Sunday, July 26, 2015

And I thought I was bored

I'd had a boring week. This hardly ever happens; the last time was a couple of years ago, I think. But here's what I noticed that led me to believe I was bored:
  • I need daily conversation to keep my spirit engaged. When we live in Tucson in the winter, I have daily multiple conversations. When we come home there are not so many. My husband Art is not a big talker, so the house is quiet.
  • I love being a mediator, but I've become disenchanted with those involving a divorce or a parenting plan. Where I live, if people have a contested divorce they are required to go to mediation before they go to court. Often, mediations are like a checkbox for people. There's lots of negativity between divorcing couples, and often the children are in the middle. I like to do one mediation a week, but if I don't do the dissolution ones, I don't mediate as often, and I miss it.
  • I like mediating in small claims court, and now I'm qualified as lead, but that's mostly about paperwork which I'm not yet as competent at as I want. And it's only for a couple of hours every other week.
  • My sister Alyx is the primary gardener this year. She does almost all the work of planting and watering. Such a good thing! And yet it leaves me with a smaller role.
  • For the last year and a half I've been a watchful advocate for my husband Art's health since his cardiac arrest in January of 2014. Now he is living his own life, taking care of his own health and medications and appointments. He is quite stable and doesn't need me as an advocate now. I'm delighted about his health, of course, but it means there's less for me to do.
Even though there are good things going on too (good exercise program, lots of book reading) I was pretty sure I needed to find a few new things to energize my spirit.

And then my brand new car had a bad week.
  • I went to Cost Plus on Monday and parked in their lot. Drove home with my new scarf. My stepson Pete came in and said, "Linda, what happened to the front quarter panel of your car? It's got a big dent." I went outside and, sure enough, something had hit my parked car. I have a $500 deductible on my insurance so I called a local guy to see if he could recommend someone reasonable. The next day I talked to my barista. He said the dent was from a shopping cart banging into the car. He got a rock from his parking lot and pulled most of the dent out. I can still see it if I look, and every male I've talked to told me I should have it fixed, but I hadn't decided what to do yet. We drove 800 miles to and from a family wedding this weekend, enjoying the quiet ride.
  • We have a large pile of bark in our driveway, waiting to be shoveled into our yard to keep the weeds down. Our grandson Kyle will be doing that tomorrow. I pulled into the driveway around the bark and hit a landscape rock. Backed up to extricate the car. Art took a look and says there are three or four scrapes over a foot of length and four inches wide. It will need to be sanded and painted. This one was my fault.
  • I was so upset I set the brake and got out of the car to rant. However, I had left the car in gear and it slid down the rain-wet, bark-dusted driveway. I leaped into the driver's seat and hit the foot brake just before the right side of the car smashed into the side of the garage. 
  • That was when I started to cry.   
So, tomorrow, at least, will not be a boring day. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Reflections between trips

After nearly three months at home after our winter in Tucson, we've begun leaving town again. Here are the past and upcoming adventures:

Atlanta and around - July 1 to 7

This much anticipated trip - for a convention, sightseeing in Charleston SC and a high school reunion - didn't turn out as expected because I got sick. We came home a week early. Even so, here's what I remember:
  • Atlanta has a great public transportation system. The train to the neighborhood of our lodging left directly from the airport and we got off three blocks from our destination.
  • Our first Airbnb experience was a great success. Our original four-night stay was extended to six. We met interesting people from all over and shared a kitchen and bathroom with no problems.
  • Where we live, the most common non-Caucasian ethnicity is Asian. In Atlanta, it's African-American. On the trains and in our Atlanta neighborhood, our white faces were in the minority. At first it felt odd and unfamiliar, but quickly became ordinary. When I got home, everyone around me looked positively pasty! I was reminded once again that it's a matter of perspective.
  • I lost my CPAP ("breathing machine") on the train and did my due diligence on finding it. When I got home and ordered a replacement I learned my insurance will pay 80% of the cost. Only $144 for me. Lucky Medicare recipient!
  • I may have lived on the east coast for a dozen years of my childhood, but the summer heat and humidity are way too much for me as a retiree. The Pacific Northwest is the place for me in the summertime.
A southern Oregon wedding - July 24 to 26

My ex-husband's niece Bridget is marrying Gilbert on July 25. Bridget was born after my ex and I divorced, and I met her only two years ago at a family funeral. She and Gilbert live in Tucson. I am the mother of her cousins James and Russell, so we are indirectly related. Here's what's good about the upcoming weekend:
  • Bridget comes from a welcoming family. Even a long-ago aunt and unrelated uncle are welcome to join the festivities.
  • Both my grown sons (James and Russell) will be in attendance. And both their girlfriends (Cinthia and Amanda). And my twin granddaughters (Mary and Malayne).
  • I will have conversations with my ex-inlaws, all of them good people.
  • We have a choice of two vehicles to make the 800-mile round trip. Husband Art's Prius gets the best gas mileage, but my new Honda Accord is quieter and more comfortable, and needs to be road tested. I'll let Art decide. He'll probably want me to decide. Stay tuned!
  • We're having dinner one night with Jeanne, an old and dear friend.
  • Art and I will have a conversation with my ex-husband John and his girlfriend Shirley. We have known each other for a long time and it will be good to see them. Even after John and I divorced we continued to communicate as our sons grew up.
Visiting Canadian friends - August 5 to 12

Judy and Ken were our neighbors for three years at the Voyager, where we live in Tucson in the winter. They sold their place this year and I was sad about that, but we're continuing the friendship which is wonderful. They live a couple hours north of Toronto in the summer. Here's what I'm looking forward to:
  • I laugh more with Judy than just about anyone else. She doesn't realize she's so funny!
  • Art is staying home, tending to local business. He will get a nice break from me.
  • I'll be staying by a lake ten miles from town where it's quiet. Judy tells me I should bring a good book, so I'll load up my Kindle.
Eastern Europe - Attempt #2 - August 28 to September 16

We'd planned a cruise in Eastern Europe for April of this year, but cancelled it because of a medical issue of Art's. He is now doing well so we're doing a land trip to the same area.
  • The travel insurance payout for the cancelled cruise just about exactly covers the cost of this trip.
  • The cancelled flights from April were partially refundable, so the new reservations didn't cost so much.
  • Art and I both feel confident that he's medically stable. Nothing like the correct meds and adequate hydration for a fellow with every-once-in-a-while cardiac arrhythmia! I'm especially fine with this because, on our trip to Atlanta, we walked seven miles in heat and humidity on our first day there. I know we've got the stamina for travel walking in Europe.
Our financial advisor told me once that people usually travel for five years after retirement, and then they come home. It's been just five years. I thought we might stop traveling since we live in Arizona in the winter - and we did cut back last year after Art's cardiac arrest - but it appears we're still on the go to some extent. I'm glad it's turned out that way.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Atlanta did me in

The International Convention is held every five years in a North American city. It draws over 60,000 people from all over the world. Since I joined the 12-step program nearly 25 years ago, I have attended every convention; San Diego was the first, followed by Minneapolis, Toronto, San Antonio, and now Atlanta. This is an anonymous program at the level of press, radio, film, and social media, so I won't be giving many specifics, since my blog is a social medium. I am not personally anonymous, though, so if you have a face-to-face conversation with me I'll be much more specific.

Our flight had a 200-person capacity; I'm estimating that half the passengers were attending the Convention. The mood aboard was light and friendly, as strangers became friends in a couple of seconds. Some of the people I talked to have been to all the conventions I have, plus earlier ones. The flight was smooth EXCEPT at the Atlanta end, when we went through a cloud and had a shrieky kind of bump - you know, when several passengers shriek and suddenly everyone starts talking with the energy of relief that the plane is still in the air.

Finally found our luggage and the MARTA train and our station and our ride. Got to the Airbnb place and realized my CPAP case and machine, with my meds, was not included in what came out of the car. Got to spend a couple of hours getting numbers for the lost and founds for the airport and train. Also considered how best to get my meds refilled - I had a week's worth in my daypack so was not in a total rush. I was not even thinking yet about the cost of replacing the CPAP when we got home.

We stayed in our first Airbnb - $68 a night for the two of us. Large room in a six-bedroom place, with a shared bath and kitchen, less than half a mile from the Oxford City station of Atlanta's MARTA transportation system. Spotlessly clean with interesting guests and three friendly rescue pit bulls.

The next morning we walked to the Oxford City station and boarded the train for Five Points, where all four train lines meet. Transferred to a westbound train and got off at the first stop. Made our way to the Georgia World Congress Center - an enormous convention venue - rode four escalators down to the registration hall. Lots of noise and unbelievable positive energy. Spent half an hour or so sitting quietly watching people in the lobby, then walked to the Marriott Marquis - about a three-quarter-mile walk - where I'd be attending some of the events of another 12-step program I belong to, for families of alcoholics. The heat and humidity in Atlanta is intimidating. We drank lots of water and walked slowly. Stopped for an Indian lunch and eventually found our way to the Marriott. Boarded the MARTA train at the Peachtree station and went home for a two-hour nap. Then back to the city for a light dinner and country music at the Omni. And home again. We used the trains, but even so, my fitbit says we walked seven miles.

The convention started on Friday at about the same time as my gastrointestinal virus made itself known. Art spent the day at workshops, checking in from time to time. He had a busy, interesting time. I slept and kept company in the bathroom.

Art also enjoyed the Saturday convention events. My body had completely cleaned itself out and left me tired and weak and without much appetite. Again, Art called from time to time to ask if I needed anything. I said crackers and 7-Up. I slept most of the day and woke to drink liquids and eat rice and bread and bananas. We listened to the 4th of July fireworks in our neighborhood rather than in downtown Atlanta.

This morning - Sunday - Art attended the final big meeting of the convention. I slept until nearly noon and awakened for a snack of banana and Greek yogurt. As I thought about the rest of our itinerary for this trip - a 300-mile drive to Charleston for two days, a 250-mile drive to Jacksonville, NC for three days, and a 460-mile drive back to Atlanta -- all in the unaccustomed heat and humidity of an east coast summer -- I knew I didn't have the recuperated energy or spirit to do it. Art agreed we could shorten our trip and go home on Tuesday. So I changed our Alaska Airlines flight, then canceled the car rental, the Airbnb in Charleston, the hotel in Jacksonville, and the Evergreen Club reservation in central Georgia. Not at all what I'd planned, but definitely the right thing.

We went out for dinner and I ate some real food for the first time in three days. I noticed my sense of humor returning, always a good sign.

Tomorrow morning we'll take MARTA to the Five Points station and see if my CPAP is in the lost and found. Then we'll take MARTA one more stop to the Peachtree station and pick up my replacement meds. Then we'll take MARTA south to the airport and see if my CPAP is in the lost and found there. Then we'll go back to the Airbnb and I'll rest. I should be ready for our Tuesday flight.

Travel is like that. We make plans. Sometimes things go exactly as we have lined them out. Sometimes they don't. Oddly, it's the things we don't expect that we remember longest. About this Atlanta trip, I'll remember I have much, much less tolerance for heat and humidity than I did when I was growing up on various military bases in the east. And that the best remedy for being sick is still rest and liquids and a bland diet. And that, in 2015, Art had a wonderful time at the International Convention in Atlanta.

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.