Thursday, July 29, 2010

Freak-out day, almost

I've been paying bills on the 1st for 30 years, but there's no need to any more, since I no longer get a paycheck. My husband Art suggested I pay the bills as they come in, and I realized he is right.

Tomorrow is the first day I won't get a paycheck in over 20 years. I knew it was coming, but it was always in the future until now. For the next few years we'll be living on Art's pensions. We've got some savings budgeted to spend each month, but I've been putting money away for so long it will be weird and difficult for me to take any out. So it feels like I no longer have money to pay bills with.

My Bag Lady is chortling. For the most part I haven't been listening to her. But this morning, as I was getting ready to make our flight reservations for our October trip to Italy, I had this impulse to call the group leader and tell him to cancel us from the roster. How can we possibly afford to travel when I'm not getting a paycheck? But I didn't call, and now we are committed to the trip.

I can tell this is going to take some getting used to.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wide open Monday

Today is the first weekday of the fifth week since I stopped working. The first week we travelled to San Antonio. The second we were distracted by a sick, sack-eating cat. The third we travelled to Whistler and California. Last week we had twin granddaughters visiting for a week. This week we're home until Friday, when we leave again for Alaska. I'm glad we've got a slower schedule for most of this week. I need the break!

I'm limited somewhat by a sore back. Last Thursday evening I was gathering cardboard boxes we've been collecting for our neighbors, so they can lay cardboard down in their blackberry-infested area and then cover the cardboard with wood chips, which will kill the weeds and let the area be restored to a more natural habitat. I tossed each box down the bank of our easement. As I was returning from the last load I tripped in a hole in our lawn. As I fell, I tried to favor my left ankle which was badly sprained a year ago last Christmas when I fell off a snow-covered curb. The ankle was fine and, I thought, so was the rest of me. But the next morning I woke up with a painful SI joint - also a weak area for me - and spasms in my piriformis. Two trips to the chiropractor later, I'm feeling some relief. But I'm again reminded that I need to be careful as I move about. The chiro tells me everyone has a part of their body that's the weakest part - an old injury of some kind - that goes out periodically. Oh, well. That would be my left ankle and my SI joint. I'm grateful I'm not sick. Even when I'm icing my back or doing the prescribed exercises, I remember that.

My twin granddaughters' visit, while jolting us out of our day-to-day routine, was sans parents and that is wonderful in spite of the hard work. We've decided to make it a semiannual tradition - three or four days between Christmas and New Years, and a week in the summer. I watch these little girls growing up in the midst of benign chaos and I marvel at the resiliency of children. For the week they're with us, they've got a quiet and relaxing environment, interspersed with walks to the library and the ice cream store, their uncle's softball games, and summer recreation activities (this year, golf and cartooning). They met the neighbor's daughter and, for a couple of afternoons, there was a lot of little girl shrieking going on.

We cook what we know they like - ribs and chicken and hot dogs and, usually, corn on the cob. With that menu, they are not picky eaters! And one night, we had a picnic with the neighbors on the lawn between our houses. The kids had hot dogs and corn on the cob and watermelon; the grownups had T-bone steaks and potato salad. And we had s'mores. It's been years, and those marshmallows are just as messy as I remembered.

This afternoon I harvested the rest of the peas in our little garden. The beans were coming up beneath them and now they'll have the full sun to do their own thing. And I harvested our first celery plant today! Our gardener tells us celery doesn't usually grow well in the Pacific Northwest. I guess our half dozen celeries didn't get the word.

I'm getting over the novelty of not working. I suspect when the first of the month arrives and I don't have a paycheck I'll freak a little, but hopefully not much. We've planned this out. Art has four pensions we'll be living on, mostly. But we're making deposits on travel for later this year and next spring, and it's a little scary to watch those dollars leave the checking account, even if they've been budgeted. I just have to trust the process.

I took time off my ESL class last week because I need blocks of time without distractions to do the assignments. I'd like to get two more modules done this week. It's funny that something so common as teaching is such a new deal for me. When I was a kid it was decided that I would be a teacher when I grew up. Instead, I got married right out of college and my husband became the teacher. I subbed some, but I didn't like it and got into the IT industry instead, which was much more to my liking. Now I've left that behind and am looking at teaching again. Go figure. The difference is, this time it's about being useful rather than about me and making a living. Plus, I'm 40 years older than I was the first time, and I have a lot more patience.

I've had two offers of ways to spend my time. They need volunteers at Friends of the Library and they need volunteers for Patty Murray's senatorial campaign. So far I have kept my mouth shut on both opportunities. I have enough to do right now.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Carrying it on

Like I said, I've started an online course to learn to teach English as a second language. I'm on Module 3 of 12. It's new to me, but I've always been a good student, and I'm learning a bunch already.

When I told my massage therapist what I was doing, he said, "I teach classes on Wednesday night. I found a book called The Courage to Teach, and I recommend it." So I went to, where you can get books from other people for free (your cost is mailing the books you've got available when another person requests them). I found the book and ordered it.

When the book arrived, I left a message for the sender, Mike S.
Thanks. I'm working on a goal to teach English as a second language. A friend says this book has been a good one for him in his teaching.

I got a message back:
My wife received her ESL endorsement shortly before she passed away last year. She taught for 35 years and this was her book. Good luck on your educational goals. I hope it goes well.

I sent one more note:
Thank you, Mike. I'll think of your wife as I move toward this goal.

So now, as I learn this new skill, I am carrying on the work of Mike's wife.

I could have sent no message when I got the book. Usually I don't. But this time it made a difference. Now I'm connected to another teacher from another place.

Today I took my twin granddaughters to an hour-long program at the library. While they were engaged I had a chat with the librarian. I told her about my goal. She said there's an 80-year-old guy named Steve in the next community over who has volunteered at the library for many years. Twice a week he has "talk time" and people show up to practice speaking English. She said sometimes they read the paper together and discuss what they've read. Every now and then they surprise Steve by bringing a meal from their native culture. They've formed a little community, these people at the library. All because of Steve.

I'd like to meet Steve - just sit quietly in the back of the room, and watch and listen. And learn.

I'm close to the end of my fourth week of not working. Week 1 we went to San Antonio for four days. Week 2 we were distracted by Larisa the Sick Cat. Week 3 we traveled to Whistler and then to California. This week we have our granddaughters visiting.

So far I don't miss work. Not one bit.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Memories and Dreams

We drove home from Whistler on Thursday, getting home at about 3:30 pm. At 6:30 pm we left for the airport. In those three hours I got the laundry done and a couple of bills paid.

I grew up in a military family, so I don't have childhood neighbors and friends. Except for "Aunt" Elinor and "Uncle" Bernie and their boys Bob and Jim. They had duty stations parallel to ours, so we hung out with them a lot during elementary and middle school. The grownups drank cocktails and played bridge, and us kids played Stadium Checkers and dug holes to China.

Fifty years later, both my parents and Uncle Bernie are gone. Aunt Elinor is 90 now, living in the house they bought in 1970, assisted during the day by a couple of caregivers. My sister was in California clearing out her storage unit and shipping the last of their stuff to their new home in Alaska, and I decided to fly down for a couple of days so she and I could spend a day and a night with Aunt Elinor.

Our mom died two years ago and for the last several years of her life she had moderate dementia, so we weren't sure what to expect of Aunt Elinor. We found that she's frail of body but sharp of mind and intellect. We talked at her table for ten hours on Friday and another three on Saturday. We'd been told Aunt Elinor usually went to bed at 9 pm, but she was still wide awake when we finally turned in at 11. She was so eager for conversation.

We suggested she join a book club, as she is an avid reader, preferring historical biographies. She said, "I was in two, but the other ladies drifted away or died." We suggested she join another book club and consider herself to be about 70. She said, "I don't drive, and I don't want to be a burden." We suggested she ask her caregivers to provide a ride or, once she is part of the group, ask another member. When it was time for us to leave, her weekend caregiver arrived. I watched the animation leave her face. Sometime in the next couple of weeks I'll research other opportunities available to her and send an email to Bob or Jim, and my sister will tell the caregivers.

Those hours were hard work but immensely rewarding. Aunt Elinor has known my sister and me since before we were born, serving as a second mother especially in our own mother's last years. Now it was our turn to be there for her.

The plane trip home took its usual two hours and I was greeted at the baggage terminal by my husband Art and my 10-year-old twin granddaughters, arrived that day for a weeklong visit. I shifted roles. Now I am Grandma who drives to the library and the bookstore, who reads aloud from "The 21 Balloons" as the girls draw, who serves up ribs and canned corn and canned applesauce and leftover spaghetti, who supervises baths and screen time.

How lucky I am to have the energy for one generation older one day, and two generations younger the next. To have the love for all of them. To be able to listen to both memories and dreams.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Older bodies

Here in Whistler, BC, Art and I have walked six miles for each of the last two days - one day around Lost Lake, and today around Alta Lake. We've been walking for years. Recently, though, I can tell I'm not the young flexible thing I used to be. I woke up early this morning and could hardly move. Every muscle hurt, even the ones not needed for walking. I felt very old.

I did limber up by the time we started out on our walk today. But I remember, years ago, when I would have followed a six-mile walk with an ice cream cone and a dip in the pool - rather than just the ice cream cone. And my feet might have hurt, but my piriformis wouldn't have bothered me. So I do the stretches recommended by my chiropractor and my massage therapist and hope for the best.

I have goals for my post-work years. One of them is to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity, one in my community first, and then in others. To do that, though, I've got to be strong and fit. I'm so-so in both categories. So I walk. But then I feel it! Makes me wonder whether I ought to be applying to work in the Habitat for Humanity office instead.

I'm working on my online ESL class now, and that involves sitting at my computer, which is more comfortable. However, comfort leads to complacency, which leads to inactivity, which leads to out-of-shapeness, not conducive to a Habitat builder.

I know that exercise and strength training are first steps for my Habitat goal. Like taking the online class is the first step for my goal of teaching English as a second language.

Whoever said it would be easy?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bucket list

One of the items on my bucket list is to overcome my fear of heights. It keeps me from hiking on even wide, flat trails if they have a dropoff on one side - like the Hoodoo Bowl at Bryce, or the simplest of glacier walks at Paradise on Mount Rainier, or the Airport Butte trail in Sedona.

Anyway, on our drive yesterday from Seattle to Whistler, BC we stopped at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. I'd heard - in National Geographic Traveler, I think - it was a place in the world you need to see. So I decided we would stop and walk across that bridge, 250 feet over the river, plus traverse the seven other suspension bridges in the rainforest within the park. I told Art I wanted to do this, even though the admission is $30. He didn't say anything, but I knew the price committed me to the crossing.

Usually, when I'm approaching a high place, I prime my terror by looking down. This time, I remembered my old friend Kris saying, "Don't look down" when I froze up on the Mount Rainier trail. So instead, I looked across, to the other side of the bridge. I crossed the bridge one step at a time, my right hand firmly on the cable, my eyes fixed on a tree on the other side. And, lo and behold, Linda has now walked high above a river on a suspension bridge!

It was like last year in Turkey when I went for a hot air balloon ride. I said yes and I had an unexpected experience. In that balloon we traveled to places we couldn't have gotten to any other way. Goat trails. Plateau meadows. Pigeon houses. All because I said yes.

Don't look down. You're not supposed to be terrified. If you look down you will be so terrified you will turn around and go back to the safety of where you've already been. And you will not have the new experience. And you will still be afraid.

Thinking about responses to my post about my ESL class, I note that no one said, "Do it the easy way." That sounds a lot like "Don't look down."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What if I'm not good at it?

Larisa the Sack Cat is home, acting like her old self. This morning she found a plastic sack on my dresser, but I caught her before she ate any of it. We'll have to be careful, though, as she has forgotten already about her $950 experience at the vet.

I finished the first of 14 modules of my online ESL course. Since I don't have any formal teaching experience, the material was new, but I picked it up in the reading, and I'm a good enough writer that I easily passed the essay questions that concluded the unit.

Now I'm on the Classroom Management module. I visualize 20 middle schoolers going berserk in my classroom - but, no, it will probably be fewer than 10 students, all adults, with infractions like chatting with a friend in their native language or interrupting. Even so, this was really new material. How to set up classroom seating, how to give clear instructions, how to elicit information rather than providing it. For those of you who have been teachers, you're surely wondering why on earth I'm having any issues with this topic. It's because you have been teachers and I haven't. I've been a trainer, but that's not the same thing.

Anyway, I read through the material yesterday and finished all but the essay questions. And I'm torn. Should I choose a question I already know the answer to, or one where I need to do some research and some learning first? Clearly, if I want to become a competent ESL teacher, I should choose the research and learning. But that means I'm delving into something I don't know about yet. The old achiever in me wants to take the class, earn the A and be done with it. The new explorer in me - remember when I said one thing on my bucket list is to learn to embrace risk? - wants to go to the bookstore, check out various ESL texts, and figure out which one I'd want to use, then discuss the pros and cons of using that text - or anything at all.

For some reason, I feel like I ought to know this stuff already. After all, I know a lot of teachers. I was married to one for 15 years.

How ridiculous, I say to myself. You've got this goal, so do the work.

But what if I'm not good at it?

For sure, I won't be the best. But it's likely I'll be good enough to be useful to my students. I'll just have to get over myself.

What a concept for a new retiree!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Happy cat

Larisa the Happy Cat has been eating all afternoon and, according to the vet, will probably be ready to come home tomorrow without needing surgery. The vet said they have some very sick cats in ICU right now and it's nice to go in there and have one who comes to the front of her cage to see what's going on, purring loudly and "prancing with her tail held high". Guess she's a lucky girl also. I didn't know she'd been in ICU - that's probably just as well.

I've been thinking about neighborhoods. Yesterday afternoon I walked across the street to visit Judy, my older neighbor. I took her her mail and a container of strawberries from our garden. I'm not a gift bearer, usually, but I remember that's how neighborhoods used to be, and I've got a neighbor, Jennie, who is a gift bearer and now my friend, and I want to spread the good neighborly energy. Judy and I talked for an hour while her portable air conditioner blew across the room to cool us down from the 87-degree weather. For the Seattle area, 87 is hot.

While we were in San Antonio last week, I read Voluntary Simplicity on my Kindle. I've been drawn to simplicity and frugality and living in alignment with my values for the last few months, as I started to plan my post-work activities. Right now our garden is burgeoning and there are strawberries in the freezer and we ate our first two ripe blueberries this afternoon. We pulled out the finished broccoli plants and tossed them to the chickens next door, who were quite appreciative. We extracted six eggs from their house and will have them for breakfast tomorrow morning.

But, back to my topic, the idea of neighborliness is pulling at me. Judy said that in the 80s our neighborhood was close knit, but in the 1990s some people died or moved away, and the new neighbors were closed in (us, for example), busy with work and families and not inclined toward neighborliness. I told Judy I was embarrassed by the quality of neighbor I've been, and I intend to change that. It's wonderful to have time during the day for such purposes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sack cat

I thought I'd be home just enjoying the hot weather today, but we paid yet another trip to the vet with our Larisa. As I descended the basement stairs this morning to start a load of laundry, I came upon two one-inch-square pieces of damp white plastic grocery sack, with teeth marks. They were resting atop a small damp area on the carpet that looked suspiciously like cat throw-up. I ran up the stairs into the spare room where Larisa sleeps during the day. On the floor near the bed I found the rest of the grocery sack - with eight chewed holes.

Larisa is not sick, does not have a virus, was not so stressed by our absence last week that she was pining for us. No. She just ate some sack, and the pieces are now inside her, at least one of them blocking her digestive system. So she is spending yet another day at the vet while the staff there gives her medication to stimulate her digestive system to push, baby, push, and further gives her heavy duty hairball medication (I'm thinking large glycerine capsules) to lubricate her insides. Hopefully, she'll become slippery, and her own digestive system will push the stuff through. At the same time, Larisa is vomiting helpfully, perhaps intending to get the sack pieces out the other end.

If this doesn't work, she may need exploratory surgery, which we would pay for by trading in our transatlantic cruise planned for next April.

The vet says no one understands why some cats eat foreign objects like sacks and the heads of small action figures. But such a cat is called a "junkie".

Makes me warm and fuzzy to think that I am the Bag Lady and Larisa is the Sack Cat.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Finally, summer has come to the Pacific Northwest. I just got back from the garden, where I picked a quart of ripe strawberries and seven raspberries. I see the first rounds of spinach and bok choy have finally gone to seed, so we'll be pulling them up and giving them to the neighbors' chickens - we're feeding them this week in exchange for about eight eggs a day.

I had a long list of things to do today, accompanied by the satisfaction that I really could do the most important things first and wait until another day for the rest. I have a vague awareness that my former colleagues are working in their cubicles 14 miles from here, looking out the windows - if they have one - and wishing they weren't working. I'm looking out my own window and thinking I'll go sit in my Adirondack chair as soon as I finish this blog entry. I'd like to think I'll read, but I'm a bit distracted today.

We took our designer cat Larisa to the vet this morning. She stopped eating while we were in San Antonio for four days last week. No fever, no blockage. Vet says she may have been on a hunger strike and then, when we got home, her appetite-stimulating chemical or enzyme didn't start up again. So they're feeding her from a syringe this afternoon, to kick start her appetite, while running blood and urine lab tests to check for anything else that might be going on.

Larisa has a hard time when we're traveling. She's a Siberian Forest cat, hypoallergenic, a former breeding queen from a cattery in Oregon. My husband Art is allergic to most cats, but not to her, so we bought her last year after her last pregnancy ended in the miscarriage of a single kitten and she had to be spayed. I've wanted a cat for five years, since my sweetheart Muffin died. I asked the breeder if Larisa would do okay while we travel, and he said yes. So far, we've been on four trips ranging from four days to two weeks. Larisa doesn't like it. We've asked someone to come in and keep her company in the evenings, but even that didn't help this time.

So now, as I wait for the lab results, I wonder what the next steps might be. The vet says we can have her medicated with an antidepressant and an appetite stimulant when we travel, but that seems unnatural and heartless to me, for some reason. Calling the breeder has gone through my mind. "Would you like to have Larisa back? She's miserable when we're gone, and I'm afraid she might starve if the trip were three weeks long - like our planned October trip to Italy."

When we brought Larisa home last summer, it was 62 days before she would let us touch her. She's a sensitive girl and I want the best for her. Even if it's not the best for me.

Maybe she just has a virus. I hope so.

Monday, July 5, 2010

First trip

We got back from San Antonio in the wee hours this morning, after spending five hours in the Denver airport until the thunderstorms had passed and the planes came in from all over to carry us home. We attended a large convention, stayed in a nice hotel with fabulous customer service, ate omelets in which we could taste every ingredient, and walked 23 miles in four days. Temps were in the upper 80s - way higher than I'm accustomed to - but I complained only minimally.

I'm no longer working, so I really noticed how the money went. Getting to and from airports cost over a hundred dollars! Ice cream cones in the late evening cost more than espressos. Usually when we travel we're in a condo and mostly cook for ourselves. This morning I made coffee at home to save the espresso money. My Bag Lady has ways of keeping me cautious.

I'd planned on working on my ESL class today, but instead I played catch-up with emails and bills. Tomorrow! I got two memorable comments from my massage therapist today. (1) "I can tell you've been walking - you've got a callous right above your bunion" (2) "If you think you're going to be teaching, read the book The Courage To Teach." So (1) I'll take care of the callous tomorrow - it feels virtuous to have done that much walking and (2) I ordered the book from

It's finally warming up here in Washington State - supposed to be in the 80s this week. I'll get to sit in my Adirondack chair and work on the edits for my writing group's collaborative abcdarium, and maybe bring my laptop outside and work on the ESL class. Also, it's time to pull up the early lettuce, bok choy and spinach that have gone to seed and make way for the squash and beans.