Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Bag Lady tries a few new things

A few years ago I identified the primary values which, if I prioritized and then practiced them, resulted in my feeling pretty good about my life: in order, they are spirituality, health, community, curiosity, and purpose.

When I am feeling out of sorts or out of balance I try to look at these values and see where my life is not aligned with them. I never have a problem with community, curiosity or purpose; I seem naturally inclined to incorporate these into my life. I almost always find that spirituality and health are where I am falling off.  I've tried in the past to move them lower in my priority list, but then I pay even less attention to them. They really need to be at the top of the list.

I have a 12-step program which I practice most of the time, and that provides a guide for my spiritual well being. I also have a Unitarian Universalist community which identifies itself as "standing on the side of Love." For this first priority of mine, the most important thing is that I show up. And I usually do.

Health is the second priority. At my last checkup, my doctor confirmed that all of my health concerns - sleep apnea, hypertension, and asthma - are at least partly the result of my extra weight. "If you were to lose even 30 pounds, most of these health issues would be diminished." And I recently learned from my dentist's office that I have extra soft tissue in my throat that makes my airway narrower. The only way to fix that is to lose weight.

So weight loss is not just cosmetic or wanting to wear the clothes on the right-hand side of my closet that will fit "in about eight pounds". It's about relieving my sleep apnea, lowering my blood pressure, minimizing my asthma, and breathing easily.

I recently watched a mindfulness video by Dr. Kelly McGonigal about habits that form "default states" and how to consciously create new ones. You know the saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear"? Well, this student is ready. I won't go into the details of Dr. McGonigal's talk here. Suffice it to say that I have initiated a strategy to align my values with what I actually do. It's about pairing up things I enjoy with things I don't.

Here's the deal: I want to eat fruits and vegetables, but also cheese and Healthy Choice fudge bars and Costco unsalted mixed nuts.  I want to play Candy Crush on my laptop and my phone. I want to maintain an active presence on Facebook. I want to watch Netflix with my husband at night.

So this is my plan, derived from Dr. McGonigal's video:
  • I want to eat Healthy Choice fudge bars in the evening - one or a few. But I will only do that if I have gotten enough exercise during the day. I use my Fitbit and the Weight Watchers point system to determine whether and how many. No exercise, no fudge bars. This part of my plan has gotten me out of the house for my two-mile walk for the last two days, and it was easier today than it was yesterday.
  • I want to learn Spanish in the next two years, so that when I volunteer at the asylum clinic in Tucson I can communicate with our clients without an interpreter. I am using Duolingo and Rosetta Stone as tools to do that. But on my computer I would rather play Candy Crush. So I will not play Candy Crush in a day until I have done three exercises in both Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. No Spanish practice, no Candy Crush. That has worked for the last two days, and it was easier today than yesterday.
I recently had a laser procedure done to tighten the soft tissue in the back of my throat. It's to prevent snoring. The doctor who did the procedure gave me exercises for twice a day, several days each week, to strengthen the muscles in my tongue, jaw, neck and throat. If I don't do the exercises, I'll need a repeat of the procedure in two years. If I do the exercises, I probably won't. But I don't like doing the exercises. They take about 15 minutes and they're an annoying interruption in my day. 

Guess what I found out today on my two-mile walk? If I do the exercises while I'm walking, it's easier for me to breathe on the hills! Who knew?

Back to my plan:
  • I like to check Facebook in the morning. But I won't do that unless I've done the morning exercises prescribed for the day.
  • I like to watch Netflix with my husband in the evening. But I won't do that unless I've done the evening exercises prescribed.
I believe I can do this, one day at a time. 

I'm just trying a few new things.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Settled in Seattle - and waiting

We've been home from our winter place in Tucson for two weeks now. I am finally settled into our family home in a suburb just north of Seattle. Here's what's happened so far.

1. I have Kaiser Permanente - an HMO - for medical insurance. Kaiser doesn't do business in Arizona, so I went nearly six months knowing that, except for urgent or emergency care, I'd have to cover medical expenses myself or fly home. Last year I was diagnosed with asthma, and I paid $950 for the diagnosis and treatment. If we decide to move to Arizona full time, I'll need to change my Medicare provider.

Anyway, I've been to Kaiser four times in the last two weeks to catch up with myself.

  • To the optometrist for a vision check. I've had cataract surgery in both eyes, and sometimes a film develops on the lens afterwards. Last year an ophthalmologist removed the film in my right eye but said the left eye wasn't "ready" yet. This year, the optometrist said it is. So I was able to get a referral for the ophthalmologist.
  • To the ophthalmologist for the five-minute procedure. Easy, and now the eyestrain that has bothered me for two months is gone.
  • For a mammogram - results normal.
  • To the audiologist for a hearing test. Apparently other people think I need hearing aids. The test results are almost the same as five years ago. No hearing aids needed yet. Apparently "other people" need to stop mumbling!
2. I got back into my summer mediation routine: mediated at small claims court in my county, did a role-play for the mock mediation for a mediator in training, and signed up to coach a mediator in training at a local high school. I've been certified as a mediator for over five years, and I still love it.

3. I am reminded of the meaning of a "family home". One of our eight kids has been renting a room for three years, while he went to nursing school. He is ready to move to his own place, but housing in the Seattle area is very expensive and competitive. A second of our kids lived here for a month or so before he moved out earlier this spring; I can tell he was here by the stuff left in his room and the less-than-spotless bathroom. The husband of our oldest daughter is staying with us while starting up his business and waiting to take possession of the house they bought; he's very easy to have around and works long hours. I suspect the husband of my niece will be with us for a few days, as they are moving from Tucson in June and he'll need to scout around for a place for them to live. I have invited a friend to stay here for a week in late June as she recovers from surgery.

These people are all welcome here. We have plenty of room. If we sell this house and move to Tucson full time, the story will change.

4. One of our cars spent the winter in the garage but needs servicing for a recall issue. The carpets need cleaning. And the windows. I did the maintenance on the raspberry bed, while one son and one neighbor have made the yard and garden presentable.

5. We have eaten in all but one of our favorite restaurants: Talay Thai for Thai; Tai Ho for Chinese; Las Espuelas for Mexican; Brier Family Restaurant for fish and chips; Voula's for breakfast. Next up is...wait for it...Taco del Mar for Baja bowls.

6. We have resumed ordering fresh fruits and vegetables from our CSA. A box of great food arrives on our front porch every Friday.

So we are home for the summer. But we are waiting.
There is something of a chance we'll be making one more trip to Greece. Maybe in July. But we won't know for a couple of weeks. To that end, we will be sending in our passport renewals tomorrow. Did you know we're no longer supposed to smile when our passport photos are taken?

There is something of a chance we will be getting our house ready to sell this summer. If that happens, we'll be doing very little else. 

I am very aware that the days are longer here now than in Tucson; that we're in the most beautiful part of the year here; that there hasn't been as much rain as we expected since we got home.  But the traffic is worse than it was this time last year. There is lots of apartment construction without a corresponding increase in road capacity. Property taxes have risen substantially.

Yep, we are waiting to see what we'll be doing this summer.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Home. Really?

I flew home to Seattle yesterday after six months in Tucson. Our house here is large; we bought it 23 years ago when our eight-kid blended family was growing up. Our place there is small; a park model (trailer) we bought four years ago - after two years of renting it - when we decided we wanted to spend our winters at the Voyager, a 55-plus RV resort.

The autumn transition to Arizona is always easy. We're returning to a simple but active life, with friends who are doing the same. Everyone is glad to see each other.

The spring return to our town, Brier, isn't so easy. I'm always amazed and overwhelmed by how much Stuff we have, and how little of it we use. I love the green beauty in this part of the country, but not the traffic. Our friends here have gone on with their lives without us for six months, and we need to kind of ease back in.

This year it's a little different. We have begun to think about selling our Washington home and relocating permanently to Tucson. Seriously thinking. Art is "still listening", but he says I can ask him once a week whether he is shifting from listening to thinking to planning. There will be a lot to do if we make the decision to sell and move.

Over the last six years we have come to think of our Tucson place as our second home. Not just a winter getaway. We love the little place we've fixed up to our liking. We love the Voyager community. We love the city of Tucson. Except for the beastly hot summers - which I think we can avoid - and the more conservative politics - which I hope we can influence.

Of course we love Seattle too. The physical beauty, the friends we have made here, our volunteer activities, the knowledge that four of our grown kids live in the area.

The family home here in Brier has stairs. Two sets. And a steep driveway. And a big yard. Too much for us these days, I think.

I'm pretty sure there's a family looking for a house like ours. And the Seattle housing market is sizzling right now. So next week, when I ask Art, I hope he'll be moving into his planning phase.

When we moved into this house I was 46 years old. I had never in my life lived in any house for longer than six years. This Brier place has been home, and part of my heart will remain here.

The other parts of my heart are ready to move on.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A woman of influence!

I never thought of myself as a woman of influence, but I guess I am. Here are three stories:

1. I have a friend named Ellen. I met her at a Habitat for Humanity build seven years ago in Lafayette, Louisiana. We became Facebook friends. She visited us briefly in Tucson several years ago. Then, last spring, Art and I decided to go to Greece for a month to volunteer at a refugee camp there. We decided to leave Larisa, our Designer Cat, at our place in Tucson while we were gone, since she'd already been there with us for five months.

I posted on Facebook that we were looking for someone to stay in our Tucson place to keep company with Larisa while we were gone. Ellen said she would like to do that. She drove from Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she has lived for the last 12 years. Before we left I introduced her to one of my friends. By the time we got back from Greece, Ellen had bought a place in our community! She said, "I have made more friends here in the last six weeks than I did in Fayetteville in 12 years." She went home for the summer, preparing to return in the fall, but decided to sell her Fayetteville house and move to Tucson permanently!

Ellen says she wouldn't be living here if it weren't for me. It is very nice to have her here.

2. We have friends named Shirley and Tom. We met them through a hospitality exchange group; we stayed with them twice at their place in Henderson, Nevada, when we were still driving between Seattle and Tucson for the winter. We became Facebook friends. Shirley and Tom sold their Nevada place and became housesitters for a year or so, then decided they'd like a permanent base from which to travel. They checked out the Voyager, the 55+ resort where we live in the winter, and looked online at all the places for sale here. They found one they liked and watched, hoping the price would drop. It did. They made plans for Tom to fly down to see it.

Shirley texted me to tell me about the plan. I said, "Would you like me to go over and check it out?" Shirley said yes and I did. A neighbor was watering the yard and had a key. I went in and looked around and asked the neighbor lots of questions. I texted Shirley and suggested she call me. She did. I told her what I thought and she asked the neighbor some questions herself. Then we hung up.

Two hours later Shirley texted me again. She and Tom had made an offer on the phone without even seeing the place, based on our conversation and pictures they'd seen. They arrive next month.

It's a little intimidating being a woman of such influence!

3. I've been thinking for several years that it might be time to sell our family home in Washington and find something smaller, and without stairs, and without a steep driveway and a big yard. My husband Art has not been at all ready for that. For the last six years we have spent the winter in Tucson. The first year we were there two months, then three, then four. This year we will have been here five months and three weeks when we fly home next Saturday.

Yesterday we looked at a resale manufactured home about three quarters of a mile from where we live now in our park model. The home is in the same 55+ resort. It is on one level, with an open floor plan, a great kitchen and a small low-maintenance yard. Actually, I looked first with my friend Ellen, then took Art over. We spent 45 minutes talking to the current owners.

Then Art and I talked. We still want to spend our summers in Washington. Several of our children and grandchildren live there, and the summer weather is glorious, with long daylight hours and very little rain. We had considered buying a smaller place, but housing prices in the Seattle area are very high. Then we considered leasing. In either case, though, the residence would sit empty for most of the year (a winter away and travel at other times can do that).

Then I thought about Airbnb and checked it out. We could rent a place for three months. Not just in Washington, but just about anywhere. That would get us out of the most daunting months of Arizona's summer.

Then I thought, well, what if one of us dies? Which is a certainty. And just this morning I remembered: there are always independent living or assisted living places if they're needed. And they could be in Washington.

So, if we sold our Washington home, we wouldn't be exiling ourselves from Washington or from our family. We would be freeing ourselves from our financial and upkeep obligations to a house we are, more and more, not living in.

This is not quite dreaming. Because we could either buy the place we looked at yesterday, or we could stay in the park model, which has been our winter residence for six years and which we like very much.

The most important thing, to me, is that both of us can see where we might step next. It's no longer "Let's rightsize and then maybe move to a smaller place." Instead, it might be "Let's get ready to move."

We may not move physically. But we are moving forward toward a lighter lifestyle. It's no longer me nagging a reluctant husband. It's both of us looking at the possibilities.

Does that make me a woman of influence?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Bag Lady reviews the snowbird season

Two weeks from today I fly from Tucson with my husband Art and our Designer Cat, Larisa. We are going home to Seattle after six months in the winter sun. It rained here about seven times in six months. The sun shone most days, even when the temperatures were less than warm.

We're leaving soon because we're close to the sweet spot: Tucson is less than 100 degrees during the day, and Seattle's rain is getting close to its springtime end. 

This is our sixth season as Arizona snowbirds. We've lived in the same park model and driven the same car. We've expanded our friendships, lost a few friends, taken up a variety of activities, dropped some of them. Each year it's a little different.

This year I continued with activities I've enjoyed before. I played handbells in Oregon when my children were small, and I picked them up again as a snowbird. I love the camaraderie and teamwork of playing bells. I play the lowest bells because I'm one of the younger ringers and don't have arthritis in my hands yet. We performed half a dozen times in the nondenominational church services at Voyager. 

I continue to enjoy the current events group that meets on Wednesday afternoons. This week we talked about Facebook's current data problems and about the potential impact of tariffs. The current events group used to be contentious - it has a diverse political mix - but these days it's a wealth of thought and wisdom, and I'm grateful to be part of it.

I've facilitated a Great Decisions foreign affairs group on Thursdays for the last six years. This year I eased myself out as leader as my friend JoAnne stepped in to replace me. She has been my backup for several seasons now. Next year I'll stay in the group, but without the responsibilities of the moderator. 

Two years ago I was responsible for ticket sales for the Voyager's theatre group. Last year I assisted the producer. This year I was in the cast. I've also served as the treasurer and room scheduler. Next year I don't plan to do anything with the theatre group. There are a couple of other possibilities, but time will tell. Twice a week rehearsals and a production meeting every Thursday were a big responsibility, and I like the idea of being a little less busy.

New to me this year was volunteering at Keep Tucson Together at their every-other-Saturday asylum clinic. We work with immigrants seeking asylum, helping them to fill out their paperwork and fleshing out the stories they tell in explaining why their lives will be in danger if they return home. It's not too far removed from the volunteer work I did in Greece in the last couple of years. I don't speak Farsi and not much Spanish, but I find I can communicate in other ways. It's very rewarding to make a connection with someone whose life is in danger or chaos. Whatever difference I can make, I want to do that. One of my current goals is to learn Spanish so that, within two years, I'll be conversant enough to talk to the asylum clients without an interpreter. I spend some time most days with Duolingo on my phone and Rosetta Stone on my laptop, and I'm looking into Spanish classes while I'm home this summer.

Someone asked me last week if I'm glad to be coming home. I told her that it's a transition, and it will take time. The people I know at home have been continuing on with their lives without me, and I'll need to ease myself back into that environment. It's much easier to come to Tucson in the fall, because everyone is arriving and glad to see each other again. Still, we have two homes and I love them both.

I have a friend, Ellen, who drove from Arkansas last spring to keep company with Larisa for the five weeks Art and I spent in Greece. By the time we got back Ellen had bought a park model (trailer) at Voyager! She said she'd made more friends in six weeks at Voyager than in several years in Arkansas. That's the kind of place Voyager is.

As I was writing this, my friend Bev called from home. We talked for 45 minutes and we're getting together for coffee the first Wednesday I'm home. So the transition is beginning already!

Lucky, lucky me. Such a life I get to have.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Journey to the Northern Lights: Lessons Learned

I've been back in Tucson for three days. Here's what I'm remembering from my journey to Churchill, Manitoba, to see the Northern Lights.
  • Dogsledding is FUN. Not just for the people in the sled, but also for the dogs. Our outfitter had 26 dogs and every one of them was excited when they saw the sleds getting set up. 

  • If you have the proper clothing, you can handle the weather.

  • The camera's eye sees the Northern Lights as green. The human eye, just barely.
Photo by Ron Waldron, taken 3/22/2018

Painting at the Itsanitaq Museum, Churchill, Manitoba

  • You remember studying the Hudson Bay Company and the fur trade when you were in school 50 years ago. You didn't realize you'd be standing on the shore of the Hudson Bay in winter.

  • If some people meet a competitive hula hooper in the airport, it's hard to resist giving it a try themselves.

    • If your traveling companion comes down with pneumonia, it may be up to you to get you both home a day early. It may be hard if you have to call United Airlines in the middle of the night from Winnipeg, but you don't have a Canadian phone, and the international phone call button on your nightstand at the Hilton Airport Suites doesn't work. If you're lucky you may be able to talk United out of the $155 per person change fee. But you won't be able to talk United out of a $330 per person additional charge for the only two remaining seats on the earlier flight. Nor will you be able to collect on your trip interruption travel insurance, because when you bought it you said you were coming home a day earlier than you actually planned. So you decide to be grateful to have the money for the extra airfare.
    • You didn't realize how much you'd learn during the Road Scholar trip about astronomy, and the Northern Lights, and climate change, and the life of the polar bear.
    What a great trip!

      Friday, March 23, 2018

      Beneath the Northern Lights: Lady Aurora!

      I'm here in Churchill, Manitoba because seeing a sky full of Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for decades. Because I'm with a Road Scholar group, I'm also learning about polar bears, astronomy, ecology and biology of the far north, the mosaic that is Canada (rather than the melting pot that is the US). And I am reconfirming that Canadians are a class act.

      Three days ago we viewed our first Lights. They were mostly pale in the sky, greyish white. I had expected green and red. Our guide, Ron, told me that the human eye can't see the colors because at night we see using the rods in our eyes, and they see only black and white. The cones, which see the color, are for daytime use. "Well, how come the photos of the Lights always show vivid colors?" I asked. Ron said, "Because the camera's eye can see the colors."

      I wondered why I had never known that. Why people who raved about the Northern Lights had never mentioned it. For a while - that night and the next morning - I was disappointed and a little ticked off.

      I distracted myself a bit with other activities and the weather. So cold here! Yesterday the high was -3F. We were pulled by a snow machine to a nearby spot in the boreal forest as we learned about snow shelters and had a chance to try them out.

      Several of my fellow travelers tried snowshoeing. They all fell. I've had a previous experience where I did the same thing, so I chose to walk the half mile back to the Churchill Northern Studies Center, where we are staying. The sun was bright and the air was very cold and it was delightful.

      Then, last night, the Aurora was out again. I watched for a while from our dorm room, then went down the hall to the dome observation room. I climbed the metal spiral staircase in the dark to the top, where I could see the whole night sky.

      Those Lights were like a sentient being. They moved across the sky, in ripples and curtains, pulsing to our right and left, in front of the moon and around the Big Dipper. The palest of green with an occasional palest of rose at the fringes. I was transfixed. The last time I remember feeling this way was four years ago, in a land rover, amidst a family of elephants in the Masai Mara in Kenya. Spiritual, you know.

      These pictures were taken last night by our guide, Ron Waldron. His eyes saw the same as mine. His camera saw differently.

      It's nearly 11 p.m. I'm waiting for Ron's voice coming down the hall saying "show time" and knocking on doors. If it happens, I'll put on a robe over my pajamas and head for the dome to watch Lady Aurora one more time.