. 

I wonder what will happen now that I have said yes one more time.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

My whiny list

As far as I know, I'm not a whiner by nature. I'm mostly an optimist. But now I think I'm joining many millions of people who feel the same way I do. Maybe we should call ourselves the Worldwide Whiners Society.

Whine #1: I want to go to an air conditioned restaurant full of people and complain about how noisy it is.

#2: I want to throw all of my masks in the trash. Or at least the recycle bin.

#3: I want to have six friends to my house for dinner. Inside, and closer than six feet.

#4: It is summer in the Tucson desert. I want to be able to walk or ride my bike any time of the day instead of very early in the morning. I am not a morning person.

#5: I want to go to a real life church service. And a real live continuing education class. And a real live AA meeting. Zoom helps, but not really.

#6: I want to greet every friend I have with a long hug.

#7: I want to swim in a pool in the evening. The one in our retirement community closes at 4 because there aren't staff on duty after that to do the every-two-hour sanitizing thing.

#8: I want to see at play at the Arizona Theatre Company sitting between my husband Art and my good friend Ellen. We have season tickets we probably won't be able to use.

#9: I want to participate in the march on Washington instead of staying home because flights are too crowded and I'm an "elderly".

#10: I want to fly to Greece just one more time to volunteer with refugees.

On the other hand, my optimist side is grateful:

Grateful #1: We have A/C in our little Tucson place.

#2: I've got about eight masks, and I like them all.

#3: I have way more than six friends in my life - in Tucson and in Seattle and in other places in the country and around the world.

#4: I have an e-bike and there is a great bicycling loop in Tucson and my bike will get me around in the hills of Washington State.

#5: I have a church that feels like home, and continuing education classes available in both Tucson and Seattle, and AA meetings in both places that I love.

#6: I am a good hugger.

#7: There are multiple swimming pools nearby and I can use them just about any time of day except in the evening.

#8: I love the theatre, and there are excellent venues in both Tucson and Seattle. And I can afford season tickets.

#9: Even though I'm an "elderly" I've found joy in volunteering with refugees and asylum seekers and people in conflict with each other.

#10: I have a bunch of destinations still on my travel bucket list, and as long as I keep myself safe and healthy I'm likely to get to them all.

It's about perspective, you know. And this too shall pass.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

How I'm spending my stimulus money

I got my stimulus money early on - $1,200 - and I am one of the lucky people who didn't need it. I spent some time thinking about how I could best use it. First I checked with our eight grown children. I told them to let me know if they needed help, but none of them did.

I got several recommendations to contribute to a food bank, and I considered it, but I knew many other people would be doing that. Instead, I wanted to help an individual or a family. So I left the money in my bank account and waited.


In 2016 and 2017, I volunteered four times at Oinofyta, a refugee camp in Greece. During my days there, I came to know, or at least recognize, many of the 400 refugees who lived at the camp. The Oinofyta experience changed how I look at the world.

Here is some of what I learned in Greece:

And here is one of the refugees' stories:

And then there was Mukhtar.

When I first saw him, he was playing chess on the dock of the warehouse. I'd been told he was 17 - an unaccompanied minor - and that both of his parents were dead and he was traveling to France to be with his older brother. He was one of many refugees who had intended to pass through Greece on their way to other European destinations, but had remained in camps in Greece when the borders to the other European countries had been closed.

I didn't have a conversation with Mukhtar until my fourth trip to Oinofyta, in August of 2017. I was filling in as camp manager while Lisa Campbell, the feisty and gifted creator of the Oinofyta community, returned to the US for a two-week speaking tour. At Oinofyta, the families lived in rooms downstairs, and the single men lived upstairs in four dormitories. The families needed to sleep and to feel safe, and separating them from the 82 single men was a good way to do that. As a single man - though still a minor - Mukhtar lived upstairs.

One day he came into the camp office. He was angry. I knew a conversation was needed, but I don't speak Farsi, and my two regular translators were not around. Who was available was Karolina, an aid worker who spoke English and Greek, and Abed, who spoke Greek and Farsi. And Mukhtar spoke Farsi. So we had our conversation via two translators. I spoke to Karolina in English, she spoke to Abed in Greek, and he spoke to Mukhtar in Farsi.

Mukhtar said he wanted to be moved downstairs because it was too noisy in the upstairs dormitories. But Lisa had requested that no room changes be made until she returned. When I told him that, his eyes flashed with anger. Seventeen years old, remember? Then he added that he was in pain because he had a hernia, and he'd seen three doctors, and none of them would help him because there were other people with hernias that needed attention sooner. I suspected that could have been true, or it might have been doctors frustrated and overwhelmed by the flood of refugees needing medical attention.

One of the camp doctors had walked in during the conversation. When he heard Mukhtar's story, he said, "I have a doctor friend who can help you. I will set you up for an appointment on Tuesday." Mukhtar said, "No one will help me so I won't go." Seventeen!

I said, "Mukhtar, if you will go to the doctor and tell me about it when you get back, I will give you chocolate." I kept candy in one of my desk drawers just for the volunteers, but I would make an exception in this case for a 17-year-old. Mukhtar's eyes flashed again, this time with humor, and his face lit up with a smile.

He went to the doctor on Tuesday, got scheduled for surgery, told me about it, and got his candy.

After that, when I'd see Mukhtar, I'd say "chocolate" and he would grin. And when I left the camp I gave him a hug.

Three months later, before I could return to Oinofyta again, the camp was closed down by the Greek government. The residents were dispersed to other camps or apartments in Athens.

After my time in Greece, I kept in touch via Facebook with a few of the residents: Samim, Baloo, Mahdi, and Nasar. But I lost touch with Mukhtar, and I didn't know his last name. So I asked one of the men if he knew where Mukhtar was, and I got his full name so I could find him on Facebook and friend him.

Here is how the first conversation went:

Me: Hello! How are you?
Mukhtar: Hello I'm good and you?
Me: Good! Where are you now?
Mukhtar: I'm now at the camp isishsto
Me: I think you are the person I am looking for. Did you live at Oinofyta?
Mukhtar: Yes I was at oinofyta camp.
Me: Did you ever talk to me in Lisa's office?
Mukhtar: Mom shokolat😂
Me: Ah! You write very good English! Do you also understand it?
Mukhtar: Yes now is good my English😂
Me: I think you understood it when you got chocolate!


Several months later, I decided to sent Mukhtar some chocolate, though I knew he could buy it in Greece. It would be a gesture of connection, I thought. Mukhtar gave me the Athens address of an aid worker I knew, Jess, who would deliver the candy to him. I asked him what his favorite kind was and he said Snickers. So I went to Costco and bought two bags of miniature Snickers bars. I put them in a sturdy mailing envelope and sent them off. The postage cost $23 and the package took three weeks to arrive in Athens, and the candy was undoubtedly smashed and melted. Jess could have bought it in Athens for far less. But when it arrived Mukhtar said, "You are the first person to get me this gift."

I do not know the story of why Mukhtar left Afghanistan, or about his journey. A person will tell that story when they feel comfortable, but it's not something to ask about. Lisa (the Oinofyta camp manager) and Jess (the aid worker) know his story. If I'm supposed to hear it, Mukhtar will tell me. Otherwise, it is his business, and I will maintain a connection with him simply because he is a 20-year-old refugee on his own - about the age of four of my grandchildren.

Since that time, Mukhtar left Greece and moved to France to live with his older brother. He went to high school where, he told me, he was treated the same as all the other students. He enjoyed all his classes: French, English, computers, math, and drawing.

I checked in with Mukhtar in mid-March this year. He needed to find a place to live - his older brother had returned to Afghanistan - and he couldn't work because of the virus. He was a mechanic by now. He asked if I could help him. He had found a room he could rent for a month for 250 euros (about $280). He said if I could help him for two months, he would be able to get a job after that, when the country opened back up.

I said yes. And now, in June, I have sent him rent money for three months. He is now sending out resumes all over the city, actively looking for work.

That is how I am spending my stimulus money.

I know there is a small chance I am being taken advantage of by a clever young refugee. But I doubt it. And even if that were the case, the money I am sending to him is worth it to me. It is something I can do for a person who needs it more than I do. I believe we are all in this together, and we are all the same.

I asked Mukhtar today if I could include his picture in this post, or if he would prefer I didn't. He said no. So I'll simply describe him as a young Afghan man, rather tall, with dark hair and eyes, and eyes that flash with anger or humor, and a beautiful smile.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Observant in Seattle

Two mornings ago my husband Art and I flew from Tucson to Seattle. I will be here for ten days and Art will be here for 32. We are beginning the remodel of the daylight basement in our home in Brier. We are creating a light and bright studio living area for ourselves, and we plan to live there during the summer months. One of our sons, Jason, has relinquished the basement and now lives only on the main floor upstairs with his family. It will be a win-win, as we will have no stairs to aggravate my arthritic back and they will have a reasonable rent where our grandson Kaleb can continue to go to school with his friends.

It was a big deal for me to get on the airplane. I know that, though Tucson has opened up somewhat, Seattle has not. Washington has a four-phase opening process for counties based on multiple criteria. About half of the counties - mostly rural - are opening up.

But not King County, where our Seattle airbnb is located. And not Snohomish County, where our family home is. One of the required criteria to move to Phase 2 is that a county have fewer than 10 new confirmed coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents across a 14-day span. Right now King County has about 39 and Snohomish County has about 31. So it will be a while before people can emerge from their homes for other than essential business.

The flight itself felt very safe. We were required to wear masks from the time we entered the airport in Tucson to the time we emerged from the terminal in Seattle. We had acquired N95 masks some time ago from a friend. On the plane, everyone had a window seat and an empty aisle seat. Everyone wore masks - both passengers and crew. Only bottled water and a small packaged snack was served. The crew wore gloves and collected trash several times during the three-hour flight. Social distancing was observed by everyone on the shuttle bus and at the car rental checkout. I read that this week marked an uptick in the number of people flying in the US, so I guess we're part of the trendsetting travelers.

We've rented an airbnb in Ravenna, a Seattle neighborhood just north of downtown. It's an older place currently being renovated, with creaking hardwood floors and a steep interior stairway. We're sleeping in the smallest bedroom because it's on the ground floor. It's about a 20-minute drive to Brier.

I'm normally a law-abiding, compliant person. So coming up here for the beginning of the remodel, when all around me people are staying home or wearing masks when they venture out, made me hesitate. I really thought Phase 2 would have begun by now. But we've hired the worker for the remodel - my son James - and Art will be doing the electrical work. So we are being as compliant as we can.

In Tucson, on Thursday, people were out and about, some wearing masks and some not, in the 90-something degree sunshine. In Seattle, on Friday, traffic was light and it was 60 degrees and, in the grocery store, everyone wore a mask. So we are adjusting for our time in Seattle.

It feels odd to not give my sons, daughter-in-law and grandson a hug, and to keep my distance. But Art and I are among the vulnerable "elderlies". I suspect that when I return to Tucson next week I'll quarantine myself to keep my Arizona friends safe.

Our Brier garage is full of our stuff - everything from the upstairs has been put in boxes and stored there, along with miscellaneous things like vacuum cleaners and fans. I'll be selling or giving away most of it. Just this morning someone bought our Bowflex, office desk and office chair. They pick it up tomorrow. I'm more inclined to get the job done than to make a lot of money, so the buyer - she took all three items - got an excellent deal and I cleared a bunch of space. When the remodel is complete - hopefully by the last half of July - we'll drive back up here for a few months, and I'll spend more time clearing the contents of the garage. The goal, as always, will be to have enough space in there to park my car. But maybe not.

Stay safe!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Lockdown gratitudes

This is an unprecedented and weird time. Still, good things do happen.

1. The heat has arrived early in Tucson; it was over 100 degrees twice last week, and the upcoming week has more of the same. But the A/C in our little place works fine. We set the thermostat at 78 and we are fine. I'm grateful we've agreed on 78 rather than 84.

2. I go for an eight-mile e-bike ride every morning and another one most evenings in our retirement community. I ride with my friend Ellen. We maintain social distance while chatting about the news and whatever else comes up. I'm grateful for the constancy of a good friend.

3. Ellen and I started riding at 10 a.m. until a couple of weeks ago, then changed the start time to 9, then 8:30, then 8:15, then 8:00. We want to be back before it gets hot. I am not a morning person, but I am willing to become one for the next few months so we can take our morning ride.  I'm grateful for the motivation to get out in the cooler morning air.

4. We ride at about 6 in the evening and some days we witness the most magnificent Arizona sunsets. Really, the sky here stretches from horizon to horizon, with few trees or hills to interrupt. Sometimes I have to stop and just watch the sunset. I'm grateful for red and orange fire in the sky.

5. This week Larisa's vet agreed to give her a haircut. Larisa is a Siberian forest cat with a triple coat, and she was moping around, looking like a hedgehog and lying on the laundry room floor to keep cool. Since she got home from the vet, her body shorn and looking more like a rodent, she has spent a lot of time curled up on my lap. Adjusting to these changes in body temperature takes time, I guess. I'm grateful that the vet deemed Larisa's comfort an essential service.

6. My husband Art does the grocery shopping and he always brings me about five pounds of grapes. I take them off their stems and put them in baggies to freeze. They make a wonderful popsicle-like snack. I'm grateful for something I like almost as much as ice cream.

7. No one in my retirement community has gotten the virus, as far as I know - and I'm pretty sure I would, the way "news" travels - and I'd say about 80 percent of us are observing social distancing and about 50 percent of us are wearing masks. We wish the pools were open, and the restaurant, and the pickleball courts, and all the other facilities, but the management decided to keep us safe instead. I can live with that, and I'm grateful that it's fairly easy for me to be a good sport.

8. Last week Ellen and I got in her car and went to a drive-through place for a Sonoran hot dog, which we were both craving. She was in the front seat on the driver's side with her mask on, and I was in the back passenger seat with my mask on. We got our food and found a shady place to eat it, still sitting in the car. Then we went to a take-out place for two scoops of ice cream (she says $17.50 was way to much to pay and we should never go there again, and maybe we won't, but BOY was that ice cream good!). Ellen said she felt like my driver and I said I'd give her a big tip, and she laughed. Ellen is the only person I have been in a car with, except for Art, since this all started. Even when she and I ride our bikes on the Tucson Loop, we take two cars with our bikes on separate racks, and meet at the trailhead. I'm grateful to have a friend who shares my thoughts about keeping safe.

9. I had an MRI last week to look at my lower back. I'm grateful that the experience is much less harrowing than the ones I had nine years ago. The tube was twice as large, I got to choose the music that came through my headphones, the technician told me what was going on the whole time. And I'd worn my mask into the facility. Once I was lying down I just moved it up from my nose and mouth to cover my eyes so I didn't have to look. It was almost - not quite, but almost - a meditative experience! 

10. I don't have the virus, and neither does anyone else I know. I am grateful!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Lessons in sheltering

It's been over a month and both of us are still healthy in our little place in Tucson. Here's what I'm learning:

1. I'm content indoors most of the time, since I spend a lot of time reading and on the computer. I have to have Alexa set the timer for half an hour or I would remain in my recliner for hours. I've set up a daily plan alternating "in the recliner" and "not in the recliner" activities.

2. I mostly like not having places to go. Usually I'm out and about, with activities and meetings, driving for half an hour to gathering places. Since we began sheltering in place, we've only needed one of our two cars.

3. I haven't volunteered at a shelter in over six weeks. The combination of a locked-up border and the risk of gathering during the time of coronavirus has shut down the shelter. I thought I would miss it, but I don't.

4. The idea of contact tracing sounds interesting, so I've filled out an application to help with that - either paid or as a volunteer - for Pima County, where Tucson is located. I would help at the food bank, but my age makes me part of the vulnerable population. I would help make masks, but I lent my sewing machine to a friend nearly 20 years ago and have not missed it once. I remember a line from a sonnet by John Milton, "They also serve who only stand and wait." Mostly I'm sitting and waiting, but I am willing.

5. There is no way I can persuade people in my community to do social distancing if they're not doing it now. I can just keep them off my porch. I have heard people say, "Well, this whole thing of sheltering in place is overkill. There isn't any virus in our little community." I want to say, "That's because MOST OF US ARE DOING IT." It doesn't seem to be related to a person's politics. They just want to be able to use the pools, or the pickleball courts, or the golf course, and they don't think it should be such a big deal.

6. On Friday I rode 30 miles on my e-bike. The bike rides are exercise but they are also a relief from the current restrictions. I don't mind wearing a mask. I ride with my good friend Ellen. Neither of us have been around anyone else for the last six weeks, and we observe social distancing with each other.

7. It's nice to have distractions: cancellation and rebooking of our bike-and-barge trip in the Netherlands and Belgium from May 2020 to June 2021; planning for a May trip to Washington to begin the basement remodel of our Brier house, set to be done this summer but dependent on the limitations of the virus.

8. My right hip would be bothering me whether I were sheltering in place or not. But it, too, sometimes keeps my mind off the limitations of sheltering.

9. I'm surprised at how normal it feels already to wear a mask, to stay six feet apart from people I meet on the street, to run Clorox wipes over surfaces anyone else has touched.

10. I'm grateful we have the resources to get through this without hardship.

One day at a time. This too shall pass. And all the other things we say.

Saturday, April 4, 2020


So, here we are, staying home in our 620-square-foot park model trailer in Tucson. Not returning to our place in Seattle for some undetermined number of weeks or months. Going nowhere except for acquiring food or medication. And riding bikes for exercise.

I have been in a couple of 12-step programs for over 20 years. I know I am powerless over the current situation, and that what we're going through now is truly one day at a time.

Very fortunately, I have a laptop. So I can
  • Connect with friends and family
  • Make purchases online
  • Keep up with the news
  • Work on the taxes when I get motivated enough
I have a six-inch stack of magazines to read. And half a dozen books.

I am getting reacquainted with my inner introvert.

I know that we are all in this together, and that we are all the same. I actually knew it four years ago, when I first started volunteering with refugees and asylum seekers. I suspect that many millions of people are learning it now, and I think that is a good thing.

I hope with all my heart that we learn from this global tragedy and that, once we're up and running again, we leave behind some of our useless or destructive ways and institute new practices for the good of all of us.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Viral thoughts

Three weeks ago I had planned a three-day trip to visit grandkids in Spokane. Looking at the news coming from China a week later, I canceled my airbnb and my Southwestern flight. Good thing, too. The grandkids and their family are working long, long days in the Grocery Outlet they own. I told the grandkids' mom I'd be glad to come and help in their store, but I was an "elderly".

It seems very weird to be an elderly in these times. I feel some gratitude that the whole world is shutting down for the sake of keeping us older people alive. Like we're all in this together. Finally. I hear some younger people are protesting. I might have felt the same way when I was their age.

I see signs of a crisis bringing out the best in us. Young people volunteering to run errands for older people. Churches going online for their services. Facebook connections revitalized as we check in on each other. Donations and grants from the large and small. 

I have a sister and two sons who are nurses in the Pacific Northwest. I know they signed up for this kind of crisis when they graduated from nursing school. They are the heroes right now. My sister told me this morning that she will flog me if I touch anything when I go for my walk. I believe her!

Other heroes? All the people who are still working but not from home. All the people working from home, surrounded by their out-of-school kids.

Today I offered a squirt of hand sanitizer to the Amazon delivery driver, and he thanked me.

I live in Tucson right now, and so far there are relatively few cases. Give it a few more days, I'm thinking. My husband has always been a quantity shopper, and right now I'm profoundly grateful for that. 

Our Washington house is about eight miles for the nursing home in Kirkland that's been in the news. I was there a couple of years ago visiting a friend. Five of our kids live in the area. So far they are all okay.

We have a European bike-and-barge trip paid for in May. Guess what? Right now that seems pretty unimportant. 

My calendar is almost completely empty and I am okay with that.

In a way, this time feels like when we were volunteering in a refugee camp. Everyone there was living with unknowns, trying to stay safe, trying to keep their children safe. So much uncertainty. So dependent on the generosity of others. 

So here we are, living with unknowns. Let us be community.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

On aging with grace

I've said for years that I want to age with grace. Now I'm there - aging - and the grace part can be challenging.

I've gotten used to healthcare professionals saying, "Well, this issue of yours is part of getting older." Like cataracts, not-so-good night vision, and sometimes forgetting people's names. I've had these issues for several years now, and I've resolved what I can and more or less accepted what is here to stay.

Now I have knee, back and hip issues, and I am not there yet with being graceful about them.

I've bought shoes with excellent arch support, and custom orthotics for those shoes, and my feet no longer hurt when I walk. That's a good thing.

I've been seeing a physical therapist, Paul, for several months. At his suggestion, I now go down stairs one step at a time, with the bad-knee leg descending first and the other leg descending to the same step. Like a toddler when they're first maneuvering on stairs. It takes longer to get down the stairs now, but my knee doesn't hurt. That's a good thing, too. Every now and then I try my old way of descending stairs, and sure enough, my knee hurts.

In Tucson, where we live in the winter, I have only four stairs to negotiate. In Seattle, where we live the rest of the time, there are 14 stairs. I struggled with them last summer - especially when carrying a laundry basket up and down - so we're remodeling our daylight basement this summer, turning it into a studio apartment for us, while the upstairs is rented out.

My back and right hip is a different issue.  I've realized recently that when I am on my feet for more than a few hours, I'm in trouble. Like last Saturday, when I went antiquing for three hours in the afternoon and then worked a volunteer shift at the asylum seekers' shelter for four hours in the evening. My back and hip hurt for three days, sometimes waking me up at night.

I talked to Paul today. He says I can stretch my back and my hips, and I can strengthen my core (I have exercises I do every morning for those things). But he says I also need to pace myself and honor my body's requests for rest. If I go, go, go - as I have for many years - my body will be unhappy and it will tell me so.

Paul also said the body works best when it is mobile - sitting, then standing and moving around, then lying down, then sitting. Variety. He says antiquing and similar activities (like Costco outings), where you walk a few paces, stop, turn your body to look at labels, walk a few paces more) is the worst kind of exercise. Paul calls it "strolling". That's why you see everyone in the checkout line leaning on their carts to ease their backs. So, starting today, I'm using the timer on my phone to remind me when I need to get up after sitting for half an hour, and take ten minutes to do something else. This practice is  a change for me even though I've known about it for decades. I need to modify my daily lifestyle habits. And I will do that. Because now it's not just a good idea. It's a pain reliever.

It's likely to be several years before I need a knee or hip replacement, and I'm grateful those options are available. Paul said this morning, "Do you know what people did 100 years ago? They went to the rocking chair."

Not me, not yet.

Here's one of the items I bought when I went antiquing on Saturday. It's a reminder to me as I age with grace.

Monday, February 10, 2020

"Life is amazing. And then it's awful."

I've always appreciated this quote:

“Life is amazing. And then it's awful. And then it's amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it's ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That's just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it's breathtakingly beautiful.”

Right now I'm relaxing and exhaling through the ordinary. We're continuing with our winter routine, enjoying classes and friends and activities and volunteering. Too busy, but most of it is very good.

It's good for me to remember, from time to time, that ordinary is just fine in a good life.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Standing in the field again

Over four years ago I spent the weekend at a writing workshop on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound. Our last activity was 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?

Ten minutes, from our heads, through the pen, onto the page. 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 arm 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 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. What's left, I think, are the intangibles; what I don't yet recognize should be on that list. 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."

Less than a year after this ten-minute write, I said yes to volunteering at a refugee camp in Greece. Five times.


New arrival
Women gathering

Volunteer schedule
Afghan hospitality
Hallway to the bathroom

Team dinner

Laundry at the team house

At work with sleeping puppy

Then the refugee camp was closed by the Greek government, and the subsequent community center close for lack of funds.

I said yes to volunteering at an asylum seekers' shelter in Tucson, where we live in the winter.

Tracking device

These days, most asylum seekers are required to wait in Mexico for their asylum interviews in the US. The numbers at the shelters in Tucson are low and are likely to close soon.

That's why I'm standing in the open field again, my gifts at my feet, waiting. What will be next?