Saturday, August 3, 2019

What I'm leaving behind

I quit my last paying job just about nine years ago. Here's what I've done since then:
  • Became a certified mediator, mediating about 100 cases at my county's dispute resolution center and in small claims court
  • Joined a very liberal church community
  • Became a snowbird, spending two months in Tucson in 2013 and increasing the amount of time to seven months in 2019
  • Volunteered five times at a refugee camp in Greece
  • Volunteered at an asylum-seekers' shelter in Arizona
  • Set up and maintained the accounting for a nonprofit with a 500,000 annual budget
  • Took 72 trips of three days or longer
  • Wrote 630 blog posts
I've always liked to be busy and to keep my mind engaged. That is still the case. But this summer I've shifted:
  • I've only done one small claims court mediation, and no family disputes, since I got home from Tucson, where we spend our snowbird months. I've realized the activities no longer "call" me. I use my mediation skills nearly every day in my ordinary life, and I love that. But I've moved on. I didn't actually acknowledge it until last month - and last week I notified the dispute resolution center and the small claims team that I wanted to be taken off their lists.
  • I haven't attended a church service all summer. I have had multiple conversations with church people - the pastor and people involved in social justice programs - but that was about the possibility of facilitating opportunities for congregation members to volunteer with one of the immigration programs in Tucson. Not sure why I'm not going on Sundays.
  • Except for my trip to London last month, I'm not doing much walking.  And I'm not swimming. I don't like that about myself, but there it is. Once we get to Tucson it will become part of my routine again.
Here's what I AM doing at home:
  • Having good conversations with my closest friends.
  • Catching up on reading the magazines I subscribe to.
  • Checking books out of the library.
  • Going through drawers and closets and photo albums.
  • Finishing up the accounting work for the nonprofit.
  • Clearing out emails.
  • Being a helpmate, as needed, to my husband recovering from thumb surgery with his arm in a cast. That means a lot of errand running, which he usually does.
  • Hiring people to maintain the lawn and clean the carpets.
  • Getting the house ready for Art's son Jason and his family to be living here for a year.
Early next month we leave for Tucson, and we will be there for a year. It wasn't in our plan until Father's Day, when it came up in a phone conversation between Jason and Art. It just happened into our lives. That's actually how things usually work out for me, anyway. We've been considering a permanent move for several years - me more seriously than Art - but this year is a perfect time to see if it's what we want, without having to sell the house first.

Here's what I'm doing to prepare for Arizona:
  • Researching e-bikes. We've found what we want, and we'll buy it on September 8 in Phoenix.
  • Researching OLLI (Osher) classes in Green Valley, half an hour from our Arizona place. We'll arrive early enough and stay long enough to take advantage of all the course offerings.
  • Thinking about carpet colors.
  • Deciding which three decorative pieces I want to have in Arizona.
  • Getting my car ready to drive down. We'll need both cars if we're there for a year.
The changes - what I'm leaving behind - are not sacrifices. They're more like evolutions. I'm not ripping myself away from home. I'm sliding into something new.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Did I get scammed?

My husband Art and I disagree. Here's what happened.

While we were in Tucson between November and May, we rented out our Washington house. The man was very reliable and the experience was positive on both sides. However, he had told us before he signed the lease that he was not a "yard guy". So, when we got home, the garden areas of our property had gone to tall weeds. 

We didn't get around to doing anything about it until a couple of weeks ago. I knew we couldn't do it ourselves, and I didn't know anyone who did that kind of work. We do have landscapers who come in once or twice a year to prune and keep our plants healthy, but it seemed to me that what we were looking for was something different. Plus, the landscapers charge $50 an hour, which was more than I wanted to pay.

So two weeks ago, I watched as two men worked on the yard across the street, mowing and weedwhacking. I went over and asked them to come look at the work I needed done, and to give me a price.

They did. One of the guys, Mario, said the job would take two people three days, and he quoted me $700. He said that was an excellent price, that other companies would charge over a thousand. That seemed like a good deal to me, so I agreed to have them do the work.

Mario arrived this morning with truck and tools. He worked by himself all day - from 8:00 a.m. to about 3:30 p.m. He did everything he'd said he would do, and more: mowed areas I hadn't asked him to do; cleaned up downed branches and a side yard that hadn't been part of his bid; blew clean our driveway, sidewalk and porch. He really did a good job in those seven hours.

When he finished, I asked how much I owed him. He said, "$700, no more, no less."

So I paid him about $100 an hour for the work. And I thought maybe I had been scammed, and I asked Art about it.

Art said, "Did he do the work you wanted done?"

"Yes, and more."

"Did he do the work for the price he quoted?"


"Then what's the problem?"

Well, if Mario quoted me $700 for two people for three days, that's a good deal. But the same work for $700 for one person for seven hours? That was $100 an hour. Twice what I pay the landscapers.

I guess I assumed he was bidding on the time it would take to do the job. And Mario was bidding on the job.

So, did I get scammed, or did I just misunderstand?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

What Grandma learned in London

I've taken this trip with my granddaughter Kai. It's a high school graduation gift. I told her and her twin, Ethan, that I would take them, one at a time, anywhere in the world they wanted to go as long as it wasn't hot, within a budget. Kai said, "I want to go somewhere with history and castles. And Iceland." So we spent two days in Iceland on our way to England, then a day at Bath and Stonehenge, then a week in London.

I don't know how much Kai learned in London, but I learned a lot!

1. It is easier to be part of a tour because you don't have to plan anything except for how you're going to spend your free time. Rick Steves tours are busy and interesting, with fewer than 25 people. When you ask your granddaughter what she thinks of the other people in the tour group, and she says, "They're interesting," you're surprised. But not really.

2. Your granddaughter may say she wants to see historical places, but her eyes really light up when she finds an open-air shopping opportunity. If the first thing that catches her eye is a leather skirt, but she finds out it costs 750 pounds, she can quickly move on to find a jumpsuit, blouse, shades and a hat for less than 120 pounds. And when she says to you, at the end of the day, "London deserves better from me than skinny jeans and a hoodie," you are impressed by her wisdom.

3. You may be able to find that perfect shopping opportunity when your tour guide has taken you there, but when you try to find it on your own the next day, you can't find a subway line that goes the right direction. This is especially true when your granddaughter is sure she knows how to get there, and you want to give her an independent experience, so you let her lead you onto trains that aren't going to the right places. And then you come back to your hotel and order fries and ice cream from room service.

4. If you hit the spacebar too hard when you're typing, you may drive your granddaughter to play MineCraft in the bathtub.

5. When you're getting around with your granddaughter in the city, she walks about 20 feet ahead of you, but she checks every few minutes to make sure you're still in sight. She is wearing a beanie or a hat, and mostly dressed in black, so it's not too hard to keep track of her. You've agreed that if you get separated you will either return to the last place you saw each other, or meet back at the hotel. You can almost always find each other. 

6.  You may have wanted to see "Midsummer Night's Dream", but your granddaughter prefers "Phantom of the Opera". You may have seen it twice before, but she never has. And when she says, "I liked that" before you even ask, you know it was the right decision.

7. Even when you're 70, you can still walk between four and eight miles a day for a week. When you lie down to sleep at night you're pretty sure you won't be able to get out of bed the next morning, but when morning comes, you can.

8. When a picture is taken of you and your granddaughter, and you look as old as you are and your granddaughter looks as old as she is, and you post it, people don't say, "You look old." They say, "What fabulous memories you're making!

9. When you go to London Pride, and you are wearing a "Free Grandma Hugs" t-shirt that your granddaughter has given you, you give a lot of hugs. Some people cry when you hug them. And when you say to them, "I love you just as you are," sometimes they hug you harder. And when you are giving those hugs, your granddaughter is standing close by, grinning.

10. A week is about the right length of time to spend with your granddaughter in London. We learned to navigate the subway system and city buses and how to get to Trafalgar Square on foot from our hotel.  We saw the city by bus, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral, the British Museum including the Rosetta Stone, the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels, an East End food tour, Windsor Castle (we overslept but needed the day off), the Churchill War Rooms, the South Bank of the Thames and the Borough Market, several pubs, and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. When we were sitting in Heathrow waiting for our flight, we were both ready to go home.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Adventuring! Reykjavik to London and beyond

When I planned this high school graduation trip with my granddaughter Kai, the core of it was a Rick Steves group tour called "London in 7 Days". I built the rest around that tour, which starts today at 3. Two days in Iceland, two days on our own in England. I knew the first four days would be the toughest for me; I'm a good planner, but I'm not much of an adventurer. I knew there would probably be hiccups, and there have been. Fortunately, Kai and I have complimentary strengths so we have managed. 

Here's what's happened:

1. We made it fine during the five-minute walk between our Airbnb in Reykjavik to the Radisson Blu Saga, our pickup point for the first bus (of two) to the airport. And the transfer to the actual airbus was smooth. Part of the reason was probably that we had done the same thing - in reverse - two days earlier when we arrived.

2. At the Reykavik airport, Kai took over, checking us in before I even saw where the self-check kiosks were. She has the nimble brain of a 19-years-old-next-week person, and the accompanying physical flexibility. She took over the process of holding my 17-pound pack while I slipped (well, that's a kind word; "struggled" is more accurate) into the straps. We found our way to the gate where we sat for an hour before a random comment by a passerby got us to our feet: "The gate has been changed from D21 to D15."  No announcement from the airline whatever. Oh, well.

3. Routine flight into Heathrow. Easy entrance through passport control. Feeling pretty good so far. And THEN! The ATM in the baggage claim area wouldn't accept either of our debit cards or my credit card. Kai converted her dollars into pounds (I hadn't brought any, for some embarrassing and stupid reason) and we headed for the subway (Picadilly line) into town. All went well until we couldn't find our way out of the Green Park station for half an hour. It's hot down there! And crowded! And two other subway lines cross there! And people push and shove instead of waiting their turn! By the time we got to the street we were both sweaty, and Kai was irritated and informed me she never wanted to go on the subway again. Through all of this, London was experiencing the hottest day of a record heat wave in Europe.

4. We needed some cash. I went out into the evening to find an ATM. The hotel concierge directed me to one about four blocks away - "right across the street from the Green Park station" - and I only needed to talk to two shop owners on the way for more specific directions before I found it. Money! I can do this thing!

5. In the hotel room, Kai found the a/c switch and figured out the lights. Biggest challenge: we couldn't charge our devices (two phones and two laptops) unless the light was on. Guess who slept with the lights on the first night? The second night went better because Kai unscrewed the bulbs. 

6. We had one too few outlet adapters. Well, I had one too few. Kai had two adapters, for her phone and her laptop. I had two also, but needed one more, for my CPAP machine. So I charged the laptop during the day and changed out the adapter for the CPAP at night. Fortunately, the tour bus for the next day's trip to Bath and Stonehenge. had a charger for the phone. I've since been advised by my friend Ed via email to bring along an American power strip so I only need one adapter. Of all the traveling I've done, how could I have not figured that out? Even Kai asked me that question. See, I am still learning even as an "elderly person"!

7. Bath: crowded and hot; missed the walking tour with our guide because Kai needed to buy some shades and I needed a hat; walked on our own instead; had a delicious vegetarian lunch and an ice cream cone. I'd been to Bath about 20 years ago. Kai seemed fine with looking at shops and people watching. I will say that, when spoken by a Brit, "Royal Crescent" can sound an awful lot like "Royal Prison". Kai and I have figured out how we best operate: I ask the questions and she understands the answers!

8. Stonehenge: smaller than I expected! Well organized to handle crowds, and respectful of the site. There were multiple large crows (rooks) on the ground and on the stones. I thought about how we don't know too much about Stonehenge because it was constructed before there was writing. But the crows might know; their ancestors were there and watched it all happen. Here's what I learned about the birds there:

Glad we went! This was my first two-ice-cream-cone days in a very long time.

Kai in her new shades. Oh, and Stonehenge!

9. In two hours we join our Rick Steves tour. From now on all the planning and decisions will be made by someone else. Kai and I, in our first four days together, have established a practical relationship that's kind of new for both of us. This trip is her gift from me, but it's really turning out to be a gift for both of us.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Bag Lady's Iceland thoughts

My granddaughter Kai and I have been in Iceland for two days. We leave tomorrow morning for London. Iceland Air has a stopover feature at no extra cost for international flights, so we took the two-night option.

Here are my thoughts about our trip so far:

1. I am learning the value of companionable silence. Maybe it's because I've been traveling recently with quiet people, or maybe because I've learned that things go better at home when I'm not chatting all the time, or maybe because I'm noticing that the Icelanders I've met have a quietness about them. It's light all the time here this time of the year. At 7 a.m. it's as quiet outside as it is at 3 a.m. I don't hear loud voices, or loud cars. I hadn't noticed this on my last trip to Iceland, in 2005, but I'm sure it was like that back then. It's probably me that's changed.

2. We're staying in an Airbnb out of the tourist areas. It's a second floor apartment, fairly simple and very comfortable. There's a Scandinavian tidiness about it, and our host, Eglo, has been warm and welcoming, but respectful of our privacy. After tonight we'll be spending the next nine nights at a hotel in central London, so this Airbnb is a treat. Yesterday afternoon we walked to a market for snacks, and to a Domino's for pizza. I have mixed feelings about American products in foreign countries. Familiar, yes. But maybe also intrusive.

3. So far the hardest part has been not enough 220 electrical adapters for the number of electrical devices Kai and I brought along. Truly a first world problem!

4. Yesterday we took a day trip to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, about a two-hour drive through rural Iceland. Our Airbnb hostess had recommended it, saying it's "Iceland in a nutshell." Our driver made five stops for exploring and one for lunch. Kai took off ahead of me, thorougly enjoying her independence. I watched out - buddy system, you know - but it was good to see her enjoying her solitude.

The weather was poor - lots of fog and rain - but still a beautiful drive. Twelve hours later we returned to the pickup point and walked home.

5. At this time of year there's no darkness at night. It feels like you're going to bed early, even if it's 10:30 and you wake up at 1:00 a.m. 

6. Sometimes a young person can check us in at the airport faster than I can.

7. Some banks are better than others about letting you use your debit or credit card when you're traveling. Even if the bank knows you're traveling, it still thinks you're doing fraudulent activity. Note: I'm not the one having this problem.

8.  When you are carrying your 18-pound suitcase on your back - because the wheeled ones you have are either too small to hold what you need to take, or too large to fit in carryon, and you'd have to pay $200 to check it for the entire trip - your back muscles don't complain too much, and your cranky hip doesn't complain at all!

9. Icelandic is an unnecessarily complex language. Even the tour guide said that!

10. Tourism is the number one industry in Iceland - greater even than fishing. When I was here 14 years ago, it was still a relatively out-of-the-way place to travel.

Onward to London!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Grandma hugs

I am a hugger. I almost always ask someone if they want a hug, and I honor their request. Usually, people say yes. I have one good friend and I know she's not a hugger, so when I see her I usually touch her shoulder and say, "Consider yourself hugged."

Last Tuesday I went to our regional mall. I had a couple of pieces of jewelry I wanted to have appraised: a rope of pearls my dad brought back from Japan in the 60s, a watch without a band that belonged to my grandmother, and a brooch with a gold locket that was also my grandmother's. I'd been referred to a jewelry store called Alana's, so that was my destination.

As it turned out, Alana's was going out of business. It was a small shop, and there were about 20 people crowded in there, plus a fellow with a large camera who might have been part of the media. I knew an appraisal was not going to be happening there. However, I needed a couple of items of makeup, which I usually buy in a little Nordstrom storefront in the mall. So I walked up there. I was assisted by a young woman, made up vividly but tastefully. As she helped me find the right blush for my older face, and eyebrow color to tame my wild gray brows, I told her about my upcoming trip to London with my granddaughter Kai (she's recently changed her name from Cory, for those of you who keep track of my grandchildren). Kai had requested that we go to London Pride, which has a parade the day our tour finishes up, and I had said yes.

The young woman said, "Oh, she's lucky to have you for a grandmother. I'm transgender, and my grandmother was the first person to call me Rosemary. Even when she had Alzheimers and was close to death, she remembered." She teared up talking about her recently deceased grandmother. I gave her a hug and she hugged me back. Then I gave her another hug and I said, "This one is from your grandmother." Then I left.

Then, last weekend, my husband Art and I flew to Spokane to spend a few days with our grandkids. The twins haven't seen me in a year, and since one of them will be traveling with me nine days from now, I thought we ought to re-familiarize ourselves with each other.

I said to Kai, "Do you have anything I can wear to show my support for Pride?" I was thinking a bracelet or hat or something. She went to Amazon right then and ordered me this shirt:

I hope I give a lot of hugs at Pride.

PS: I sold all three pieces of my jewelry at a store called "Not Just Antiques" for $12.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Alien landing - and a volunteer opportunity

It's hard to come back home after six and a half months in Arizona. I feel like an alien.

Here's what looks different when I first get back:

  • Lots more traffic in Seattle than in Tucson - and lots more than this time last year. 
  • I notice what WASN'T here when we left. New buildings, old houses replaced by new houses, scaffolding for new buildings-to-be, more tents along the highway and under bridges.
  • Green, green everywhere. Including tall weeds in our yard. 
  • Inside the house, little things in different places, from when our tenant lived here.
Here's what I've done since I got back:
  • I had to change my insurance after 30 years, because my Washington provider doesn't have services in Arizona. I visited a new optometrist the day after I got back, rather than the friendly woman I've been seeing for 30 years. All three pairs of glasses need a new prescription, so I'm experiencing a little eyestrain (no old pairs to fall back on) while I wait for the new ones.
  • My housekeeper retired, so I got references from friends and hired a new one.
  • I want blue and purple highlights in my hair that don't fade. I asked for recommendations and, after I'd traveled 25 minutes to a new person, I said, "My only requirement is that it last for six weeks." So far, so good. Still, I felt a little remorseful about not going to the salon where I've been for the last seven years or so.

  • I mediated in small claims court on Tuesday, after seven months away. Most of it came back to me - like riding a bicycle, you know - but I forgot to fill out one form and had to go confess to the judge, who forgave me.
  • Conversation with my friend Gail, as though it's only been a week or so instead of half a year. She came up with an idea for recruiting Washington volunteers for the asylum shelter in Tucson where we spend time in the winter.
  • Lunch with my friend Marilyn, just like it was yesterday. She verified that Gail's idea for recruiting volunteers is a good one, and said she might want to go with her daughter and granddaughter.
  • Coffee with my friend Lillian and her friend Cheryl, and further conversation about the need for volunteers in Tucson. Cheryl's son has Tucson contacts.
  • Conversation with my neighbor Jennie, with interruptions from her three delightful children. They are all taller, of course, and I am a little shorter. I got to listen to violin practice from a back bedroom.
  • A conversation with my former medical provider; they have a more recent prescription for my CPAP machine, which I'll need in order to buy a smaller one for travel. I'm going to Iceland and England with my granddaughter next month, and I want to have the smaller machine by then.
  • A water exercise class, more vigorous than the one I attended in Arizona. I'll get used to it.
  • Pulling weeds in my yard. Half an hour is about my limit these days.
So, here's the deal about the volunteer opportunity in Tucson. 

Art and I volunteered every Saturday night from November to May at a shelter for asylum seekers. I have talked about that several times in this blog. We miss those Saturday nights.

The shelters in Tucson need volunteers in the summer and fall because snowbirds, who make up much of the workforce, have gone home.

I have a friend at Voyager, the 55+ RV resort where I live in the winter, who has three rentals (park model trailers). He will make them available to volunteers for $45 a night from now until October. There are a LOT of summer activities there, as well as three swimming pools, hot tub and sauna. Tucson has theatre, music, a university and excellent medical facilities. It is hot, but "it's a dry heat". For me, that's far easier than when it's humid. And Tucson sunsets are spectacular.

There is also a family offering an RV spot with full hookups, available free for volunteers.

You can come for days or weeks. You can work as many or as few four-hour shifts as you want. Or you can be a drveer. You can bring your children along. Each shift is guaranteed to have a Spanish speaker, in case you aren't one. On your first shift, it's guaranteed you will have someone experienced to show you the ropes. It's not strenuous, though it can get hectic. It's a fabulous experience. If you're interested, let me know and I will give you more information and help set you up. 

So, I've landed in Washington, feeling less like an alien. But I've still got my eyes on Tucson.