Friday, July 29, 2016

In the sky again

I believe I have overscheduled myself for traveling this summer:

In May I flew to Tucson for three days to go to my Mexican dentist.

In June we took a road trip to Oregon for a five-day family gathering.

In July I flew to Toronto to spend five days with a friend in cottage country two hours north of the city.

Today I am flying to Buffalo via Boston with a friend for a week at the Chautauqua Institution. The theme? "The Future of Cities."

On August 20 I'm flying to Athens via Paris to work for a week as a volunteer for a refugee camp an hour north of Athens.

On September 9th we're flying to Rockland, Maine via Boston for our seventh cruise on the Schooner Heritage.

But there's not a single trip I didn't want to take.

The worst part is the early morning flights.  I got up at 3:30 this morning after just a couple hours of sleep. And the time change will be bothersome for a couple of days. Still, I am excited about what I'll be learning and doing over the next week.  It's my first time at Chautauqua. It will be my first time in Greece. The other summer travel places I've been to before.

I will be 68 in September and I know I won't be able to do this forever. Why not now?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Bag Lady visits a Canadian friend

This week I'm visiting my friend Judy who lives in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada. It's a summer resort area about two hours north of Toronto - a beautiful place with lakes, rivers and beaches. Judy runs her errands in several little towns, so we get to visit each place, have lunch or a treat, and browse in the shops. Ordinarily I detest shopping for clothes, but Judy has a wonderful eye and is good counsel for me on my retail forays.

I visited Judy last year. You can read about that trip and see my pictures here. We're going to almost exactly the same places and doing the same things as last year. The only real difference is the content of our conversations. As a matter of fact, I was tempted to bail on my blog for this week and just repost last year's trip, but I felt too guilty.

I am going to Greece for a week next month to volunteer in a refugee camp in Oinofyta. It will be hot and humid and I am not good with either, so I'm looking for the coolest possible clothes. Today I found two shirts and a sundress (I haven't worn a dress in at least seven years, so we'll see).

Judy and I are both talkers. Here's an example of our discussion topics on this trip:

  • The personalities, assets and limitations of our husbands! We're both married to men five years older than we are, so the guys are, well, older, and we do not yet think of ourselves that way.
  • What on earth is going on between America and Donald Trump. Actually, I have gotten this question multiple times - from servers and retail clerks, who have actually gathered to hear me better. I tell them America is a very large country with very diverse opinions, and that the press is giving Trump a lot of airtime because he's such an unusual candidate. Several of them expressed unease that Trump could win. I told them what I can do is vote and that there are many, many Americans who will not be voting for him.
  • The worst thing each of us ever did. Judy asked me. I said I'd have to think about it. I asked her. She said she'd have to think about it. Then I told her and she told me. We can both still live with ourselves.
  • How we spend our winters. I met Judy when she and her husband Ken were our neighbors at the Voyager RV Resort, where we live in the winter. They sold their place and now go to Florida. We have a park model in Tucson and they leave their RV in Sarasota. Judy says she wants to be near the water. I said I want to be in the sun. 
  • What on earth is going on at the Republican Convention.
I rarely spend this much time with a girlfriend, but so far neither of us has gotten bored. We laugh a LOT. And Judy gets up early and I don't, and I stay up late and she doesn't. So she has her time with her husband Ken when I'm elsewhere. That's good for all of us.

I fly home on Friday evening. For a week. Then I leave on another trip. More on that one later.

Monday, July 11, 2016

With a million stars all around

Art and I attended a family gathering in Bend, Oregon last week. Fifteen people from daughter Melissa and son-in-law Scott's families met up for activities and meals for several days.

Art and I passed on the river rafting (did it before, probably no longer limber enough), the day trip to Crater Lake (been there), the mountain bike ride from the top of Mt. Bachelor (not crazy).

We did do the starlight canoe trip, though. We've done that before, over ten years ago, and loved it. When I was in high school I took canoeing lessons one summer, and Art picked it up someplace (probably at a family gathering of his own). We've been canoeing a number of times - once on a lake in Georgia ten years ago, and several times on a "canoeing trip" in Nicaragua, where we passed on the canoeing almost every day to explore something of local interest on one of the small islands on the Solentiname Archipelago on Lake Nicaragua.

In Bend, eleven of our group met up with our guide at the office of Wanderlust Tours. We loaded into their van at 8:00 pm; six canoes were loaded on the trailer. Our destination was Elk Lake. After unloading the canoes and gear, our guide, Jared, gave us a ten-minute review of how to paddle, how not to capsize, who moves the canoe forward (person in front/bow) and who steers (person in back/stern). We were each issued an infrared head lamp so we could see in the dark without losing our night vision.

It was near dusk when we put the canoes in the water. We paddled toward Mt. Bachelor across the lake. I paddled on the right side until my arms got tired, then called "change sides" so Art could steer from the opposite side. Every time he changed it felt like we were going to capsize. I wondered what on earth he was doing back there.

A couple of times the six canoes "rafted up" so Jared could tell us something about the geology or history of this area.

At the other end of the lake we disembarked. Jared built a fire and then handed out beer/hot chocolate and cookies. We watched the sun set.

It was dark by the time we started back across Elk Lake. There was no moon and no clouds. We donned the infrared lamps. Even with that help, it's hard for me to know where I'm going at night. Even after cataract surgery on both eyes it's hard to see where I am out there. I was in front, looking out at black. Except for other red headlamps and a bazillion stars. Art was supposed to be steering, but I didn't trust him. It seemed to me that I was responsible for getting us back. And I had no idea where that was. I got scared.

I told Art I was afraid. He told me to head for the trail of stars heading for the ground, but I had trouble believing him because it seemed like such a random comment. I fretted several times about not being sure where we were headed and he said, "Don't worry about it." Which wasn't helpful. As the paddler in the rear, he was steering, but I fought him. Again, when he changed sides it felt like we were going to capsize into the dark, cold water.

The six canoes rafted up once on the way back. Jared told us a story about why you never see Scorpio and Orion in the same night sky. Mythological characters getting ticked off at each other, you know. With no moon and no clouds and no ambient light, the sky was spectacular. We could see multiple planets and constellations and the Milky Way. I haven't seen such a beautiful night sky since we were in Kenya three years ago.

When we reached the beach I said, "Why did you say that, about heading for the trail of stars?" Art said, "Because that was where we put in." I said, "But those stars weren't there when we put in." He laughed. I guess there was a topographical feature he remembered. He's very observant about that kind of thing, and I am sometimes not. I was a matter of perspective. It would have been much easier if I'd just paddled calmly and trusted him to get us there.

Turns out we still know how to canoe. Even with creaky knees and cranky feet. So good to know!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Road trip thoughts from an extroverted introvert

I'm an extroverted introvert. These are the things I can do:
  • Have a give-and-take conversation with a person I know. For quite a while, if it's not small talk.
  • Strike up a conversation with a stranger.
  • Listen to anyone. For quite a while, if it's not small talk.
  • Mediate and facilitate conversations among other people, in conflicts or otherwise.
  • Speak before a group of hundreds of people.
  • Write a blog which is read each week by many people, some of whom I know and some I don't.
These are the things I try to avoid:
  • Potlucks, unless I know everyone in the room, and sometimes not even then. Unless they are at my house and I can't get out of them. That happened for years at holiday parties for Art's very large family.
  • Parties. Same as potlucks.
  • "New member" gatherings intended to welcome me as a new member.
  • Dances, unless I have come with a partner.
Now Art and I are on a road trip. We left our home near Seattle for a week in Oregon. Our first stop was Roseburg, a town of about 20,000 on the interstate that runs through Washington, Oregon and California. We were there for two days and I had a good time.

I lived in Roseburg for six years in the 80s. My kids went to preschool and kindergarten there. My older son Russell lives there, working at the local hospital as a nurse. My ex and his very nice girlfriend live there. My very good friend Jeanne lives there; we stayed with her for two nights.

On Thursday night we went to dinner with Russell and his girlfriend Amanda, my ex John and his girlfriend Shirley. I knew everyone at the table pretty well, and conversation was easy and fun.
We spent a quiet day on Friday with Jeanne. Art mostly read and Jeanne and I mostly chatted. Jeanne was my counselor when I was going through my separation and divorce and we became friends after that. We've probably stayed at Jeanne's house 25 times in the last 30 years - my granddaughters were born in Roseburg and lived there for the first 12 years of their lives, so we've been here a bunch. And when Jeanne comes to Seattle she stays with us. There is an easy comfort between us. We can do silence as well as conversation.  

On Saturday we made the three and a half hour drive to Bend, on the other side of the Cascades from Roseburg. Art's daughter Melissa and her husband Scott had organized a family gathering at the Mt. Bachelor Village Resort: blocked the rooms, found coordinators for one or two events each day plus an evening meal each day. This year three of Art's children - Melissa, Laura and Peter - plus his ex-wife Nancy - came to the gathering. And Scott's daughter Samantha, his sister Lauren and her husband Bryon, mom Marcia and stepdad Jack and his Uncle Dick and Aunt Cheryl.

That's a lot of people. I have met most of Scott's family before, but only once. They were all excited to see each other and I was glad Melissa and Scott had been successful in gathering so many of their family members to Bend. On Saturday we met up with the group at Melissa and Scott's large three-bedroom rented condo, chatted with everyone, ate a simple meal and left shortly afterwards to return to our own one-bedroom condo, where we spent the rest of the evening reading in silence.

On Sunday most of the family went rafting on the Deschutes River. We spent a good part of the day visiting my best friend from high school, Linda, and her husband Jim. I've only seen Linda about three times in the last 50 years, but we always "pick up where we left off." We had lunch at their place and went for a two-mile walk in Shevlin Park in Bend. We invited them to join us for a few days next winter in Tucson. We went to Safeway, came home and read and watched three episodes of "Damages" on Netflix.

Today, July 4, most of the family loaded up into three cars for a day trip to Crater Lake. Art and I have been there before, so we didn't sign up for the outing.  There's a fun parade and holiday festival in downtown Bend, but parking is pretty limited so we will probably pass. We'll mostly likely spend the day reading and maybe doing a load of laundry. Art's daughter Laura and son Pete are hosting Taco Night, so we'll go over for that. I expect that sometime during the evening I'll have quiet conversations with a few people.

Tomorrow is our turn to host the evening meal. We're doing Italian Night, but it will be at 5 - a little early - so that we and five other people can leave at 7 for a moonlight canoe outing on one of the lakes above Bend. We've done that once before and it is worth a repeat trip. 

And on Wednesday we leave for home.

There are a few small disadvantages to being an extroverted introvert this week:
  • If Art is cranky - as he can be if he has allergies or some kind of ache or pain or is spending too much time with chatty women - we are kind of stuck with each other. Especially when we're in the car.
  • If someone wants to talk to me, they won't find me around much at the large gatherings. I hope to have good talks with both of my stepdaughters before we leave. I expect that will happen, as it usually does when we're together.
  • People may think I'm not being friendly.
Most likely, though, everyone at this family gathering is spending time doing what they want to do. Isn't that how it ought to be?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Bag Lady Report: Conversations with three men

I can be a curious woman when I'm sitting in a waiting room with other people waiting around me, and sometimes even a short conversation can be interesting. Recently I had three.


Last week, I arrived at Massage Envy at Northgate Mall. I was ten minutes early for my appointment, thanks to my husband Art's penchant for getting places on time. He assumes every light will be red, so we leave early if he is driving. This was one of those days.

The man sitting next to me in the waiting room wore a red hoodie that proclaimed "Team Rubicon." I read it aloud and he looked up from his phone. I said "What's Team Rubicon?" He put his phone on the table and told me it's an organization of former military first responders joined with civilian first responders. They work with disaster prep and disaster relief. He'd been in Seattle all week, along with many others from around the country, working on a simulation for the massive earthquake that's predicted to occur here with the next few decades. He said, "My squadron's job is to assess the condition of airports after a disaster, and to call in engineering help as needed. Even if everyone who lives here is killed in the disaster, people coming in from elsewhere will know exactly what to do."

The webpage for Team Rubicon is inspiring and impressive.

Disasters are our business. Veterans are our passion.

Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.

I introduced myself. His name is K.C. and he grew up in Kirkland, Washington,  but now lives and works in Washington DC. I said, "You know, I think it would be great if there were a program that takes returning vets and puts them to work - with their strategic and tactical thinking, teamwork, leadership and discipline - rebuilding our infrastructure. It would be such a useful way for them to continue being of service." K.C. said, "The company where I work now is involved with that."

I gave K.C. my card and asked him to send me information. I would love to be part of that effort. I explored the Team Rubicon website. What a great idea.


Also last week, I took my eight-year-old iMac to the Apple Store to have its data erased. I hadn't used it in two years, had misplaced the recovery disk and couldn't remember the administrative password to log on. I sat at the Genius Bar next to a young man who was having something done with his iPad and his iPhone.  The man said, "What are you doing with your computer when it is erased?" He had a faint but charming accent. I said, "I'm going to donate it to Goodwill." He said, "I will buy it from you." "Really? How much?" "Fifty dollars. But my wife has the money and she has gone with the mother to buy some socks. Can you wait?"

"Whose mother?"

"Her mother is my mother."

We introduced ourselves. His name is Dimitri and he came to the United States from Ukraine in 2000, when he was eleven. We chatted about the stereotypes we can have about people from other countries, and about the other countries themselves, and how they often don't match up with reality. I told him about watching a show last week with a scene shot in the Moscow airport. A very modern place that didn't correspond at all to my young adult perception of a country supposedly going to seed. I expected something more utilitarian and primitive anywhere in Russia, even today. Not so.

We both watched the Apple Store door, but the wife didn't appear. Then I said, "I will give you my computer for $40, since you had the idea." I gave him my card and said, "Send me the money." He said, "I don't have a checkbook." I said, "Put two $20s in a folded sheet of paper and then put them in an envelope addressed to me."

While I was at the Apple Store, Art had gone to Comcast to turn in our equipment, since we'd decided on another carrier. When he picked me up, I told him about the conversation I'd had with Dimitri. I asked him how his experience in the Comcast waiting room had been. He said, "I had to wait about 15 minutes. The Mariners game was on. It was the third inning." Then he told me about every play that had happened in the game while he sat there waiting. No conversations for him!

On Saturday, the money arrived. $40 in a folded sheet of paper, in an envelope addressed to me, from Dimitri in Everett.


Last weekend Art and I were having dinner on our back deck and he was telling me a story. Art uses many pronouns and, try as I might, I sometimes don't know who he's referring to. So I'll say something like "Who is 'they'?" or "Who is 'he'?" In his mind Art is perfectly clear as to who he's talking about, so he sometimes gets impatient with me. He says I'm an English major (true that) and just trying to correct his grammar (not true that, but his perception).

Anyway, he said, "My friend Bob didn't like his daughter's boyfriend. So Bob asked another man, a friend down on his luck, to live at Bob's house in the hopes that Bob's daughter would meet him and then end her relationship with her boyfriend. Eventually he married her."

Long silence while I tried to figure out who "he" was in that last sentence. Finally I had to ask.

Art rolled his eyes. Then he reached for the salt shaker. "This is the girlfriend." The pepper shaker. "This is her boyfriend." A fork. "This is the friend down on his luck."

"So who married Bob's daughter?"



Sunday, June 19, 2016

Not really a bucket list

Last week I finished up a writing class called "Travel Writing as Pilgrimage". Each Sunday afternoon for six weeks I drove to Seattle and took my seat at a wooden table at Hugo House, "A Place for Writers." One instructor and six writers. In-class writing was from prompts, "freewriting" for ten to fifteen minutes. The idea is that you start with the prompt and write with a pen on paper. No editing, very little conscious thought or planning. Almost stream of consciousness. I've been doing this kind of writing in small groups for years, so it was familiar.

What is written runs the spectrum from trivial to insightful to paradigm-shifting. Sometimes phrases or paragraphs can become the seed from which really good writing grows. I like freewriting because the time is relatively short and I can keep my English-major pickiness tucked away.

Our last freewrite prompt in our last class was "Before I die..."

Here's what I wrote.

Before I die I hope to have been given humility, to know that all I have been and done and said, all the good things and the awful things, have been a gift.

Before I die I hope to be as thin as I think I should be. Or else to be completely content and satisfied with being round.

Before I die I want to take the Trans Siberian Railroad from Beijing to Moscow, stopping for a few days at the summer festival in Ulan Bator. Or else I want to be absolutely fine with not going.

Before I die I want to forgive my mother, who lives beyond the grave in the continuing silence of a difficult friend.

Before I die I want to walk in silence along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. That will be next year, I'm thinking.

Before I die I want to have my fear of falling from a height removed, so that I can walk the Airport Butte Trail in Sedona rather than freezing in fear at the trailhead.

I love what I learned from this freewrite:
  • Something intangible and beyond my control is my first hope.
  • I may well be content not to do some things; who's to say my goals are the most important things?
  • Forgiving my mother for the past may result in an easier present and future.
  • Silence is no longer to be avoided.
  • Overcoming fear is not a matter of willpower, but of willingness.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Trust, but verify: three bumps in last week's road

Wikipedia says "trust, but verify" is a form of advice given which recommends that while a source of information might be considered reliable, one should perform additional research to verify that such information is accurate, or trustworthy.

Three times last week, I didn't do that.

The Dentist

I have a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device for my moderate sleep apnea. I've been using it for nearly four years and it helps me sleep and keeps me from snoring. But it's a nuisance when I travel. The CPAP case is the size of a large shoebox and I have to carry it onto airplanes and keep track of it during travel. Last July in Atlanta I lost it on the MARTA between the airport and our B&B. Or maybe it was stolen. At any rate, the replacement cost $800 as well as aggravation between me and my HMO, and me and my travel insurance company.

This year I'm taking six trips between June and November. I decided to get an "oral appliance" for my sleep apnea to replace the CPAP machine when I am traveling. Naturally, my HMO refused to pay for it  So I made an appointment with the apnea/cosmetic dentist they referred me to. I decided to pay for the oral appliance myself.

The appointment was last Thursday. The dentist measured me for the device but after examining my mouth and my jaw and my teeth, he advised me that I have ground my teeth down so severely that unless I have my entire jaw realigned and all the dental work in my mouth redone, I will eventually require dentures. His estimate for this cost was $30,000 to $50,000 in the next five years.

"And I had planned on buying a Tesla," I told him. He laughed.

Not really, of course. But on my half-hour drive home I considered how sudden expenses - especially in retirement - can alter lives in not a good way. By the time I reached the espresso stand in my town I was resigned to a drastic curtailment of travel over the next five years and possibly forever. I told my barista. She said, "Are you kidding?" You're 67 years old. Why would you want to spend that much money on your mouth at your age?"

That afternoon, I told my tale to my hairdresser. He laughed. "I've had dentures for 40 years and they have been just fine." And then he removed his top dentures to show me! I would never have guessed.

So, I'm talking this week to the dentist I've been seeing for 25 years. Nothing like a second opinion.

The Shoes

Last week, on a walk with a friend, I complimented her on her comfortable looking shoes; they look like walking shoes with cutouts. "They're Keens," she said, "and I bought them for hiking. They are great." I thought they would be just right for my upcoming trip to Greece.

I called my favorite shoe store. Shane, the owner, answered the phone. I have known Shane for over 15 years and have bought numerous pairs of shoes from him, as well as custom orthotics. I asked him about Keens and he said "Oh, yes, we carry them." I got in my car and drove 15 minutes to try on a pair. Turns out they do carry them, but at this moment they are sold out. So this week I will go to REI for the purchase.

When I had Shane on the phone, I should have asked not only "Do you carry them?" but also, "Do you have any in stock? My bad.

The Computer

Two years ago a tech family member moved all my data from my aging iMac desktop to my new MacBook Air laptop, then replaced the desktop with a display monitor. It has worked out great for me. I can use my laptop by itself or hooked up to a the larger screen.

To make sure the new configuration would work, we stored the iMac behind the chair in the living room "just in case." Last week I finally decided to donate the iMac to a worthy cause. Before I did that, I turned it on to confirm all the old data had been deleted.

It hadn't.

And I couldn't find a CD to boot the system so I could delete everything. And I didn't have a standard Apple keyboard so I could restore the iMac to its factory settings. So this week I have an appointment at the Apple Store.

Fortunately, REI and the Apple Store are in the same mall, no more than 300 feet from each other.

Maybe trust, but verify isn't the right phrase for last week's bumpy road. Maybe it's about not making assumptions.

Yeah, that's it.