Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Bag Lady ruffles some feathers

Here in Tucson, I'm in a couple of discussion groups where I have kind of a leadership role. I think I have ruffled some feathers this week.

"Great Decisions is America's largest discussion program on world affairs." So says the Foreign Policy Association that sponsors it all over the United States. At our resort there are five discussion groups; mine was established three years ago and is the newest of the five. I'm the moderator for the group - responsible for organizational coordination with other groups, communication to my own group, and facilitating the discussions.

Great Decisions has been going on at our resort for over 20 years. The other moderators have been around for almost that long, so they are old hands. Each year we lose some participants (mostly due to moving away or death - this is a 55+ resort, after all) and pick up some new ones. To promote the program, flyers are put up on community bulletin boards, a blurb is included in the monthly resort newsletter, the program has a table at the Saturday morning coffee sessions in January with pictures of the various groups from prior years. There's also a "Show and Tell" in March for the many activities at the resort to display their work.
I wondered whether these promotion activities were yielding results. So last Thursday I asked each of my 12 participants how they got started with Great Decisions. All but one had seen a flyer or a notice in the resort newsletter or had talked to someone who was in the program. Only one had found out about it at a Saturday coffee. No one had heard about it through Show and Tell. 

I sent the result of my poll to my fellow moderators. This year we're not going to participate in Show and Tell and we're not going to take group photos. If the goal is to increase participation in the program, we need to talk about it. People who are drawn to foreign affairs discussions will find us.  

My other group is called Re-Imagining God. It's kind of a spiritual discussion group, not based on a religion but in the sense we have that there's something out there that's greater than us, and that in some sense we're all one. There's very little talk of God and none of religion. This year I am on the planning committee.

I was tasked one week with finding a political or religious conservative to participate in a communication training session. I had a hard time. Several people were put off by the group's title. When I look around the room, everyone in the group is liberal; we may say we're welcoming and inclusive, but it doesn't look like it.

I wondered if changing the group name might be helpful. I talked to a friend in the group and we explored possible alternatives like Safe Harbor and Elder Seekers. Then the friend thought of "Re-Imagining" as a prefix for the theme of the year - Re-Imagining Oneness, Re-Imagining Ourselves, Re-Imagining Politics, Re-Imagining Communication. I suggested this idea to the group's founder and organizer. She wasn't interested.

On the home front, where I can make decisions, we're moving along:
  • I have a wonderful new night guard for my teeth, courtesy of my Mexican dentist.
  • The painting of the park model will be done by the end of this week - no more dark wood paneling!
  • We bought the Levelor blinds that will replace the dark curtains in the Arizona room.
  • We found a small, comfortable patio set for a great price, and we only had to go back to Lowe's once to get the right legs for the table.
  • Husband Art's play is next weekend and we're ready for the family coming in from San Diego and Seattle.
  • I've made my plane reservations to travel home on Saturday, April 4, with Larisa the Designer Cat.
  • My hairdresser has helped me go gray faster rather than waiting for the old color to grow out.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A visit to the dentist in Mexico

I've got a couple of issues with my teeth. I had a root canal about six years ago and the tooth is still a little cranky. Every time I visited my dentist in Washington I complained, and every time he told me the x-ray showed no problem. Until my last appointment, last November. He told me there's now a 3D x-ray that sometimes reveal a nerve that's been left behind. He referred me to an oral surgeon who would take that x-ray for $180. I told him I'd wait until spring.

I wear a night guard so I don't grind my teeth down to nothingness. These appliances get gross and old, and because of my cranky tooth the dentist has to adjust it from time to time. Right now it looks like some obscene thing from beneath the earth. So I need to replace it.

I'm not much of a risk taker, but I've heard good things recently about a dental office in Nogales, Mexico. My friend Ken had some work done last month and he was very satisfied. So I called for an appointment. The woman answered in Spanish. I said, "Habla ingles, por favor" and she switched right over. I told her what I needed and she set me up for Wednesday at 3:00.

It's about an hour and ten minutes to Nogales, Arizona. We paid $4 to park at the Burger King, then walked the two blocks to the border and went through the gates to Nogales, Mexico. Half a dozen men expressed an interest in selling us something or giving us a taxi ride. We said no thank you. As Ken had instructed us, we looked to the left for the fountain six shops down and then across the street to the dental office. There it was! I checked in at the front desk. Soft rock oldies were playing. I filled out the medical paperwork in the waiting room.

A smiling young woman took me upstairs for x-rays. I had been told diagnostics would be free; that included the x-rays and the checkup. I returned to the waiting room. Another young woman took me to a small room in the back where a young dentist checked my teeth. She said a cleaning would be $35 and asked me if I wanted to do that. I said yes. The dentist cleaned and flossed my teeth. She knew what I'd come in for. She said the 3D x-ray would cost $85 and the price of the night guard would depend on the kind I selected. I said yes, I wanted the x-ray because I needed to find out if there was still a problem with my root canal tooth.

The dentist's assistant took me back upstairs for the 3D x-ray. I returned to the waiting room. Another assistant came and took me to another room in the back where I met another smiling dentist. She listened to my story about my cranky tooth and checked my bite. While she was working a third dentist poked his head in the door and said, "I read your x-ray. Your root canal is clean, no problem." I thanked him. The bite-checking dentist explained that I could get a night guard similar to the one I'd had before, or, for $360, I could get one which would require at least two additional appointments. At each one, my bite would be checked. Where there was pressure from particular teeth, the guard would be adjusted just for those teeth. I would come back two weeks later for another check and another possible adjustment.

I wasn't sure. I asked her if she had a flyer I could read about this new night guard. She didn't, but she brought up a UTube video on the large screen to show me. The procedure made sense. The dentist made a mold of my mouth and I will get my night guard this Friday.

I paid for my appointment: $35 for the cleaning, $85 for the 3D x-ray, and $180 for half of the cost of the night guard. I pay for the rest of the night guard on Friday.

While I was seeing the dentists and the x-ray techs, Art was undergoing his own x-ray, exam, cleaning, and evaluation for an implant he'd been told by our dentist at home was needed. The price tag at home is $5,000. In Nogales, Mexico it will be $1,800. The office will study the nature of Art's implant need to determine whether it's advisable; the implant would involve the jaw and sinus cavity and might not be a straightforward procedure. They are going to let him know.

Our appointments were for 3:00 p.m. We left the dentist at 5:30, crossed the street to a farmacia where I checked on the price of a Z-pack of antibiotics, available there without a prescription. $25. I will pick up a couple for my sister next Friday.

We returned to the border. The U.S. agent examined my passport and commented on the stamp from Kenya, then wished me a good day. We walked to the Burger King to retrieve our car and were back in Tucson an hour later.

Differences from my dentist in the states? A building interior furnished and decorated like others I've seen in Mexico. A different dentist for each separate procedure. Handheld X-ray devices used by the dentist to get a closer look at a particular tooth. A paper cup with water to rinse my mouth and spit into a small white sink, like when I was a kid.

And a bill that made me smile.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Bag Lady mutters about money

When I started this blog in January of 2010, I was getting ready to retire and I was terrified I'd run out of money before the end of my life. A friend suggested I write about my fear in hopes of getting it out of my system.

Five years later, I'm no longer afraid. But I am still not crazy about spending money that I haven't planned on. The Bag Lady mutters from time to time. Like last week.

We'd made plans to have our Tucson park model painted, including multiple paneled walls. The unit is 25 years old and somewhat dated. When Tammy, the painter, came over to talk colors, we discussed the popcorn ceiling. She hadn't planned to paint the ceiling, but she knew of someone who could remove the popcorn and paint it. She called Gus and he came over. He said he could paint the ceiling white for $400 or remove the popcorn and redo the ceiling and paint for $1200. I sighed. That popcorn will not be a selling point when it's time to move on, however many years down the road. So I said yes. The popcorn came down today and as I sit in my recliner and look up, it seems like our ceilings are higher by a couple of feet. Tomorrow the ceiling gets repainted. Wednesday the painters come to do the rest of the place. Gus the ceiling guy needs a check tomorrow and Tammy the painter will take my credit card at the end of the week for $955.

And then there's the floor in the bathroom. The contractor says there's a leak in the pipe behind the shower and water damage in the subfloor. (We heard dripping somewhere around Christmas time but couldn't find it). The best way to fix the damage is to take out the shower/tub unit, do the repairs on the pipe and the floor, and replace the old shower/tub with a new shower unit. So we spent last Wednesday afternoon at the showroom picking out the material for our bathroom. This is a park model, remember - a trailer. We have homeowner insurance, and the adjuster came out today to check the water damage. The insurance will pay some of the $3,700 bill.

Now, we have the money to pay for all these things. But I'd rather pay for what I want - like the paint - than what we need - like a new bathroom shower. The Bag Lady's mind runs through the reduction in our savings and potential future disasters like the collapse of the stock market and the Washington State pension system and one or both of us requiring ten years of care in a nursing home. Kind of takes the fun out of looking at my no-popcorn ceiling.

My husband and I are going to the dentist in Nogales, Mexico this week. It will be our first trip down there and I am just a little bit nervous. I'll get an x-ray of a tooth that still bothers me after a root canal five years ago. The x-ray at home would be $180 but it's free in Nogales as a diagnostic tool. And the night guard for my teeth clenching will be much less than the $350 it would cost at home. Art is checking on implant procedures and prices. The savings on my dental work will pay for part of the no-popcorn ceiling. The savings on the implant might pay for the bathroom project.

The Bag Lady is good about rationalizing.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

These are the good old days

My Washington friend Jennie is my next-door neighbor. She's in her 30s with three children, a supportive husband and a homeschooling life. Sometimes when we talk I tell her, "Remember, these are the good old days." Hectic though it seems, there's nothing better than the present.

That's the case with me, too, even though life can have its hiccups and disappointments. Here's what happened this week:

  • We have a spongy area in the floor of our park model's bathroom. My husband Art checked the toilet this weekend and there's no leak coming from there. He crawled under the park model, cut a hole in the panel and reached up to feel the floor and it was damp. So we've called a repair person who will be out tomorrow. I'm thinking this will not be a small job.
  • We're having the inside of the park model painted this week. The painter left color books with me and I went through them casually but had no idea how to choose what I wanted. I have no eye for color. Actually, that's not true. I know color I like when it's on the wall - I can do that with wall decor too - but have no DNA for figuring it out when it's in a book or a shop. As the time for the paint decision neared, I got anxious. Finally I found the Benjamin Moore paint website, where you can select a room design and then point and click to apply "paint" to it to see how the colors look. Within half an hour I had my selection. So glad for online palettes!
  • I am playing handbells here for the third season; Betty, the director, is excellent. Her husband Al is also a lifelong musician, directs the show choir here and is also directing the play Art is in, the Second Annual Voyager Light Opera production of Guys and Dolls. I found out last week that Betty and Al are selling their park model and leaving for home in March, and won't be back next year. An ending, not fun to think about.
  • My good friend Judy and her husband Ken, neighbors here in Arizona, have sold their place and will be spending winter time in Florida and Mexico instead. Judy and I laugh together and she makes everything fun. I will miss her. Tonight the four of us went to dinner and then for gelatto. It was a bittersweet time. 
On the positive side:
  • The conversation last week between a liberal and a conservative went well, though not as expected. I'm grateful that my recruit, George, was a good sport and felt the experience was a positive one. 
  • We had lunch with friends Barbara (she and I met while blogging) and Earl. They're winter residents like us at another resort in town. We seem to have plenty to talk about!
  • I've made arrangements to have dinner with Bridget (she's my ex-sister-in-law's daughter who was born after my divorce) and her fiancĂ© Gilbert. We met for a meal last year and I was charmed by Bridget's energy and Gilbert's affection and calm demeanor. They're getting married in Oregon in July and we've been invited. Art would call us "outlaws" but it's nice to have continuing relationships with people from my past.
  • We're driving to San Diego on Friday to spend a few days with daughter Melissa and son-in-law Scott. That will be fun!
"These are the good old days." Today is what we have. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Last minute surprises

This winter in Tucson, I'm on the leadership team of a Monday group called Re-Imagining God. It's been meeting for nine winters with each year having a theme. This year's is "Awakening to Oneness". The blurb in the resort newsletter says, "We will explore different streams of faith leading to the ocean where all streams connect and become One. Reawakening to the Spirit within will help us find new ways to connect with others and align our outer life with our inner truth."

So at our various meetings we learn about value systems or Islam or transgender people or meditation or shamanism or political differences - the idea is that we become willing to build bridges between ourselves and others unlike us. This week we're having a trainer in nonviolent communication teach us tools and then practice them in a panel conversation between three political conservatives and three liberals.

Except that I could only find one conservative willing to participate! He is a Tea Party fellow from Wenatchee, Washington and I know him from my Current Events group on Wednesday. I asked for panel volunteers last week, and he and two others said yes. Then the date was changed from a week out to tomorrow. I contacted them and only one said yes, he would attend. I asked half a dozen others and they had some reason to say no. I'm wondering whether the group's title "Re-Imagining God" was threatening to them. In my experience, people who are conservative politically tend also to be religious conservatives, so maybe they felt uneasy at attending.

I kind of stewed over this all weekend because I had said I would obtain three panelists, and I was unsuccessful. I'm big on keeping my commitments and this one I couldn't do. So it was a good exercise in humility for me. I do think the one-on-one conversation will be fruitful, though. Just not what I had planned.

The big deal of the week was the Super Bowl, because we live near Seattle and our team was one of those playing. Up until the last 30 seconds of the game it looked like we would win. And then we didn't. Another of those last-minute surprises.

On a side note, it rained for two days this week. Record-breaking amounts for Arizona. Then it got sunny again. I can do two days much easier than five month. I'm grateful to be here!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A year ago this weekend

It's been a year since my husband Art had a cardiac arrest while playing pickleball with me at our winter home in Tucson. Here's what I said last winter about that experience: and

I'd say it was a life-changing experience. I realized that we are not guaranteed happily ever after. It can change in a heartbeat -  or a lack of one. To that end, we've had a busy year full of learning.

  • I was Art's advocate while he was in the hospital. I listened to the doctors as they discussed possible diagnoses and prescribed new medications. They took him off one medication and added two new ones. Pacemaker appointments were scheduled, and follow-up visits. We were in Tucson and our medical insurance carrier is in Seattle, so it was up to me to keep everyone informed. Until Art got used to his health regimen I was the reminder and the encourager. But after three months Art wanted to take over his own care. That was when I had a problem: how to let go of the responsibilities I'd taken on and trust Art to assume them. That phase was a bigger adjustment for me than for him.
  • I wanted Art to take it easy. He wanted to live his life. I had to let him.
  • We decided to stay in the States this year, to put off international travel until he had a year of recovery behind him. We took trips to Idaho, Maine, the Washington coast and Hawaii, and came to Arizona in December. On the first two trips my eye was on Art. On the latter three it wasn't. I had learned to trust his judgment.
  • We bought the park model we'd rented in Tucson for two winters. I love the sun and Art loves the arthritis relief. There's no time like the present to plan for living.
  • I joined the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church. I had learned the importance of a spiritual community.
  • We invited family - my sister and her husband - to live indefinitely with us on our property. In a nurturing family, everybody wins.
  • We planted a big garden and harvested strawberries and raspberries and blueberries and grapes and lettuce and spinach and radishes and beets and tomatoes. We watched a mother bird sit on her nest in our grape arbor and we watched the babies hatch and then we grieved when bigger birds found them. Life happened in our garden.
Yesterday we celebrated a year of Art's recovery with a trip to a Tucson nursery for a tomato start (a winter garden) and lunch with Arizona friends.

We are living a blessed life.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Annoying and the Just Plain Fun

I do this to myself. I get asked to do something and I am flattered and I say yes.

Two winters ago I signed up for a program called Great Decisions. It's a national program for groups to read about and discuss foreign affairs issues. I knew very little about foreign affairs but I was curious to learn, so I went. I had to give a presentation - lead a topic discussion, that is - and I was very scared, like I'd signed up for a class but never had gone and was now heading for the final. I felt like an impostor. But Dick, the facilitator, asked me after that meeting if I would be the facilitator for the group for the next year. So I did that. And now I am doing it again. I still don't know much about foreign affairs. But coordinating a group, from signups to assignment of topics, to juggling the doctor appointments of presenters, to planning a season-end potluck, takes some time. Fortunately, I'm good with details. And the people in my group seem to like what we do. But it's no longer flattering. Just annoying sometimes.

I'm also in this discussion group called Reimagining God. It's mostly people who were in churches and left them or people who never had much religion. This group is mostly liberal in politics and spirituality and I like going because I have my own spiritual-but-not-religious thoughts and I'm interested in hearing about the opinions of others. So this year, the woman (a retired Methodist minister) asked me if I'd be on the steering committee for the group to format and guide the discussions. I was flattered and I said yes. Now I find myself doing a little mediation as ideas not held in common get discussed. I know I'm needed, but it's a little different from what I had in mind.

Those annoying things are of my making, but this last thing is not. We paid $80 to go on a tour at dusk last Friday to watch the sandhill cranes coming in from the fields for the night. Thousands of these birds winter in the area about 80 miles east of us. We went on the tour, but we spent our time near a lake watching other birds, and then at an observation deck watching the cranes from a distance. Then we came back 45 minutes before the tour was supposed to end, without ever going to see where the cranes came in to roost in the evening. It was like the tour guides forgot to take us there. When we got back to the administration center I complained - politely. I told the lady we wouldn't have paid for a tour that didn't include the dusk viewing. So the head of the Wings Over Willcox festival is going to call me in the next day or so. I'm hoping for a refund. Then we'll go over there on our own and watch the cranes.

And in the Just Plain Fun category? When we're home in Washington, we rarely have anyone knock on our door. Usually I meet friends for coffee or email or text. Here in Arizona, people just knock on the door. "Hello?" It might be our friend Judy wanting to know if we'd like to go to dinner and a movie, or our neighbor Barb offering a start from the plants she picked up yesterday at the nursery, or our old friends Ann and Larry stopping by to let us know they've arrived at the resort. Things are quite spontaneous here. Last night we did go to dinner and a movie with Judy and her husband Ken. We saw "Wild". It was the first movie we've seen in a theater since last February, when we went with Judy and Ken to see "Nebraska".

This week we will be planting spinach and lettuce and peas and radishes in a tiny garden in back of our park model. We'll eat them by April when we go home. And in May we'll plant the same things in our garden at home. Like Groundhog Day!

Life here has a light touch.