Monday, June 29, 2015

Travel planning

I quit my last job five years ago this week. Since that time I have taken 38 trips. But very few in the last year and a half. After my husband Art's cardiac arrest in January 2014 we decided to take it easy for a year or so until we knew he was stable. Which he now is. Both of us have been committed to separate exercise programs for the last couple of months so we're sufficiently fit to go.

We have two major trips planned for the summer; we leave in two days for two weeks on the east coast, and we're taking a 16-day trip to Eastern Europe in late August. Easy for me to summarize in that one sentence. The hectic is in the details.

Here's what I've done as travel planner for these trips:
  • The east coast trip - found lodging through Airbnb for five nights in Atlanta and three in Charleston, SC. Made reservations at the hotel in Jacksonville, NC for the reunion of Camp Lejeune High School graduates for classes 1965-67. Sent a check for the Saturday night dance. Arranged for a weeklong car rental. Got a ride to the airport for our 10 a.m. flight and made arrangements to have our cat cared for. Let the small claims court coordinator know I won't be at the July 14 session to lead the mediation team.
  • The Eastern Europe trip - chose a date that corresponded to airfares slightly lower than average for incoming to Prague and outdoing through Munich, even in high season. Bought the travel  book for Prague (we'll get there two days early to recover from jet lag ahead of time). Wrangled with British Airlines to get rebooked after we canceled our April trip. Pestered the travel insurance people for the refund for our canceled trip in time to get the money to pay for the one we're taking in August instead. Let the small claims court coordinator know I won't be at the September 8 session to lead the mediation team. 
I used to like the planning part. As I get older it's more of a nuisance. I know what needs to be done and I am a good list maker, but making the calls and sending the emails and sifting through the options is not as much fun. I'll work on it for an hour and then lie down to take a nap or read. Then I'll get distracted and won't get back to it until the next day. I'll look at my list and the task will still be there and I'll feel a little guilty that I didn't finish taking care of it the day before.

Here's what's on my list for tomorrow, the last day before we leave: Lead the mediation team at small claims court in the morning. Get a pedicure to remove the month-old polish and replace it (I'm wearing sandals or flip-flops on the east coast). Pick up a prescription I forgot to order until today, which will run out before we get home. Do two loads of laundry. Pay the bills. Pack. Not too bad.

Here's what's on Art's list for tomorrow: Read the paper. Work the crossword puzzle. Work the Sudoku puzzle. Pack. In all fairness, Art does all the shopping and all the cooking, and he doesn't have any of that before we live. Still.

On Wednesday night we'll be sleeping in our first Airbnb ever. It's in a working class neighborhood in Atlanta, where locals sit on their porches after work in the evening. Our choice. Our hostess suggests we be friendly as we walk home from the bus stop. We will! That's why we chose Airbnb instead of a hotel. We'll be at the place for five nights. Maybe we'll make some Georgia friends.

It will be hot and humid on the east coast. Right now we're in a Seattle heat wave, so it's like we're ramping up for our travel. I have lived in Virginia and North Carolina and Georgia so it won't be new but it will be sweaty. But I'll meet new people at the convention in Atlanta and at our place in Charleston and probably even at the all-class reunion. Art and I will dance a few times. We'll take walks. We'll ride buses and trains. It will be fun!

We're lucky. I know that for sure. We're 66 now, and 72, and we can still be on the road.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Solstice and beyond

Today is the longest day of the year and I love it. For the last several weeks the days have seemed endless here in the Pacific Northwest. It's light two hours before I get out of bed, and there are nights when we go to bed when it's still dusk. Used to be I'd get discouraged right after the solstice because I knew the days would be getting shorter and then the shadows would get longer and then the rains would start and it would be dark. Now that we live in Tucson in the winter, I'm able to just enjoy the long days of summer light.

Our garden is at its peak for vegetables and the fruits are coming along. We're picking bowls of strawberries and raspberries and blueberries, and the grapes will be ready in a month or so. Unbelievable numbers of grapes this year.

We've been home for two and a half months with only an overnight trip to Spokane for me. In ten days we leave for two weeks on the east coast. It will be hot and humid there, I know, but fun. We're attending a very large convention in Atlanta over the 4th of July weekend (65,000 attendees or so), and the following weekend we'll be at my all-school reunion in North Carolina. I haven't been back to Camp Lejeune since my 20-year reunion in 1986.

We'll be going to Oregon for four days in late July to attend a wedding. The bride is the daughter of my ex-husband's sister Patty; Bridget was born after my ex and I split up. I'd never met her until last year, in Tucson, when she and her fiancé Gilbert met up with us for dinner. Art calls us "outlaws" since we'll be spending time with my ex's family, but they are good people and it will be fun too.

And at the end of August we're flying to Prague for a 16-day tour of Eastern Europe with the Rick Steves (Europe Through the Back Door) travel company. We had to cancel our April cruise because of Art's medical appointments. He's stable now and the doctor has said it's fine for him to travel. I spent hours this week making travel plans for before and after the tour (want to get there a couple of days early to get over jet lag before the group meets up), trying to get British Airlines to give us credit for our cancelled April flight, and deciding on how much and what kind of travel insurance to buy. Last week my energy was quite low and I didn't get around to much of this, but it waited patiently for me and now I'm nearly done.

I love the traveling. Summer is the best time of year, weather wise, where we live, but sometimes the timing isn't perfect. And once we get to Tucson in late fall we will probably stay put for the winter.

I have finally started watching Downton Abbey and I am hooked!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Bag Lady considers some shortcomings

There is a sadness in me this week. One of my friendships has ended suddenly and I am doing some grieving. It has been many years since I've lost a friend this way. Usually I move away, or they do, or our interests change, or our jobs. I have friends I've known for decades, but since I've moved frequently in my life (I think I'm living in my 49th house) they do not live close by. Mostly I keep in touch through Facebook. I have several friends I see for lunch or coffee every few months, and I thrive within those conversational connections.

Of course, I'm thinking about this current ending and wondering what I might have done differently.   As is usually the case, I've got some character traits that kick my butt now and then. Here is my true confession:
  • I am usually an optimistic, upbeat person. I tend to take people at their word. I haven't gotten burned often enough to change my approach to life and trust a little less. So I go further down the road of uncomfortable situations because of my tendency to be gullible.  
  • I am assertive and direct. Sometimes to a fault. I rarely intend to hurt people with what I say, but sometimes the words that come out of my mouth astonish even me. And sometimes I don't realize the impact my words have had on other people. I can remember hurting people's feelings 40 years ago with things I said. In conflict situations, though, my directness often vanishes and I get downright wishy-washy.  I've yet to master the magic of diplomacy. I can do it as a mediator, but not as myself.  
  • I expect people to behave the way I would in similar circumstances. For example, if I make an agreement I will keep it even if it's to my own detriment. I'm not tolerant of others who don't. This one bites me frequently - not the keeping an agreement part, but my expectation that others will behave as I do. I've been told I have high standards for other people's behavior. It's not a compliment.
  • I am what's called an external processor: I think out loud. When there's a disagreement or misunderstanding between me and another person, I want to sit down and talk it out right now. This doesn't sit well with people who need to process silently, in their own time. My husband Art and I often postpone the resolution of a conflict for 24 hours. By that time he will have had a chance to think about his position, and I may have forgotten what the problem was! 
  • Sometimes things happen for no apparent reason. I always look for a reason anyway. I tire myself out. 
No one is perfect, and for the most part I'm content with the person I am. Every now and then, though, in disappointing situations, I wonder what would have happened if I'd been a little different.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The voice of my sister

The events of this week were a mixture of very good and not so good at all. What made it all turn out okay was the voice of my sister.

Alyx and her husband Virgil live in their motorhome on our property. Alyx works four nights a week so we only see her on the weekends. So it feels like we have our own place during the week and share it on the weekends with them.

The good parts of the week were my usual lunches and coffees with friends - always a favorite thing for me - and my regular Monday afternoon massage. And a mediation which, though difficult, was done with Karen, a talented co-mediator I'd met at a recent training.

The not-so-good parts of the week were sad news from friends of ours, a hiccup in our business, and a misunderstanding with a friend. All three of these happenings were a jolt and threw me off my usual optimistic, upbeat game.

Fortunately for me, my sister Alyx spent time with me and listened. She commiserated with the sad news, supported me in my business concern, and gave wise counsel and sympathy around my friend situation. The two of us sat in the adirondack chairs in our garden, marveling at the raspberries and strawberries and blueberries and grapes and lettuce and spinach and baby bok choy and beets and radishes, and sharing our thoughts and then, eventually, laughing at the parts we could derive some humor from. And shaking our heads at the parts we couldn't.

Then we went to dinner with our husbands and, the next day, spent several hours geocaching and then more time in the adirondack chairs and then a family meal on the deck with our son Pete and Alyx's friend Linda.

What could have been a wretched week was lightened somewhat by the voice of my sister. It's a good voice to have around.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A quality of life

Quality of life. Mostly I think of this phrase when thinking about very old people - not me for sure! - and  how they want to live in their final years. It's almost a catchphrase, calling up choices for the elderly.

This week I thought about quality of life in terms of how things are going right now for me and mine. I had this idea, when I quit working, five years ago, that I'd continue to set goals for myself and continue to keep a to-do list as well as a bucket list. I did that for about the first three years. But it's different now.

I think it changed when my husband Art had a cardiac arrest a year ago last January. He's fine now - living normally with a pacemaker/IED and a few meds - but the impact of that event has remained with me. The ups and downs of fear and uncertainly, the exploration to find a cause, the occasional episodes that send us to the ER or Urgent Care, the realization that we do not, indeed, have forever to live - have shifted how I am living. I didn't really think about it until tonight, when I looked back at my calendar for the past week. 

I've talked before about the values that define my priorities: spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose. They're still a pretty accurate description of what's important, even with the shift.

I'm so glad for my decision to join a church last year. My UU community is exactly right for me. Most weeks I attend Sunday services and I am always moved - near to tears most weeks - by the openness and exploration and vitality of the hour I spend there. Wonderful music, wisdom from the pulpit, meaningful rituals. I had no idea such a spiritual community was even out there. I participate in a couple of small groups there - one with Art - and we have become little bonded communities. 

I'm still committed to eating right and getting exercise, though I do not always meet my own expectations. During May I cut bread, dairy and pasta from my diet. I'd say I was about 85% faithful to that discipline, and I'll continue on with it now that I have lost my craving for cheese. I do water exercise several times a week, walk a couple of miles a couple of times a week, and ride my bicycle with my sister Alyx once a week or so. This weekend we rode 11 miles on Saturday, and we plan to increase the distance by a couple of miles each time we head out. Again, I'm about 85% faithful to that schedule, because some mornings I have other commitments and have to skip the swimming. I have in my mind that I want to walk sections of the Camino de Santiago in Spain in the next year. But it's not a burning desire I have to travel now. It's an impulse to have meaningful times, and that walk would be one of them.

Community. It's no longer something I strive for. It's something I'm experiencing. I am amazed by the people who are my friends. I am a one-on-one friend type person, and several times a week I have lunch or coffee with someone. This week I had that lovely experience on Wednesday with Carol, Thursday with Marilyn and Friday with Vicki. I emerge from those conversations enriched and grateful. Such fabulous women! I'm lucky to have met every one of them. I will have a hard time when I leave them for the winter. 

Curiosity will ever  be with me, as I'm a lifelong learner. I recently decided to abandon the effort to keep up with the magazines I subscribe to, and will only be renewing Atlantic and The Sun when the time comes. Now I'm reading books again, both fiction and nonfiction. Recommendations from friends,  mostly, but a couple I read years ago that I want to revisit. On Wednesday afternoon I lay on the couch for three hours and read a Jodi Picoult novel. It has been years since I indulged myself that way.

And purpose. I'm now the lead mediator for district court small claims when I'm in town. Every other Tuesday a half a dozen mediators work with a dozen or so cases to help people resolve their issues without going to trial. I had my first lead experience last week. I'm quite comfortable speaking to a group. I forgot about six things I should have said, but we have a strong team and the others provided the missing information. 

And laughter! Not on my list of priorities, but definitely frosting on the cake. I have laughed so much this week: with my women friends, my husband Art and sister Alyx and brother-in-law Virgil and stepson Peter and neighbor Jennie. Their stories, our common experiences, our aging complaints, our weight, our quirks. It's only been in the last ten years or so that I've developed a sense of humor. It's like a gift.

The cool thing is that this quality of life I'm living isn't something I worked hard for or even deserve. It's almost like it has just come to me, like winning the lottery of intangibles. I did have goals and I continue to have priorities in my values, but I'm not toiling to achieve them. They seem to be just happening.

Art has a remote device on the wall in our bedroom that tracks his heart rhythm and notifies his cardiologist if something irregular is detected. Right now all is well, but that may not always be the case. I am learning to live with the uncertainty. In the meantime, though, I wake up every morning with gratitude for all the goodness of right now.


Monday, May 25, 2015

The Bag Lady thinks about home

I attended a women's group meeting one evening this week. We meet the third Thursday of every month for an hour and a half. Each time there's a topic selected by the moderators. This month we talked about home.

When I was growing up in a military family, we moved every three years or so. So I lived in California, Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina and Hawaii. That was in the first 20 years. Then, during my first marriage I lived in California, Georgia, Texas and Oregon. I count 47 residences in my lifetime, and I moved into my current house 20 years ago, when I was 47.

I talk about houses, though, not homes. I can remember the interior rooms of most of the houses I've lived in, and most of the exterior views. But I can't conjure up feelings for any of the places I lived in my early childhood.

The house I live in now is a home. Really, a home. When my husband Art and I moved here we had eight children ranging in age from eight to 23. Three of them lived with us and the rest with their other parents, but we had frequent visitation. This place was big enough for everyone to gather.

We went through a long string of teenagers here, being our pointless parenting selves for over ten years, but establishing bonds in our blended family that still exist. When our kids were all grown and gone, Art and I lived quietly in our big house for 15 more years.

Then last year, my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil moved from Alaska and now reside in their motorhome on our property. Originally intended to be a one- to three-month stay, it's now for an indefinite time. The four of us find our little community to be a positive combination of people with varying skills and aptitudes, and most of the time we all get along. (It helps that Alyx works nights and Virgil works days and Art and I don't work at all!) And last month Art's son Peter asked to rent a room while he attends nursing school. Now we are a community of five. It's not anything I would ever have expected - to have a full house after so many years - but I like it.

In my women's circle, home is also about community outside our houses. Here in Washington we are part of a web of caring. In Tucson, where we live in the winter, our very small home is just the right size for our friendly community of North Americans escaping dreary weather elsewhere. We feel home the minute we drive through the gate.

I have friends who grew up in one house with a close-knit family or a not very happy one. And friends who grew up like me, moving around every few years. In July I'll be attending a reunion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where I attended high school. Nearly everyone there will be like me. There's a kind of home that may happen at the reunion, as we return to our common ground after 50 years away.

From my perspective as a child I could never have imagined what home would look like now.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A week of riches

I quit my job five years ago next month, but this week I don't feel very retired. My life is full and interesting. I don't write much about the things in my life that are hard or sad or frustrating or scary. I focus on the good things. And this week, I felt like a rich woman.

1. Mother's Day. I have two children and Art has six. When we first got together they were all between the ages of six and twenty. We had a long string of adolescents with their usual angst, drama and mayhem, and then they were grown and gone. This year I received two bouquets, a box of Harry and David chocolate covered strawberries, and phone calls. It was all good.

2. I had a friend over for coffee. I haven't known Susan for long, but we spend time well together. She and her husband Craig left for Europe this week. One of their sons died last year and they will be spending his birthday with other family members. We talked about how people grieve in different ways and we also laughed about some of life's absurdities. I so appreciate Susan's openness.

3. I had lunch with Carol, one of my favorite people. She and I have been meeting once a week for coffee or a meal. I have longer conversations with Carol than anyone else I know.  She is newly retired, smart and interesting and an avid reader. I love that our schedules are open enough to spend the time together.

4. I am being trained to be a lead mediator at a district court in my county. This week I watched how the paper and the people get processed after I mediated between an employer and a recently-quit employee who heartily dislike each other. I got to remind one of the women to be respectful. At the next small claims session - next week - I'll be the person who introduces the mediation program to people in the courtroom and then gives them instructions in the mediation room. It will be a first for me. I've mediated in small claims court a couple dozen times and I've spoken before groups many times, but this is a new combination. I'll get a stipend for this work. I would do it for free, so being paid is a nice treat.

5. I had lunch with my niece and friend, Colleen at a Vietnamese pho restaurant. Colleen is bright and energetic. We have been getting together for several years now and our conversations are varied and interesting. She is the daughter of one of Art's five sisters but she is mostly my friend now.

6.  I facilitated a meeting at an area technical school between massage school owners and massage business owners. Art and I have an ownership interest in a Massage Envy clinic, and this meeting was organized by my business partner. Lillian and I spent multiple hours on a PowerPoint presentation and the agenda. The meeting was very successful. I even got paid for my work.

7. I have been offered a regional Massage Envy position to attend the state Board meetings as liaison for the 27 clinics in the Puget Sound area. Six meetings a year plus communications and prep. The regional director is willing to work around my snowbird status. I'm supposed to write up a proposal tomorrow for what I think the job will be like and what compensation I need. I see myself flying from Tucson to Seattle a couple of times next winter for a couple of days.

8. I had coffee with my friend Vicki. She was my project manager years ago - the best I ever worked with. Now that we are both retired we sit at Starbucks and talk about everything but work. Vicki and her husband Monte live on their boat in Mexico in the winter.

9. I visited my friend Nora in a local rehab center where she is recovering from a MRSA infection following surgery. She once told me we are cut from the same cloth, but she is wiser than I. I'm grateful for every conversation.

10. I bought my first new car in 17 years. Researched, selected, test drove, negotiated, caught the dealer's paperwork errors (saved $500), and drove it home. Honda Accord, maroon with beige interior and a BACKUP CAMERA to prevent any more of those accidents.

11. I went geocaching with my sister Alyx in a nearby town. I am seven years older but as we age we have more in common than when we were younger. I laugh more with Alyx than with anyone else.

Yep. A week of riches.