Sunday, July 27, 2014

Oh, my aching shoulder

Apparently I have another gardening injury. For the last nine days I've had a muscle or some other tissue in my right shoulder that's painful - either achy or a sharp pain, either beneath my shoulder blade near my spine or on the outside of my shoulder. I've had three massages and appointments with my chiropractor and my acupuncturist. They all say, "have you been gardening?" or "yes, you've got an injury". And I have full range of motion so it's not a rotator cuff tear.

This pain is especially bad when (1) I'm trying to go to sleep at night or (2) I work on the desktop computer). I've tried heat and ice and exercises and they're of limited use. The best solutions are to stay awake, to stay off the computer, or to be 20 years younger.

I've limited myself to absolute necessities on the computer: finding the number of a Honda repair place to get a quote on a timing belt replacement; getting the route between my house and a drumming circle meeting; checking multiple times to see if my friend and housekeeper has responded to my question about whether she'll be cleaning next week before my granddaughters arrive for a visit; checking my online calendar for times of meetings. Once in a while I sneak a game or three of Candy Crush (I'm mortified to say I'm on level 461).

I always regret spending more than five minutes on the desktop. My shoulder starts to ache, or aches worse. If I've gone all day in reasonable comfort, and then I spend half an hour working on a genealogy project, and the shoulder aches. Then I lie in bed for an hour or more trying to get into a comfortable position and then I wake up every hour to replace the ice pack.

I decided recently to wean myself from computer dependence. It's not friendly when I spend a few hours a day with my back to my husband. He has said he feels left out. So the timing is not really that bad for me to have this gardening injury.

What about balancing the bank statements, though, or reconciling the credit card? I like to get right on those when they come out. Being up to date with finances gives me the illusion of control.

Give it time, I'm told. And then those ugly, ugly words: "As we age, our bodies take longer to heal." I hate that!

Instead of spending a lot of time on the computer this week, I've sat in my garden, torn out the spent peas and spinach, picked some green beans and beets and carrots and zucchini and eaten a lot of blueberries directly from the bushes. I've spent more time with my cat Larisa (she's currently sharing her yard with my sister's four cats and one morning she got chased by one of them; now we put a baby gate on the stairs to the deck to keep the various cats in their places). I've gone to bed early with my husband and read to him until he fell asleep. I've read more than usual. It's actually quite like the days BC (Before Computers).

Maybe the Universe is helping me spend less time on the computer by making it painful. I'd like to think I could have done it on my own.

By the way, this blog was created on my laptop, on my back deck. Different position, not so painful.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Nature Ain't Disney

Our suburban yard - just a third of an acre including the house - is a certified wildlife habitat. To get that designation you need places for plants to grow, for animals to feed and hide and raise their young, for a source of water (a fountain on the front porch) and food (bird feeders and a garden). We love the summer when we can watch the inhabitants of our place.

On Monday I went out to the nest we'd been watching. It had been about 12 days since we'd first seen the mama bird on her nest, so we knew it was about time for the eggs to hatch. Here's what we saw.

So exciting! The babies were all open mouths. There were at least two of them. As we watched, the mama returned to the nest to tend her young. For the next several days, when we'd stand under the grape arbor, we'd see either the babies gaping skyward, or the mother and father bird feeding or standing watch over the babies.

Our two families have five cats, so we figured by the following Monday we'd need to keep the animals in for several days while the young fledglings hopped around on the ground under their parents' watchful eyes. No cat of ours would cut the lives of these babies short.

Early Friday morning my sister Alyx visited the birds. For the first time she could hear peeping coming from the nest. But in the afternoon, when I went out, the nest was silent, and no adult bird was in sight. I visited several more times that day, but all was still in the nest above me.

On Saturday morning it was still quiet. My husband Art set up a ladder by the grapes, and Alyx climbed it. "The nest is empty," she told me. "I saw two big orange and brown birds flying around yesterday - they almost looked like parrots. I'd never seen them before and I haven't seen them since. They looked pretty interested in the grape arbor." Then she added, "I should have stayed out there to keep them from the nest."

I went on the internet to learn more. One writer said that birds who build open-cupped nests have only a 7-to-40 percent success rate with their babies, and some breeds  produce three clutches each year to compensate for this.

It was that writer who also commented, "Nature Ain't Disney".

Alyx and I grieved for the babies and the parents as though we had known them personally. I know this is part of the cycle of life, but still.  I remember reading somewhere that, in the "olden days", women were discouraged from developing an attachment to their infants until the child successfully reached its first birthday, as the infant mortality rate was quite high. One of those sad things.

I don't have the same sentiment about pulling beets or carrots out of the ground. Fortunately.

On the human front, my church community had an organizational meeting on Monday for a project to create a community of "tiny houses" for the homeless. Other groups in the country have had success with this concept - the closest one in Olympia, Washington - and we're interested in partnering with other groups to develop a similar plan. When I think about the homeless, I know there's not much difference between them and me. A few years of education, maybe, or a couple of different choices, and some luck. I do believe we're all in this together. Hopefully, this project is something I can do even if I'm in Tucson for the winter. In the initial assignments, I'm responsible for researching the relevant laws in the community and county, and will be doing some marketing presentations. I'm not a marketer, but I have a good amount of experience as a presenter.

Tonight we ate the first green beans from our garden. Tomorrow I pull out the rest of the dying pea plants. The cycle of life, I guess.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sweet summer

I know, I know. We're all of us doing summer together in the northern hemisphere. We're all coping with heat and enjoying gardens and the longer days. Still, it seems unique just to me, and especially sweet this year. Here's why, from just this week.

1. My sister Alyx and her husband Virgil are living in their motorhome in our back yard. They moved here in May from Alaska and will be our "neighbors sharing a plot of land" for several more months. It's been two months now and we're all enjoying the experience. They work nights, so we don't see too much of each other. It may be that when we leave for Arizona for the winter, they'll stay on as caretakers of our place.

Alyx and I sit out together most mornings on "the porch", a couple of folding chairs we've rigged up on our lower deck. She lets out her four cats - they're all old, and they've been indoor cats their entire lives until now - and we chat about her night at work, my plans for the day, and whatever comes up. Both of us are talkers, and I suspect our husbands are relieved the listening doesn't have to come from them so much as usual.

Alyx was 11 when I went off to college, and we were never close until our mother died in 2008. Now we are enjoying each other, and the relationship. It's never too late -- at 58 and 65 we have plenty to say

2. A mother bird has built her nest in our grapes!

We have a couple of Adirondack chairs just under the grapes, and Alyx and I sit out there and watch the bird as she comes and goes. We think she's a little restless today. Her babies should be hatching in the next couple of days. Our yard is a certified wildlife habitat, but this bird and her nest and her babies are an unexpected delight. I have read that the babies will hop around on the ground for three days before they finally fly. On those days, Alyx will keep her four cats inside the RV and our Larisa will be  confined to the house as well.

3. We have a spectacular garden this year. Art usually tends it, but this year I am doing the watering and watching. And Alyx has never had a garden, so it's all new and thrilling to her.

We added a Three Sisters garden this year - corn, beans, and squash. When we're sitting out there it's like we're in another world. These days, we're trying to keep up with eating the lettuce, though some of it has gone to the food bank. The strawberries are all eaten or frozen, the raspberries are finished, and we're working on the blueberries. Green beans will be ready in a few days. Such a treat! It still seems like a miracle to me that we plant seeds and then these plants grow, knowing how to make their own leaves and stems and fruit.

4. I developed a "gardening injury" - a cranky piriformus muscle. It has begun to settle down. I'm grateful that I can walk again without limping. The body's ability to heal itself is a miracle.

5. I have several friends I meet one on one for coffee once a month or so. We sit in Starbucks or a local restaurant and talk for a couple of hours. I love these times with friends. This week I got to see four of them: Carol, Vicki, Colleen, and Sandy. I'm full up by the end of a week like this.

6.  I got some wisdom from my friend Beth. She gave me a great acronym: Don't Even Think About Changing Him! Such a good reminder as I live with a fellow who isn't as compliant as I am about health issues. Humor is a very good thing.

7.  My neighbor Jennie's baby Elsa is nearly eight months old. This week Jen called and asked me to come over and keep Elsa occupied while she packed up some homeschooling materials. I haven't forgotten how to play with a baby. Wonderful! I'm especially honored that Jen trusts me with her friendship and her baby.

8. I bought a 32-ounce decaf iced latte twice this week. Even Jason, my barista, said "You're kidding" when I ordered it from him. I figure it's a great way to stay hydrated! I'll probably go back to my regular size this week. It does seem a little decadent.

9. We're having a heat wave. It was 90 in Seattle today. We're sleeping with the doors and windows open. As I lie beneath a light sheet, I can hear the night sounds of the neighborhood, and the full moon lights the bedroom. I'm aware of all the other sleeping people in all the other houses. It feels good to be part of the community where I live.

10. On my way home from a gathering yesterday (30 women, most of whom I don't know), I was wishing I was better at mingling. Then I saw an older woman walking slowly on a sidewalk, stopping twice. It was hot. She had no water. I turned the car around and went back to her. Alyx was with me, and we stopped the car and gave her a ride to the nearby store. Alyx walked with her until she was sure the woman was okay. I brought up my feeling about wishing I liked mingling. Alyx said, "Linda, none of those women was alone, and none of them needed you. The woman we took to the store was another story. And you were right there."

That's true. I watch out for people around me. I hope I'll remember that the next time I'm feeling awkward at a larger gathering.

Sweet summer!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reflections on a family gathering in Idaho

My stepdaughter Melissa and her husband Scott put the gathering together. They decided on Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sandpoint, Idaho, because of the variety of activities available and the proximity to Seattle, where a number of the family members live. It took several months for attendees to sign up. The final list was Scott and his mother Marcia and her husband Jack; Melissa and her mother Nancy, Nancy's husband Clete and their son CJ (18); Melissa's brother Jason, his wife Kalei and sons Kyle (14) and Kaleb (5); Melissa's brothers Pete and Greg; and Melissa's dad (my husband Art) and me. A blend of blended families! 

In four days various members of this gathering went on a bicycle ride on Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, wakeboarded and innertubed behind a ski boat (or watched from the boat), played disc golf, hiked, zip lined, and experienced a climbing wall. Plus shared dinners. And talked and laughed and reminisced.

My reflections:
  • I like how divorced parents (Art and Nancy) can spend four days at a gathering with their children and their current spouses and have everyone get along. I do that sometimes with my ex-husband and my children and my husband Art. I know our grown offspring really like it.
  • I have been afraid of heights for as long as I can remember. I have asked the Universe to remove that fear for years. For some reason, I was unafraid of trying the zip line this weekend. I suited up, got strapped in, and zipped. I also hiked 2.5 miles from the top of the mountain to the village, in a series of switchbacks with steep sides overlooking the village, without freezing with fear. I am very grateful. I want to try another zip line.
  • If you do a hike down a mountain, your quads and your calves will be very angry and you will hurt for two days. You may even wobble a little - especially if you have a gardening injury and your piriformus muscle is cranky even before the hike.
  • I was the oldest female in the group. How did that happen?
  • It's about a seven-hour drive from where I live to Sandpoint. We drove clear across Washington. It is a beautiful state.
  • If you have eliminated refined sugar from your diet, you can choose to have pie and cookies and ice cream anyway, just because you're on vacation. I chose pie and said no to the other sweets. I'm glad I'm home where pie and cookies and ice cream are not on the shopping list.
  • Fresh cherries bought at the roadside stand taste way better, and are much cheaper, than what you get at the grocery store.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"I should have taken the dog for a walk."

"I should have taken the dog for a walk." Those were my mother's words to me a week after my father's death in February 1979, when he was 57.

She'd awakened one morning and found my father, blue and gurgling, in the bed beside her. She called my sister, who lived nearby, and said, "Something is wrong with Daddy. Come right now." My 24-year-old sister arrived in her pajamas, ran down the hall to the bedroom, took one look at our father and called 9-1-1. The paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital, where he died nine weeks later.

"I should have taken the dog for a walk." I can still remember how I caught my breath. How selfish of her, I thought. I'd had a strained relationship with my mother for years, and this was one of those times I felt the strain again.

"I should have taken the dog for a walk." That phrase has remained with me for 35 years. Even after my mother died in 2008, I remembered.

Then, just this week, I had a conversation with my sister about the day she called 9-1-1 for my father. She said she and my mother didn't follow the ambulance to the hospital. An hour later a doctor called to talk to her about putting my father on a ventilator. His lungs had filled with fluid, but a ventilator could be used as a temporary aid. He recommended it be done. My mother argued with the doctor. "He was my buddy. I promised him I wouldn't let anyone perform heroic measures on him." The doctor was persuasive, though, and my mother gave her consent.

As it turned out, the ventilator remained in use for nine weeks. Attempts were made to wean my father from the machine, but his lifelong smoking habit had resulted in emphysema, and his lungs had given out. Late one evening he asked that the ventilator be turned off, and his request was honored. He died six hours later.

Until this week I hadn't known about the phone conversation between the doctor and my mother. I hadn't known -- or hadn't remembered -- about the promise my parents had made to each other not to allow heroic measures. I see now that "I should have taken the dog for a walk" was a statement made out of heartbreak and regret rather than out of selfishness.

I made assumptions about another person, and I didn't know the whole story. And I missed an opportunity, in my mother's later years, to talk to her about promises and regrets. It might have been good for us both.

I'm trying harder not to make assumptions.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

These are the good old days

My neighbor, Jennie, is a homeschooling mom with a husband and three children ages 10, 6 and 6 months. Her life is quite busy and sometimes when we meet to chat I've been known to say, "These are the good old days." It's my reminder to her that the life she and her family are making is good.

My life these days is good, too. This is what I got to experience this week:

On Monday, I took a Washington State Ferry to Whidbey Island to do a workplace mediation. We held it at a meditation center because there was no appropriate room at the workplace. The center was a shoeless house (I hadn't brought any socks) and we ended up mediating in a room with Eastern spiritual posters and a shrine, rather than in a simple unadorned room. I do this mediation work as a volunteer; I'm grateful to be retired to have the time to do it. As I took the ferry home in mid-afternoon, I was, as usual, grateful for my life. 

Monday evening I went to the Board meeting at my church. There's a group thinking about creating a "tiny house" community for the homeless in our community. I want to be part of that effort. It's something I can do for the eight months I'm home and perhaps work remotely from Tucson in the winter. I think back to the work I did with Habitat for Humanity and I'm thinking it kind of led me to this local effort.

On Tuesday I was invited to a staff meeting at the massage clinic my business partner runs. I attend those only once in a while. The morale was good; lots of positive energy and laughter, and most of the meeting was conducted by our employees. It hasn't always been like that, so I was glad to see it happening and to be a part of it. Afterwards I met my friend Vicki for coffee. She and her husband spend the winter on a boat in Mexico, and they've just gotten back for the summer. She and I worked together for five years, but these days we scarcely mention the place. We talk about everything else!

On Thursday I spent the day at a workshop on workplace mediations - after doing several of them already without the specialized training.  And on Friday I spent another day at a workshop on how to help divorcing couples divide up their assets. I remembered, again, that it's not always about the money. It's about the value the people place on what they have. It's our job to help them discern what's important to them as they separate.  I love this stuff! It's especially cool that I can take my mediation skills everywhere with me.

And this weekend! Sunny and warm in the Seattle area. Our strawberries are ripe. The spinach and lettuce are growing faster than we can eat it. The blueberries and the peas will be ripe by next week. The corn will be taller than knee high by the fourth of July. I sit in my Adirondack chair in the garden and I feel fabulous - even though my back complains when I stand up. I heard recently that for people over 60, once they stand up, it takes three steps for them to get their body parts working together. That's true for me, for sure!

The best part of these "good old days" is the experience I'm having with my sister Alyx. She is seven years younger than me, and we were never close until after our mother died in 2008. She and her husband moved here from Alaska to take new jobs; they will be living in our back yard for three to six months in their motorhome. They've been here for five weeks and there has been no drama and no stress. Alyx and I sit on the deck and talk while we watch their four indoor cats experience the outdoors for the first time. We are comfortable with each other. We've been talking on the phone for several years - mostly in times of stress for one or both of us - but this time together is the ordinary kind. Tonight Alyx cooked and the four of us ate outdoors and then sat and talked for nearly an hour after dinner. It's an enriching time. 

Art and I have three trips coming up: a family gathering in Idaho over the July 4 weekend, a schooner cruise in Maine in September, and two weeks in Hawaii in November. And then we leave for our winter place in Tucson.  

Today, one day past the summer solstice, the light is long. I went for my two-mile walk this evening and got home at 9:30. It was still light out, with a pink sky, and a newborn foal nursing its mother on a neighbor's acre. 

We've had "good old days" times before, when the eight kids in our blended family were growing up. But this time now, when we're retired and able to choose how to spend each day, is a bonus.

These are the good old days, too.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The trip I didn't take

My son Russell graduated from nursing school on Friday. It's a 400-mile drive from Brier, Washington to Roseburg, Oregon, and I didn't want to drive the distance on my own - my husband Art had another commitment. So I booked a seat on an airplane and a rental car at the airport in Eugene. Russell made arrangements for me to stay with his Aunt Patty, my former-sister-in-law who's always been a fun and interesting person to spend time with. The pinning would take place at 10 a.m., followed by a luncheon at a local pizza place. Later in the day, Russ would "walk" at graduation. I lived in Roseburg for six years in the 80s and have been back there many times to visit family and friends. This would be another quick trip.

That was my plan. What actually happened was I had a gastrointestinal issue and stayed home instead. I experienced the pinning, the luncheon and the graduation ceremony courtesy of the Facebook pictures posted by my son James. I also observed that my two sons played golf on Saturday using a cart driven by their father John, my ex-husband.

I'd rather have gone, of course. But plans change. Like it says on my license plate frame: "Make God laugh. Tell Him your plans."

Some other things I hadn't planned:

  • I've been staying up late, until midnight or later, for a month or so. My husband goes to bed early these days. He has medications that tire him out by early evening and he gets up at 4:30 every morning. I decided 8:30 p.m. was too early a bedtime for me. But now I feel like I'm missing out on the morning! On three days this coming week I have to be up and out of the house by 8:00 a.m., so I'm pacing myself today and preparing for an earlier bedtime tonight. I like the quiet house at night when I can be productive, but I miss the nightly ritual of going to bed at the same time as Art. I love the freedom of being retired, though, so I can choose my sleep schedule.
  • Since I wasn't in Roseburg on Friday night and I was feeling better, I went to a potluck at church, where I've recently become a member. The dinner was for the board and for new members. Good potluck, pretty decorations, nice people. But these events are painful for me. I'm miserable making small talk. I can do one-on-one, or one-on-two or -three. I can even do one-on-a-thousand when I'm speaking. But one-on-fifteen or -twenty is hard. I confessed this to Eric, the minister, and he asked me to sit with him at dinner, which helped. I need to go to these occasions from time to time, even if I'd rather be home reading a book. Maybe in my next life I'll be better at it.
  • When I started my "no sugar" May I planned on a month. Here it is June 15 and I am still doing the no sugar thing. I've been told my skin looks good and I notice my pants riding a little lower than they used to. I was mightily tempted by a piece of cheesecake last month and by a half gallon of strawberry ice cream just last night, but I'm thinking as long as I'm into this I might as well keep on for a while. In a month or so I'll go through my closet and see what fits. Hopefully more than two months ago!
  • I have been hovering over my husband Art since his cardiac arrest in January. He is actually doing fine, living his normal life, but I want him to be more compliant than he is - with things like medical followups, medications and tests, and hydrating. He is resolutely continuing to do as he always has. So last week I put a white pebble in a bowl at church - a ritual where you let go of a thought or a person, or begin something new. My white pebble was letting go of Art's medical stuff. They belong to him. This week I've been actually quite peaceful about the whole thing. I have no idea how he is!
  • My sister has four cats and they have all been living in the RV in our back yard for a month. On Thursday they got their shots for being outdoors, and this morning we let two of them out for a supervised half hour. One of the cats is 14 years old and hasn't been outdoors more than two times in his whole life. I got to watch him explore. Mostly he wanted to chew on a couple of weeds and creep under the deck. Nice to be involved in a first of that kind.
After a week of glorious sun and a burgeoning vegetable garden, we've got cooler weather and rain today. We're watching the World Cup with the volume muted - "All they do is yack," Art says. I turned on the gas fireplace and am grateful for a warm, dry house and a quiet day.