Sunday, January 25, 2015

A year ago this weekend

It's been a year since my husband Art had a cardiac arrest while playing pickleball with me at our winter home in Tucson. Here's what I said last winter about that experience: and

I'd say it was a life-changing experience. I realized that we are not guaranteed happily ever after. It can change in a heartbeat -  or a lack of one. To that end, we've had a busy year full of learning.

  • I was Art's advocate while he was in the hospital. I listened to the doctors as they discussed possible diagnoses and prescribed new medications. They took him off one medication and added two new ones. Pacemaker appointments were scheduled, and follow-up visits. We were in Tucson and our medical insurance carrier is in Seattle, so it was up to me to keep everyone informed. Until Art got used to his health regimen I was the reminder and the encourager. But after three months Art wanted to take over his own care. That was when I had a problem: how to let go of the responsibilities I'd taken on and trust Art to assume them. That phase was a bigger adjustment for me than for him.
  • I wanted Art to take it easy. He wanted to live his life. I had to let him.
  • We decided to stay in the States this year, to put off international travel until he had a year of recovery behind him. We took trips to Idaho, Maine, the Washington coast and Hawaii, and came to Arizona in December. On the first two trips my eye was on Art. On the latter three it wasn't. I had learned to trust his judgment.
  • We bought the park model we'd rented in Tucson for two winters. I love the sun and Art loves the arthritis relief. There's no time like the present to plan for living.
  • I joined the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church. I had learned the importance of a spiritual community.
  • We invited family - my sister and her husband - to live indefinitely with us on our property. In a nurturing family, everybody wins.
  • We planted a big garden and harvested strawberries and raspberries and blueberries and grapes and lettuce and spinach and radishes and beets and tomatoes. We watched a mother bird sit on her nest in our grape arbor and we watched the babies hatch and then we grieved when bigger birds found them. Life happened in our garden.
Yesterday we celebrated a year of Art's recovery with a trip to a Tucson nursery for a tomato start (a winter garden) and lunch with Arizona friends.

We are living a blessed life.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Annoying and the Just Plain Fun

I do this to myself. I get asked to do something and I am flattered and I say yes.

Two winters ago I signed up for a program called Great Decisions. It's a national program for groups to read about and discuss foreign affairs issues. I knew very little about foreign affairs but I was curious to learn, so I went. I had to give a presentation - lead a topic discussion, that is - and I was very scared, like I'd signed up for a class but never had gone and was now heading for the final. I felt like an impostor. But Dick, the facilitator, asked me after that meeting if I would be the facilitator for the group for the next year. So I did that. And now I am doing it again. I still don't know much about foreign affairs. But coordinating a group, from signups to assignment of topics, to juggling the doctor appointments of presenters, to planning a season-end potluck, takes some time. Fortunately, I'm good with details. And the people in my group seem to like what we do. But it's no longer flattering. Just annoying sometimes.

I'm also in this discussion group called Reimagining God. It's mostly people who were in churches and left them or people who never had much religion. This group is mostly liberal in politics and spirituality and I like going because I have my own spiritual-but-not-religious thoughts and I'm interested in hearing about the opinions of others. So this year, the woman (a retired Methodist minister) asked me if I'd be on the steering committee for the group to format and guide the discussions. I was flattered and I said yes. Now I find myself doing a little mediation as ideas not held in common get discussed. I know I'm needed, but it's a little different from what I had in mind.

Those annoying things are of my making, but this last thing is not. We paid $80 to go on a tour at dusk last Friday to watch the sandhill cranes coming in from the fields for the night. Thousands of these birds winter in the area about 80 miles east of us. We went on the tour, but we spent our time near a lake watching other birds, and then at an observation deck watching the cranes from a distance. Then we came back 45 minutes before the tour was supposed to end, without ever going to see where the cranes came in to roost in the evening. It was like the tour guides forgot to take us there. When we got back to the administration center I complained - politely. I told the lady we wouldn't have paid for a tour that didn't include the dusk viewing. So the head of the Wings Over Willcox festival is going to call me in the next day or so. I'm hoping for a refund. Then we'll go over there on our own and watch the cranes.

And in the Just Plain Fun category? When we're home in Washington, we rarely have anyone knock on our door. Usually I meet friends for coffee or email or text. Here in Arizona, people just knock on the door. "Hello?" It might be our friend Judy wanting to know if we'd like to go to dinner and a movie, or our neighbor Barb offering a start from the plants she picked up yesterday at the nursery, or our old friends Ann and Larry stopping by to let us know they've arrived at the resort. Things are quite spontaneous here. Last night we did go to dinner and a movie with Judy and her husband Ken. We saw "Wild". It was the first movie we've seen in a theater since last February, when we went with Judy and Ken to see "Nebraska".

This week we will be planting spinach and lettuce and peas and radishes in a tiny garden in back of our park model. We'll eat them by April when we go home. And in May we'll plant the same things in our garden at home. Like Groundhog Day!

Life here has a light touch.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A week in the life of a snowbird

We've been living in our park model in Tucson for six weeks, but high season is just starting and so are some of the many activities offered at this 55+ RV resort, the Voyager. Here's what happened this week in the lives of the two snowbirds in this household.

The second annual Voyager Light Opera is producing Guys and Dolls (Jr) and will have two performances the first week in March. I did a few high school and summer community musicals and I knew how time-consuming and mind-absorbing they are. But my husband Art had never experienced the delight of the stage. I asked him if he wanted me to sign him up and he said, "Whatever." I took that as a yes, and he is now Angie the Ox, attending six to nine hours of rehearsals a week. We have scheduled our entire winter season around these rehearsals. If an extra rehearsal is called, Art is committed to attend, so I rearrange our plans. Art appears to be enjoying himself, and I am happy about that because this is the first time in the three years we have been coming to the Voyager that he is participating in an activity without me. Last year he was recovering from a cardiac arrest, and mostly all he did was read.

I had my first handbell practice on Tuesday. I learned to play handbells over 30 years ago, and it had been over 25 years since I'd played when I got here two years ago. This year I'm playing four notes in the bass clef (G,G#, A and A#) rather than the four notes I played in the treble clef (D, D#, E and F) before. I'm grateful that reading music is like riding a bicycle - you don't forget how to do it. The biggest problem I have with handbells is figuring out which of my three pairs of glasses works best for reading music that's two feet away from me at eye level. We'll have two performances in late March - one at the nondenominational Sunday service at the Voyager, and another with the Voyager Show Choir.

Also on Tuesday we met up with a group of people who traveled from the Voyager to a Methodist Church in Tucson last year. This church had a very, very progressive minister and, though Art and I are not Methodists, we enjoyed the services. But the minister retired in May. The new minister came to the Voyager to meet with the group and said we could ask him any questions we wanted. And we did. Most of the group members are spiritual seekers and we wanted to find out whether the new minister is liberal enough for us. Art and I are still undecided.

On Wednesday I met with our former landlord (we bought their place last March after renting it for two winters) and we went over the home inspection report they'd had done when they bought the park model in 2007). We wanted to know which of the inspector's suggestions had been carried out. They all had.

Also this week I talked to Gary, who washes windows, and got an estimate for the outside windows. It was much less expensive than at home in Seattle. And the painter, Tammy, came by to talk about ideas for making our home brighter. There's a paneled Arizona room that has never been painted. We want everything to be brightened up and for the park model to feel comfortable and welcoming. When we were renters we took it as it was. Now we get to make it our own. The windows will be washed on  Thursday and the painting will happen in February.

I'm a facilitator for one of the five Great Decisions (conversations about selected foreign affairs topics) groups at the Voyager. On Wednesday I picked up 20 "briefing books" for my group.That program starts next week.

Then I went to Current Events, an energy-filled event each week. Participants run the gamut from Tea Party conservatives to flaming liberals, with a healthy infusion of reasonable Canadians. We talked for over an hour about the current low gas prices - why they're low and what the various outcomes of the low prices might be. Most of the participant are way more knowledgeable than I am and I always learn. I especially like this group because I'm a political moderate and I want to understand the thinking of conservatives.

On Friday I started back to water aerobics, after taking a few weeks to recover from last month's pneumonia. It always surprises me how quickly I lose conditioning when I miss regular exercise, but I know it will return.

Next week?  Monday we go to the first gathering of the Reimagining God group, an interesting and engaging program for seekers. Tuesday I start my eight-week conversational Spanish class while Art goes to beginning line dancing lessons. Wednesday, Art will do his vendor booth at Market Daze, selling our book about Viet Nam and talking to veterans who come by.

Friday we'll take an hour-long drive to Willcox, Arizona, where the sand cranes winter. Willcox has a festival every year, and we'll be taking a tour at dusk, watching the birds return to their nests from a day foraging in the fields. I understand the cranes are beautiful.

At home, Art and I are taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Class) in microeconomics, and I'm taking one separately on Genetics and Evolution.

And I am on Level 678 in Candy Crush!

We have a variety of activities but we have plenty of downtime. Fortunately!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Blog response from a friend

In my blog post last week I discussed some realizations I've come to about the changing nature of Christmas, the physical realities of aging, and my growing abilities to relax rather than being constantly on the go and to let go of unnecessary complexity. I was recuperating from pneumonia and spending quiet time, so I was noticing these things about myself.

Several of the responses were from people I haven't heard from before and most acknowledged a similar situation in themselves. I'm always interested in hearing that I'm not the only one experiencing such and such physical or mental or emotional issue. I love that we're all in this together.

Then I heard by email from a good friend of mine who had a different take on my post. She said, "You need to come home soon. I miss you and you sound depressed. Sorry to be blunt. You are NOT old. We all experience those aches but we don't have PMS or cramps any more or all that awful angst about 'who am I?' I have a ton of energy and can't wait to get up in the morning - we need to see if your CPAP is working correctly. If I was there with you I would kick your butt. Be glad the kids are grown and gone. Job accomplished - well done. This is your time."

I am 66 and this friend is a year or two older than me. She has just recently retired. She is smart and interesting and relishing her new freedom. I respect her opinion so I took another look at what I'd written that prompted her response.

I had forgotten about the PMS and the cramps but I am heartily glad to have them in my past. And the existential angst? I've noticed myself being more accepting and calm about The Way Things Are. I'm pretty content with who I am now. These are only a few of the gifts of aging. I'm thinking if I were given a choice to be 46 again, or 66, I'd take the 66.

I think sometimes I lose sight of what I've gained and pay attention to what I've lost. That's not good, and I'm grateful to my friend for the virtual kick in the butt.

So here's another take on my thoughts of last week.

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

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

3. 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.

4. 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.

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

As usual, it's a matter of perspective.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Bag Lady reflects on a quiet week

We arrived in Tucson, our winter home, a month before high season. It's quieter then. We got busy fixing up the place and then I got pneumonia and Art got a sinus infection. We were pretty much knocked out for nearly two weeks. Antibiotics did their job, but the fatigue lingered. Neither of us felt like doing more than the minimum. 

In that time, I got quiet. Unusual for me, the doer. I learned a few things about myself.

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. 

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.

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 a day a week to write. And I plan to do a lot more reading.

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."

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Let's hear it for antibiotics

The virus that began in our Washington household with my sister Alyx just before Thanksgiving had two outcomes. It led to a secondary bacterial infection, and it spread from Alyx to her husband Virgil, who carried it from Washington to Arizona to me and to my husband Art. Thanks to the miracle of antibiotics we are all on the mend - Virgil and Art from sinus infections, and Alyx and me from pneumonia.

Pneumonia used to be a very big deal before antibiotics were developed. It still is in the elderly population. It's been called "the old person's friend"; indeed, my mother had pneumonia five times in the last six months of her life. I call it the "don't give a shit" illness. When I woke up on Wednesday after six days with a cough and realized I didn't give a shit about anything, I knew it was time to go to the urgent care clinic in Tucson. The knowledge was reinforced when Art's blood work at the VA came back with a high white count. We picked up his prescription from the VA and drove directly to urgent care. I got two shots in the butt - cortisone and an antibiotic - and spent 20 minutes breathing in some formulation to open up my airway, then picked up prescriptions for z-pack, cortisone, cough medicine and an inhaler. The nurse practitioner told me I'd feel better in three days. I felt somewhat better within five hours. The coughing is minimal now, I'm breathing fine, and I can tell I'm on the mend. But my energy is low. So I'm resting a lot.

Here's what I learned this week in my adventure with pneumonia:

1. If you can hear your lungs bubbling when you exhale, you should go to the doctor.
2. If you have an HMO in Washington State with no reciprocal arrangement with an HMO in Arizona, you learn how to get your costs covered by reading the part of your contract called "out-of-network services." In the meantime, you keep your credit card handy at the urgent care clinic and at the pharmacy across the street.
3. If you have plans to drive six hours to San Diego to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with your daughter and son-in-law, you cancel them. You might feel completely recovered by Tuesday, but you probably won't be. And that's just you. You also have a recuperating spouse.
4. You feel pretty good when you get up in the morning, but after an hour or two of small household tasks you sit down or lie down. You do not go for a walk. You do not go to the solstice service you were looking forward to. You do not wash the outside windows. What you do instead is read or spend time with your computer or watch the birds around the feeder or watch the cat watching the birds.
5. Antibiotics are a miracle and you are grateful you live in a time that has them.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's different when you own the place

After two years of renting our park model at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson, we bought it. We like the location and the layout, and the purchase last March just confirmed what we already believed: the place was ours. It felt good to leave some of our stuff when we returned to our Pacific Northwest home at the end of the season.

So it's time to make it our own. Here's what we've done since arriving two weeks ago:

1. We brought Larisa, our Designer Cat. Though our park model is in the non-pet section, there's an unwritten understanding about indoor cats. I have told Larisa she has to be an indoor cat during our months in Arizona. So far, she seems agreeable. To make that easier for her, we bought a cat condo - a structure for sharpening claws, climbing, and sitting off the floor. She's explored it, motivated by the treats I put on each level a couple of times a day. We've also ordered a smaller structure for by the door of the Arizona room, and a cat bed for lounging. Larisa lived under our bed until three days ago. Now she sleeps on the bed and comes out for dinner and treats in the condo. Her normal life has resumed in a different residence.

2. I brought a quilt from home and replaced the comforter on the bed. The comforter will go in a plastic bag for use by visitors who will sleep on our air mattress.

3. We bought a metal javalina at the vendor fair on Wednesday to put in the tiny desert garden in front of our park model. It's in memory of Bud, our potbellied pig, who lived to be nearly 19 and looked an awful lot like a javalina, though pigs and javalinas are not related at all. I thought it would look tacky, but where Art placed the little metal animal it looks kind of cool - like the javalina is eating the cactus out there.

I did A LOT of internet research. Then:

4. I ordered a table with adjustable legs from Ikea. I have a standing computer table at home, and I'll be able to do the same thing here as soon as the table parts arrive. I can tell my back and neck are not crazy about my computer work at the dining table.

5. I ordered a 99-gallon deck box for storing items we need but don't use regularly: extra blankets and comforters, tools, storage boxes. It should fit just fine in a corner of our deck.

6. We ordered the parts needed to repair or replace the rods for the eight sets of one-inch aluminum blinds that cover the windows in our front room. Last year I had to stretch to reach the little turning piece at the top of the blind. Now that we own the place, we can reinstall the rods to twist instead. We also downloaded the manual for our oven and figured out how to set the thermostat.

7. We bought a Coleman portable bbq from Amazon. Actually, I ordered two by mistake. Though the shipping was free on both, returning one of them will cost $45. So I've placed an ad on the bulletin board in the activities complex to see if we can sell it to avoid the return postage. I figure one mistake is human, but I wish the extra something had been more lightweight.

8. We set up two laptop computers and a wireless printer. The printer ran out of black ink quite soon so I have ordered more ink - an ongoing expense, unfortunately.

We're pretty much set up now, so we're getting on with our winter activities.

9. We started our community activities: we took line dancing lessons on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning Art sat at a table at our every-other-week vendor fair and sold four of our Vietnam books. He told me they would be Christmas presents. He also talked to four Vietnam vets who came by. In the afternoon I went to the current events discussion. And Art has signed up to be in the cast of the Second Annual Voyager Light Opera's play, Guys and Dolls (abridged version). He had rehearsals on Monday and Thursday afternoons and, as of today, has purchased his costume and props from Goodwill in Tucson.

10. And we both have bad colds. Climate change, maybe?