Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reflections: What's in a Year?

A year ago today I was recovering from pneumonia. During that down time I blogged on "The Bag Lady reflects on a quiet week" (comments 1-5 below). By the next week I was feeling better, and in response to a friend's comments about my muted mood, I recast my thoughts in "Blog response from a friend" (comments 1a-5a below). Today I'm looking back a year and adding my current reflections.

1. I am okay with Christmas these days. Once our eight children grew up, I had a tough few years. The holiday tree made me sad, as I decorated it with all the memory-laden ornaments and realized that holidays with the kids were a thing of the past. I felt left behind for several years. Then we traveled during Christmas weeks - to Idaho and Kauai and Paris, substituting one pleasure for another. Now we are content with quiet. Aside from sending out holiday cards, putting up a small artificial tree, sending money or gift cards to our grandchildren, and gathering for Christmas dinner with over a hundred other 55+ people at our winter residence, we spent low-key days and evenings. Partly it was because we were sick and recovering - and partly because it was enough.

1a. I'm grateful for all the years of Christmas with kids and the years when we traveled or just enjoyed quiet times.

Today: I'm grateful for simple Christmases, where we can donate our time and our money to those less fortunate than us and then spend the special times with special people, whether family or friends. This year we went to San Diego for Christmas and spent a lovely three days with daughter Melissa and son-in-law Scott. The 425-mile trip from Tucson was easy.

2.  I am beginning to come to terms with the realities of aging. Though my brain is still quite nimble, my body is not. I do exercise but my stamina has decreased in the last few years. I injured my back nearly four years ago; the symptoms show up as tingling in my feet and I no longer expect to recover from that injury. I need to have the second cataract removed. And I no longer consider driving at night to be an option. That sense of disbelief that I am getting older is gone. I've moved past denial. Finally. Now I can move on with what comes next. I take comfort in the knowledge that everyone my age is having the same experience.

2a.I'm grateful that I'm past PMS and cramps and angst, and for modern medicine that provides cataract surgery to millions of elders.

Today: Still grateful to be past the 2a issues!, and very grateful for the second cataract surgery in September that now allows me to drive at night and without glasses.

3. I have a busy life, but I'm no longer pushing myself to stay busy. I can waste time extravagantly without guilt. I noticed this especially when I was sick, since I didn't have the energy to do much besides sit. Now that I feel like being more active, I don't plan to go go go all day. I've set aside one day a week to write. And I plan to do a lot more reading.

3a. I'm grateful to be surrounded by people and activities that interest or provoke or confirm, and that I have the freedom to choose what I'll do with each day.

Today: Grateful to have people and activities to keep me engaged, and the freedom to choose what to take on and what to let go of. This year in Tucson I won't play handbells or take a Spanish class, but I will finish my Rosetta Stone Spanish course and my second book, and take an online course offered by Brene Brown.

4. I'm letting go of unnecessary complexity. I spend less time thinking about what's going on in the lives of family members. They will find their way. I'm not obsessing about my health or the health of others. I'm not worrying about the state of the world. I'm learning that if my mind is quiet, it's receptive to other possibilities. I think of what Mark Twain said: "I am an old man, and I have had many troubles, but most of them never happened."

4a. I'm grateful that I'm learning to let go of things over which I have no control and to pay attention to ways I can be useful.

Today: Still working on letting go of things over which I have no control!, but I'm getting better at noticing ways I can be useful. I'm now a lead mediator in small claims court in my county and the liaison between Massage Envy franchise owners in the Puget Sound region and the Washington State Massage Board. And in Tucson this winter I'm responsible for ticket sales for our 55+ community's March production of "Oklahoma!" 

5. Nearly five years into retirement, one of my greatest pleasures is still sleeping as long as I want, most mornings.

5a. I'm grateful that I can sleep until it's light outside.

Today: Sleeping until I wake up on my own is still the greatest! 

I think these periodic reflections are a good idea. I don't want to lose track of myself! I can see I am still moving forward, still engaged. That's a good thing.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Volunteers for a fabulous day

In the winter, we live at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson. It's a very active community and participates in multiple charitable activities. This month volunteers for the "Larry's Shoe Angels" drive provided 1000 pairs of shoes and socks for needy kids, which were given out at the Gospel Rescue Mission's annual Children's Christmas party in town.

And, since July, volunteers have been working on the Salvation Army Toy Drive. Nearly 200 Voyager residents participate in this event; according to one source, 95% of the volunteer labor for planning and execution of the event is Voyager folks. The toy drive has been staffed by Voyager volunteers for over 20 years.

Each year, money for the toys is donated by individuals and church groups and local organizations. Retailers provide discounts. Volunteers reconfigure a local warehouse for the event, putting up room dividers for a shopping area and a behind-the-scenes staging area. Booths are set up. Volunteers shop for the toys, sort and bundle them for appropriate age groups, put bicycles together, restock booths as gifts are selected, monitor the booths and the parking lot, escort clients through the shopping area, carry clients' shopping bags to their cars, and provide snacks, lunch and drinks for all the workers. Volunteer officers of the Tucson Police Department take care of security. And Spanish-speaking interpreters are available.

The toys are being distributed over a four-day period this week to the parents of 4,500 children. The Salvation Army screens applicants beforehand for the service; each parent must prove they have an address in Pima County and that they are the parent or legal guardian of all the children they will be shopping for.

Yesterday, we were two of the volunteers. As first timers, we were assigned the role of escorts for the moms and dads coming through to gather Christmas gifts for their children.

We showed up at 8:15 a.m. Stations have been set up for clients to walk through: a book station where a mom or dad chooses three books for each child;

an escort station where two volunteers join up with a parent to accompany them through the toy area (my husband Art is the fellow working the crossword puzzle as he awaits his next escort assignment);

age-appropriate tables where the parent selects a gift bundle or a single larger item for each child; 

a station where the battery-operated toys receive their power source; 

"Two AAs and a 9-volt, please!"
and a carry-out station where volunteers take the gift-filled bags to the clients' vehicles.

Another group of volunteers takes care of food and drink for the workers.

Love the beef with noodles. And chocolate cake!
Art and I knew a number of the other volunteers: people from the handbell group, from the current events discussion group, from last year's musical. It was good to be there with them. We are all very lucky to have what we need in our post-retirement years. The smiles on the faces of the clients as they left - with bags full of Christmas gifts for their children - were all we needed.

We both took naps, though, as soon as we got home!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The holiday letter

I have kept all our annual holiday letters since I started writing them on my computer about ten years ago. They're almost like a journal of our lives through the years. We used to list all eight of the kids in our blended family and what they were up to. This year we only mentioned one, Pete, and that's because he lives with us this year.

I have friends who have given up the letter-writing tradition. Sometimes it feels tempting, but my husband Art wants me to send them out still. He has many family members and even though they may not see each other often, they're a loyal bunch.

This year I decided to do it differently. I wrote the holiday letter, but I'm only sending them in cards with an envelope and a stamp to people without an email address. Everyone else gets an email. Or they can read it in Facebook. Or in this blog post! I'm going with the times in some ways, but the wishes are just as warm.

Here's Art and Linda's holiday letter for 2015.

Christmas 2015

Holiday greetings from Tucson!

It got cold and rainy at home in early November, and Art was bothered by his arthritis. I asked him if he wanted to come to Arizona early next year instead of waiting until December, and he said “Maybe”. Notice how our time here is expanding?

At home in Washington, my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil still live in their RV on our property. Alyx was the lead gardener this summer, and we had three or four plantings of beets, carrots, spinach and radishes, plus kale, several varieties of lettuce, green beans and squash. Plus many strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and an enormous number of table grapes.

Art repurposed the kids’ play area, unused for at least a decade, and built a chicken coop and run. Alyx has now raised six chickens from pullets and they produce four to six eggs a day. Most likely that will stop soon because of the dark and chilly weather. Still, those eggs really do taste different from the ones sold in the grocery store. The yolks are so rich that if I cook fried eggs I have to lick the plate to get the last of the yolk! Well, I’ve only actually done that a couple of times, when no one was looking.

Art’s son Pete is renting a room from us while he attends nursing school. He’s very tidy, a good cook and an agreeable housemate. He is gnashing his teeth over the school challenge but is doing well. He worked the night shift at an assisted living facility place this summer and learned that he doesn’t want to be a geriatric nurse. Too bad for us!

Art and I traveled to Atlanta in July for a convention. I was sick in bed for all four days, but Art had a great time. In September we spent three weeks in Central Europe with a Rick Steves tour. We added pins to the world map in our entryway for the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany. One of the most memorable experiences was being stranded in the Saltzburg train station because there were refugees on the tracks and Germany had closed its borders. There were also refugees in the train station.

We found an alternate route to Munich. Now we have personal experience with one of the big news events of the year. I also took solo trips to Muskoka, Ontario (two hours north of Toronto) and Santa Cruz to visit a friend.

The Voyager Light Opera Company is putting on “Oklahoma” this year, and Art has a lead. Rehearsals started a month before we got here. Fortunately, he got the CD ahead of time and has been singing in the car every day. We ALL know Will Parker’s songs! The Light Opera Company is the theatre group here at our resort. Last year the group did “Guys and Dolls”. At 72, Art was one of the youngest in the cast! It was his first experience ever. He can sing and he can dance and he has a comic presence on stage I never would have suspected.

I have signed up for fewer activities here than in years past. In the quiet of my tiny home I want to complete the Rosetta Stone Spanish course and write the book I have in my head. It will be called “Why We Travel: A Love Story.”

Wishing you all the best of holidays!

Art and Linda

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Goodbye, Hello

My husband Art and I live in two places.

From April 1 until December 1, we live in Brier, Washington, a northern suburb of Seattle. We've lived in that 2000 square foot house for over 20 years as we raised our blended family of eight children and worked in our careers.

From December 1 until April 1, we live in Tucson, Arizona, in a 620-square foot park model (trailer) in a 55+ RV resort. This is our fourth winter here. At first it was like a vacation. Now it's a home.

Last week I said my face-to-face goodbyes. On Sunday, to my church community in the morning and a 12-step group in the evening. On Monday, to a friend with whom I sometimes walk (but only until January 6, when she arrives in Tucson for a weeklong visit). On Tuesday, to my niece and friend Colleen in the morning and to another 12-step group in the afternoon. On Wednesday to my housekeeper Melissa and my magician massage therapist, Christopher in the morning and my new friend Lisa in the afternoon. On Friday to our "property mates": my sister Alyx, my brother-in-law Virgil and Art's son Peter.

I don't need to say goodbye to people I talk to via email, text and Facebook. They will hardly know I am away from my first home because I usually meet them online, which has no physical location. That's one thing I love about this electronic age. And even my face-to-face people can keep in touch that way, though it's only a substitute for the real, live conversations over coffee or lunch.

We flew from Seattle to Tucson yesterday afternoon.

Now I am saying my face-to-face hellos. Today, to our remodel guy Jim, who will be replacing the carpeting and railings on our deck and installing a new kitchen counter. To Mary, who is a member of the "Voyager Light Opera Company" along with Art; this year, they will be playing Ado Annie and Will Parker in "Oklahoma!" To Mike and Michelle, our neighbors across the street. To Florence, my wise friend on the other side of the park. Tomorrow we'll meet our Tucson church community and then have dinner with friends Joan and John whom we met just before we left in April. On Monday I'll greet Victoria, my excellent massage therapist in Tucson. On Tuesday I'll revisit my dentist in Mexico and say hello to Maria, my Tucson housekeeper, and attend our regular 12-step meeting in the evening. On Wednesday I'll say hello to my current events group members; I've known most of them for four seasons and have come to respect most of them, even those with vastly different views from my own. On Thursday I'll turn in my curly Washington hairstyle to my desert hairstylist Marissa and emerge from her shop with my Arizona look; in the evening we'll meet up with a small group in our Tucson church that's much like a similar group we attend in Washington. And all week long it will be sunny.

We live in two places. We love them both. We are lucky!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

My turn to post the Best of the Boomers

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this is a compilation of the blogs of five Boomers. Our goal in gathering our blogs together in one place is to introduce all our followers to our fellow bloggers.

Meryl Baer 
of Six Decades and Counting is dedicated to never shopping on Black Friday, and usually avoids large stores and shopping centers throughout the year. But a few days before this year’s national event she and her hub ventured inside a Costco store.

Tom Sightings of Sightings Over 60 chose this week to reprise a Thanksgiving piece from four years ago. You might agree that not much seems to have changed, if you go over the fields and through the woods to Thanks for ... Actually More Than We Think. Then if you want to make the comparison to today yourself, read his current post How Safe Are We? Do you see any differences?

Laura Lee Carter of Adventures of the New (and Improved) Old Farts says, "Well, I guess they weren't kidding about this El Nino year, at least not in southern Colorado! We are as snowed in as I've ever been! It snowed so much I almost lost my snow gauge in it!" You can read about her experience about "living in a snow globe"

Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide writes about what to do with holiday plants. Christmas cactuses and poinsettias are plants that are easy to flower again. Jerusalem cherries and Christmas peppers are annuals, so they should be discarded after blooming. The Christmas begonia is almost impossible to grow in the home and also should be discarded when it’s done blooming. Read about it here.

We Boomers all thank you for reading!

What the Bag Lady learned this week

I'm a lifelong learner, I tell myself. Usually when I say that I'm thinking about local classes or workshops, or online courses. You know, the kind I choose and plan for. What I think looks interesting or what I think I need.

Most of this week's learnings came from elsewhere.
  • On Sunday nights I go to a 12-step program and I heard something completely new that cracked me up and made me think.  "Figuring It Out is not one of the Steps." Those of you in 12-step programs will probably laugh, and the rest of you will have no idea what I'm talking about. That's okay! I have remembered that quote several times this week, and it is completely true.
  • On Monday, at my water aerobics class, I confirmed that my shoulder strain, which prevented me from working with weights, has been resolved after three months of weekly massage. I am learning, over and over, that I don't heal as quickly as I used to, and that something that doesn't hurt is a good thing!
  • I had a light dinner with Emma, the clinic administrator of our business. I met her in Tucson and arranged a summer meeting between her and my business partner, who hired her.  Emma is bright, articulate, and perceptive. I am continually impressed with the energy of today's younger workers. It seems like just yesterday that I was raising my kids, and now they're part of this impressive workforce. I'm learning to appreciate generations other than my own.
  • I do fine on my own as lead mediator at small claims court in my county. I was trained and coached over a period of several months to take on the leadership position when I'm in town. On Tuesday it was my responsibility. Before this week I'd been working from a script written by someone else for the introductory remarks in the courtroom and the mediation room. I was able to adapt it to my own style and it worked just fine. I have learned to do this!
  • I've made a new friend named Gail. I've been in a church group with her for over a year, but we connected at a workshop called Hope Alive in an activity where we were facing each other and both of us had tears running down our faces. Gail and I have met for coffee several times since then. I am so grateful for special people who appear in my life. I've learned to look for those appearances.
  • I met with my business partner Lillian on Tuesday afternoon. She and I have different strengths and it has taken us a while to learn how to collaborate so we use and appreciate them all. We acknowledged that to each other this week. She said, "You aren't as critical as you used to be." I said, "And you aren't as defensive." Maybe that's so, or maybe we've just gotten wiser. 
  • My husband Art had a phone appointment with a doctor on Thursday. I've never met this doctor because she's at the VA downtown and Art wants to go there alone. I was surprised that he put the call on speaker so I could participate! The three of us worked out an eating and exercise plan for our time in Tucson to lower his cholesterol and both of our body mass indexes. I've learned to stay out of Art's medical business and now he is letting me in to some of it. That's a good thing.
  • On Thanksgiving, all six of us hung out from 2:30 until the football game ended in the evening. Just relaxing. Humor and excellent food and the art of not interrogating grown offspring James and Peter about their lives made our day special. No scenes, no arguments. Part of the reason was that the elderly "scenemakers" are no longer with us, and part was that the rest of us have learned to control ourselves most of the time. We had an agreement that we would not talk about politics, and I noticed that cellphones had been set aside. Nice, huh?
  • Five of my sister's six chickens have begun laying eggs, and I've had fresh eggs three times this week for breakfast. The shells are harder, the eggs' consistency is different, and the taste is fabulous. Who knew that eggs straight from the hen would be so different than the ones in the grocery store box?
Lifelong learner. Lucky me!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

2015 and 1969: Tales of Two Boys

I returned home this week from a six-day trip to Santa Cruz, California. My Canadian friend Judy and her husband Ken are staying with their grandson Kaz while his father and stepmother and their two children attend a family wedding in the Philippines. Judy and I always have a good time together, so I accepted her invitation to visit with pleasure and anticipation.

We did have our usual fun, laughing and shopping (Judy is a wonderful shopper, and I am always grateful for her help). But one of my lingering memories is around the stories of two boys.

Kaz is nine years old, with the dark hair and eyes of his Japanese mother and the mischievious smile of his father (Judy's son Kent) and grandfather. Nine-year-old boys are a special treat; they're curious, open to meeting new people, and very willing to share their interests. Right now Kaz is into Minecraft, an online game, and Legos, and working on mastery of a boogie board at the beach. He can sometimes beat his grandfather at chess. He's not a picky eater but he definitely has his gustatory preferences.

On Saturday we all went to Capitola Beach. Kaz spent over an hour working on his boogie board skills.

Saturday night we all watched two movies; Kaz and I shared the loveseat, his feet sometimes on my lap. Sunday we played Mexican Train. All in all,  having Kaz around on my visit with Judy was a very special treat. On Tuesday morning, as I stirred in bed before packing to leave for home, I heard Kaz from downstairs. On his way out the door to school, he called out, "Bye, Linda."

On Friday night and the following Monday evening, I had dinner with Aaron. I met Aaron in 1969, when he was nine years old. I was nanny for him and his sisters Nicole and Rebecca for two years. I was a junior and senior at UC Santa Barbara, earning money for a theatre trip to England, and the kids' parents, Marilyn and Joe, were working and going to school. They knew their children needed consistency, and that was my job. I was around for after school and evening. I was the one who fed them dinner, listened to Aaron's jokes and other nine-year-old conversation, hung out while they played games or watched TV, and supervised homework. We went to parks and parades and other outings, sometimes with my boyfriend John, whom I later married. Aaron was a bright, curious kid with a wide streak of gullibility. Two years after I graduated the family moved from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz.

Aaron and his sisters' mom Marilyn died last January. In her last days, Aaron emailed me to tell me. He said, "You were like a second mother to me, so I thought you should know." Aaron was particularly close to his mother, and as I sat at the table across from him last Monday I could see the pain in his eyes. Aaron is 56 now, and a lawyer, and still bright and curious. It was easy for us to talk as adults. I'm ten years older than Aaron, but the ten years between 56 and 66 are much less than the ten between 9 and 19. Still, we were both aware of our very old connection.

It's easy for me to remember what a nine-year-old boy is like. First there was Aaron, all those years ago. Then there were my two boys, Russell and James, and my two stepsons, Peter and Greg, all now in their thirties. And now there is Kaz.

Nine comes easy for me. I'm lucky that way.

Friday, November 13, 2015

My veteran speaks to the D.A.R.

On Tuesday this week, I could have been the lead mediator at small claims court. Or I could have gone to a marketing gathering for our business. Instead, I went to the monthly meeting of the Rainier Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R) in Seattle. My husband Art had been invited to be the luncheon speaker, and I went along as his support as I usually do when he speaks.

Our friend Teresa asked Art to be the luncheon speaker  months ago. She knew he was a Vietnam veteran, and served in the Marine Corps, and Tuesday was the 240th anniversary of the creation of the Marine Corps. She also knew that Art and I had written a book about our 2005 visit to Vietnam.  

D.A.R membership requires documented proof that a woman is descended from a man or woman involved in the Revolutionary War. I have such proof myself, but I have no interest in becoming a member. I'm not much of a joiner and my interests are not in patriotism or politics. The Tuesday luncheon was the first D.A.R event I have ever attended.

That day I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time in at least five years. I led the group in reciting the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States (there was a card to read it from, but I memorized it in high school and still remember). We then went through a pleasant pasta-and-salad buffet.

The 25 women were about our age. They looked like the kind of women my mother would have liked - well dressed and attractive. I'm more casual about my own appearance - much to my mother's distress, even when she was elderly and I was a grandmother myself. But the few women I talked to before the lunch were friendly.

The last time Art talked about his Vietnam story, he was speaking to a group of veterans. His presentation was intense and tough - perfect for his audience. This time he was talking to women. I had suggested he speak to them as if they were his sisters. He did. He began with, "How many of you have friends or family members who are Vietnam vets?" Most of the women raised their hands. "And how many of them have talked to you about their experience?" Only one hand went up, and the rest of the women shook their heads.

Then Art talked about his experience. He was a radio repairman at Da Nang during the Tet Offensive in 1968, and one day he and a few other non-combat specialists created an undermanned platoon to guard a gate, and they ran into a battalion of North Vietnamese.  That one day affected Art for the rest of his life. In talking to the women, Art went right back to 1968 in his head, and he took the entire audience with him. Not a sound from the women for the 20 minutes he spoke. Just shock and sympathy. When he completed his talk, a few women came up to him, and one approached me to thank me for taking good care of him! I knew Art's adrenaline level was very high and that he would be exhausted within a couple of hours.

We had traveled to Vietnam in 2005 - me for the first time, and Art for the first time since 1968. We were part of a group led by a psychotherapist who specializes in veterans with PTSD. After our return we wrote a book about our experiences: Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of Healing. We had brought along a few copies to sell. I made a note to myself to download the app that will allow us to take credit cards.

On the way home I asked Art if he'd just as soon not do these speaking engagements, since it was emotionally difficult. He said, "No. It's important that people know." In our book, he says, "If just one vet, in hearing my story, can get rid of his nightmares, it will be worth it."

Thank you for your service, Art.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A matter of synchronicity

Every once in a while I look at the values I've defined for myself and my life in retirement to see how I'm doing. I list my values in this order: spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose. The list morphed in content and sequence at first, but hasn't changed in a couple of years. Before I retired I had no such list, but I've learned that if I'm aligning my life this way, I'm pretty content most of the time.

I looked again recently and discovered I'd been slacking on health, number two on my list. When I wondered why much of my clothing is about seven pounds too small, I realized I'd gotten into the daily habit of (1) one or two mochas; (2) a bowl of tortilla chips from the very large bag on the kitchen counter purchased by a male in the household; AND (3) a bowl of ice cream. Since that very day of realization, I only allow myself one of the above. I'm downsizing gradually!

Otherwise, I'm on track. And I find, somewhat to my surprise (though it shouldn't have been), that the result has been synchronity. Seemingly random things and events come together.

Here are a couple of examples: 

1. I've been processing a personal loss for several months and was finding it hard to move beyond it. I had a conversation over a month ago with a friend about the issue. I saw the same friend last week when we took a walk in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, about 80 miles south of where I live. The loss came up again in conversation. My friend said, "You're still stuck in this loss. It might be a kid issue." You know, one of those very old tapes playing that feels like it's happening right now. Turns out my "kid" was Ten, and she couldn't let go of the loss because she wanted to fix the problem that caused it - which she couldn't.  I get it now, thanks to my friend and my Ten, and the loss has eased.  

The day after my Nisqually walk with my friend, I met another friend for lunch in Seattle. This friend lives in Hawaii and I only see her about once a year. Her father died this year, and though she was present at his passing via Skype, she wished she could have been there, in Chicago, in person. She said she would have liked to climb into his bed and curl up next to him. I asked her how old the kid was in her who wanted that. She said Six! Then she said, "I hadn't thought much about it until earlier this week when I went for a walk with a friend at Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve and the subject came up."

Neither of us had ever been to Nisqually until last week. 

2. I was moved by our September experience with refugees in the Salzberg train station. I thought I might want to get involved with the immigration issue in Tucson, where we live in the winter. Then my church here at home decided to set up a homeless car camp and I will be coordinating the volunteers by email from Tucson. And there's an organization in Tucson, the Kino Border Initiative,  that provides services to Mexican immigrants traveling to be with families in the States. I now see a connection between refugees and the homeless and I think my mediation and communication skills will be a way I can help. 

When I'm open to possibilities, and conversation, and I'm willing, the most amazing things happen. 

When I honor spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose, synchronicity shows up.

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.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Reflections on our trip to Central Europe

It's been four days since we got home from our trip to Central Europe. I'm over my jet lag; that means I am sleeping until 7:00 a.m. as usual, and going to bed at my regular time, and my energy level is back to normal.

Here are some of my learnings from our trip to Central Europe:
  • If you're visiting seven countries and have five currencies, this technique works pretty well: when you're done with a currency, you stop at a gas station market near the border and spend all the coins you can. Once you're across the border, you go to a bank and trade the currency bills from the prior country for bills from the current country. Ice cream bars, drinks, and cookies are good things to spend the coins on. 
  • If you're visiting seven countries and a different language is spoken in each of them, learning "thank you" in each language is really hard, especially if the various versions of the word are pretty close. 
  • You are very grateful that in all eight countries you visit, you can find people who speak English.
  • It's easy to get all churched out or all architectured out, but the history of a place is always interesting.
  • Being on the water is a special pleasure, whether at night on the Danube or in the afternoon traveling to your island hotel.
  • You need to pay close attention to your feet when you're walking on cobblestones.
  • Public transportation is a fabulous thing in cities.
  • If you wash your clothes in the sink in your room they take at least 36 hours to dry in the room but only about 24 if you hang them outside in a corner of the balcony. Or you might decide to take the subway, with a transfer, to get to a laundromat. Or you might walk a mile to get to one. 
  • Pictures taken with an iPhone are just as good as those taken with an actual camera.
  • Your iPhone is limited if you don't have international service or wifi or battery life. Usually you can find someone close by who is willing to help you out.
  • If you walk five to seven miles a day, you can eat gelato for lunch and whatever you want for dinner and still fit into your clothes.
  • It's better when you don't have to share a seat on the bus.
  • Some people in your tour group are more interesting than others.
  • There is no greater asset than an outstanding tour guide.
  • You can usually squeeze into even the tiniest shower, but if you bend over to pick up the soap you dropped, you may shut off the faucet with your butt.
  • If you sleep with the windows open, you get to enjoy the noises of the night.
  • It is good to skip a group event every now and then to have some alone time. 
  • You get a better understanding of a refugee crisis if you walk among refugees in a train station.
  • Gypsy children are beautiful.
  • Once you've traveled to a place, and you read about it in the news, you can see something beautiful about it in your mind.
  • You return home grateful for a roof over your head and enough to eat.
  • You are especially grateful for the lessons and surprises of travel.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

At the Salzburg train station: what happened to us

We'd planned on a relaxing seven-hour train ride from Lake Bled, Slovenia to Munich, Germany on Tuesday, flying home the next day. I was impressed by the quiet train and comfortable second-class seating, and awed by the Austrian scenery.

After six hours the train arrived at Salzburg, announcements were made in German, and most people got off. A man passing us said, "Everyone has to get off. This train has been canceled. There are refugees on the track ahead and Germany has closed the border."

We got off the train and descended the escalator to the station. It was full of refugees and immigrants.

Police stood at the edges of the crowd, but everything seemed calm and nonthreatening. We threaded our way through the mass of people and looked at the departures board. The only train to Munchen (Munich) was the one we had just gotten off, and the description said "canceled".

My vacation-tired brain kicked into emergency mode as I considered our immediate concerns: (1) find a way to Munich; (2) find a way to let our Munich hotel know we'd try to get there but might be late; and  (3) figure out what we should do about our next-day scheduled flight home. In the back of my mind was (4) find a hotel in Salzburg. The concerns were clear but the obstacles to solutions were (1) I couldn't read or speak German and I didn't know where the cities on the departure board were in relation to alternative trains; (2) my phone didn't have international service and there was no wifi in the Salzburg train station.

Then I saw a tall, rangy man speaking to a train security person. I moved toward them. When the conversation ended, the man nodded. I said, "Do you speak English?" He said yes. "What did the man say?" "He said there may not be any more trains going to Munich tonight, but there might be one going to Freilassing. It's just across the border from Salzburg, and from there it wouldn't be a problem to find a way to Munich. If you see a train listed on the board, get to the platform fast, as there will be many others with the same idea." We introduced ourselves; his name was Stefan. We looked at the board. There was a train scheduled to depart for Freilassing in 15 minutes on track 4. I gestured to Art and the three of us made our way across the crowded station to the escalator.

When we got to track 4 I saw the destination sign "Freilassing". Well, I thought to myself, that was easy.

A minute later I looked at the sign. Freilassing was no longer the destination. Stefan and I looked at each other. He said, "I guess that train has been canceled." Down another escalator for another hopeful look at the board. Nothing else was going to Munich.

I looked at my useless iPhone. When I glanced up, a fellow nearby was talking on his phone. I approached him and introduced myself. His name was Phillip and he was Irish. He offered to connect my phone to his by way of his hotspot. I was very grateful! I introduced Phillip to Stefan and they struck up a conversation while I sent a quick email to the Munich hotel to explain our situation. I said we'd try to make it but might be late. Also had time for a Facebook post: "Stranded at train station in Salzburg. Border to Germany closed. Many refugees. Talking to a German who translated and an Irishman with a hotspot."

Phillip told Stefan and me there was a bus leaving the Salzburg station for Munich in 45 minutes. "But can it get across the border by road?" No one knew. I thought it would be better to stay at the train station, where food could be purchased, rather than risking sitting on a detained bus at the border. I get hypoglycemic when I don't eat often enough; I'd already bought two sandwiches and two bottled drinks at a shop in the station just in case. There was only the one shop I could see, and there were many people in that station.

Twenty minutes later "Freilassing" appeared again on the departures board, this time on track 1. We ran to the platform. Again, minutes later the sign changed.

Stefan excused himself, made a phone call, and returned to join us. "I have a friend who lives south of here, near the Alps. He's coming for me and I'll be spending the night with him." I thanked him for his translation services and said I'd pay his kindness forward. Then he left.

Phillip and Art and I discussed our options. We decided to take the bus option, but just for the heck of it, to ask about possible trains at the information booth. Again we crossed the station. This time I stopped, twice, to put my hand on the arm of a refugee woman and say, "Good luck." Both of them said thank you.

My heart sank when I saw the woman behind the counter. Her face was expressionless as I asked my question: "Can we get to Munich from here?" She looked at her computer monitor and nodded, then tapped a few keys and printed out an itinerary:
  • Saltzburg Hbf - Schwarzach-St. Veit
  • Schwarzach-St. Veit - Worgl Hbf
  • Worgl Hbf - Munchen Hbf
None of this made any sense to me except that it was a train with two transfers. From the times listed, it looked like a four-hour journey, not counting time waiting between trains. And what if we got all the way to Worgl and couldn't cross the border there? Still.

As we made our way to the platform, I noticed the wide staircase inside the station was now crowded with a shouting throng of immigrants. For some reason this didn't bother me. I hoped the shouting wouldn't lead to anything further. I don't think it did.

We'd come from Lake Bled in the south. Our destination was Munich via Salzburg. How we actually got there was Lake Bled to Salzburg, then back south to Zellam See and west to Worgl to Munich. 

When we got to Worgl, we had a 45-minute wait for the next train to Munich. We found a cafe two blocks from the train station and wolfed down a noodle and chicken concoction. Once we'd boarded the train, an announcement came on in German. A woman was listening. I asked her if she spoke English. She said yes. I introduced myself. Her name was Katharina. She said, "They're going to search the train." 

The police came on board. They removed eight people from our car who had no identification papers: one entire family and a student who hadn't brought their passport along. Then the train began its final journey.

Katharina did me another kindness. She called the Munich hotel and told them we'd be arriving around midnight. She advised us to get off the train at the east Munich station rather than the central one. When the train arrived in Munich, I waved goodbye to Phillip. Katharina stayed with us until we got to the correct platform. I gave her a hug and said I would pay her helpfulness forward.

The hotelier had stayed awake to let us in!

So I've got some kindnesses to do in the next few days, to thank Stefan and Phillip and Katharina. It will be a pleasure to do this paying forward.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Where are we, really? And who are these people?

We're nearing the end of our journey. We've had a couple of days to relax - first in Rovinj in Croatia at a lovely island hotel.

Now at Lake Bled in Slovenia, on a pouring-down-rain day.

The description of our Best of Eastern Europe in 16 Days says we'd be visiting the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia. Twenty-five years ago, the same travel territory would have been Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. What's the difference?

Our tour guide Katharina is Czech. When she was born in 1975 Czechoslovakia was one of the Communist bloc countries. She remembers the limitations of that time; for example, she said if you saw a line in front of a shop you would stand in the line, and when you got to the front you'd find out what the place was selling! Travel outside the country was very difficult; she suspected her father was on a blacklist since he had been part of the protests of the late 60s. But, she said, for some people communism was okay because everyone had what they needed.

Katharina is still Czech, but now her country is the Czech Republic. In 1993 Czechoslovakia split peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Our driver, Sam, is Slovenian. When he was born in 1985 his country was Yugoslovia. In the 1990s, after the death of Tito (Josip Broz) in 1980 and the end of the USSR in 1989, the territories of Yugoslavia - which had been established after World War II based on ethnic and historical lines - had a bloody war as part of their separation into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. On our drive through Croatia, we could see many houses pockmarked by bullet holes from that recent conflict.

So four countries are now eight. All of them have Slavic populations (as does Poland, which we also visited). These tribes migrated from the Urals in about the ninth century. Their languages and cultures are similar but not identical.

Hungary was the only non-Slavic country we visited. Its people descend from the Magyar tribes which, it is believed, originated in Central Asian in the area now known as Soviet Turkestan.

I was in our room this morning when our housekeeper arrived. We chatted for a few minutes in my only language: English. She speaks five languages. I said I wish I spoke more than one. She said, "We are small countries."

I think about the five Slavic countries we visited. All have had a fractured history, being overrun throughout the centuries by aggressive empires and nations. Their borders have changed - and sometimes disappeared. Yet the citizens of each of these countries are loyal to their own place. Or is it their own tribe, their own people?