Saturday, August 27, 2011

Three years

Three years ago yesterday my mother died in a nursing home in San Bernardino, California. I was with her when she took her last breath.

Though she had been mostly raised by a strict Southern Baptist grandmother, my mother was not a woman of faith. She didn't have the spiritual certainty that can provide peace of mind during life or confidence there's anything afterwards. Though her wishes were that no extraordinary measures be used to prolong her life, when the time actually came she changed her mind. At her request, she was treated for six bouts of pneumonia in the last seven months of her life and was oxygen dependent. Somehow, when the time was coming, she was resistant. I think she might have been very afraid.

My sister and my son and I kept watch in shifts for the last few days of her life, when she'd stopped eating and her eyes were mostly closed. It was on my shift, at 5:20 in the afternoon, that her blood oxygen levels started slipping. And rapidly. When they were at 57 percent, my eyes left the monitor and looked at her. For a couple of seconds, she looked like a little girl, eyes opened in wonder and surprise. And then she was gone.

Three years later I still see that little girl's face.

My mother was orphaned by the time she was 18. Her father died when she was nine of a ruptured appendix. Her mother died in bed of a "broken heart" nine years later. My mother had been valedictorian of a class of 400 and had just started junior college. After her mother's death she went to work, then joined the Marine Corps; she told me once she knew if she married someone in the service she would be taken care of. After her military service she continued to work as a buyer for the Post Exchange. In the officers club one night, she met my father, also a Marine. They were married six months later, and were married for 32 years until he died at age 57 of emphysema and cirrhosis of the liver - lifestyle diseases.

My father had taken good care of my mother. After his death, she lived comfortably in southern California in a condo with an ocean view. She traveled and entertained, played bridge and tutored English. She met a new man and they lived together in the condo for another 20 years.

In my younger years I didn't realize my mother was insecure and afraid. I just thought she was difficult, demanding, and critical. One of those mothers you could never please, no matter how hard you tried. It was only in the last few years, when she developed moderate dementia, that her opinion of me changed. She was always glad to see me on my quarterly trips from Seattle to San Bernardino. Dementia was a blessing that way, it seems. She'd forgotten, and I got to see an easier mother.

Here's my gratitude list:

1. The day before she died, I got to make amends to my mother for my lack of understanding and acceptance of her circumstances. I did this by lying next to her, breathing with her as she approached her own death.

2. I got to be with her when she took her last breath. It was the first time I'd ever seen anyone die, and it was a life-changing experience for me.

3. She raised me to be strong and independent and motivated.

4. As a beneficiary of her estate, I had the freedom to quit my job at 61, to travel, and to have the chance to discover what I want to do next.

5. I'm learning about the forces that shaped my mother's life and I'm developing compassion for her.

I am my mother's daughter in ways both advantageous and limiting. I'm trying to use the advantages and to grow beyond the other ones. I want to be a good steward of my mother's legacy.

So far, so good.

For my sister's perspective, see her blog post:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Getting going again

I've been distracted for three months by my back injury - the one causing tingling in my feet. I let my exercise routine go dormant, except for an hourlong class three mornings a week that's just for seniors. I cut down on my walking because wearing the walking shoes made the tingling worse.

Now that I've gotten the MRI results - older, aggravated back - I'm moving on. Getting going again.

I bought a couple pairs of "barefoot shoes". These are made by Merrill and I picked them up at REI. They're designed to imitate the stride used by people who run or walk barefooted. They've got a thin sole and a neutral/negative heel. They take a bit of getting used to - my calf muscles were sore at first - but I can wear them now to walk both inside and out. I'm using them.

I talked to my chiropractor about exercises that would help. He suggested I use a Roman chair exercise machine, available at my local gym - apparently it stretches parts of the spine in different directions - the top discs up, the lower ones down.

I made an appointment with Bob, a trainer I've used before. I told him about my SI joint, my tingling feet, my bp medication and my goals - to get stronger, improve my balance and assist my back/feet in their healing. He worked up a schedule for me. The exercises are primarily to strengthen my core and my legs and align my posture.

I've figured I can do the ones at home on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the ones at the gym on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. At the gym I'll also use the elliptical trainer, which is great for strengthening the SI joint.

In the past, when I've started out on an exercise program it's been out of guilt or because I wanted to get fit or lose weight. This time it's different. I want to get strong and well again. I'm not ready to say, "Oh, well, I'm getting older. I don't need to do this any more." I'm responsible for my own body. I plan to live several more decades, and I want my body to be my friend.

This morning I did the floor exercises at home. I felt awkward and weak and I did them downstairs where my husband wouldn't be watching. It was a private beginning again. Then, this afternoon, I went outside and pulled weeds for half an hour, in my barefoot shoes. Just half an hour for today.

I've got a ways to go, but I feel better already. I've made the decision to get going again.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Good things happening

I just came in from picking green beans. There aren't many this year because Art, the random hopeful gardener at our house, so marveled at this year's volunteer tomatoes that he allowed them all to thrive in our raised beds. There's only so much room in the garden. I think my neighbor Jennie and I will be canning tomatoes. I haven't done that in nearly 30 years, but it will be fun anyway. The last time, my children were toddlers. This time, hers are. So cool!

I've been accepted into the dispute resolution mediation program! After taking the 40-hour basic training, I passed the exam and had my interview on Friday. Here's what I'll be doing in the next year or two to earn a certification in mediation:

Minimum 6 observations and Professional Standards Evaluation
Family mediation training with written essay
Minimum 12 mediations (with another mediator) and final staff approval

Electives - 12 credits in a minimum of 3 areas:
DRC (Dispute Resolution Center) in-services (monthly, usually in the evenings) - 1 credit
Observing/mediating small claims court sessions - 1 credit
Role playing - 1 credit
DRC related projects - credits dependent on project
Additional DRC trainings - 2 credits per day
Outside trainings - 2 credits for first day, 1 for each additional
ADR confernces - 1 credit per day (in the spring)

In a couple of weeks I'll start by observing other mediators in actual sessions. This is a perfect volunteer activity for me because I can work it around travel and other activities. And I can use what I learn in all kinds of places in my life.

I got a second opinion on my tingling-feet issue and, on my family doc's recommendation, I had an MRI on my back on Friday to make sure nothing "evil" is going on. No evil! Looks like a 60-something's back with a narrowing between L2 and L3 that got aggravated when I sat down too hard. I am relieved. I'll continue to see my chiropractor. Both he and my family doc say a year is not an unreasonable amount of time for this healing to take. My next goal is to not worry that everything is a terminal illness. I suspect that came from my childhood, as my sister has the same problem. I'm ready for that fear to be removed.

We are hosting an old friend and two older nuns - friends of our friend - at our house this weekend. Yesterday we visited the Klesick Family Farm, the organic farm that delivers our fruits and vegetables each week, then drove to Snohomish, a town north of us with a main street populated by antique shops and tempting food places. We yielded to the ice cream store. This weekend Snohomish is the outdoor venue for multiple music groups. Lots of Pacific Northwesterners in their summer clothes wandering around - old tank tops, shorts and white legs! Young tattooed people and older souls like us, some aging hippies. A nice crowd and a fabulous, sunny day with temps exceeding 80 degrees - not too common for us, so extra special. Today the guests and the random hopeful gardener are spending the day in Seattle at Pike Place Market, Space Needle and an Argosy cruise to Blake Island for a native salmon dinner and entertainment. I am taking a break from hostessing to prepare for a meeting with our CPA on Tuesday. Our little group has spent the last two evenings playing Boggle and Rummikub.

It feels fabulous to be at the computer in my shorts and summer shirt and sandals, listing to my wind chimes and the birds outdoors. I think I'll settle into the aidirondack chair on the deck and catch up on my reading.

Good things happening!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back home again

We were in Alaska last week, visiting my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil in Kenai, and spending time also with my cousin Georgia and her husband Alan. It was our third trip in the last year. Two of them were in the summer, when the days are ridiculously long (sunrise before 6 a.m. and sunset around 11 p.m.), and one was in the winter when the days were distressingly short (sunrise at about 9:30 a.m., sunset at about 4:00 p.m.). Alaska is a pretty place, but I'm glad I live way south of there.

In Kenai, we stay in a motorhome in the driveway of my sister's house. My husband Art is allergic to cats, and Alyx and Virgil have four. Art can stay in the house for as long as he can tolerate it and then he retreats to the RV to read. He does a lot of reading in Alaska.

This time we had a couple of hiccups. Last fall Virgil got busy with work and didn't get a chance to winterize the motorhome. Last week, when we moved in, we found at least two leaks - the kind that get bathroom flooring and bedroom carpeting wet. So Art and Virgil fixed the leaks. They required turning off the hot water heater and the cold water pump. We relied on bottled water to brush our teeth and the house shower to clean up.

This spring Virgil got busy with work and didn't get a chance to get the motorhome leveled. Turns out the hydraulic system needs to be repaired. So we had a tipsy week out in the driveway. Sometimes life just gets in the way of taking care of everything in a house and driveway. We'll see whether the leveling happens before we make a decision on another trip up for Thanksgiving!

The silver salmon are running in the Kenai River. On Friday, Art and Virgil left the house at about 6 a.m. and stood on the riverbank until 2:30 p.m. Art caught one salmon right at the end. Then, on Sunday, Art and Virgil left the house at 3:30 a.m. for a river fishing trip on a boat with a guide. They arrived home at about 2:00 p.m. with two salmon each (the limit). It had rained all morning and Art didn't have rubber boots or a heavy jacket, so he was very, very cold when they got back. The men worked to fillet the fish and froze them overnight. Art went through airport security with a suitcase full of frozen salmon.

Back at home, the peas are done and the green beans are ripening up already. The blueberries should be ripe later this week. The squash is flowering and I see several small squashes hiding in there.

In the mail I got notification that I passed the final exam for the mediation training class I took in June. I have an interview this Friday to see if I'll be allowed to continue with the 100-hour practicum on the way to becoming a certified mediator.

In my online bank account I got my first Social Security check! Just like that, $652, a gift from the government. I'll only collect it until I'm 65 and apply for my state pension. I never paid into Social Security during the 20 years I worked for the state, so my Social Security will be adjusted down about 50 percent. Still, that gift will go into our travel account so we can go to Hawaii in December (timeshare), Sedona in January (timeshare), Ecuador in February (home exchange), and Cancun in July (daughter's wedding) without me feeling like a bag lady.

We've had sunny weather for the last two weeks in Seattle. It seems like it's been forever. I can hardly remember the weeks when everyone else in the country was broiling and we were chilly and damp. I have a short memory, fortunately.

And life is good.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Living the Dream

It looks different, the Dream, to each of us.

Back in May, we were spending three days at a B&B in Montezuma, Iowa. It was planting time. Our host and his crew operated on multiple farms, working past dark to plant the corn on 4700 acres. He wasn't home yet when we went to bed, and he was gone already by the time we got up. A former teacher, Doug and his wife Stacy had decided to continue their families' farming tradition. They're the third generation. One afternoon Doug texted Stacy from the cab of his two-story tractor. "We're living the dream, Baby. We're living the dream."

Earlier this week, I visited my friend Vicki and her husband Monty on their boat in Edmonds, Washington. They moved from their family home five years ago onto their sailboat, Adessa. Tomorrow they leave Edmonds for San Francisco, then Mexico. Their plan is to spend summers in the Pacific Northwest, their winters in the warmer climates. Both of them are terrified - Monty of the financial uncertainty, Vicki of giving up the life she knows. But this life has been calling them for years. You're living the dream, Monty and Vicki.

Two and a half years ago, after my mother died, my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil left their jobs in southern California, where they'd stayed to help out my mother. They bought a motorhome and spent two months driving to Alaska. They lived in Homer for six months, then moved to Kenai. Virgil got a job as a WalMart manager and Alyx worked part time at the community college. Virgil is a lifelong fisherman and Alaska has the best of it. In two weeks Alyx starts nursing school in Anchorage. They will both be 56 this year. Alyx and Virgil are living the dream.

I've been not working for just over a year. The first year we took 14 trips. Must have been a dream of mine! We've been home since mid-May and have enjoyed the quieter time and the summer garden, but we have several more trips planned over the next eight months. For me, living the dream is the freedom to choose. To take what comes along each day. To change what I can, accept what I can't, be grateful for what I have. To be ready to live the next part of the dream when it comes along.

Living the dream - what does it look like to you?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Little things

It's been nine days since my last post. I thought, well, not much has been going on. But that means I only post when the material comes easy, and that's not really fair to the community. So, here's a list of the little things.

1. We picked a quart of strawberries a day for two weeks from the plants in our six earth boxes along the driveway. I got sick of strawberries this year, for the first time in my life. They're done now, and in a couple of weeks they'll be cut back or pulled up and replaced by their runners for next year.

2. We're now in a contest with the peas. Can they produce pods faster than we can eat them? They're planted in a four by eight raised bed. Very few have made it to the kitchen; Art and I stand outside and eat them in the sunshine. We're almost sick of peas. A good thing, too, as the plants are getting pale, one by one, which means it's time to pull them up to make room for the bean plants coming up right behind them.

3. Last year the end of the tomato season left several hundred green tomatoes on the plants. The weather never warmed enough to ripen them. This year will be different. Already the cherry tomatoes are getting pink. Next week it will be time to start picking tomatoes.

We have four raised beds, each four by eight feet. Not a lot of garden. But enough to keep us busy.

4. The little girl next door has a piercing high giggle. This morning I heard it outside, accompanied by several other shrieky voices. I figured the neighborhood kids were playing in the inflatable water structure our neighbors bought for when their grandkids visit. I was right. Thirty minutes later, all was quiet on the property to the north. I love the sounds - and the silence.

5. We've ordered the Netflix disks for season five of Friday Night Lights. The first four seasons we watched on streaming Netflix during the last two months. Love the show. Love it. Love the values of the characters, the pace, the dialogue, the integrity of the production. I will miss it.

6. I just finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. Oh, my. It will change the way I eat. Glad to have found the book at the library after several people recommended it to me.

7. We leave for Alaska early Monday morning for a weeklong visit with my sister and her husband. Alyx (sister) is cooking "Daddy's spaghetti" Monday night. One of our oldest comfort foods, even coming from a dysfunctional childhood. The elders are all gone now, so we're the new elders, and we're much more functional. We've worked on it, though.

8. My granddaughter Mary's glasses arrived and she opened the box last night at her dad's house. She is wearing them most of the time, so far, thinks she looks very cool, and says she can see the TV and the computer and books easier. Her twin sister Malayne thinks she looks weird.

9. I am a believer in logical consequences for choices we make. I'm curious to see how many more people vote in the next election, and what kind of people we put in office. We live in interesting times.

10. I am playing online scrabble games with a niece and a friend. They win almost every time. It's good for the character.