Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cleaning out my closet

I like to downsize from time to time. I'd told myself this spring that at the end of August I'd go through my closet and my dresser and get rid of anything I haven't worn since I quit my job four years ago, or anything that doesn't fit. I gave myself several months because I was on a no-sugar eating plan in May and I planned to lose at least ten pounds.

Well, I didn't lose ten pounds. Actually, I have no idea how much I weigh because I'm afraid to get on the scale. I can still wear everything I could wear this spring, so that's something.

Yesterday I did the closet. It was actually quite hard to follow my own rule of what to get rid of. For example, I have a red cable-knit sweater I haven't worn for quite a few years, but it still fits. I have a corresponding photograph taken of me wearing that sweater with my son James when he was still in high school. That's been nearly 20 years. So putting that sweater in the Goodwill box was tough. Same with the purple sweater I got at Nordstrom when I first moved to Seattle in 1986. It still fits, but it's out of style and even if it were not I will never wear it. Then there's the jewel-tone jacket I wore to my son Russell's wedding 12 years ago. It's just a tad small now. Sometimes I can justify keeping something just a little longer because I may lose those five pounds. But the fact is, I never dress up.

I've been a Chico's shopper for a dozen years or so. I've got about eight pieces of their Travelers line, and I am going to keep a few of them since they still fit. I used to wear them to work and they have languished in the closet since 2010. But we're taking a European cruise next spring and I think they'll be comfortable on our daytime explorations of the ports we visit. I did toss about six Travelers tank tops into the Goodwill pile. I think my bustline has shifted a little, or something, because those tanks are a little more revealing than I think my 66-in-three-weeks body ought to be wearing. I am also donating half a dozen other Chico's knit tops. Don't wear 'em any more, and then there's those five to ten pounds that I'd need to lose before they'd look good enough for me to wear.

I have a couple of old shirts that used to be my favorites: an oversized blue-and-white checked one and another one, not oversized. When my kids were growing up I wore those shirts constantly with my Lee jeans. I still have the jeans, too, but I haven't worn them in years because I found Not Your Daughter's Jeans that fit me better now that I'm a grandmother. Tomorrow I'll go through the jeans drawers and add all the old Lee jeans to the pile.

Five pieces in my closet I have never worn. Not yet, probably never, so out they go. And two shirts that belonged to my mother, one of them only slightly torn, the other not my style. Gone.

It was quite a memory-making experience, going through my closet. I may take another look at the Goodwill pile tomorrow. Maybe I'll put a couple of things back in the closet just in case. But only a couple.

I have 30 hangers in a pile now. In my closet are the nicer ones, the unbent ones, mostly without the paper that comes from the dry cleaners. I can remember the last time I wore every single item in my closet now. I feel caught up with myself.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Bag Lady makes some changes

It still surprises me what breaking up routines can do.

1.  After eight years, I have changed hairdressers in Washington. My hair is curly, so when I see someone with curly hair and a great cut, I ask who their hairdresser is. I did that last year in Tucson when I needed a person down there, I saw Judy's cut and got a referral to Marissa. She created a different style for me more suitable to the very dry climate in Arizona. When I got back to Washington I was a little disappointed with the work my regular stylist was doing. Don't ask me why; it's possible I was the one who changed, rather than her. So this year when I came home I saw a great cut on Sarah and got a referral to Douglas. He is fabulous - cuts my hair in ten minutes and makes it look thick and easy to style! I felt a little guilty changing hairdressers up here, but it was time.

2. After over 20 years, I have changed housekeepers. My previous one and I met when our boys played baseball together in 6th grade. She's had her ups and downs healthwise and recently I decided it was time for a change. I got a referral from Susan and now Carrie comes every other Tuesday and makes the house clean and presentable. Again, making the change made me feel a little uneasy, after all these years with Nancy.

3. For over 15 years I have tracked our investments in Quicken. The statement arrived every month and I spent a couple of hours entering every detail of dozens of activities. I especially liked this process before I quit my job, because I could download transactions and prices every day and see exactly where we stood financially. That was also my Bag Lady period. I was very worried we wouldn't have enough to retire, and seeing those numbers increase over time made me feel better.

With the arrival of this month's statement I made a change. A big one. I closed out all the individual accounts in Quicken and created a few simple summary accounts for investments, annuities, IRAs and Roth IRAS. It will take me about ten minutes each month to record these numbers. And I will have to forego the daily downloads. But it's lightened me up. I'm glad I did it.

4. Once a year or so, I look at my life and my values and see whether they're lining up. I feel better on the inside when that's happening. Last August I listed my values as spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose - in that order - and noted my purported top value, spirituality, wasn't on top in my actual life. I became open to that, and a year later I can say I'm growing, and that's good. Now it's the health value that's not being attended to as well as it should. It's too easy for me to sleep a little later and skip my water aerobics class (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and to wait until too late in the other days to do my two-mile walk in the neighborhood. I have a postural therapy program that really eases the aches and pains, but I've neglected them, and the aches and pains are a good reminder I should be doing them. And though I've remained reasonably true to my no-processed-sugar rule, I haven't said goodbye to butter or cheese. So that value - health - will be at the top of my consciousness as we head into fall.

5. For the first four years of not working I pretty much set aside my professional skills. I was a business systems analyst and it seemed time to let them go. Recently, though, I've taken on two projects in my life - one related to our business and one to my church - and analysis and requirements gathering are very much a part of those projects. It's kind of fun! Even the mediation I learned since I stopped working comes in handy. My primary requirement in these projects is that I be able to leave for Tucson right after Thanksgiving, and if I'm needed after that I need to be able to work by phone or computer. I did say, "I don't want to come home more than once." I have no idea what the outcome of these projects will be, but they're fun at the moment. Getting back into what I used to do for money - but just a little bit, so far. 

I'm glad to know I'm still changing. That means I'm still alive, I guess. A good thing!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Looking back with a giggle

My sister Alyx and her husband Virgil live in their RV in our backyard. This has been going on for three months and is likely to continue for at least another eight. We split the utilities and the use of the washer and dryer and they use the downstairs bathroom. My sister and I chat for a bit nearly every day, and the four of us share a meal a couple of times a week. Otherwise, we're two households sharing a plot of land.

Alyx is seven years younger than me (she was born on my seventh birthday), so she and I have some separate memories. I remember neighborhood gatherings at summer dusk in Quantico, Virginia and my father's work parties where the families gathered and the wasps hovered over open cans of beer and soda. Alyx wasn't born yet. She remembers times in high school when she'd send a friend into the living room to talk to my parents, diverting them while she raided the kitchen cupboards. I was away at college by then so I don't remember.

We do have some shared memories, though. Family Christmases and vacations - for better or for worse, school plays (we were both in the cast of The Sound of Music in my junior year of high school; she played Brigitta and I was Leisl). My mother's poodles and their puppies. Dad wearing black shoes and socks to the beach.

And more recent memories: scattering my mother's ashes off the stern of a cruise ship, anticipating they'd trail out behind the vessel near the Bay of Fundy (they blew back onto the two-story restaurant window instead). A bus ride in Montreal where I inexplicably got off at a stop without telling the rest of them and they scrambled to catch up. The time I backed down their driveway in Crestline, California in a rental car, slid on the ice, dented their mailbox and ripped the side mirror from the vehicle. We all laugh every time we talk about these stories.

They laugh harder when I admit for the umpteenth time that I am an excellent driver except for the seven times I have backed into another vehicle or a post in a parking lot. The one in Crestline was about the fourth; the most recent was last December in Hawaii. My husband Art continues to remind me that I need to look back when I'm backing up so I'll see vehicles or objects that appear out of the blue. Apparently the rest of them are far more  astute in the backing category.

Until today. Art had backed our manual-transmission pickup down our steep driveway to unload a barbecue and food left over from a group picnic. Today he decided to move the truck to the back yard. In the brake-shift-accelerator process, the vehicle slid the final foot down the driveway, hit the barbeque and bent it, and shattered the truck's left taillight. Then the accelerator kicked in and the tires screeched as the truck ascended the driveway. It was a noisy event. Alyx and I were in the garden, heard it, and got the giggles. We wanted to be kind to Art as he stomped around and not say anything, and that made it even funnier.

The cool part is that Art's driveway episode will be added to our joint memory of things to laugh at.

Looking back, you know, and giggling.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Can I whine a little?

Summer is past its peak and I feel a little whiny.

1. For some reason I was appointed Main Gardening Person in our household for this year. Usually it's been Art, who has a "random hopeful" planting style. He's the one who usually waters in the morning or evening and does the weeding. This year it was mine. Really, I have no idea how that happened. And I can tell you that, as of August 10, I'm pretty sick of the whole thing.
  • I did so much squatting and twisting (watering strawberries and vegetables in raised beds) that I strained my piriformis muscle. I limped. Continued watering strained several shoulder muscles. For two weeks I had to sleep on my back, my right arm on a pillow at my side, my shoulder cradled by an ice pack. Once my shoulder healed, my piriformis spoke up again. Should I get combat pay for a summer garden?
  • I planted too much lettuce and too many green beans. Tonight I took out all the yellowing bean plants with their overripe pods. I'm thinking if we eat lettuce madly over the next few days we may be able to assuage our guilt. I hate throwing away food we haven't eaten. Especially after all that watering.
  • We have about 100 bunches of grapes refusing to ripen. Today I read it's sometimes because they aren't getting enough sun. So I pruned the overhanging grape branches (?) to lighten up the space where the grapes are. I hope I didn't kill off next year's growing material.
  • The apples on our tree don't look nearly as nice as the ones in the supermarket. Some of them have funny marks or blotches. I looked up apples on the internet and I think they're just "real live" apples, since they don't appear to have any of the diseases I saw illustrated online.
  • Some of the squash plants in the Three Sisters garden have that gray fuzzy stuff on their leaves that looks like mildew. I've had to take out several of the plants. All that watering, even being careful not to water the tops of the leaves. 
  • Tomorrow I'm supposed to plant more beets and radishes and carrots and winter squash. Right now it seems like such an effort! I'd rather be sitting in my Adirondack chair with my eyes closed.
  • A garden past its peak is not a pretty thing.
I had a talk with Art tonight. I said next year I'd like the garden to be a joint project between us. He said, "I'll think about it."

Boo, hiss.

2. I have been mostly off sugar since May 1. I had this idea I'd drop a bunch of pounds and inches and that hasn't happened. Granted, I feel much sturdier mood-wise, but I wish I were thinner (and younger!). I probably should have watched the fat and carbs also. I can still do that.

3. It's blackberry season. I went picking last weekend and it was very satisfying. By today, though, others have found my spot and the spiders have set up their webs right in front of the juiciest, ripest clusters of fruit. You either have to get spiderwebs in your eyes and hair or bypass the berries. Neither is a really good idea.

4. I am watching our children raise their children, and I am pretty good at minding my own business. Occasionally I will say, "I have an opinion on that issue. If you'd like to hear it, let me know." And you know what? They're hardly every interested in hearing my opinion! Right now I have strong opinions about three of our grandchildren, and I am not saying anything (except I tell Art, who tells me it's none of my business). How I wish I could say something they'd hear!

5. I remember a time when I'd wake up in the morning and nothing would hurt. And I took it for granted. How stupid of me! I still hope for days when my body feels young - even if just for an hour - but I have a feeling that's not going to happen to a woman who will be 66 next month. I hope I can be a good sport, at least.

I know these are pretty "First World" complaints. But every now and then I just need to let them out.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Bag Lady thinks about a week of riches

I can't remember when I've had a better summer, even though there's not much different about this one. Maybe it's because of a bigger garden, or my sister and her husband living on our property, or the antidepressant I started taking last fall!
  • My shoulder is healing and my self-imposed restricted use of my desktop computer has lessened. I am catching up with myself. I'm grateful for the body's ability to heal - even an older body!
  • I called on Monday and got a last-minute massage with a therapist who is great with sore shoulders. So lucky to live close to such a place.
  • My brother-in-law Virgil complained on Monday of abdominal pain and he had a fever. Turned out to be a perforated colon. He spent two days in the hospital, receiving excellent care, and is now home recuperating. My sister Alyx and I spent the first evening sitting with him in the ER.  I'm grateful I had the time to do it. I think shared emergencies are a bond among us.
  • In small claims court on Tuesday, I had time to do two mediations, and both of them settled. The team leads would like me to become certified as a small claims mediator so I can back them up as lead. It's so nice to be singled out by such a request. This volunteer activity is always fun - I call it "mediation lite" - and the team gets to make a difference in the community. Our volunteer team's successes reduce the number of court trials needed.
  • In a mediation on Wednesday my co-mediator was relatively inexperienced and we had a person new to training observing us. The mediation was a tough one, with unexpected challenges, and I had an opportunity to teach and coach both of the others. It's gratifying to see how much I have learned since I started down this post-retirement path three years ago.
  • My granddaughters Mary and Malayne arrived on Wednesday afternoon for a three-day visit. They are 14 now and I noticed a few changes from the last time they were here last summer:
    • They have thick, wavy brown hair and they have found ways to tie it up, or back, rather than a halo around their faces. They look beautiful.
    • They are using more complex language. I heard adverbs and words like "recruit" and "apparently".
    • They learned a borrowed game and mastered it far more quickly than I. I lost all four games I played, even with their hints. It was only a little embarrassing.
    • They are a tiny bit tidier and they do a good job clearing the table without complaint.
    • We agreed they would do their own laundry and they did!
    • They stayed in their room most of the time; now that they have their own phones and tablets they don't need to use my computer. I missed them upstairs!
    • Clothes shopping is as arduous as it has ever been.
    • They were willing to sit in a car for six hours to see me for three days.
    • They have the eye roll mastered but they don't think I'm pointless yet. I don't think so, anyway.
    • They still love to dress up out of the costume box.
  • We had a family meal on Thursday which included my ex-husband John and his friend Shirley. They had transported the girls from southern Oregon to Seattle. On Saturday we all got together again with my younger son James. I'm grateful we all enjoy each other's company and also that I got to see James - in his 30s, he lives in Seattle and has a busy life.
  • We decided to sign up for a cruise in Eastern Europe next year. I'm not so interested in independent travel there, or multiple hotels and long bus rides. The ship holds 181 passengers and I hear the food is very good. We don't care for the larger cruise ships so we'll see how this goes.
  • We figured out how to accommodate the cats of our two families. Alyx and Virgil's four cats go outside in the morning, and we put two baby gates on the stairs leading to the upper deck. They stay off the deck that way, which remains our cat's turf. The baby gates come down in the afternoon and the place then belongs to our Larisa. 
  • We planted the second round of beets and squash. This gardening business takes a lot of time. 
  • We have way, way too much zucchini, and green beans we haven't eaten, so my husband is making a delivery to the food bank tomorrow.
Such a good summer! The Bag Lady feels like a rich woman.

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.