Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Bag Lady is still learning

This Tucson season has been a learning time for me. It's our third year here, and we're no longer new to the idea of getting away to a sunny place in the winter. Now we just live here for four months of the year. Here's what I learned this year:

1.  Its not ALWAYS sunny here. We had a dozen or so days of rain. Half a dozen days of wind strong enough to keep us indoors. A few just-plain-cloudy ones. Some that were sunny but cool. And now, toward the end of our stay, mostly sunny with temps climbing into the 80s. Even with the variety of weather between December and April, Tucson is a good place to be living.

2. It's different when you own the place. We bought the trailer we'd rented for two years near the end of last season. Since then we've spent a chunk of money making it our own. Some was by choice - removing the popcorn ceiling, painting to cover a lot of the wood paneling and to brighten the interior, adding lamps and track lighting and pillows and throws,  replacing the deck chairs with more comfortables ones, buying a sleeper sofa for visitors and a cat condo for Larisa the Designer Cat.  

And some was necessary. A chronic leak behind the shower required the removal of the shower area, replacement of sheetrock and floor, and rebuilding of the whole bathroom. We've been using the public showers for ten days now. We have two more days before our bathroom is our own again.

3. We live quite well in 600 square feet of space. We have everything we need and not much extra. I love the simplicity of the place.

4. I can spend time in conversation with conservatives. The Current Events discussion on Wednesdays has been a growing experience for many of us, I think. The 25 of us are quite polarized in our views, but we're learning to be respectful to each other most of the time, and we laugh more often. I suspect - and this may be my ego speaking - that my "curious questions" over the last two years, which have resulted in thoughtful discussions, have been helpful.  For example, my question "I don't know much about the immigration issue. What's been the history of immigration law?" led to a review of the last 60 years and clarified how our divergent views are just different solutions to the same underlying issue. It's the mediator in me that wants to find common ground.

5. I usually say yes to new opportunities, but if I don't ask my questions before doing so, I'm likely to have expectations that don't get met. In three situations this year I said yes to positions of responsibility and then got ticked off when things didn't work out the way I thought they would. If I'm simply a participant, other people's opinions and solutions are fine with me. So I will probably be asking my questions before I say yes. I hadn't realized it was a pattern in my personality ("character defect", if you will) that I can change.

6. Not every group has cordial, collaborative meetings! I encountered arm waving, shouting and interrupting earlier this week. I had forgotten how that can happen. I sat quietly and watched.

7. When you keep your door open you hear the sounds of the day: wind chimes, birdsong, neighbors talking, bicycles and golf carts and cars. And of the night: trains, wind, coyotes. Better than music!

8.  I have made more new friends this year besides continuing to enjoy the ones I met in previous years.  Hanna is 55 and one of the younger people here; she's from British Columbia. Florence is 87, retired from New York. I also had good conversations with Rae, Tammy, Bob and Sue, PJ and Mer, Susie, Eve, Carol, Jared and Nancy, Ronnie and Tom, Mel, JoAnne and Fay. Most of these people will be leaving for home in the next couple of weeks. I'm talking about conversation. Not small talk. I love it!

9. I like riding my bicycle. I didn't really get into it until this month for some reason. I can't wear flip flops when I ride, so I finally put on socks and shoes. I'm increasing my distance gradually each time I ride. Yesterday I did nine miles, I think, all inside the park. Our bicycles live here in Tucson because it's fairly flat and easy to ride. I'm considering buying another one when we get back to Washington. It's not quite as convenient to ride in my neighborhood there because of the hills, but there are nearby trails.

10. My cat really does like me better when I bring her along.

Here's a recent feature about the Voyager, where we live in the winter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

It's warming up in Tucson

Temperatures in Tucson are warming up; it was over 80 degrees today. I suspect we'll have a 90-degree day by the first of April. That's the time we'll be leaving for home. I'm flying home with Larisa the Designer Cat on April 4; Art will begin the three-day drive a few days after that.

Here at the Voyager, the end-of-season activities are underway. We have potluck gatherings scheduled for the Reimagining God and Great Decisions groups. A cast party for Guys and Dolls. Friends to help us celebrate St. Patrick's Day by sharing Art's traditional corned beef and cabbage. Dinner with the couple who were our landlords last year. Our handbell group plays next Sunday at the resort's church service and the following night at a concert. I can see the calendar thinning out over the next two weeks. That will be good: I can get the taxes done and spend time sunning at the pool (yes, sunscreen is a good thing). It feels like the end of the school year - busy and bittersweet.

Here's what I love, love, love about this place:

  • I can be as busy as I want to be: discussion groups, water aerobics, dinners with friends, conversation conversation conversation, music, art, crafts of all kinds, dance lessons and dances. Sometimes I'm too busy.
  • We live well and contentedly in a small space - just 620 square feet including our Arizona room.
  • The community is walkable. We can also ride our bicycles. Some people have electric golf carts. 
  • We wave to people as we walk, and we say good morning.
  • There's a restaurant on the resort and the food is pretty good.
  • I can hear trains - and the wind chimes on my deck.
  • The terrain is mostly flat, but there are mountains all around. And glorious sunsets.
Here's what I love, love, love about our Washington home:
  • I can be almost as busy as I want to be: mediation, water aerobics, coffee or lunch with friends, opportunities to be with my church community, time with family.
  • We live well and contentedly in the house that's been home for nearly 20 years, with all the memories that entails. 
  • The hills in our neighborhood mean good aerobic exercise, and the espresso stand is a great break at about the halfway point of my neighborhood walk. I haven't had an espresso since we left home on December 3.
  • When I see a neighbor I can stop and chat. All ages of neighbors, from the couple up the street who are well into their 80s to the young family next door.
  • There are three restaurants within walking distance and the food is pretty good!
  • I can hear the sounds of the neighborhood - and the wind chimes when there's a front coming through.
Good places to be, Arizona and Washington. We are blessed.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The saga of Angie the Ox

This post is a combination of a piece I wrote for my writer's group (names have been changed)  and follow-up comments about Guys and Dolls, the musical my husband Art just finished performing in.

Marvin laughed with the two other cast members playing gamblers. They'd just finished running through their scene in Act 1 of Guys and Dolls and were standing in the aisle in front of the stage, where the Hot Box number was being rehearsed. Marvin couldn't remember when he'd enjoyed himself more learning how to do something new. Each of his five sisters had done some acting when they were younger, but he'd never invested the time or interest in such activities. His sisters were somewhat frivolous creatures so of course he'd stayed away.

This was fun, though. He was 72 years old and he'd been cast as Angie the Ox in the play being put on at the Arizona resort where he lived in the winter with his wife. It was actually Ellie's idea. He had to admit every now and then she came up with a good idea, though many of her suggestions weren't of much use. The rehearsals were Monday and Thursday afternoons and some Sundays. He'd been reluctant to commit that much time to one activity, but he was glad he had. The gamblers were a humorous bunch, and all about his age or a little older. They ribbed each other about their lines, their costumes - his own was an orange shirt, a yellow tie, a blue suit jacket and a derby with a wide orange band - and generally shot the breeze as men do. Marvin was something of a loner ordinarily. Until this play.

This morning he hadn't been sure he'd make it to rehearsal. He'd had a couple of little dizzy spells that he'd actually admitted to Ellie. It had been over a year since he'd had any, and he well remembered the sensation. Ellie said she'd postpone her errands just in case even though she thought he probably just wasn't drinking enough water in this dry climate. The dizziness passed, though, and he'd looked forward to this afternoon's run through.

The director called for quiet and Marvin sat down to review his script. He only had three lines but he wanted to be absolutely sure he would nail them. Then he felt a wave of dizziness, stronger than the ones this morning. And then the defibrillator did its job. After 13 months of nothing.  He hadn't expected to be shocked after all this time. And though it wasn't as bad as he'd anticipated - more like a large man punching him in the chest than like a horse kicking him - Marvin dropped to his knees, shaking.

Of course, right away he was the center of attention, as half a dozen cast members gathered around him. Someone suggested calling 9-1-1, but that was because no one knew he had a defibrillator implanted in his chest. It was last year that 9-1-1 was called, when he had a cardiac arrest on the pickleball court. Same sensation of dizziness, but that time he had blacked out - and apparently died for a brief time - until Ellie did CPR on him and another fellow shocked him with an AED. At the hospital he'd had all the tests run. No blockage of the arteries, a healthy heart. Just low potassium and dehydration. He spent three nights in the hospital while they watched him, then changed up his blood pressure meds, and then finally put in the pacemaker/defibrillator just in case. No one seemed to know exactly what happened except that it was some kind of electrical issue. They told him to take it easy for six weeks or so, which he did, and once he and Ellie had gone home in the spring he pretty much got back to the business of his life.

So here he was again, reminded. He asked someone to find Ellie. She came fairly quickly and he assured her he was fine. She said they should go to the ER as they'd been instructed a year ago. Marvin hated to leave the rehearsal but he knew she was right. He hoped he'd be back at the next rehearsal. It would be such a shame to miss out. 

And now, the rest of the story.

After two nights at the hospital to get checked out and have his meds adjusted, Marvin (Art) came home and resumed his normal life. After two more weeks of rehearsals, Guys and Dolls played to full houses at our winter Arizona home. I attended the second performance, on Friday night, with my sister Alyx (who flew in from Seattle) and Art's daughter and son-in-law, Melissa and Scott (who drove from San Diego). It was a lively, heartfelt performance, delightful to watch. 

Art as Angie the Ox

Alyx and I crafted a bouquet of orange silk flowers from Michael's, and Melissa presented them to her dad at the end of the show.

We'll be getting back to our normal lives now - maybe walking together or riding our bikes. What a fabulous memory we'll have of Angie the Ox!

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.