Saturday, February 26, 2011

Serendipity trip

One of my goals when I stopped working last June was to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and then to participate in a Habitat build in an area affected by Hurricane Katrina.

I've been on one Habitat build so far. It was on a Saturday, and I showed up with about 15 other people. Everyone else was in their 20s and a member of the young people's group of an evangelical church. They were all very nice and full of energy, and I spent a day holding the ladder for a young woman using a nail gun on siding.

I waited to sign up again because I really don't want to go alone and know no one when I get there and have nearly everyone be my kids' ages. So I contacted a Women Build coordinator - that's a group of women that builds a Habitat house. This group will start building a house next year, but for this year the group participates in other builds from time to time. They've been very friendly and invited me to join them. But I haven't, so far, because I live 15 miles north of Seattle and this group does its work in Tacoma, which is just over an hour's drive when there's no traffic and no rain.

So I was feeling a little guilty at not moving forward on this goal of mine.

I've also thought it would be fun to take a trip to the Cajun country of Louisiana. I'm not good with hot weather, so it would need to be between November and March or so.

Yesterday I was looking around at the activities offered by Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) in Louisiana. I was very surprised to find a Habitat for Humanity build in Lafayette, in the middle of Cajun country, for the week of March 14. Participants meet on Monday afternoon at 4 to talk about the week. From Tuesday to Friday they build for three hours in the morning, eat a box lunch onsite, and build for three hours or so in the afternoon. In the evenings Road Scholar has planned activities: a Cajun dinner one night, Cajun music another, Cajun dance lessons another, a dance hall evening another, and a swamp tour on the last morning.

What a serendipitous discovery! A Habitat build in an area affected by Katrina, with a group of people close to my age. Instead of sleeping on the floor of a church, we'll be sleeping in a bed at the Ramada Inn. And my husband Art thinks this sounds like fun. Besides, he told me, it's on your bucket list.

This Habitat build was the only one offered by Road Scholar anywhere in the world.

So we'll fly from Seattle to Houston, rent a car and drive to Lafayette. We're Alaska Airlines frequent flyers, so every trip we do I try to find a way to fly Alaska. Continental flies directly into Lafayette, but I'm looking forward to the three-hour morning drive from Houston into Louisiana - I've never taken that drive before, and it might be interesting.

All we have to do is sign up for the Road Scholar program. I'll do that Monday, after I've called and made sure you don't have to have years of construction experience to participate in this build.

I wasn't planning on taking another trip quite this soon. Oh, well. For this goal, if not now, when?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Snow, finally

I've been reading all winter about bloggers who are snowed in, sick of the stuff, wishing it were spring. I've been jealous of every one of you! We did get to some snow, during a weeklong visit to Idaho near Yellowstone. Four feet when we got there, another foot the next day. But then we came home before it even started to melt.

The Puget Sound is finally having a Snow Event today and tomorrow - fairly unusual for February, I hear. I stuck close to home today and watched the weather posts, hoping. Finally, at 5 p.m., the famous Convergence Zone formed up, and within 15 minutes it was snowing all over Seattle and environs.

We have less than an inch on the ground, but already I can hear the silence that descends in this weather, when you can't hear the freeway sounds from three miles away, and when most people pull into their driveways and spend the time at home, either enjoying the break or outside scraping a snowman together. I hear we may get three to six inches of snow tonight. I love that! It will be followed by a hard freeze, so we'll have multiple accidents tomorrow and Friday during the commute. We just don't get a lot of practice driving in these conditions, and we've got lots of hills and banked turns.

I think I'd like to spend a winter someplace where it snows. We have the possibility of a home exchange in Fairfield, Iowa. Or we can take up the invitation of friends who have a condo in Ogunquit, Maine, who say we can spend the winter there if we pay the utilities. I'm not a skiier - the first time on skis, back when I was 23, I broke my leg, and I haven't done much more of it, because I'm afraid to turn and I'm afraid to fall. But I tried snowshoeing in Idaho, and it was peaceful and fun and aerobic, so that's what I'd probably want to do.

For those of you who are sick of winter, I hope spring comes to your area soon and melts all the snow. For me, I'd like some more of it before the end of winter.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Clams and the Facebook Cat - Missions Accomplished

The clams from our Saturday night adventure spent the night in a bucket of cold water so they could clean the sand from themselves. Yesterday, following the instructions on the "cleaning razor clams" page I googled, my husband Art boiled water, set up cold water, got out a knife, and did the job. We bought Ritz crackers and oil. We tried broiling the clams and frying them. The broiler in the condo didn't get hot enough, and the clams were too wet to let the breading mix coat them thoroughly. However, for dinner last night we shared a large plate of clams. They were surprisingly good - mild tasting - almost "like chicken". If we come here again, we'll pick up the right clamming gear and try our hand again. It was fun!

And last night after dinner, I pulled up the Facebook download and prepared "Facebook Cat" to send to the magazine editor. I had about 4500 unedited words from several months' worth of entries about Larisa, and they got reduced to 998 words (1000-word publication maximum). I sent the piece off by email. I have no idea whether it will be accepted for publication, but that's okay. It has more of a chance having been sent off.

I get to try new things these days. I love it!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

First clamming

Yesterday afternoon we left Larisa the Facebook Cat at home with her paid companion and drove five hours to Long Beach, on the coast in Washington State.

We took a two-mile walk up the beach this morning. A truck drove by in the sand and stopped, and Steve, a friend from home, grinned at me. He has a condo here and came down for the day. I told him we'd bought licenses to dig 16 razor clams each at low tide tonight. We had no idea how to do this, but we were willing. Steve said, "You need to come down to the beach and find a friend who'll teach you."

So at 7:30, after dark, we made our way to the beach with a bucket and a shovel. I have miserable night vision so I tried to walk in Art's tracks in the sand. We got to the water's edge and turned on our tiny flashlight to look for the clams' "show", a dimple-like indentation in the wet sand. Within five minutes we saw a lantern approaching in the dark. "Got your limit yet?" said a voice. "No," I said. " We just got here and we have no idea what we're doing."

The voice belonged to a tall, rangy fellow named Mark, down from Wenatchee for the weekend. He looked at the tiny shovel we'd brought along and said, "You might have trouble catching the clams - they're fast diggers." He had a clamming tube, which he showed us how to use. Along with how to hold the lantern low to the ground so the beam is wide and shallow and you can see more of the sand. We spent about half an hour with Mark, in the dark, at low tide. We dug up ten razor clams. It was hard work! You see the clam's show, you position the tube over the sand, angled slightly toward the water, and bear down with your full weight, wiggling the tube. Then you put your finger over the suction hole and haul the sand-filled tube to the surface. If the clam isn't in the sand you dump out of the tube, you plunge the tube back into the hole and haul up another load.

We thanked Mark, the friend who taught us, and said good night. Art rinsed the clams at the hotel's cleaning station. We got back to our condo and I googled "how to clean razor clams" and "how to cook razor clams." Tomorrow we'll do that, plus go to the store for Ritz crackers to crumble. We've decided to broil the clams and have them for dinner tomorrow night.

Sometimes I'm surprised by the things I haven't done yet in my life. Clamming is something I can cross off that list now.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Facebook Cat Retrieved

It's been, well, eight months since I spent so much time troubleshooting and analyzing a problem. Eight months ago I worked as a systems analyst, and that was mostly what I did. Now I'm a writer who lost data. Same skill set needed for a different problem.

After four rounds of email with the tech guy where I used to work, I realized my request of him was too vague. I wrote the article "sometime between September 2009 and February 2010", sent it home "sometime between December 2009 and April 2010", and it may or may not have been in the My Documents directory of my computer at work and backed up at some point. Because I deleted everything off my computer on my last day of work, and besides, it's been surplused since I left.

The guy was willing to order backup tapes from offsite, but I doubt he would have been able to order enough of them to make sure he got Facebook Cat. He said he could only find an old email "if I had a court order." He wasn't being obstructionist - just realistic.

So I had an online chat with Comcast, my email provider, and asked if they kept my emails even though I had them set up to automatically delete after 30 days. They said nope, they didn't, and that in the future maybe I should set email up to be deleted "never". I said yep, I would.

Then I talked to a writer friend of mine, who has a daughter who went to Stanford, where Facebook originated, and my friend emailed her daughter for the name of anyone who works at Facebook now, so I could plead my case to have them give me access to my oldest posts, rather than the 36 hours of posts I can now read.

When I got home at 10 p.m. last night, I looked around in Facebook. I'm an analyst, after all. And, on the Account/Account Settings menu, I found an option called "Download Your Information." I followed the instructions there, and within an hour I had a zip file delivered to me by email from Facebook. It contained everything I've ever contributed to that ginormous database.

Between 11 p.m and 12 a.m. I copied and pasted all the Facebook Cat entries to a new Word document.

Between 12 a.m. and 2:15 a.m. I lay awake as though I'd had nine cups of coffee before bed, when actually I'd just fully exercised my brain for probably the first time all winter. Larisa the Facebook Cat was asleep at my feet, purring.

At 6:15 a.m. I woke up with the opportunity to sleep one more hour before I had to get up, then lay there thinking how to format my article so I can get it into the 1,000-word limit the magazine is requesting.

Now it's 4:15 p.m. and I am going to take a nap.

Thanks for all the good wishes and optimistic thoughts.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Saga of the Facebook Cat

A couple years ago we bought a hypoallergenic Siberian forest cat. Larisa had been a breeding queen for a cattery in Oregon. At age five she was spayed and offered for sale, and Art and I bought her because I've had cats for decades and Art is allergic to them, except for Larisa.

From the time we found out we'd be getting Larisa, until Day 62 of her residency in our home when she finally allowed us to touch her, I posted Facebook entries a couple of times a week about the progress we and she were making. Friends and family followed her story and made their comments online.

About a year ago I decided to write a piece called Facebook Cat that might be marketable to a periodical. So, during lunch hours at work, I went back in Facebook to those months, and copied and pasted the entries and the comments into a Word document. I emailed it to myself at my home address before I quit my job last June.

I kept the Facebook Cat draft on my computer desktop for months. One day I decided I wouldn't need it, so I deleted it. Then last weekend, when I was looking through a long list of writers markets for possible placement of another piece, I came upon a new cat magazine. On a whim, I typed up an email query and sent it off, offering Facebook Cat as a piece for the magazine.

Within 24 hours I got a response, requesting the article on spec. This was a very big deal. I've submitted a few queries over the last years and gotten polite rejections for stuff I'd written. But now I had an editor who was interested! I emailed her and said I'd get the piece to her as soon as possible.

So I went looking in my desktop Trash. No Facebook Cat. I looked in my backups for the last eight months. Nothing. I called my computer support guy. He said it should be there. I agreed. But it wasn't.

I spent about five hours yesterday on this quest. As a last resort, I sent an email this morning to the email expert at my old workplace, asking him if he'd be willing to go through my emails for last year, looking for emails from myself at work to myself at home. I haven't heard from him yet. But he's my last hope. At present, Facebook only allows you to look at a month of history, which is way out of range, since I need June to August of 2009 to start over.

Know the old saying? "There are two kinds of people in the world: people who have lost data, and people who will."

I hate it when that happens! I'm trying to think of how to explain to the editor I won't be submitting Facebook Cat because I can't find it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Revisiting the to-do list

When I was working I had a to-do list on my computer at work, on my computer at home, and on my Palm Pilot. Every day I synched my Palm Pilot to my work computer, brought it home and synched it to my home computer. Otherwise, I would forget everything I had to do.

When I first stopped working, I was told I wouldn't need to keep an extensive to-do list because my time would be my own. I had trouble with that. What if I didn't have enough to do when I was no longer working? What if I got bored? Back then, I now realize, much of my perceived value was in being busy, and a long to-do list verified that I was.

It's been nearly eight months since I've worked. I have a to-do list on my home computer, but sometime in the next few weeks I'm going to post my Palm Pilot on Freecycle or Craigslist. If I get no offers I'll donate it to the Goodwill. I'm done with it.

My to-do list now reminds me of deadlines - real ones, not ones I've conjured up to create a little tension in my mind - like paying the COBRA bill and buying travel insurance for an upcoming trip and calling the catsitter. It also jogs my brain on projects I have in mind, with no dates attached. But the list is getting shorter, and that is a good thing.

I'm still busy. That's in my nature. Today I'll either go see "The King's Speech," or work on Module 11 of my online ESL class, or walk to the store for tuna cat food and then to the diner for lunch, or install the Rosetta Stone Spanish software so I can pick up some Spanish for next winter's trip to Ecuador. But I can choose what looks good. And none of those options is on my to-do list. Isn't that wonderful?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My head is a dangerous neighborhood

It's a routine screening, but I convince myself something will be found. Then for the next five days I live in terror that the phone will ring and someone at my doc's office will tell me they have bad news. This year I set my phone to silent so I could choose when I'd listen to the bad news message. The outcome was that I had five days of silent terror and missed several calls from people I should have answered.

As each day passes with no message I wonder if they've lost my records, or if the news is so bad they're trying to figure out how to tell me. This year I also wondered whether I might have given them my phone number with the wrong area code.

I do this every year when I get a mammogram.

I can talk about this today because I got the "all is normal" in a form letter from the doc's office. Now my life can resume its normally scheduled events.

I am embarrassed to even write about this. Partly it's because I have family members and friends currently being treated for breast cancer, and if they happen to read this they may think I'm making light of the topic. Partly it's because I know mammograms are intended as screening tools so that anything amiss can be caught early when it's most treatable.

My head is a dangerous neighborhood to go into alone when I'm stuck in fear. It's happened with other subjects during my life. When I'm not afraid I can talk to anyone about anything under the sun. I have a feeling, though, that talking when I'm afraid might make sense.

Next time maybe I'll consider it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Being sociable

Last Tuesday I went to lunch at a diner near my house. At a cluster of tables nearby, 15 older women - in their 70s mostly - ate lunch together. They looked dressed up. One of them wore a hat with sequins. Several wore hose. They reminded me of how we used to dress up for church when I was a kid. I tried to hear what they were saying, but their voices didn't carry. I asked Voula, the proprietor, who these women were. My guess was that they were from a church organization. She said no, they were neighbors. They get together at someone's house once a month for lunch, and this time they decided to try a restaurant.

On Wednesday night I went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant a couple of miles from my house. At a large round table nearby, nine young women ate dinner together. They were dressed casually and a few of them had their hair tied up in informal pony tails. They talked fast and colloquially and it was easy to hear them as they discussed bosses, husbands and babies. I didn't find out how they all knew each other.

The older ladies from the diner are could be the grandmothers of the young women at the Chinese place. The attire is different now and so are the volume and style of speech. But they're the same in an important way; they still gather as groups of women to talk and eat.

In my last post I talked about how I'm making social contacts now. I knew I'd have to do that to replace the social interactions I had during the day at work. I'm a low-end extrovert - I can spend hours on the computer or with a good book, but I do need conversation with other people.

The responses to that post remind me that we don't all need the same kind of social contact. Some of us are quite content to spend much of our time alone. Some wish they had more interactions with others. Some are content with the present balance they have.

When I was younger I thought I ought to be more sociable. That was probably a message I got from my mother, who could work a room with the best of them. I like getting together one on one with friends, or one on several - if I know everyone. Still, even after a couple of hours I'm ready to go home. My sister Alyx loves being around people and inherited my mother's talent for schmoozing. When I visit her, I sometimes have to retire to my room to get a break from the social activity going on at her house.

I know I need a social network. Usually, most of my friends don't know each other. If I were to have a gathering of a dozen friends, the only thing most of them would have in common is me. I suspect that's not unusual.

The odds are reasonable that a woman will outlive her spouse. If that happens to me, I want to have a lively community around me. It's not the main reason I'm actively seeking social connections now that I'm not working, but I have to admit it is a factor.

Thank goodness for blogging. We who read and comment on each other's thoughts recognize commonality and value it. This particular topic might not ever come up in other kinds of conversations at all.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

At my age

This morning my husband Art and I attended the Silver Sneakers class at our local rec center. It's three days a week for 55 minutes of stretching and strength training for seniors. Today there were 15 of us, mostly women. We arrived slowly and left invigorated. I'm the youngest person in the class, but I connect with many of the women, as none of us are working any longer. On Monday we talked about "The King's Speech" and they've talked Art into going to a matinee with me some rainy day soon.

Yesterday I went to the gym to do my balancing exercises on a bosa ball, since I don't have one at home. I do that two or three days a week. At the gym during the day there are people of both genders and all ages. I'm neither the youngest nor the oldest. I've only talked to a couple of people since I joined last month, but I suspect before long there will be faces I recognize and conversations I have before I leave for home.

At the end of my work life I was one of the dozen oldest people in a company with about 100 employees. The dozen oldest of us were near retirement, doing our calculations and making our plans and marking our calendars, at least mentally. The rest of the employees were juggling babies and children and teenagers and kids in college and young adults and young grandchildren along with fulltime jobs and a commute. The longer I was at that job, the more separate I felt, as I began leaning toward the post-work world.

Now, in my post-work life, I share my days with others who are not working. My next door neighbor Jenn is early 30s, a husband and two small children and 15 chickens. We have tea from time to time and really enjoy each other's company. She's my kids' age, but I don't think of her that way. She's a friend. Younger, but a friend. Last Tuesday I went with her and her daughter Kaela to a homeschool class, and I got to spend an hour listening to other young women who have chosen to homeschool their children. They are an articulate bunch. I was glad to be asked to go along.

My neighbor Judy across the street is mid 70s, a husband with Alzheimers in a group home, four grown children, no pets. We have tea from time to time and really enjoy each other's company. She's a friend. Older, but a friend. On Monday she was having a bad day, so I went over. Turns out she is sick of January rain. We commiserated and laughed, and by the time I left we both felt better.

I meet with my writers' group on the first and third Tuesday of each month. We're all in our late 50s or early 60s. Two of us work and two of us don't. We have dinner together before we talk or write, and we enjoy each other's company. They're friends, about my age. We're attending two writing workshops together this spring, and we've talked about traveling together to Puerto Vallarta next winter, where one of our group has recently moved.

In my blogging community, I interact with all ages. We share an interest in writing and in communicating about things of importance to us. Some of us work and some don't. I haven't met any of these people face to face, but I suspect I will. Online, we enjoy each other's company, and we're friends of a different sort.

I like being part of a community of all ages and stages of life. When I was younger I preferred the company of people my age. Now, though, I want to experience all the other ages, not just my own.