Saturday, March 25, 2017

Suitcase adventure

The luggage carousel at the airport in Athens, Greece was empty on Wednesday afternoon, and my large black Travelpro suitcase had not arrived. The airlines have lost my luggage three times before in the last 20 years. We spent our first night in Paris using the toothbrushes and T-shirts provided by KLM because the one checked bag got left behind in Amsterdam. The wayward bag arrived too late that evening for us to retrieve our alarm clock, resulting in our missing our first group tour the next morning. We spent our first night on the Big Island of Hawaii in the underwear we traveled in because our checked bag was still on Oahu. And once, from some point on the east coast, we went to Seattle and our luggage went to Baltimore.

So this empty luggage carriage carousel in Athens was not new. I took my concern to the Missing Suitcases Desk (hereafter referred to as the MSD). The man at the desk said, "Are you sure it's not on the carousel?" I said yes but he sent a Suitcase Desk person to make sure. "No, it's not there." The Desk Man took my claim ticket and filled out a report. "We don't know where your bag is right now because this computer is not hooked up to a network. But in two hours we will know where it is. You should have your suitcase by tomorrow evening." Then he said, "I see you are at the Oinofyta refugee camp. We cannot deliver your bag there. We will deliver it to the Schimatari bus station and you can retrieve it there." Now we need your phone number so we can call you. I gave him the Greek number of Lisa, the manager of the camp.

The next day, Thursday, there was no call on Lisa's phone from the MSD. Lisa was anxious about that, because within the suitcase were the eight bags of MacCafe coffee she'd asked me to buy, and she only had three tablespoons left in the bottom of her last bag. The suitcase also contained three double bags of beef jerky, a box of Payday bars, 12 plastic clipboards, a box of black sharpies. a box of dry erase markers in assorted colors, four packs of lined three-by-five index cards, a dozen crochet hooks in various sizes, three felt hand puppets, three European electrical adapters, my bathrobe, and ten plastic hangers.

Friday morning Lisa said, "The Missing Suitcase Desk called. You can pick up your suitcase at the Schimatari bus station. It will be there at 9:30."

Friday turned out to be a busy day. Lisa and I didn't set off for the bus station until nearly 3. We turned left into the intersection, making our cautious way past the two cars in a just-happened fender bender. We found the bus station - a tiny building with a waiting area. I went to the window. It was closed. A sign in Greek provided indecipherable information. Lisa paced on the sidewalk, berating the airlines and the bus system.

I put on my helpless grandma face and approached an older man in a red plaid shirt. "English?" He shook his head. I pointed at the window, pantomimed lifting a suitcase and pointed at the building. The man shook his head again. I saw another local man. "English?" "A little." I raised my arms in exultation. The man smiled. I said, "What does the sign say." "It says the office closes at 3." It was 3:10. The man added, "Tomorrow is a holiday, so the office will be open on Monday morning."

Now I started to pace. "What can I do?" The man said, "You can come back at 4:30. Someone will be here to open the door."

Lisa was still venting her frustration at the airlines. "They should be delivering that suitcase to our door, TO OUR DOOR! That is terrible customer service!" She had been talking to herself, but now she was addressing the man who was trying to help me.

"Linda, we have things to do at camp. Have Art come back with you at 4:15. Be here in plenty of time because you never know with this Greek system." I thanked my helper as I turned to follow Lisa to our car.

Art and I left camp at 4. The fender bender in the intersection looked just the same except now there was a police car in the intersection as well. We parked just up the street from the bus station and waited. Sure enough, at 4:30 a bus pulled up and a man got out. He came into the waiting area and pointed a remote at the roll-up door. Nothing happened. He pointed again. Nothing happened. He shrugged his shoulders and turned to leave. I said, "My suitcase is in there." He shrugged his shoulders again, walked back to the bus, and it drove off.

I stood on the sidewalk, disbelieving. The older man in the red plaid shirt I'd seen earlier came up and gestured his sympathy. Then he called across the street. "Taxi", and the driver of the second cab at the taxi stand got out of his vehicle and walked across to us. Red Plaid Shirt spoke to Taxi Driver in Greek. Taxi Driver said, "I speak English." I told him my story as Red Plaid Shirt walked away, up the sidewalk. Taxi Driver said, "He is going to the shop up the street for another remote device and also a mechanical device to open the door if the remote device does not work."

Five minutes later, Red Plaid Shirt was back. We went into the waiting room. Red Plaid Shirt pointed the remote. The door cracked open. Pointed the remote, the door closed. Pointed the remote. The door opened a little further. Taxi Driver took the device, jimmied the door a bit, then forced it open manually. I could see my suitcase through the swinging door inside. "Mine", I said. Indeed. my suitcase has a fluorescent green tag that proclaims "Mine!" I retrieved my bag. "Many thanks," I said to Red Plaid Shirt. He smiled and held out his hand. I gave him a hug and kissed him on both cheeks instead. I said to Taxi Driver, "You are a GREAT Taxi Driver!" I took both his hands and said, "Many thanks to you."

Art put the suitcase in the trunk of our car and we returned to the camp.

Lisa was very glad to get the coffee!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Frenzy

The end of our winter season is usually busy, but it's been especially so this year. I spent a lot of time as associate producer of the Voyager Theatre Company's "Evening of One-Act Plays", which played on March 9 and 10.

In the meantime, paperwork piled up: bank statements to balance, medical expenses to submit for reimbursement, homeowner renewal policy to take care of, and saying goodbye to friends.

There was also work "Getting Ready to Fly to Seattle for Three Days". We have a son graduating from nursing school on Monday night, and 14 family members gathering for a celebration dinner on Sunday night. One of our daughters will be staying with us for two days. The graduate initially want pot roast but changed his mind and decided on prime rib! That size cut of meat is a special order.

There was also "Giving a Talk about Volunteering at a Refugee Camp in Greece at an end-of-season potluck attended by about 60 people." That happened the day before yesterday.

Not to mention the "Getting Ready to Leave for Greece on Tuesday."

And the "Welcoming the Friend Keeping Company with our Designer Cat While We're Gone for Six Weeks." The friend is fun but the "Clearing Out Space and Putting All the Stuff Lying Around Into Bins" is not.

I am sitting at the Tucson airport waiting to board our plane home. It is 85 degrees. When we get back here on May 8, it will probably be 100. We'll stay for a couple of weeks, close up our park model for the summer, wrangle our cat into her travel bag and fly to Seattle, which will have long, long days and sun by then.

I don't like having "Write the Blog Post" on a to-do list, but it's the last item I'll cross off.

I plan to sleep on the three-hour plane ride. And take a long bath tonight.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The play's the thing

My Arizona winter has been different from what I expected, because of The Play.

For the last two winters, my husband Art has been in the cast of a musical at the Voyager RV Resort, where we live from November to April. "Guys and Dolls" was his first foray into the magical world of theatre. He played a gambler, and he was hooked. Last year he was cast in a lead role in "Oklahoma!" During both seasons, his theatre participation came first in our planning. I was entirely supportive; at age 72 Art had found a new passion.

I stayed out of "Guys and Dolls", busy with my own activities. For "Oklahoma!" I was responsible for ticket sales. Fourteen volunteers sold 900 tickets at a makeshift box office open three days a week from January to March.

This year's musical was to be "Anything Goes," and Art was cast last spring in a minor role. He worked on his lines and the music for three months. Then, on September 1, the director and producer sent an email saying the musical was being cancelled. "It would have been easier if we had known last spring what we know today, but we didn't."


I was the one who read the email to Art. I was so not okay with his disappointment, and, undoubtedly, with that of the other 19 cast members, that I called Deanna, the producer, and asked what had happened. After a couple of conversations, she decided to give theatre at the Voyager another shot.

In early November Deanna and I - wearing my mediator hat - had a meeting with the former "Anything Goes" cast to see what, if anything, could be done. We realized there were too many missing pieces to do the musical. Instead, the group decided to present four one-act plays, which would provide all "Anything Goes" people with a theatre opportunity for this year. It wasn't a musical, but it was an on-stage experience. We would call ourselves the Voyager Theatre Company.

So, for this year, I was the "associate producer." As producer, Deanna carried the vision and the strategy and the responsibility. She also directed two of the four one-act plays. I was responsible for supporting Deanna in whatever she needed done: liaison with the Activities Office for scheduling rooms and display flyers and access to the light and sound booth; editing various flyers and the playbill; writing the checks and maintaining the books. And for listening to whoever needed to be heard. And, for "An Evening of One-Act Plays" which happens this Thursday and Friday, I'll be backstage - making sure everyone's mics are turned on and off at the correct times, cueing the actors of the four plays, and communicating by walkie-talkie with the production booth. All of these assignments are new to me; nearly 50 years ago I performed in four musicals and a play, and directed one high school play. I am a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, but the backstage stuff later this week freaks me out a little. I will have to be okay with whatever mistakes I make.

Art, meanwhile, plays a method actor called "Romeo," in full Shakespearean garb, wig and mustache.

We don't know yet what will be happening next season. It will depend on what kind of interest there is among Voyager residents. We will know that next Monday. I know I will not be involved next year. This is Art's thing, after all.

I am looking forward to the closing curtain on Friday night, when I get my life back. I remember feeling exactly this same way 50 years ago.

But, for now, The Play's the Thing.


One Act #1: Saint Joseph

One Act #2: Riverview, Tape 23

One Act #3: One Question

One Act #4: Bad Auditions by Bad Actors

The Directors

The Crew

The Voyager Theatre Company

Sunday, February 26, 2017

I would never have guessed

Two summers ago, four years after I retired, I took on a couple of part-time paying jobs: One was as lead mediator (one of four to six) at small claims court in my Washington town. After a couple of months of mentoring, I worked for about three hours every other Tuesday for $60. I would have done it for free. The other was as liaison between the 27 Massage Envy clinics in the Puget Sound area and the State Massage Board. I attended meetings every other month, for $250 a meeting. I would have done that for free also.

Last summer, both of the jobs ended. The Dispute Resolution Center decided they wanted a lead mediator who lived in my county full time. I spend the winter months in Tucson and travel at other times. And my one-year liaison contract concluded. I had no idea what I would do next. It was a little disconcerting. "Is this all there is?" went through my head.

Then I had an opportunity to meet up with an old friend, Jenean, to volunteer for six days at Oinofyta, a refugee camp in Greece. It was a life-changing experience. I was the oldest volunteer by 15 years. I didn't have the stamina of the others. But I was on-the-ground useful. At the end of my stay, Lisa Campbell, the camp manager, told me she'd appreciated my calm presence and she hoped I would come back. She asked me if I knew how to set up accounting books. I said yes. She asked if I could set up Do Your Part's books - that's the American nonprofit she heads up at Oinofyta. I said yes. It was volunteer work and that was fine.



I went back to the camp for two weeks in October. Most of the time I was sitting in the project office working on the books. But not always. Again, on-the-ground, in-the-moment experiences.

Three days after I got back from this second trip to Greece my husband Art and I flew to Tucson, where we spend the winter. In the midst of our activities there, I worked on the camp books. Then Board of Directors of Do Your Part elected me treasurer. It is still volunteer work and I am still fine with it.

I wanted to spend a month at Oinofyta in the spring of 2017, and I talked Art into going with me as part-time handyman, errand runner, shopper and cook for the volunteers. And my 37-year-old son James wanted to go too. "I have a privileged life and I want to do this," he told me. "Besides, Mom, it will be a great bonding experience with you." He will do whatever is needed at the camp.

Yesterday I talked to Lisa. While I am at Oinofyta in late March and early April, Lisa is coming to the US for two weeks for a couple of fundraising speaking events - one in Salt Lake City, the other in Boston. She asked me if I'd be willing to relieve her as project manager for the camp while she's away. I said yes.

So here I am, a 68-year-old retired woman, going to Greece next month to relieve a refugee camp manager for two weeks. Also at the camp are two extraordinary volunteer shift managers, half a dozen or so other volunteers from around the world, and 650 refugees in residence, mostly from Afghanistan. I speak no Farsi or Greek, but I am fluent in the language of compassion and care. I am trusting that will be enough.

I would NEVER have guessed I'd be having these experiences. When I thought about what I'd like to do in retirement, reading and travel came to mind. Not volunteering in refugee camps in Europe. I used to set goals and work towards them. Now I say yes to what comes along. So far I am amazed. And grateful.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

What happened when I got afraid

I got afraid twice this winter.

As a political progressive, I got afraid when the new president started signing executive orders that were frightened me. It wasn't exactly the orders that scared me. It was the idea I got in my head that the checks and balances built into our Constitution wouldn't hold against a challenge. When the executive order pertaining to immigration got overturned by individual judges and then by a court of appeals, and the administration decided to take another look at it, I was relieved. Since then, the wild ride that is the new administration is something I keep up with, but it's now out of curiosity rather than fear.

That's the political fear. The other one is entirely of my own making.

I have health anxiety. Whenever any issue comes up around my body, I immediately think of the worst-case scenario, and then I run with it. Here's what happened.

Just before Thanksgiving I caught a bad cold which I took with me on a plane ride from Tucson, where we live in the winter, to Seattle, where we have our family home. After Thanksgiving, I brought the cold back to Arizona.

The next week I noticed I'd feel out of breath after walking a block or so. I had an episode where, after walking two blocks to our activities office, I had to stand outside the door for a minute while I caught my breath. That scared me. My husband took me to a nearby ER where I was diagnosed with bronchitis - though I didn't have a cough - and prescribed meds for bronchitis.

The meds didn't work, but the breathing issues improved somewhat. I did notice, though, that when I'd read out loud, or have a conversation, I would sometimes run out of air before I was done speaking. And then, when I did take a breath, there was a soft wheeze. Probably my post-nasal drip, I thought.  I tried to put it out of my mind. Instead, my anxious brain went to the worst cases: lung cancer, COPD, heart disease. And there I resided for two months.

I told myself it was because my health insurance is through an HMO, which will reimburse in Arizona only for Urgent or Emergent care. I thought I ought to wait until May, when we return to Washington, to be checked out.

Here's what happened in the meantime:
  • I had three friends who commented that my breathing sounded funny, or my voice sounded hoarse. I told them all I had post nasal drip.
  • I started exercising less. Hardly any water aerobics. Very few recreational bike rides. Fewer walks, more driving.
  • I had two more friends express concern that I hadn't completely recovered from my cold. I told them I had post nasal drip.
  • I started missing nonessential scheduled activities because I didn't have a lot of energy, and besides, I didn't want people making comments about my breathing.
  • I isolated somewhat from friends I have at home, not emailing or texting as much. One of my very close friends, Deb, asked me what was wrong. I told her I was fine, thanks. I didn't return phone calls or messages from other friends for a week or more, and then responded tersely. 
  • I noticed that nothing sounded really interesting - not even my upcoming trip to Greece.

Finally, last week, I turned myself in to Mary Beth, the nurse practitioner at our resort. I already knew her from a shared activity. I told her what was going on. She said, "Yes, you have restricted breathing. I have noticed that for a while."

It was finally okay to tell the whole story. It felt like I'd gone to confession. Mary Beth took my history - including that my dad had tied of emphysema and cirrhosis when he was 57. She and I both noted that I have had my share of injuries - broken leg and arm and ruptured Achilles tendon - but that I have had few illnesses other than colds and flu. 

Then she said, "I think you have asthma, but I'm going to run a few tests." I got a breathing therapy session that day and the next. It was wonderful, as I rode my bicycle home after the first appointment, to feel the whole new gymnasium of air now available to me in my own body. The chest x-ray was normal. Lung capacity was normal as measured by a spirometry test. Circulation was fine.

When Mary Beth told me the chest x-ray was normal, I was thrilled and exhilarated and told her so. "No, you do not have lung cancer or COPD. Your worry about this is part of your anxiety disorder." What a relief that was. Embarrassing, but a relief.

She prescribed me meds for allergy-induced asthma to knock down the current asthma symptoms, an inhaler, and meds to minimize the possibility of future occurrences. She told me I'd feel better in a week, and I believe her.

Here's the deal, though. My fear and denial kept me from making that appointment for six weeks. During that time I ignored or disregarded the concern of my friends. I avoided activities that wouldn't allow my denial to persist. And I spent a lot of time in my anxious mind - which is a dangerous neighborhood.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend, a retired nurse. She said, "Linda, I told you twice last year that I thought you had asthma. You said no, you didn't." So this must have been a developing thing. I don't recall having any symptoms last summer in Washington or on any of the eight trips I took. But maybe I did.

I have relatively few fears - health issues and falling from a height - but both have been personally limiting. It may be time for me to do something about them. 

In the meantime, I want to make amends to the friends I disregarded. That's a first step, at least.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Bag Lady thinks about past-present-future

I am pretty good at letting go of the past. I rarely worry or "what if" much about it.

I'm okay with present issues, too. Yesterday I had a long travel day, flying from Tucson to Salt Lake City and then to Portland, and driving south to Roseburg for three hours in the rain and dark in a rental car. I never know what will happen on a journey, but I'm usually okay. I don't assume things will go smoothly, and when they do it's a treat.

I am getting better at letting go of the future, but it still stresses me out sometimes.
  • I am giving a deposition this afternoon. Will I remember to just answer the questions, without elaborating?
  • Will I ever recuperate completely from the respiratory stuff I've had off and on for a couple of months? Am I the only one in the world experiencing this?
  • If I lose 30 pounds, will my upper arms still look like bat wings?
  • How will we do as a nation with the new administration? Will we squabble with each other over our differences - we love the new president or we're afraid of the new president - and lose sight of the many, many things we have in common with each other?
So, with regard to these future things:
  • I will remind myself to just answer the questions.
  • I will remind myself that this is a bad winter for respiratory issues, that I am not the only one, but only one of millions.
  • I will remind myself that I am 68 years old and that my body is normal for my age.
  • I will remind myself to be a good listener, to remember that we are all in this life together and we are, mostly, doing the best we can.
Tomorrow I go home, with another long travel day of driving and flying. I will set that aside until tomorrow, when I will live in the present, with my usual "take it as it comes" travel spirit.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Random thoughts on powerlessness

It's been two weeks since my last blog post. I have done no traveling and had nothing out of the ordinary happen. But I have been thinking.
  • I am a certified mediator and I know how to listen. In the last two weeks I have listened to three people relate their personal agony about a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction. Whether the addict is a child or a partner or a friend, these people are in turmoil, wondering what they could have done - or what they could still do - to change the situation. The "if onlys" and "what ifs" are devastating for them. I remind these people they are powerless over the decisions of others. It takes a very long time to learn that. I can usually remember it myself, but not always.
  • I made plane reservations for myself and my husband Art to go to Greece. We leave on March 21 and return about May 5. We'll be volunteering at the Oinofyta refugee camp - me for the third time, Art for the first. After our monthlong commitment, we'll explore other parts of Greece for ten days before coming home.      Things have changed on multiple fronts since October, when I was there last. Borders are tightening. Meetings are being held between organizations regarding returning Afghans in Greece to their own country, where their lives may be in danger. And at home, tighter restrictions are being put on immigrants. It's impossible to know what will have happened by late March. Still, we have made our flight arrangements. We can't stop living just because of uncertainty. 
  • Last fall I contacted each of our eight grown children. I told them if they wanted to volunteer at a refugee camp for a week or two I would pay their expenses. One of them, my son James, is going with us! He wants to see the bigger world and, "Mom, it will be a great bonding experience for us to do this together." I can see him at Oinofyta. He will be very useful and I'm sure it will be a life-changing, paradigm-shifting experience for him, as it was for me. But probably not in the same way, as he is 37 and I am 68. The travel offer still stands for the other seven. My other son, Russell, wants to go later in the year. He is a nurse and wants to volunteer as a medical person. Maybe he'll go with me in the fall.    I would like for all eight of our grown children to have this experience, but it's up to them. That powerlessness thing, you know.
  • It's been distressing to talk, on Facebook and in person, about the current political situation. I respect the points of view of people who have different opinions than me. But I read insults and sarcasm and lack of listening. We are making things worse if we cannot be civil to each other. I keep being respectful. I think it's better that I remain somewhat engaged rather than dropping out of the conversation. I don't take insults personally, but I have suggested to at least one person that I will not have a discussion with them if they are rude. I have not been rude yet myself. 
  • It's quite windy today here in Tucson. Art and I went for a bike ride. We did okay against the wind, but when we turned a corner and the gusts were coming at us sideways, we didn't feel safe. So we came home early. You don't want to mess with Mother Nature!
We live in interesting times!