Friday, May 3, 2024

End of the snowbird season

Two days ago we flew home from Tucson, where we’ve spent the last six months, to Seattle, our home airport. We’ll spend the summer in Brier at our family home. This is a twice-a-year ritual for Art and me and our Siberian forest cat, Dutchy.

I’m looking back at the last weeks of our snowbird season with nostalgic and a bit of sadness. Our life in Tucson is busy with activities and friends, mostly in sunny weather. 

This year I was too busy; I had so much going on that I had to drop two discussion groups. One was current events on Wednesday afternoon; the other was Great Decisions (foreign policy topics) on Thursday afternoon. Both of these groups were interesting, but they cover issues too large for me to make a difference. I read emails from the Washington Post and the New York Times and Atlantic each day, plus CNN and NPR online. So I’m pretty well informed. Sometimes I think of solutions to the big issues of the world, but most of them required egoless leadership, which we don’t have much of these day. 

Instead, I played handbells on Mondays, plus once a month at the “nondenominational” church service. I volunteered at the resort clinic on Tuesdays. This year I took two Spanish classes on Wednesday mornings. I’m a volunteer and a Board member of the Inn of Southern Arizona, which serves asylum seekers coming across the border from Mexico. Many of our guests are from Central and South America, but these days they’re also from Haiti and Senegal, Ukraine and Russia, China and India. For those arrivals we have Google Translate. My goal is to be able to speak Spanish to make a connection with some of our guests. Thursdays were open once I dropped Great Decisions. That was my paperwork day. And Fridays a group of friends went to dinner somewhere in Tucson. We left the resort at 4 and were home by 7. Big night on the town!

Back in the Pacific Northwest, I’m hoping to take it easy. To sleep more, read more, relax more. I’m going to try to limit myself to one out-of-the-house activity each day. And how much time I spend online. I’m hoping the summer will be a respite for me.

I guess that’s up to me, though, isn’t it?

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Girls' trip to San Diego

I had some timeshare points needing to be used this year, and The Inn at the Park in San Diego looked like a practical way to spend them. I have three good friends at the Tucson RV park where we spend the winter. Everyone thought four days away sounded like a good idea. I asked at the start of planning who would be willing to share a bed, and who would be okay with a sleeper sofa. Since we're all older, everyone said no to both options! So I reserved a suite for our "together" events and a studio for the extra beds. That worked out very well.

We're all retired. Shelley was a nurse, Pam a marketing professional, JoAnne a small business owner, and me an IT person. We brought our skills of coordination to the planning. All in all, it was easy.

We laughed a lot of the time on the six-hour drive. Almost ran out of gas because we forgot to check the fuel gauge, so we ended up paying $6.97 a gallon in an out-of-the-way place in the middle of the desert. We had three drivers so no one got too tired. 

We found the Inn at the Park with no difficulty. We parked for free in front of the hotel for three days, using Uber to get around the city on our explorations. We got through the timeshare presentation in about 15 minutes. We ate Mexican, Thai and American comfort food, plus the bounty of snacks we'd brought along. 

On our first sightseeing day we took a Hop-on, Hop-off trolley around San Diego. Got off first at Little Italy to enjoy the Wednesday farmers' market there. Thought about getting off at the USS Midway museum along the waterfront, but decided against it because we were getting a little hungry. Crossed the Coronado Bridge.

Got off the trolley at the Coronado Hotel across the long and beautiful Coronado Bridge and had a leisurely lunch.

We walked over two miles for the day. Nice and slow, for the two of us who used canes.

On our second day we explored two museums in Balboa Park. The first was Museum of Us. Pretty interesting place! Here's how the webpage describes it: "Located in Balboa Park, on the unceded ancestral homelands of the Kumeyaay people, the Museum of Us presents exhibitions and programs that address a vast range of histories and cultures, fostering conversation, self-reflection, and interpersonal connections."  

The Mayan exhibit was curated by museum experts and Mayan scholars, with sections on colonialism and its impact on the Mayan culture. The history I learned as a kid has been transformed into the reality of European exploration. That is a good thing.

For over a decade, millions of people from all over the world have been anonymously sharing their secrets with Frank Warren, founder of the community art project, PostSecret. Each postcard submission is a unique work of art handmade by people who needed to share and release their secret into the world. I loved this exhibit.

In a side room, a young girl was writing a secret of her own to contribute to the collection.

A third exhibit was about immigration at the US southern border. A map of Arizona showed where bodies had been recovered, and the toe tags for those bodies hung from the map.

A side museum across the street discussed and displayed stories of cannibalism, which allows observers to consider whether they would be able to participate in such an activity if the circumstances were dire. 

We finished off the day with a Gaslamp District crime walking tour. On this second day of exploration, we walked another two miles. There was a time when it would have seemed like a short distance, but as we get older it's more of an effort, influenced by individual aches and pains.

On our drive home, nearly six hours in intermittent rain, I thought about the value of friendships. Growing up as a military brat, I moved a lot and never had the opportunity to be part of a "group of girls". That's what this trip felt like. We have new things to remember and laugh about. Always a good thing!

Sunday, February 25, 2024

A Matter of Perspective

When I was 23, near the beginning of my first marriage, my husband John got inducted into the Army. After boot camp in South Carolina (when I lived in California) and Officer Candidate School in Georgia (where I went with him and lived in a trailer with another couple) he was transferred to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas). We spent three years there - in the high desert, with its arid climate and wind. From time to time we'd make the two-day drive to California, where our families lived. That trip was mostly through desert. I remember being depressed during that time, and I hated the brown vegetation of the desert. It was like death and dying was all around me.

When I was 53, near the beginning of my second marriage, my husband Art and I were taking a road trip from Washington State, where we live, to somewhere across the desert. I don't even remember what our destination was. But I remember commenting, "I hate the desert. Everything is dead."

And Art said, "No, the desert isn't dead. It's just land held in reserve. All it needs is water." By that time, I hadn't been depressed for years. I heard him. And when I looked out the car window I could imagine spring, when the desert sprouts green after the rains. 

And now that I am 75, I spend half the year in the desert, at our little home in Tucson. I notice the many varieties of native plants which have evolved to survive and thrive in places where the rain falls only rarely.

Last week I went with friends to a local art gallery. I had no plans to buy anything, but I found a photograph I could not resist:

It's called "Blue Spigot".We put it up in the living room of our Tucson place. 

My perspective has changed in the last 50 years. Now, I'm grateful for the desert.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Duty Kid

In my family of origin, the "duty kid" was a person who represented the family at an event. The event was usually hosted by someone in the generation before mine. 

My husband Art and I just returned from the celebration of life of my cousin Bob McNeal. His family lives in San Clemente, California. Bob was the oldest cousin on my mother's side of the family, and I was the second oldest. Now I am the senior member of that generation of McNeal offspring. 

My sister Alyx was pretty close with Bob, as she spent many years as a resident of California, and Bob was the power of attorney and executor of my mother's estate. Alyx and her husband Virgil had planned to meet us for the California weekend, but Virgil was undergoing chemo for stage 2 bladder cancer. Alyx didn't want to create a risk for Virgil's compromised immune system, so she decided not to go. I offered to read any tribute she might write.

I'm not a shy person, but I am quite uncomfortable walking into a room where I only know one or two people. There were over 100 at Bob's celebration of life. Fortunately, the first person I saw was Bob's wife Judy. I asked her if there was anything I could do to help. She said, "I've been walking around with my camera all afternoon but I haven't taken a single picture. Could you do that?" "Sure," I said. So I spent 20 minutes meeting people at every table in the room. It was much easier than random small talk.

Bob McNeal had a younger sister, Patti, who's four months younger than me. So she'll be 75 in January. I haven't seen Patti in 50 years, and I'd heard that she was really looking forward to having a conversation with me. And that did come to pass. She and her daughter Christy wanted to meet up with Art and me for dinner the night before the celebration of Bob's life. We spent 15 minutes on the phone trying to decide where to eat. It was hard because we live in Tucson and they live near Dallas and Patti is a picky eater and we didn't know local restaurants or how to get around in San Clemente. Eventually Patti decided on IHOP! I have never been to IHOP for dinner, but I was game. I had fruit crepes - quite excellent, actually. Patti and Christy and Art and I sat together at the celebration the next day and then went to IHOP again for dinner. 

Most families have an interesting dynamic, especially when there are multiple generations present. Patti told me all about them from her perspective. It seemed important to her to tell me, and I'm a good listener. From time to time Christy modified what Patti said so I understood a little better. What was most interesting to me is that I would never have recognized Patti if I'd seen her on the street, but Christy looked just like her mom. I'm glad she came along!

Bob's oldest son hosted the tribute session. Patti spoke first and then he called on me - probably because we were the same generation as Bob. I read Alyx's tribute and then added a story of my own. Then the grandkids, childhood friends, Navy buddies, FBI associates, and neighbors. It was a fun and heartwarming gathering.

Sitting in the airport this morning waiting for our flight home, I sent copies of the 50 photos I took to Judy. 

I'm very glad to have seen so many of my relatives though, as I said, it's been a lot of years for most of them. I've decided there are advantages to being the duty kid.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Still here and still grateful


Like other blogging friends, I found myself taking a break even though that wasn't my intention. It wasn't that nothing was happening, either. I have been way too busy in my body and in my head. But I am grateful for almost everything.

  • We spent our summer in Washington at our family home. My younger son James lives upstairs. He has been our concierge, handyman, trash bin taker-outer, and friend. 
  • James has met the woman of his dreams and Ashley has become part of our family. Every time she visited James this summer, she came downstairs to our apartment and gave Art and me a hug. She cooked for us half a dozen times. She has a wonderful laugh, and James laughs with with her, and so do we.
  • I decided that, nine years after joining my UU congregation, it was time to start giving back. I have taken on three service activities; I'm now on the finance committee for the church, and I'm the "calendar person" who keeps track of requests for rooms from multiple groups within the congregation, and recently I've become the lead for the web redesign team. Not the tech part, but the coordination. I'm content to be "part of" in this community, so the time I'm spending is more than worthwhile.
  • My knee replacement on May 29 was successful. The biggest challenge was not the PT, but the walking in my neighborhood. It's hilly there, and my post-surgical sedentary time meant I was out of aerobic shape. I used to be a big walker and that's still my goal, though most likely on a smaller scale. Now that we're in Arizona where it's much flatter, the walking is easier. I rarely use my cane, and haven't used my trekking poles at all yet this season.  
  • When Art and I started volunteering at Inn 2 (a shelter for asylum seekers in Tucson) six years ago, we would usually have 25 guests in three classrooms of a Methodist church. Then we became a nonprofit, The Inn of Southern Arizona. Then I became a board member, and then vice president. At present we have 80 rooms in a hotel with up to 300 guests a night. We have had growing pains! Meeting the needs of staff, volunteers and guests can be time consuming. I'm grateful I have the time and I know how to listen.
  • I continue to take online classes a couple of days a week through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (Olli). This activity started during covid, and now that there are in-person classes I can attend, I still prefer the online ones. If I miss one, I can usually watch a recording later. Really glad to have an opportunity to learn new things.
  • My goal as been to age with grace. Now that I'm actually getting old - I was 75 in September - I'm not always graceful. I keep expecting my body to return to a place similar to where it was ten years ago. I am beginning to believe that probably won't happen. On this one, I'm grateful I'm still healthy, and usually in my right mind. That may be as good as it gets.
These days I am busier that I'd like to be, but when I consider what I could drop, I'm not ready to let go of any of them yet. Time will tell.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you've got lots to be grateful for as well.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Curling up like a sow bug

We're leaving for Tucson in a few weeks. The Seattle rains have started, and the Tucson temperatures have dropped below 100 degrees, so it's time.

Last spring I told my Tucson friend JoAnne (actually, she's from St. Louis but she and her husband spend the winter in the same retirement community as we do) that I would take a beginning drawing class this year. JoAnne is a fearless kind of person and she tries all kinds of things, and she said I should try it. I promised her I would.

Ten years ago or so I was in a writers' group here in Seattle. We'd taken a certificate program in nonfiction writing at the University of Washington, and after the program ended we decided to meet up regularly to continue writing together. Mostly it was conversation, with a little bit of writing. I called it the "apologetic writers' group" because we often apologized to each other for not having written anything since our last meeting.

Then we started doing "20 minute writes" during our meetings. We'd pick a topic and then write for 20 minutes, and then read what we'd written to each other.

Here's what I wrote on April 28, 2014:


Well, I don't know about you, but in the family I was raised in we all had our roles. Me and my sister, we was kind of labeled by our folks from a young age. I was the smart one, but they also thought I was lazy and selfish and disagreeable. My sister Moo Moo was the creative one. She was younger than me and my Mama liked her best. It wasn't just me that thought that. Even Mama's friends thought so. They told me that right at Mama's wake. "You sure did get the short end of your Mama's kind thoughts," they said. I knew that already, but Mama was dead by now so it didn't matter so much. Just a little.

Didn't much matter that I toed the straight and narrow most of my life and Moo Moo was a wild and crazy one. I was quieter and just did my life in kind of a rule-following way, not doing chancy kinds of things. Nothing too spectacular about me except I got good grades. That's easy for a smart and quiet person. Moo Moo just barely passed high school, always carrying on.

Anyway, I did the school plays and the singing shows and the choruses, because I loved music and liked the other kids who did those things. But I never took art. That was Moo Moo's area, my Mama said. "You're the smart one and Moo Moo is the artist." And you know, Mama was always right. Everyone thought that, especially her and our Daddy. Daddy told us once, "Your Mama has only been wrong one time, and that was when she thought she was wrong and she was really right." He was kind of smiling when he said it, but it was pretty true.

So I never did learn how to do art, except for paint-by-number sets and coloring books. In the coloring books, sometimes I outlined and sometimes I didn't. I didn't like coloring the big spaces like sky and whole bodies. I liked the littler things like flowers.  And Moo Moo did drawings from chalk and then painted from watercolors in a box. I remember one of her paintings in the hall of Mama's house. Every time I walked down that hall I seen it. You can't put glee clubs on a wall, so I always remembered that Moo Moo was the artist.

Now I'm pretty old, and Mama has been dead for a while, and I want to see if I can do some art. I don't exactly know why. Maybe because I don't want to be scared of it. So I would take a class called "Art for the Terrified."

I have a friend Barbara who is an art teacher. I was down at the community center last week and we got to talking and I admitted that when I just think about drawing or painting a picture I want to curl up in a little ball like a sow bug. Just scares me. I'd be pretty bad. I'm not the artist, you know. And Barbara said she would teach a class at the center next year for people like me who are scared of art. "You know, all art is is a bunch of shapes," she said. "You start with shapes like circles and rectangles and cubes and pretty soon you have done some art." I was just amazed to hear that. I wondered how I got to be so old and not know that. I read a lot and I know a bunch, but not that.

And then I found out that when an artist is working, and they's looking at a model or something, they don't try to make their art look like an exact copy of what they're seeing, like a photograph. They make it like they feel it. I never knowed that. That's a sow bug kind of thing, for sure.

So anyway, I told Barbara if she teaches a class called "Art for the Terrified" I will take the class, at least for the first day. If I find out all the other people in the class aren't as scared as me, I will most likely not go back. I don't want to be the only sow bug in the room.

I told Moo Moo about the class and she thought it would be a fun class. Maybe for her. 

But I got to try it. I never got the chance for Mama to say I was an artist.


It's been over nine years since I wrote this. I'd forgotten about this piece until I started moving all my old writing from my old MacBook Air to my new one. I'm still afraid of taking the class, but I promised JoAnne. These days, though, it's not about wanting my mother to approve of anything. I've succeeded in my life in ways beyond anything she would have imagined. But I am a lifelong learner, and I want to continue to grow.

I will try very hard not to curl up like a sow bug!

Friday, September 8, 2023

A Few Little Things

I keep waiting for something to happen that calls for a blog post. Not a lot, it turns out. But several little things, I guess, are worthy of discussion.

  • One of my twin grandchildren, Kai, came to spend the weekend with us last month. They live in Spokane and are 23. For several years their job has required them to work some weekends, so their availability for a quick trip has been limited. They have a new job, though, with weekends off, so they came to Seattle on Friday night and went back home on Sunday late afternoon. I was concerned about driving in the dark to pick them up, but couldn't find a willing substitute. It turned out I missed the exit for the airport - after at least 100 trips over the last 20 years - and ended up in the next city over, on a detour, in the dark, with ridiculous traffic. Fortunately, the plane was late unloading passengers because they started standing up before the plane stopped at the gate and the flight attendants wouldn't let them get off until everyone had sat back down again. Next time I'll send younger eyes or sprint for Lyft or Uber.

Kai came for a weekend visit a year ago and was very quiet, spending a lot of time in their room. This year, they talked from the time they got in the car at the airport until I dropped them back off two days later. We went to see "Barbie" - the first time I've been in a theatre in over four years - and Art and Kai and I played a party game called "Do You Know Me?" Such a fun time! I found out that Kai tells their friends I'm their "cool" grandmother.

  • Slow improvement in the rehab of my new knee. I've taken just three walks in my neighborhood because if it's over 68 degrees I get too sweaty after a mile, and I'm not a morning person who gets out there when it's cooler. I have, however, started walking up and down the stairs between our lower deck and the upper one. Twelve cedar stairs with railings. At first I had to cling to the railings to pull myself up. Now I just use them as balance aids. Three times up and down the stairs, twice a day. My physical therapist says that is better for strengthening my legs than just walking, so I'm encouraged. 

I had my final PT session this morning. I got a few more exercises to loosen up my hips and strengthen my core and glute muscles. But I walked into the clinic, and back out, without trekking poles or a cane or a limp !!!!!! 

  • My once-every-ten-years colonoscopy came and went last week. Four days on low fiber food, two days of liquid only, the miserable prep, and a good outcome. The next day I made our flight reservations to Tucson for November 14. The weather is still good here in the Seattle area, but I expect increasing clouds and rain to be coming soon, so we'll be heading for our sunny winter place. Fortunately, son James lives upstairs so there will be someone at our house all winter. We decided not to rent out our apartment this year because it's more convenient just to pack up and go without having to box up everything for a tenant. Besides, we paid off our mortgage two months ago - YAY! - so we have a bit of extra cash.
  • I'm the business manager for my son James' remodeling business, now three years old. I am still learning new things about laws and contracts. This has been a great bonding experience for all the household residents. 
It's the little things, you know. And I am, as usual, grateful for all of them.