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.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A voice from long ago

It wasn't actually a voice from long ago. It was a text from last Thursday. It came from my cousin Patti; she is four months younger than me and I haven't seen her since 2001, at her mother's funeral. Before that it had been 30 years. Patti and I had played together as children but over time our relationship faded, for some reason unknown to me. I figured it was because my family moved around a lot and hers didn't.

Two blog posts ago I wrote "Some Thoughts on Silence," about getting the silent treatment as a child and how it affects me today.

In about the same timeframe, Patti was waiting for her physical therapy appointment and surfing on her phone. She was looking for our common great great grandfather, Robert Theophelus McNeal. My blog came up as number two, three and four in her Google search. I'd been doing some genealogy while traveling in May of 2012 and had posted a blog called "Family Stones" where I talked about Robert T.  Patti had never heard of Bag Lady in Waiting but she clicked on it anyway and found me.

Then she sent me a text. I don't know how she even found my number, but this is what she said:

"I found Bag Lady in Waiting while searching Robert T. McNeal. I learned so much about you that I never knew before and a whole new person - you - presented herself. It's important that I talk with you to clear my conscience and free myself of the resentment for you that I've harbored for many, many years."

Wow! I had no idea, and that's what I told her. We agreed to talk on the phone at 10 the next morning.

I sat in my car at a local park. I'm not sure where Patti was - somewhere in Texas, where she lives - but it didn't matter. We talked for two hours. We talked about our common great great grandfather and about the genealogy work I've done on that side of our family. Then Patti told me why she has resented me for so many years. She said that when we were in junior high I had been a bully. I'd made fun of her for being overweight and for having pimples, and she was afraid to wear her glasses around me because she thought I would make fun of her. My words had hurt her feelings. I don't remember that happening but I'm sure it did. Kids don't make up stories like that. I listened and then I said, "That must have been very painful. If I could take some of that pain from you, I would." I can't apologize for the person I was 60 years ago, but I can empathize with the person who was hurt.

Then we shared memories about our parents - including the family secrets neither of us knew about in the other's family. Patti didn't know my mother had given me the silent treatment. I didn't know her parents wouldn't let her go anywhere after school or on weekends during tax season because they were accountants and didn't have time to keep track of her. We talked about our children and grandchildren. We talked about hobbies and interests and inclinations and found out what we have in common.

Patti and I agreed to keep in touch. She said it was okay for me to use her real name and the real things that happened. She said, "Nothing is off limits as long as you use the eloquent wording that was in my text to you AND include that we are reunited and like/love each other but that we are not gay!" She laughed, and I am including every word she said.

So, now I have a cousin back in my life. Because of the internet, because of my blog.

And thank goodness for Robert Theophelus McNeal. May he rest in peace in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My almost perfect trip to the Mexican dentists

A month ago I broke a tooth. I don’t remember how it happened - just that quite suddenly I had a very large hole in my right bicuspid. I hoped I’d lost a filling, but when I went to my dentist at home he said, “Well, you’ve broken it, and the crack extends below the gum line. You’re going to need a root canal and a crown.”

I tallied the figures in my head for those procedures in Washington State and came up with an approximate $3,000 to have the work done. I asked my dentist, “Can this wait a while to be done? It doesn’t hurt.” He’s a patient man, my dentist, and he knows I get my winter work done at Dental Laser in Nogales, Mexico. He said, “I’ll put in a temporary filling to hold you over. If it starts to hurt, you’ll need to have it taken care of pretty quickly."

Ordinarily I would have taken my chances and waited. But I’m in the market for an “oral appliance” to replace my CPAP machine when I’m traveling. I’d called the dentist in my area who does that kind of work and asked him what would happen if I had the appliance made and then needed a crown in the future. He said, “As long as your teeth are in good condition when we make the original appliance, we can accommodate you.” So I decided to have the root canal and the crown done in Nogales.

I made an appointment for two weeks out. Dr. Alberto Quiroga would do the root canal between 9 and 10 a.m. on Friday, May 27. Dr. Karina Melendez would do the crown right after that. I had seen both of them before. I made my flight reservations to fly to Tucson on Thursday, the day before the appointment, and to fly home on Saturday, the day after. I paid a little more than usual - $450 - for the flight. I also reserved a small car. 

I’d decided not to stay in our park model at the Voyager, where we live in the winter.  The refrigerator had gone out a few days after we left for the season, and the man who does our summer care had had to throw out a bunch of spoiled food in the freezer, which had attracted bugs and required a bug bomb. We ordered a new fridge and it was delivered, but it’s totally empty. Plus, I’d have to take the Prius out of "driveway storage" for insurance company purposes. I’d stay instead with our good friends Joan and John.

Day One was perfect. Nice, smooth nonstop flight to Tucson, easy pickup of my red Mitsubishi Mirage rental, pleasant drive to my friends' house. John fixed me a lovely snack. I took a nap. We went to dinner at the Eclectic Cafe in Tucson, a new place for me since it's on the northeast side of the city and our winter place is in the southeast. I had Mexican Tortilla Soup - a delicious first for me - and a chicken and walnut and fruit salad. We stopped at Dairy Queen on the way home. I had a long, comfortable talk with Joan and went to bed.

Day Two was interesting. The 90-minute drive to Nogales was different from my past experience because I was leaving from a different place and it wasn't winter. John said, "Go down Houghton. Turn right on Suaharita. You'll see all those pecan orchards. Then turn onto I-19." 

I'd been on Suaharita before, in the winter, and noticed the miles of bare pecan trees. I didn't see them this time. All I saw was orchards full of leafy green trees. I had to remind myself these were the same pecans I'd been driving by in the winter for the last two years. I was glad I was by myself on this drive. My husband Art would have rolled his eyes if I'd made such a confession to him!

I parked at the Burger King in Nogalas, Arizona, across the street from the border crossing at Nogales, Mexico. Paid my $4 and got a glass of water. Walked across the street, down the ramp and across the border. Turned left, walked 200 feet to the dentists' office.

I checked in.

And took a seat in the waiting room.

Dr. Quiroga's assistant came for me in the waiting room and took me down the hall to his room.

Dr. Quiroga removed the temporary filling and did the root canal in 45 minutes. He explained to me that if I were a local resident - because work would be needed below the gum line - they'd cut into my gum and let it heal for two weeks before doing the rest of the work. But because I had flown in for only a day, they'd do a slightly different procedure that involved separating the tooth from the gum after injecting an extra numbing agent.  

I asked him about his education. "Six years of dental school in Mexico, two more years to become an endodontist. I hope to do further study in Pennsylvania." We talked about how some people in the US are concerned about the quality of dental work in Mexico. He laughed. "Some people think we come to work on a donkey and work in a shack." I heard about this place from a friend. It's all about word of mouth.

Dr. Melendez' assistant walked me down the hall to her office. She explained again that she'd be working with my tooth at the gum line. I got an extra shot in my palate - not too bad - and she did the work on my gum before calling in the technician. He took  3-D x-rays from which my crown was designed and created in two hours. 

I went to a cafe three blocks away for lunch while my crown was made. When I saw the crown I commented that it looked like something the Tooth Fairy might have left on the counter! 

The seating of the crown took 20 minutes. It was a little uncomfortable because of the work that had been done on my gums. Dr. Melendez wrote me a prescription for something a little stronger than ibuprofen. 

At the desk I paid $860 for my root canal and crown. NOT $3,000. I filled the prescription across the street for $9. 

The drive back to Tucson was uneventful. Joan and John insisted I lie down for a nap, with an ice pack. They fixed a lovely cold soup for dinner, and a salad. We watched the newest Michael Moore's latest film, "Where to Invade Next." Went to bed and slept for eight hours, waking up with no pain.

Day Three was hectic and almost all of that was because of me. I left John and Joan's in plenty of time. Drove down Houghton and turned right on Valencia. I knew I needed to fill the tank with gas before turning in the rental car. Finally found a gas station, struggled to locate the gas lever. Put the nozzle in the tank. Then saw the sign: "Insert debit card only." I have no debit card. Didn't want to go into the little store and pay cash. Decided to pay the fee to have the car rental place do it.

Couldn't find the Thrifty car rental place. Drove right past it, apparently, and circled around the airport where all the other car rental places were located. Must have driven past it again on the way out. Found a quiet side street and used my phone to get directions. It was .2 miles away, behind a parking lot, with no sign on the main street.

Pulled into the Thrifty lot with a tank slightly less than half full. The pleasant young woman told me the refill cost was $9.99 a gallon!!!, so I'd owe $50. I put on my most pleasant grandma face and asked if they could make any exceptions, since I might miss my flight if I went looking for gas. She said she would see what she could do. 

I went into the rental office and she told me she'd made a call and they could reduce the fill cost to $34. I thanked her profusely and said maybe I'm getting too old to travel alone! She laughed. While waiting for the shuttle, we had a nice chat about shopping for clothes (she liked the overshirt I was wearing) and how she helps her mom and her boyfriend do their shopping. When the shuttle driver arrived I thanked her for her kindness and she thanked me for being so friendly! She said I'd made her day.

At the airport, I went through security as a TSA-Pre. No shoes coming off, no baggie for liquids or gels, no laptop out of the case. However, my daypack went through the machine and they found two larger bottles of hair products that hadn't bothered the Seattle TSA people at all two days before. "Sorry, ma'am. I'll either have to take these, or you'll have to go back out to the main terminal and check your bag." I thought about the $34 I'd already paid for the gas and decided I didn't want to pay another $35 to replace the hair products. So my tiny little carry-on bag got checked and I went through security a second time. One of the TSA people asked me if I had a twin!

All in all, a most worthwhile trip! I got three days of sun, time with good friends, wonderful food, and a mouth ready for an "oral appliance" to replace my CPAP. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Some thoughts on silence

I've never been comfortable with silence.

When I was young I got the silent treatment from my mother. It felt like I'd be in solitary confinement for the rest of my life. But her silence rarely lasted more than a day or so. When she'd finally speak to me again I'd feel redeemed. I'd swear to myself I'd be so good it would never happen again, that silence. But, of course, it happened again. Many times. For years I thought the problem was me.

I didn't realize that all over the world, millions of other mothers were doing the same thing to their children.

I've realized that this kind of silence is "incoming". Other people's silence affects me. I take it personally.  Even now, in my seventh decade of life, when someone is silent I assume I've done something wrong.

Here are some examples:
  • I communicate with my adult children mostly by text. If I don't hear from them within a day or so, I think they don't want to talk to me because I am a bad mother. 
  • My husband is a morning person and likes to spend a couple of hours in the first part of the day eating breakfast, reading the paper and working the crossword puzzle. If I start a conversation he sometimes gets annoyed. I think he cares more about the Seattle Times than he does about me.
  • I send a Facebook message to a bereaved friend. She doesn't respond for two days. I think it's because she thinks I am a nuisance.
If I were reading this in someone else's blog I would probably laugh. It's obvious even to me that people are just living their lives. They're not being silent to punish me. The adult me knows that. The little kid me doesn't.

Here are some legitimate reasons why other people might be silent:
  • They are busy doing things besides texting. Like reading or sleeping or camping.
  • They are spending time alone, in quiet.
  • They are grieving.
  • They feel guilty or ashamed or embarrassed or afraid.

"Outgoing" silence is a different matter. I do this a lot. I'm a talker, but not always.

Here are some reasons why I might be silent:
  •  I am writing. This blogging business takes time and care, and so does the other writing I do. I am within myself and there is no room for anyone else in there.
  • I am having a conversation. I rarely answer my phone when I'm sitting face to face with someone else. I want my complete attention to be on what's going on between us.
  • I am keeping a confidence. In the vault of my heart I carry the secrets of my family and friends. Not the "elephant in the living room" kind, where we keep the conversation light and just don't talk about important stuff, but the secrets that keep people awake in the night until they find someone safe they can tell who will hear them without judging. Listening to someone else, and carrying their confidences, is just about the most important gift I can give them. 
Recently I discovered a secret someone else has carried for nearly 40 years. I do not even know the person, but I know how important my silence is to them, and I will remain that way unless they choose to talk about it.

I am a grownup now, and I know the silence of others is not about me. It is about them.

Friday, May 13, 2016


I am finally home in Washington, in body and mind and spirit. It took over two weeks this year, longer than usual. That might be because we stayed longer - three weeks longer than the four months we stayed last year. I need to remember, for next year.

I had interesting comments to last week's post called "Adrift":

Mona said, "I had turned to one of my sage friends during a period of angst, looking for consolation and commiseration. She said, 'Good. Stay with it and see where it takes you.' And like you expected, trust that you are just where you belong."

Tom said, "Thank you for this post which reminds me that we all have the same problems. Transitions are often difficult, and it's hard to give up things, whether they are favorite activities or piles of old stuff that often hold so many memories."

Jann said, "Any change can be hard. It's a process. I try to remember that each stage of change brings its own challenges. It gets even more complicated when you go through a lot of different changes at the same time and need to work through the stages for each of them. I have to reassure myself when I feel nervous or unsure that it's just the process...ride the wave, you don't know where it will take you."

Madeline said, "...I agree with your friend who says you need to release first so you can say YES to new happenings as they come up--I am in an in between space right now too..but it's feeling good to have a bit of NOTHING on my plate for a while!!"

And Barbara said, "I have always called that feeling 'The late arrival of my soul.' It is as though my body is here but my heart and soul is still back there. Thankfully it does pass and I let go of one to regain my life at the other."

So, what are the learnings from this?

1. Transitions are hard. I'm giving up the known and taking on the unknown. I can't go back to where I was because life has moved on.

2. I have some choices. I could decide to stay home all year, or to move someplace else and stay there all the time. I am not making that choice because of Arizona winters with sunshine and without arthritis and because of Washington summers with its sunshine and glorious green beauty. With the choice to have two homes, I get the transitions. Nothing is all good, all the time.

3. A transition may involve where we live, our health or the health of others, our friendships, our financial situation, or other factors. There's not always a choice. But when I talk or write about my own experience, people around me listen and empathize and share their own experiences. I am not alone. We are all in this together.

4. With the ending of my two community responsibilities, I've gained some extra time. To sit in my garden and read or meditate, to nap in the afternoon if I'm so inclined. To spend less time planning and more time relaxing. And to remain watchful for the next Right Thing I know will present itself.

5. Hospice for the dying is a merciful thing. My friend passed away on Monday, without pain and surrounded by love. I mourn the loss of this lovely, kind woman but am so glad she did not linger. I still think grieving alone is difficult, but I'm grateful that I have friends to grieve for.

Mostly, I need to trust the process of transition and know my soul will eventually arrive back home, wherever that is. As my friend Barbara says, "It always does. It is attached by a long silver thread."

It is finally good to be back home again.