Sunday, December 22, 2013

Solstice labyrinth

Solstice! Let there be Light.

We drove half an hour in the darkness last night to a church three towns over that had created a candlelit labyrinth in their open sanctuary. I'd walked a labyrinth years ago by myself on an outdoor path and remembered it as a peaceful experience. But never one lit by candles, and never one on the longest night of the year.

The idea is that we're on a journey. We walk the maze of the labyrinth not knowing where we're going.  We arrive at the center. Then we walk back out. It can be a meditation, religious or spiritual. Or something else, perhaps.

The labyrinth was like the one at Chartres; here's the design:

The path was shaped by 400 tea lights within white luminaria bags, like this:

Within the sanctuary, this is something like how it looked:

One at a time, about a minute apart, we entered the labyrinth to quiet non-melodic music. There was a path in front of me about three feet wide. I could only see a few feet ahead and the path revealed itself gradually. I felt very alone, a little afraid, but trusting that the lights would lead me. And they did - to the center of the labyrinth and a single tall candle, where I gazed into the flame. Then I retraced my steps to the beginning of the labyrinth. When you're done, you can sit quietly or you can leave. We stayed.

There were about 60 people who walked the labyrinth, from elementary school age children to retired folks.  At any given time there were four to nine people walking. From outside the labyrinth, in the semidarkness, they looked like wandering ghosts, moving randomly. But I knew that each was on the same path, in a different place. Sometimes a person moving toward the center met a person returning. When that happened, the person returning stepped aside to allow the other to continue on their path. It was like an act of kindness and honoring from the returning person.

There are mazes all over the world, some from ancient times. We who are living now have the same hopes and yearnings and wonderings as those from centuries ago. We all walk the same path.

Let there be Light!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Traditions old and new

After several holiday seasons where we simplified and simplified some more - including, last year, asking our kids to take the tree ornaments they wanted - we've come up with new traditions that suit us better now. We decided on them during a conversation we had just before Thanksgiving. Art doesn't like the holidays because they're hectic and seem hypocritical to him; I don't much care for them because our children are grown and gone and the excitement of the season is mostly for the young. At least the non-religious part. We're both spiritual but not religious.

So, we've begun a couple of different traditions this year.

In the 70s and 80s I was a liturgical musician, participating in the seasonal rituals. We have brought back the Advent wreath and candles at our house. On each Sunday of Advent, at dinner, I put on music of chanting monks and find an Old Testament reading while Art lights the candles. The readings are familiar to both of us, bringing back old memories. And, in the darkest days of the year, which we're in now, lighting candles has meaning for both of us.

In the 40s and 50s Art was growing up in a large Catholic family that celebrated the twelve days of Christmas between Christmas day and Epiphany, "when the wise guys showed up in Bethlehem." That was a gift-giving time for his family. We decided that this year on Christmas Day, we'll start with the little cedar box our old cat Muffin's ashes were returned to us in. On the first day we'll add a dollar, on the second day we'll add two dollars, and so on. By the twelfth day, we'll have 78 dollars, which we'll then donate to the food bank in Tucson, where we'll be by that time.

As far as decorating the house, I brought out a holiday scented candle. We plugged in the lights that live in our artificial ficus in the living room. We put a wreath on the front door and a Santa hat on the little giraffe in our entryway. Very simple, easy to put away before we leave on December 23.

It feels good, these new traditions coming from our pasts.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

In Hawaii, tanning

It has been 40 years since I put on a bathing suit and lay out in the sun. Probably it's because I do water aerobics at home and have become friends with my bathing suit. This week, I put on sunscreen, walked over to the pool and chose a reclining lounge chair.  Monday I spent five minutes on each side, increasing each day until yesterday at 30 minutes on a side. I am getting plenty of vitamin D and I am getting brown! It has been about 82 degrees every day.

I have also read six of the ten magazines I brought along (copies of Time, The Week, Smithsonian, and The Sun) and a book "We Were All Absolutely Beside Ourselves".

And, finally, started working on the travel book.

Otherwise, I have done nothing. I like that sometimes, but not always.

I need conversation, and my husband is not a talker. When we travel, just the two of us, and especially when we spend a week or two in just one place, he reads quietly for hours at a time. Or he watches movies or sports on TV, which he never does at home.

This week at poolside I had conversations. I met a woman about my age from Idaho, and we talked on three days, sitting in the one-foot-deep pool. She is such a fabulous listener and open-ended questioner that I talked a lot about myself. As a mediator I mostly listen, and I told her so. She asked how it felt to be doing the talking instead of the listening, and I said it felt like therapy! We both laughed.

On Monday we went to a timeshare sales pitch. We'd planned on dinner and entertainment at the Parker Ranch, and it was pricey, and if we went to the pitch we'd get a $100 credit. So we went. We didn't buy any more timeshare points, and we did get our credit. That was good.

However, when I was parking the car before the appointment, I backed into another car that had come up behind me. The driver, a man, was calm as we exchanged information; the woman was not. "This is a brand new car," she shouted. I sympathized, but it turned out their vehicle was a rental too. So what was the big deal? I reported it to our insurance agency and they are taking care of it. Minimal damage.

I confess this was not a first for me. I have had, I think, seven backing-into-something incidents in the last 40 years. Two of those times I backed out of my driveway and hit a vehicle parked across the street. Once it was a mailbox on an icy, hilly driveway. Twice it was a pillar in a carport or parking garage. Once it was at a Jack in the Box drive-through line. It embarrasses me, but there you are. No other at-fault accidents in my entire life.

The Parker Ranch evening was fun. Food and entertainment were both good and the conversation with our table mates was interesting. We would never have gone, though, unless they'd picked us up at our condo and delivered us back at the end of the evening. Roads on the Big Island are DARK at night!

Tomorrow we are going on a short guided hike on the Saddle road that connects the dry west side of the island to the rainy east side. We hiked years ago with this same man. He knows a phenomenal amount about the island and the animals and plants. As it turns out, we are the only two who have signed up, so we'll get a personalized hike for much cheaper than if we'd signed up for a customized one for just us. Hiking boots and jeans and light jackets, since the hiking area is at 4,000 feet.

We fly out Wednesday, just as the cold snap is ending where we live in the Pacific Northwest. I actually like the cold, so I'm sorry we've missed it. We'll be returning to rain. Oh, well!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

In Hawaii, remembering

We are spending 12 days on the Big Island of Hawaii. We have a timeshare here about 25 miles north of Kona, five miles upslope from the beach. The condo is comfortable and quiet, on a golf course with a flock of resident turkeys who approach us hopefully as we sit on our patio, or run by nearby on the grass.

This is our sixth trip to the Big Island. On our last visit we were joined by our daughter and son-in-law; on the one before we rented a glass-bottomed boat and scattered my mother's ashes offshore near a pod of whales. We've walked the length of Alii Drive in Kona and crossed the crater in Volcanoes National Park.  We've explored most of the rest of the island.

On this trip, we have a couple of outings planned. On Wednesday we'll be picked up and taken to a cattle ranch north of here for dinner and entertainment. And next Monday we're taking a guided hike on Saddle Road, which crosses the island to Hilo on the rainy side. Otherwise, our days are open so far.

My father was a Marine. When I was in college in California, my parents lived on Oahu, at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station. I came home for Christmas and summers. For two years I participated in local summertime Gilbert and Sullivan musicals. In Kailua, where the musicals were held, I met local teenagers who were also in the plays. I especially remembered Jenean. She was 16 then, I think, and I was 19. We hit it off immediately, having long talks and enjoying the goofiness that happens during rehearsals. We became good friends.

Jenean and I lost touch soon after.  Yesterday I was sitting in our quiet condo and I suddenly remembered how to spell her first name. I'd recalled before that it was an unusual spelling but had forgotten the combination of letters. Anyway, I looked her up on Facebook and found her! I sent a message: "Did you and I do summer musicals together in the late 60s in Kailua?" She responded yes. We talked on Facebook Messenger for an hour and a half, catching up. She lives in the Bay Area now and works for Facebook! She travels all over the world for her work. We've decided to meet up the next time she's in the Pacific Northwest.

I first came to Hawaii over 45 years ago. Some things have changed - but not the weather, or the quiet, or the beauty. I'm glad we're back again.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ah, diversity!

I've blogged a few times about my preference for diversity in the people around me. During weekdays I mostly see other retirees when I walk in the morning (they're walking their dogs then, but the still-working people aren't around) or swim at the local recreation center. And around here in the winter, the kids go indoors before dark, so I don't see much of them.

I had a couple of encouraging experiences recently. One day last week I had coffee in the morning at Starbucks with a friend. She is younger than I, with two teenagers, but we always have lots to talk about, and we meet for coffee every couple of months. This time she had a major health concern that she'd just found out about. For two hours I sat and listened as she vented and planned and cried. I was one of the first people she'd told, she said.

That same afternoon I met another friend for coffee at a different Starbucks. She has three small children and she talked to me about why she is divorcing her husband. I could tell she had done all she could to salvage the relationship but felt like she had no choice but to leave. I watched her as she talked about her options, feeling sad for the difficulties I know she'll have, but admiring her courage.

And that night I got a call from my nine-months-pregnant neighbor. Would I go for a walk with her? She hoped the exercise would start her labor. We walked for an hour and a half in the darkness, talking and hoping. (It was another ten days before she had her baby; I held Elsa Rayne for the first time just this afternoon.)

All three of these women are friends of my heart, though I am a generation older than they are.  Maybe it means I'm vital and interesting to other people.

Then, this past weekend, I flew to Oregon for the funeral of my ex-husband's brother, who passed away suddenly at 62. It's been nearly 30 years since that marriage ended, but I knew many of the people - all the siblings came, some of the cousins, some of the nieces and nephews including my two sons. As my current husband commented, I'm an "outlaw", but I knew all the siblings when they were teenagers or younger, and now that they're all middle aged I can still have conversations with them. They seemed glad to see me, and three people invited me to attend the next family reunion! It was good to be supportive of the grieving family, and to have my own fond thoughts of my deceased brother-in-law. He was a good husband and father and brother, and he will be missed.

It's times like this when my place in the community is affirmed. I love being part of the wider world.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The man is evolving

My husband Art has had a hip replacement, a knee replacement, two surgeries on his shoulders and one on his thumb. The recuperation for each of these required my help, which he did not want. And each cold or flu or bout of muscle soreness after working too long in the yard (he's 70, after all, not 35), is an ordeal he wants to suffer on his own. He wants me to leave him alone. Ignore him, if you will - but not really.

I, on the other hand, want sympathy and support and a listening ear when I am under the weather in some way physically or mentally or emotionally.

Up until last week, neither of us had been very successful at giving the other person what they need in such circumstances.

But Art is evolving.

I was scheduled for a screening colonoscopy for last Wednesday. The prep required two days of a low-fiber diet, one day of clear liquids only followed, in the evening, by the enchanting laxative experience, and then the morning procedure. During these four days I curtailed my activities as necessary and stayed fairly close to home. I noticed that Art was around a lot also, rather than being out and about as he usually is. He bought me white bread and apple juice and fixed low-fiber meals. He read in the living room or worked around the house on the day of my liquid diet, and he was available to listen when I needed to complain. He drove me to the medical clinic, got a flu shot while I was having my procedure (perfect outcome, "see you again in ten years"), brought me home and napped with me in the afternoon, even skipping an afternoon Creative Retirement Institute class on the history of intelligence and spying in the U.S.

In other words, he gave me sympathy and support and a listening ear. Exactly what I needed.

On Wednesday evening I gave him a hug and thanked him very much for being there for me. He said, "I knew that was what you wanted, and that is what you do for me - even though I hate it."

I had coffee with his niece Colleen on Thursday morning and told her about the support Art had given me. She said, "Uncle Art is so evolved." She remembered when he wasn't!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's dark out!

Daylight Savings Time ended last weekend and it's dark early now. Like at about 5 p.m. Plus, it's cloudy or raining many of the daylight hours.

Nothing new for us in the Pacific Northwest. What is new is that, for some reason, it's not bothering me much this year.

Maybe it's because I'm sitting in front of a 10,000-lumen light box for 25 minutes each morning when I wake up, and I'm taking 4,000 units of vitamin D3.

Maybe it's because I'm walking two to three miles on the mornings when I don't go to a water aerobics class.

Maybe it's because I'm thinking ahead to December 23, when we leave for Arizona via Oregon and California.

Maybe it's because we bought a wall-mounted TV this year and we can now have the gas fireplace turned on when we're watching. In previous years we watched an old TV on a rolling cart, which sat right in front of the gas fireplace. Thank goodness it finally fell off the cart and broke!

Maybe it's because we have new windows and the house is warmer, with no drafts.

Or maybe it's the medication I'm finally taking. In spite of its getting-up-to-speed side effects.

Whatever! So far, so good.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Windstorm thoughts

We knew the windstorm was coming. It's November in the Pacific Northwest, after all. The wind gusted and threatened and blew for six hours yesterday, accompanied by rain. My husband Art and grandson Kyle had agreed to put the garden to bed, and so they did - bundled up in raingear and boots. They both love machines, and they put the new rototiller and the old chipper to good use.

I was indoors most of the day. Here's my short list of reflections:

1. There is nothing like the colors of autumn. I experienced them last weekend especially, on the second annual gathering of the Blogging Vashonistas. The six of us met last year at Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island - six bloggers who wanted to meet each other in person after reading each other's blogs for a while. We've formed traditions already: DJan drives to my house on Friday and we carpool to the airport to meet Sally's plane and then drive to the ferry dock. We meet Jann, Deb and Sandi at the house. Sandi makes a fabulous dinner. We gather by the fireplace with our laptops and iPads and we talk. On Saturday we breakfast at the Hardware Store, stroll through the Farmer's Market and find a hike or two - still talking. We have another excellent dinner. On Sunday we enjoy another of Sandi's great meals. And we say goodbye "until next year".

2.  I love wind when it hails the arrival of a new weather front. We have two sets of Corinthian chimes,  one on our back deck and one just outside our bedroom window. When I hear their music, I know we're going to have weather.

3. I've struggled with seasonal affective disorder for over a decade, and I'm a worrier as well. Recently I decided to get some help with both issues. Fortunately, I have a compassionate doctor. He has been my doc for 25 years and he knows me well.  

I hate taking meds. I fought taking blood pressure medication for five years. I thought I'd just get more exercise and lose some weight. I did get more exercise but I didn't lose weight; apparently it wasn't important enough to give up my daily mocha or my evening ice cream. Making the decision to accept some help for my blood pressure was a good one. 

So I have decided also to accept help for my winter blues and my worrying. My doc has provided me with information and medication and his continuing encouragement. My sister is a nurse and she is very helpful and supportive. I'm strong and independent, but refusing to accept help is not very smart. As I move forward with this change, I'm hopeful.

4. There is nothing better on a windy afternoon than to read a good book with a cat asleep on your lap.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Iowa unexpected: Fairfield

We spent our last three days in Iowa as the guests of Stacey and Bill Hurlin, in the Abundance Ecovillage near Fairfield. The houses in the sustainable community are off the grid, providing their own wind and solar energy and composting.

I was especially interested in how air is circulated in the houses. Each dwelling has tubes buried eight to ten feet in the earth, where the temperature is about 56 degrees year round. A small fan draws air from outside into the tubes and then into the house, where the temperature is modified by a furnace or an air conditioner as needed. The air is completely replaced several times a day inside the house, so there are no stuffy rooms or stale air.

I hope you'll want to learn more about the ecovillage here.

Here's the kitchen of the Sweetwater Bunkhouse, Stacey and Bill's rental. We shared the space with Jim, who lives in Chicago but commutes to Fairfield for three days each week. Interesting conversations!

Fairfield is a town of about 10,000 in southeast Iowa. A major presence in the town is the Maharishi University of Management, formerly known as Maharishi International University. Transcendental meditation is an important part, and many residents of Fairfield practice it daily. Two domes on the campus were built specifically for group meditation.

Additionally, artists have come from around the world to live in Fairfield. Stacey estimated that 3,000 of the town's population have moved there from somewhere else.

Our conversations about GMO continued in Fairfield, where the people I spoke to were opposed to it. While there we went to see the current movie "GMO OMG". By the time we left town I felt more informed on both sides of the controversy.

Next week Washington residents will be voting on Initiative 522 which would require labeling of GMO foods. Lots of money has been spent by out-of-state companies to defeat the measure. I'm not a TV watcher so I have seen very few of the media ads. I know how I'll vote.  I got educated in Iowa!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Harvest time in Iowa: Riding in the combine

On Thursday I rode in the combine to harvest feed corn; on Saturday the crop was soybeans. Our B&B host, Doug Helm, farms 4000 acres with a crew of four or five. The fields are scattered all over the county. Some of the land is his; some is his dad's; some land he rents from others. I asked lots of questions. Doug taught high school for ten years before he decided to farm. He's patient and a good teacher.

Here's what I learned about the combine in these pictures. The following description may not be entirely accurate, so bear with me if you know farming. The head attached to the front is for harvesting corn. What looks like little missiles from the passenger seat of the cab fit between the rows of corn, drawing the stalks toward the combine. The stalks get separated from the ears and are discarded on the ground; the ears continue on into the combine. There's some kind of drum or wheel rotating very fast; the kernels of corn are spun off the cobs by centrifugal force. The cobs are ejected onto the field and the kernels go into a bin in the combine. The kernels eventually get transferred to a truck bed for hauling to the cooperative.

Doug harvested 12 acres of corn in about an hour. Inside the cab is a GPS, a computer monitor, and a radio. The cab is heated. There is power steering. It was like being in the cab of a large truck.

Here's some of what I learned:

1. In Iowa, the ground is excellent for corn and soybeans.  A lot of the crop goes to feed animals being raised for slaughter. 

2. I asked whether the seeds were GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) and Doug said yes. These seeds have been modified at the genetic level to be resistant to pests and Roundup, an herbicide. So crops can be sprayed midseason to kill all the weeds. Proponents of GMO say the genetic modification is just speeding up what nature would do over time. In nature, plant mutations which provided protection against pests would survive and their seeds would carry on that protection. I've since learned that herbicide-resistant plants and pesticide-resistant insects have evolved in the last 15 years. Not a long time for the effect of the GMO seeds to be neutralized. 

3. The manufacturer of the seeds is Monsanto. Seeds have to be reordered each year. Farmers cannot retain some of the seeds for planting the following year. There have been a couple of lawsuits where Monsanto won. I'm thinking the company says the modified seeds are intellectual property.

4. Doug said, "We have to feed the world. A lot of people will starve to death if we don't produce enough food." We also talked about food as a U.S. export. I didn't think much about CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) at that time. I know about them, but the subject didn't come up in my conversation with Doug. Still, even in the unfortunate conditions of CAFOs, those animals need to be fed.

5. The farmer uses Roundup as a pesticide for weeding between the plants. I told Doug my understanding was that Roundup contains Agent Orange, used as a defoliant during the Vietnam War and later recognized as a health hazard to those exposed to it. Doug said he didn't think Roundup contains Agent Orange. We looked it up on the computer in the cab and found out he was right. Monsanto used to manufacture Agent Orange and DDT but do not produce it any more. Roundup has another chemical, glyphosate, as its main component.

6. In Iowa the crops are not irrigated. Farmers rely upon the rain. This year had a rainy spring, so the planting was late. Once the planting was done, there was hardly any rain all summer. The harvest this year is also late. I rode on the combine on October 17 and October 19. The weather was cooling down - temperatures in the 50s. 

7. If it starts to rain during the harvesting of soybeans, work stops. Rain toughens the soybean stalks and makes them hard to cut. It had rained the day before we arrived in Iowa, so my first day on the combine was harvesting corn.

8. Prices for crops depend on demand and the amount of crop available. This, too, depends on the weather. A farmer's success might be luck; for example, the price of land when they start farming, the price of crops, whether they have family land or rent from family.   

9. A farmer is a businessman. He has to know how to make connections and market his crop. He has to be able to get along with people. There are a lot of dollar numbers involved, supply and demand, prices and weather, equipment and labor.

These next pictures are of the soybean harvesting. Note the tractor and trailer driving alongside the combine, which can keep moving as it unloads the soybeans. This is more efficient than returning to a location where the trailer is waiting. Both drivers have to be talking to each other and know what they are doing.

The head for harvesting soybeans is different from the one used for corn. Instead of little "missiles", the head has tines or teeth. They straighten the soybeans so the plant can be pulled into the combine.

A pheasant was running along in front of the combine, and we were catching up. The tractor driver dismounted from his vehicle and induced the bird to move out of danger. Doug always watches out for animals in the field.

We loved our four days in Montezuma. The hardest part was dinnertime. We were staying at the bed and breakfast, so we ate in the farmhouse every morning. We usually had lunch with the harvest crew. For dinners we were on our own. Montezuma is a small town with limited dining opportunities. We ended up three nights at the Monte Tap Room, a bar with a newly opened restaurant attached. We had burgers one night, catfish/shrimp on another, and split a rib eye dinner the last night. With a couple of sides, we were good. The servers remembered us each night - we were the only out of towners in the place - and wished us well as we left after our last meal there.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Iowa: Search for the pioneer cemetery

A volunteer at the Tama County Genealogical Museum had sent me a typewritten list of people buried in the Butlerville Pioneer Cemetery, seven miles west of Tama. My great great grandmother Rebecca was not on the list. But the volunteer had also sent Rebecca's obituary, which indicated she had been buried there. So I wanted to visit the cemetery even if I couldn't find her grave.

The Butlerville Cemetery description included its location: about 3/4 mile north of Highway 30 on T17, "surrounded by the farmland of Burton Benson".  I knew it was near the village of Montour. From our B&B in Montezuma, we set the GPS for "shortest distance" to Montour and started the 30-mile drive north.

We got lost at mile 28. The paved road turned to gravel. We came to a Native American housing project and turned in. I asked a woman at the office for help. She directed me to Highway 30, "just past the casino on your left. You can't miss it."

We didn't miss the casino with its enormous, nearly empty parking lot. But we did turn the wrong direction on Highway 30 and drove three miles before realizing T17 was behind us and turning around. Once on that road we drove the 3/4 mile north as directed and found no cemetery. We turned into the driveway of an apple farm and asked for directions from a woman working amid apple crates. She said, "I think Burton Benson's farm is south of 30, not north." We thanked her and returned to Highway 30. Contrary to the map, T17 did not continue on the other side of the highway. We meandered on side roads, searching, and came upon a sign that said "Pioneer Cemetery". We followed five offshoot roads from there, winding up on a faint trail through high grass along a creek. After a mile the trail disappeared. I thought about how we have no cellphone service here -- apparently AT&T does not have an active presence in this area -- and we had no way to notify AAA where we were. Fortunately, Art is a courageous off-road driver, even in a rented vehicle, and he backed us out and returned us to the road. I tried not to think about possible scratches on the side of the vehicle from the bushes and shrubs we scraped by.

Finally I turned on my iPad Maps app and entered "Butlerville Cemetery". And there it was - three miles away, 3/4 mile south of Highway 30 off T17. We found it - another "Pioneer Cemetery" sign. Drove up Burton Benson's driveway, turned right just past the barn, and followed a road through harvested soybeans to the fenced cemetery at the top of the hill. The grass inside the cemetery hadn't been mown this year. It was chest high and full of burrs, which clung to my jeans and my fleece vest. We opened the gate to the cemetery.

Art walked ahead of me. That's him, between the trees.

I looked back at Burton Benson's farm.

It was about 55 degrees out, with a slight breeze. A really peaceful and pretty cemetery location.  As I stood there in the quiet, I heard my great great grandmother Rebecca's voice in my head. She said, "Hello, Dearie." I hadn't expected it, but I wasn't surprised. Two years ago, in the Gordon cemetery in western Nebraska, Art and I cleaned the tombstones of Rebecca's daughter and son-in-law, Mary Catherine and Samuel Wallace. As I worked, I heard my great grandfather Samuel's voice: "You're using the wrong tool for the job, Girl." I love it when that happens. See, I don't use the word "Dearie" and I don't use "Girl". So I'm figuring it was my great great grandmother Rebecca and my great grandfather Samuel greeting me.

We drove to the genealogical museum. I handed the sheet to the volunteer and said, "You might want to change the directions to the Butlerville Pioneer Cemetery. It's 3/4 miles south of Highway 30, not 3/4 miles north." She said, "Oh, that's right. They moved Highway 30 since these directions were written."!!

I said, "Rebecca's obituary says she was buried in the cemetery, but the sheet doesn't list her." The volunteer said,  "The names were gathered by someone walking through the cemetery years ago, looking at headstones and writing down the names.  If the grave had been marked with a wooden cross instead of a headstone, it would have decayed."

"Hello, Dearie."

Hello, Rebecca.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why Iowa, again?

Two years ago we took a road trip from Seattle. Our easternmost point was Tama, in central Iowa. My great grandparents had married there in 1867, and Iowa was one of three remaining states I had never been to. I found a bed and and breakfast in Montezuma, about 30 miles south of Tama. We had a memorable time there, during the planting season. You can read about that visit here.

This was a good year to go back during the harvest. We thought about it because, as frequent flyers on Alaska Airlines, we were about 2500 miles short of qualifying for MVP status for next year.  Minneapolis was about the right distance away and about the right cost, so if we added a short flight to Des Moines and a Budget car rental to Montezuma, we would be set. I talked to Stacy, the owner of the B&B, about the best time to visit. They had had a rainy spring, so the planting was later than usual. She said mid-October was a good time to experience the harvesting of the corn and soybeans.

Also, since our last visit to Iowa, I had found the name of my great grandmother's mother. We planned to visit the pioneer cemetery near Tama where she was buried.

The second half of our trip would be to Fairfield, Iowa. Three years ago we got a home exchange offer from a couple there. It sounded like an interesting place, but the timing wasn't good. Later that year the woman, Stacey, contacted me. She is an artist and was planning a trip up the west coast to find galleries where she could display her work. She asked if she could stay with us during her visit to the Seattle area, and I said yes. Stacey stayed for three days. She and I did a lot of talking; we actually discussed teaming up on a book. She reminded me that we now had a place to stay when we came to Fairfield. So we will be doing that as well.

Our trip was uneventful and we are settled into our room, in the barn at English Valley Bed and Breakfast in Montezuma, Iowa.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

There's something about compassion

For most of my life I've had a hot button around unfairness. Just about the only time I get angry or resentful is when I think I've been "unfaired against". For example, I keep my end of a bargain and you don't keep your end. I show up on time and you are late. I lend you money and you don't pay me back. You say you'll call me back and you don't call. I've worked hard to be rid of this issue but it still gets me from time to time. It's probably related to fear of some kind. I'll keep working on it. That's usually part of the solution for me when I have an issue - to work on it.

That hasn't been the case with compassion. I haven't been working on it. Compassion is one of those things I'm usually decent about. That's especially when I'm feeling it for an issue distant from me. Like famine in Africa, or homelessness in the U.S., or wrongful imprisonment. I may send money to a cause for which I feel compassion - like Doctors Without Borders or Habitat for Humanity or Kiva. I may give my time for a cause. I am a volunteer mediator partly because I feel compassion for people in conflict.

What I'm noticing recently is that I'm beginning to feel compassion for people in conflicts that are close to me or affect me directly. Like the neighbor who is operating a metal and tire recycling business from his driveway, which is illegal in our city. People coming and going, hammering at night, stacks of tires on the lawn. I was thinking about calling the police. Then I found out the police found a stolen vehicle in that same driveway and various authorities have been called. I don't like illegal activity in my neighborhood but I feel compassion for the person who has found no other way to make a living - and for his family.

Or a business friend of mine with a flair for drama who has lost employees - most recently her bookkeeper - partly because of the drama. I'm watching this happen. I feel compassion for both her and the bookkeeper.

Or a friend of a friend who took a couple of our autographed books to our outfitter in Kenya. (The friend of a friend, Rick, is also a friend of the outfitter, Steve.) I'd made arrangements for Steve to pay Rick when the books arrived. Rick had forgotten he knew the books were being purchased by Steve instead of being given as gifts by me. Rick wrote me a nasty email late one night, accusing me of using him for transport to save postage and then expecting his friend Steve to have to pay for the books. I responded with compassion, sending him copies of conversations I'd had with Steve - and with him - before the books went to Kenya. I got an abject apology the next morning. I wasn't mad at Rick. I felt compassion for him, that a misunderstanding and a forgetting had caused him such anger and distress.

There was a time when events like this would have resulted in righteous indignation or resentment on my part. For some reason, that isn't happening much any more. What I especially like is that increased compassion hasn't been a goal of mine. I haven't been working on it. It has just happened. Isn't that great?

There's something about compassion that makes me feel more like a grownup.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reading the old journals

I've started working on a new book, about our travels; it will include material from journals and blogs I wrote between 1994 and 2013. To that end, last Wednesday I pulled out the old handwritten and typed pages to refresh my recollection - and I came upon my life in the 90s, when we lived with teenagers. I read for hours on Wednesday, remembering.

Amidst the daily reflections, I glimpsed a view of my self at 50. I still recognize me in the pages, but I can see how I've grown and changed since then.

I was exhausted just reading about my life. We had two resident teenagers and two more who visited their dad three times a week - plus another four offspring who turned up from time to time. They were normal adolescents for the most part - moody, messy, partying procrastinators wanting freedom but eschewing responsibility, getting in their share of trouble that parents worry and grieve over. I spent many journal pages wishing they were different and looking forward to the time they would be grown up and gone. During that same period I was working full time and taking two classes. My life was crowded and chaotic. I yearned for quiet and time for myself.

Now those teenagers are grown. The two who lived with us are today a nuclear engineer and a marble and granite fabricator, with the financial resources to make it on their own, paired with the restricted freedom that comes with adulthood and responsibility. I'm pretty sure they would have turned out about the same if I had been more relaxed about the whole adolescent thing. But I hadn't learned that yet.

Now I have. Our house is quieter these days. We're still busy, but with different activities. I can usually detach from the issues of family members unless my assistance is requested.  My children and my husband are managing their own lives without my participation, leaving me free to embrace my own life.

In some ways, though, I'm the same as I was 15 years ago. I still don't like the dark days of winter, still worry obsessively about my body even though I'm very healthy, still bemoan the excess weight I carry. But I am now a regular exerciser instead of making excuses for not doing it. I've learned to leave my husband alone when he's in a mood rather than trying to track it down and discuss it with him. I rarely try to get him to get rid of all the useless stuff in the garage and the shed. And most days I don't worry about a future as a bag lady.

Since the kids left home, and especially since I stopped working three years ago, I've taken time to identify and prioritize my values, which I've discussed in previous blog posts:
  • spirituality
  • health
  • community
  • curiosity 
  • purpose
When I had kids at home, I might have had the same values, but they were buried by the day-to-day jobs of parenting and work that came first.

I'm looking at my values now and am grateful for the progress I'm making in aligning my life with what I think is important. I started going to church in June and am now involved in that community - I participate in small group discussions and a drum circle and have gone to Sunday services, vespers, and, recently, a celebration of the autumnal equinox.

The local senior center opens its doors to the homeless on nights where the temperature is expected to drop below 33 degrees, and teams from my church feed and shelter the people on Monday nights. I can only do this until we leave for Arizona in late December, but I signed up for the Mondays I'll be in town. On the cold nights I'll be at the senior center from 6 in the evening until 8 the next morning. This activity actually hits all five of my top values, but I've never done it before, so I have a decent mix of apprehension and anticipation.

Now that I've finished reading the journals, I'm looking forward to my work on the new book. As I gather and develop the material, I expect many reminders of the gifts of my life. That's partly why I'm writing it. To remember.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fall drops in

Here in the Pacific Northwest, summer usually fades. Not this year. Fall arrived almost overnight this week. Sun is gone, rain has arrived. We're told this may be the rainiest September since 1978.

On Friday Art and I went out to the garden and harvested about 200 green tomatoes. They're in grocery sacks, but this afternoon we'll transfer them to boxes, layered with newspaper, so they can ripen in the pantry. We were delighted that this year, for the first time, we ate several dozen vine-ripened tomatoes out of our garden. We were lucky for a warmer-than-usual summer.

Yesterday I went out to the garden and noted that most of the cornstalks in our small patch are leaning over or lying on the ground. We're not sure whether it was wind or an animal - coyote or dog, perhaps - but decided that next year we'll (1) plant the corn earlier than June 25 to take full advantage of our long summer days and (2) erect a chicken-wire fence around the patch. Looking out there, I see five stalks with an ear of corn growing in them. We planted 180 kernels. We figure it cost about $400 for the preparation of the soil and the compost as we converted the rest of our lawn to agriculture. So we figure this year's corn cost $80 an ear. Not too bad for a first-year crop!

The community pool didn't have classes yesterday so I knew I needed to take my two-mile walk around the neighborhood. But it was raining. Not just misting, but a mid-level rain. I couldn't find my rain pants or my poncho. Art was reading, but he got up and found both where he'd packed them in a closet in the spare room. He moves things as he needs extra space - packrats (collectors!) do that. Fortunately, this year he labeled the boxes. So I donned my black rain pants and my burgundy poncho and headed out. Even stopped at my espresso stand for my usual drink. By the time I got home I was still dry, but a little sweaty under my poncho. Instead of a t-shirt and fleece vest, on my next outing I'll wear a silk undershirt with the vest. Silk does a better job of wicking.

As an indoor activity yesterday, I went through our closets and pulled out six jackets - from heavy to windbreaker type - and put them in a Goodwill bag. And I went through two storage dressers and extracted odd sheets for various sizes of beds. They went in the Goodwill bag also. And an old jewelry box from my first marriage. It's a big bag and it's full now, so Goodwill will be a destination for us this week.

When I changed the sheets on our bed I put on the flannel ones for the first time this year. And took off the lightweight silk bedspread and replaced it with the heavier winter one. On the way home from the Goodwill run, we'll drop the summer bedspread off at the cleaners.

The gas fireplace, installed seven years ago, needs to be serviced before we'll be able to get it turned on. There's a three-week wait for a repair person to come out. I can live with that.

I look outside. It's gray, and the tree branches are communing with the wind. Tis the season.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gifts from my birthday week

My birthday week was full of gifts - some that make things better and some simple delights.

1. Summer has ended in the Pacific Northwest. I usually have trouble with the transition from summer to fall, as the days get shorter and the clouds begin to gather. My mind anticipates six months of discomfort. I want to eat bread and potatoes and butter. I want to sleep more.

I have a light box and I dug out the instructions. Turns out I've been using it in the wrong position for several years now. I stand at my computer when I'm working, and I had placed the box about nine inches below my eyes, so I wasn't getting all the benefit of the bright light. This week I've lowered the shelf on my computer and I sit down when the light box is on. Much brighter light! When I turn it off after 30 minutes I feel rejuvenated. Then I go for a two-mile walk or to my water aerobics class and I feel like myself again. I'm grateful for light and exercise, for Vitamin D and endorphins.

Tonight there's an autumnal equinox service at my church. I plan to go. I'd like to embrace the shorter days. Of all the things in the world I can't change, the turning of the earth is one of the biggies.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to change my approach to the shorter days.

2. My sister Alyx is a nurse and I tend toward hypochondria, especially when I don't have enough to do. When I think I have an ailment, I call her and she tells me what it is, kindly. I'm grateful for my own Nurse Ratched.

3. After much thought I decided my sight-reading is not strong enough to substitute at the Seattle handbell group. I decided to ask the Tucson director if I can substitute this winter in her "first string" group while I continue to play in her "second string". I'll get practice in moving from one set of bells to another as I am needed. I sent an email to the Seattle director. She was very gracious. I'm grateful for the opportunity to improve and try again.

4. We have been reworking our family trust. Art and I have a blended family of eight children. Last night at dinner he recommended a couple of changes. He has never suggested anything on this topic before. His suggestions were simple and practical and based around fairness and the fact that we probably can't control our grown children beyond the grave. I forget that sometimes. I'm grateful for the suggestions and for the fact that we have a patient lawyer.

5. I met with my niece and friend Colleen for coffee on Thursday. We worked out the next steps for marketing my Viet Nam book as well as an outline for a travel book I've had in my head for years. Both these projects are entirely engaging and will keep me busy during the indoor months. I'm grateful for friends and for my ability to string words together.

6. I got birthday wishes from over 50 online friends via this blog and Facebook. I'm grateful for the online community. Very grateful.

7. I got the perfect birthday card from my husband Art.

Outside of the card is three 70-something women, grinning.
First woman says, "Are you in the mood to Party?"
Second woman says, "Yeah, I need to use the Potty."
Third woman says, "Thanks! I guess I am a Hottie!"
Inside of the card says, "Isn't it nice to know we're always there to listen to each other. Happy birthday."

I laughed out loud. I'm grateful to have a husband who knows me!

8. I love weather - downpours and thunder and lightening and wind and snow. Actually, anything but heat and drizzle are good! It was cool and windy on my walk today.  I passed a grafted apple tree just loaded up with two kinds of apples. Some had fallen on the ground. I thought about going to the door and asking if I could bring a bucket over. I decided to keep walking instead. I need to take a bucket into my own yard and pick all the green tomatoes before the rain splits them. They'll ripen up in boxes in the basement.

9. I picked the last four bunches of grapes from our yard. They were wonderful.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Bag Lady comes of age

I'll be 65 this Friday. In some ways I'm finally coming of age.

The month started out on a cheery note. I'd gotten my Medicare card a couple of weeks earlier. Last week I signed up for Silver Sneakers - a wellness program provided by my insurance company - and I got into my water aerobics class for free. Before that it was $5.50. It will be the same when I go to the gym. They're not going to penalize me if I miss a day. Apparently any time I choose to exercise, the insurance company is happy to foot the bill.

My two children and Art's six are all grown and I have pretty much come to the conclusion that they are who they are, and they don't need advice from me. Even if I have an answer for them, they probably don't need it. When I was in my 30s I resented the heck out of any suggestions from my own mother. Most of our children are on Facebook, so I have a vague general idea of what they're up to. I know they'll call if they need anything and that I will hear from most of them on Mother's Day and I will see them occasionally. Even though part of me wishes they were all still around - like they were in the frantic, delightful, awful times of their childhood, adolescence and young adulthood - most of me doesn't have the energy for it all. So we relish the time we see them and wish them well the rest of the time.

I am beginning to accept that my body is never going to be as lithe and uncomplaining as it was for the first 45 years of my life, and that the aches and pains typical of people my age are, well, going to stay around. This has been a tough thing to accept. Used to be, if I broke or strained or otherwise injured a body part, it healed right up. Now it takes its sweet time - or heals but doesn't really. Blood pressure rises and joints develop arthritis. I'm not keen on this coming of age thing. Ten years ago we took a trip and hiked ten to twelve miles a day for a week - and all that hurt was my feet, in the evening. Now I'm looking at trips where the distance covered in a day is three to five miles, and wondering whether we're up to it - or whether we even want to try.

My wanderlust is calming down. We have a world map in our entryway, with pins marking the places we've been. They're in North, Central and South America, Europe and Asia and Africa. I think about trips to Spain, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and Scandinavia. I know they'd all be fascinating, but the energy required to plan and negotiate these trips can be pretty daunting. I see now why some people sign up for tours. All they have to do is send the money and pack their bags and show up. Maybe it's because we've already been so many places we wanted to see. Our financial planner says most retired people travel for five years and then come home. We're at the three-year mark. I hate, hate, hate to think I may turn out to be a typical retired person in that way.

The days are getting shorter here in the Pacific Northwest, and I have decided, very reluctantly, that I probably ought not to be driving at night in traffic or unfamiliar places. To that end, I've let the Dispute Resolution Center know I won't be taking evening mediation assignments until next spring. I'll miss that. But I can't ask Art to drive me there and then sit for the four hours I'd be mediating. I think it's very unfair that even though he's five years older than me, his vision doesn't limit him at night.

I live twelve miles from downtown Seattle. For years we had season tickets to two regional theaters. We went during the day. Then we decided we were too busy to commit to the dates on our tickets. Sometimes we missed a play due to a scheduling conflict. We said we'd buy individual tickets to plays we really wanted to see. But we didn't. It's too much of a hassle to drive downtown in traffic, maneuver the city streets, and pay $15 to park. The worst thing is that I don't miss the theatre, after decades of being a real enthusiast. Again, it's too much effort!

What I'm seeing is that I have less energy than before. Used to be I was limited by the number of hours in a day and I could fill my calendar for a day and enjoy every event. That's not the case any more. Now I'm careful to plan a day with spaces in it, or with one event that I could cancel if it didn't affect anyone else. If I swim or walk every day, and do my postural therapy exercises, and play brain-enhancing computer games (yes, really! See, and write or blog, sometimes the stamina I have left is less than what's needed for my day's plans. And I'm not sick. I'm just coming of age.

I am encouraged, though. When I talk to other people my age and older, or when I read what they write, I realize I'm not the only one. Most of us have aches and pains, less energy, and less of a drive to be constantly on the go. Fortunately.

I think coming of age means having a healthy awareness of who you are and where you are in your life. That you may be special but you're not unique. When I was younger I used to look at cars on the freeway and marvel at all those people with their own separate lives. It amazed me that there were lives out there other than my own. Now I feel comfortable on the road, looking out and realize that all of us, we're all in this together. I'm one of very many. And I like that.

Last Thursday I went to the first handbell practice of the year at a church in Seattle. I'd been told by email they didn't need any regulars - and I can't do it anyway since I'll be in Tucson all winter - but they sometimes needed a sub. And they did! I played a couple of different sets of bells. Not very well, though. I do read music but I'm not especially adept at sight reading - especially when the key signature changes every few measures. The old me would have quit after the first practice. Or called the director and told her I couldn't make it to practices because I have bad night vision. Instead, I brought a copy of the music home with me to mark up and asked Art if he'd be willing to drive me to practice once a week and wait for the hour and ten minutes the practices last. He said yes.

Now that I'm turning 65, I'm filing for my pension. I've finally come of age!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Things that surprised me this week

1.  A friend told me I have a calm temperament! The friend has only known me for four months, but still. I have always thought of myself as a Type-A personality, or at least lively, but maybe I'm morphing into something else. I followed up that statement with a question to my husband Art: "Do you think I have a calm temperament"? He paused, then said, "Yes". I said, "Did I always?" He said, without a pause, "No". I said, "When did it change?" He said, "I have no idea."

Neither do I. I don't even know if I believe either of them. I know I have a long fuse, but calm may be going too far.

2. I no longer breathe hard when I'm walking the uphill portion of my two-mile neighborhood walk. I walk this route most days when I don't do water aerobics. I've read that half an hour of vigorous exercise four or five times a week staves off all sorts of things. I specifically remember telling my sister a couple of months ago that I was breathing hard and wondering if it was my blood pressure meds. She's a nurse, and I ask her these things. She said no, to just keep walking, so I did.

3. When I'm sitting on a buoyant foam "noodle" in the pool - which is an exercise for balance - I'm completely comfortable, upright and relaxed rather than falling face first into the water. My balance is improving!

On these last two items, I'm realizing that it's not necessary to work hard all the time. It's just necessary to keep doing what I'm doing, and eventually these things will come to pass - improved aerobic fitness and improved balance.

4.  I can play in a drum circle, even if the last and only time I tried it before was 20 years ago at Bumbershoot, the end-of-summer blowout at Seattle Center. Yesterday's gathering was at my church. I used to sing, but my voice is older now and I don't want to expose it to the world. However, I have always had a decent sense of rhythm, so I thought I'd try the drum circle as an expression of unity and collaboration. I love it! I had the same feeling last winter when I still remembered how to play handbills after 25 years. Except the drum circle was something new, and the handbells were something old.

5. Here's a Facebook chat phrase that can result in one of my sons responding:

Me: When are you moving out of your place?
Son: (No response) (Son is online and the time stamp indicates he has read my message)
Me: Evan, I know you're there!
Son: Next week.

"Evan, I know you're there!" must be the magic words. And here I thought they were "please" and "thank you".

6. After a rainstorm, hundreds of spiders spin large webs to guard the ripe tomatoes in the garden - and I walk into a dozen of them. This is the first year since we planted our garden that we've had enough warm weather to ripen the tomatoes on the vine. Usually we have to pick them green and store them in grocery bags in a dark place for a few weeks.

7.  Being 65 can be a good thing. If you're 65 and your insurance covers it, you can swim for free at my rec center instead of paying $5.50 each time for the water aerobics class. Actually, I knew this, but I wasn't able to do it until this week. I'll be 65 this month and my Medicare coverage took effect on September 1. It was fun, swimming for free!

8. When Art sits on the couch reading for three days, it's because he is sick with a cold. He is very quiet then. For some reason I thought he would be cranky. It has been a while since he's had a cold. Usually he's just in pain because he worked outside for four hours. Then he's cranky.

9. When I caught Art's cold I thought he would be sympathetic. But he wasn't. He kind of laughed, but not in a mean way.

10. If your iPhone begins to die, the Apple Store people have really excellent customer service and they treat you like you're a real person and not their grandmother.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Grandma goes to the airport

My 13-year-old twin granddaughters Mary and Malayne went to YMCA camp again this year. Last week my ex-husband drove from his home in southern Oregon to Spokane, where the girls now live, to pick them up and bring them to Seattle. The back of his car was full of their camp gear. Mary brought a smallish suitcase, a largish backpack and a pillow. Malayne brought a large suitcase, a small backpack, a pillow, and a stuffed animal named Ravioli. There was plenty of room in the car.

However, the girls were flying home the day after camp ended. I picked them up from the camp bus. Their things were not so neatly packed by this time. Their stuff filled the back of my car and half of the back seat. We went to my house where Grandma did the laundry - it looked like each girl had packed nine outfits for the five days of camp -  and Grandpa fixed dinner. The two girls shucked corn and chattered about their experience at camp. Eventually the talk wound down, two girls grew cranky and tired, and the time came to repack suitcases for the next day's plane trip.

It turned out that Grandpa had to pack Mary's smallish suitcase inside a larger one of ours, then stuff her remaining gear into the spaces around the interior suitcase. Grandma sighed as she accepted the fact that each twin would need to check one bag at the airport. That would be $40.

The flight was scheduled to depart at 1 pm. We left for the airport at 10:30. With no traffic the trip takes 35 minutes. At midday it took about 50. Not too bad.

I decided to take my chances with public parking. I always decide this, and I nearly always regret it. We drove around on two floors of the structure, finding no empty spaces, and then I climbed to the sixth floor where I knew I'd have success. I should have done that in the first place.

Alaska Airlines requires children 12 or under traveling alone to have airline escorts for both boarding and deplaning. From ages 13 to 17 escorts are optional. It had been decided - at $25 a child - that they could travel alone. I confirmed I could get a gate pass to accompany them this first time, just to make sure they could navigate the Seattle airport, from checking in, to checking luggage, to getting through security, to finding their gate.  Mary and Malayne have flown several times with an airline escort. "Grandma, we know how to do this," they said. They rolled their eyes.

Not so much, as it turns out.

We stood in line at the "Other Business" counter behind parents handing over a child traveling alone, a couple traveling with a small dog, and a man who had missed his flight. The twins started arguing while in line. I kept my eyes on the prize of an open representative at the counter, got their tickets and my gate pass, and checked two largish suitcases.

No, the twins could not get their bags checked for free, even though I am an MVP with Alaska and get two bags free for each of my flights. "The MVP follows just you, ma'am." I handed the agent my credit card.

On to security. A longish line, but moving at a decent speed. The girls took off their shoes and put their bags on the conveyor belt. I did the same. We all made it through the metal detector. On the other side, Mary's bag needed to be checked by a TSA person. "It looks like a large tube of toothpaste." It was. "Toss it," said Grandma. Malayne's water bottle was full of Gatorade. "Toss it," said Grandma again. Then, to the twins, "Remember the rule about liquids and gels?" They had forgotten. Grandma said, "This is how we learn, isn't it?"

Malayne told me she was thirsty, and Mary said she was starving. I found this out before I'd put my shoes back on.

The girls did know how to read the flight board. "Look, Grandma. Our flight has been cancelled." They were right.

I still hadn't risen from the bench where I put on my shoes. I texted Dan, their stepdad. "Flight has been cancelled. Stay tuned."

Mary and Malayne both had to go to the restroom. I waited outside. They came out ten minutes later. My phone rang. Dan said, "I called the airlines. All the 1 pm passengers have been rebooked for the 9 pm flight..." My heart sank as I visualized seven more hours in this terminal. He continued. "I got them on the 2 pm." I sent a silent blessing his way.

"Okay, girls. Let's go get your new tickets."

"I'm starving, Grandma." Two girls were close to tears. We went to Wendy's. All the tables in the food court had someone sitting at them. A pleasant looking man sat alone at a table with four empty chairs. I asked if we could share and he smiled yes. In the meantime, the twins had found an empty table. I thanked the man and moved away. "Someone else got the table." We waited three more minutes until another table emptied. The girls ate their Wendy's nuggets and drank their enormous Dr. Peppers.

On the way to the gate to get the new tickets, both girls had to go to the restroom again. Malayne came out of her stall in about four minutes and spent the next five looking at her face in one of the mirrors. Mary was not out yet. I finally sent Malayne over to check on her progress. She came back. "She's reading in there. I told her to hurry up."

In all my travels, I have never read in a restroom stall - though I admit I once sent a text.

We found the gate. We got the new tickets. "When you get to Spokane, look for Dan at the gate. If he isn't there, follow the signs to the baggage place. He will be waiting for you." We waited in the boarding line. Malayne said, "I'm sorry I was cranky. I was just hungry and I'm tired." I thanked her for her apology. The girls gave me a hug. "Turn left at the second door. Get on the plane from the front stairs. Your seats are in row 8." They nodded and were gone.

When the plane left the gate I texted Dan and told him their status. I texted my husband to let him know I was on my way. I walked to the parking garage and put my parking ticket and credit card in the machine. "Your credit card is not valid," the voice told me. I had just used that credit card to pay for the checked luggage. I tried it again. "Your credit card is not valid," the voice told me. I took out another credit card. This one met with the machine's approval. I owed $9 for parking for two hours.

I found my car, wound down the exit ramp and headed for the gate. I put my validated ticket in the slot. "Your ticket is not valid," a voice told me. I backed up and drove up to a live person. She informed me my parking ticket had gotten unmagnetized. I didn't say anything. She opened the exit gate and I escaped from the airport.

My drive home took 45 minutes. I stopped for gas near my house. As I pulled into the driveway I got a text from Dan. "Met up with the girls at baggage claim." They had gotten to Spokane before I got home from the airport.

I haven't decided yet whether next time I'll just hand the twins over to a paid escort or whether we'll do another training session on "getting through the airport." I didn't need to decide that today. But I did need to take a nap.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My hometown barista

Jason opened his espresso stand 17 years ago, just after we moved to our little town. There are 6500 people here in Brier, Washington, and about five businesses. Besides the coffee stand, we have an excellent Greek-Italian restaurant, a real estate office, a mom-and-pop grocery store, and a hair salon. Plus a skate park, tennis courts, a horse arena, two churches and six small parks. We're a northern suburb of Seattle, so almost everyone leaves home for a commute each weekday, unless they're a kid, in which case they walk to school, or they're retired like me, in which case they walk to Jason's coffee stand.

When I was working I stopped for a coffee almost every day on my way to work. My drink is a quad mocha, one shot of caffeine, three shots of decaf, half the chocolate. While Jason makes my drink we chat about what's going on with us. He knew when each of my kids left home, when my granddaughters were born, when my mother died, when my sister moved to Alaska. And, of course, all about the little happenings on the home front.  In turn, I knew when Jason got married (twice), when his kids were born, when he bought his boat. He even recommended a real estate agent when my son bought a condo and told me about the local builder who redid my kitchen and is replacing our windows. Quite a lot can be said in a daily 90-second conversation!

Last Tuesday morning I pulled into Jason's place and there was a sign on the window. "Machine is down. The service guy has ordered the parts. Sorry for the inconvenience." That was disappointing because I was on my way to a mediation and wanted a cup of coffee. If I'd just been on my morning two-mile walk I could have fixed a pot myself when I got home. I hoped I wouldn't get a headache without the caffeine.

Wednesday, same sign. And Thursday.

On Friday Jason's shop was open. I remarked that 150 people probably had the twitches on their way to work for the three days he was closed. He said he'd had good conversations all day with people who said how much they'd missed not just their coffee, but him and his conversation. He's heard a lot of stuff, he said - some things he wishes he didn't know. But the biggest surprise for him, he told me, was how much he missed talking to his customers. He'd never really thought about those 150 daily chats and how much they meant to him in his own life.

Community is important to me - one of the values that guides my life. I belong to communities of mediators, writers, people in recovery, exercisers, snowbirds, and bloggers. And, especially, the actual physical community I live in. Where I walk, and meet people walking their dogs and carrying the little doggie bags, and chat with neighbors out gardening, and wave to people who drive by, and pick blackberries by the fence of the elementary school.

Jason's shop is closed on Sunday. I bought a coffee in the next town over on my way home from church today. I chatted with the young woman while she made my drink. But it wasn't the same as talking with Jason.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tired on Saturday!

I had a busy week. Busier than usual, even for me.

On Monday:
I went to water aerobics, then went to the place I used to work to talk to the CEO. He'd seen me at a retirement luncheon last month for my old manager and, when he realized I'd been gone for three years already, invited me in to talk about what I thought about the company after this length of time. I went because I was curious. It was an interesting conversation. I felt the old pull of a familiar place and familiar faces, but was very glad, as I drove away, that I'd parked in a visitor spot. 

While my husband Art went to his massage, I shopped in a nearby store, Sylvia's, for a new bathing suit. I've had my old suit for nearly ten years but rarely wore it until this year when I started taking water aerobics. Now it's stretched and faded. A young woman in the bathing suit store found me four chlorine resistant suits to try on, and I bought two of them. I hate shopping, especially for bathing suits, and I'd allowed an hour and a half, but I was in and out of that store in 35 minutes. What a relief!

I had a special two-hour massage in the evening with Scott, a therapist I hadn't seen in a couple of years. He spent a lot of time on my lower back, which I injured a couple of years ago, and gave me an exercise to try. I was really glad to see him.  

I mediated in small claims court - a very satisfying experience where two old friends were able to resolve a debt disagreement between them. I love it when that happens. In the afternoon I did a role play for the weeklong basic mediation training at the dispute resolution center. And in the evening Art and I went to a small group meeting at my church. I'd questioned whether I'd have the energy for this day, but I seemed to do all right.

I got up early to take Larisa, our Designer Cat, to the vet for a haircut. She gets shaved except for her head, her feet and the tip of her tail. It's called a lion cut, and it's good for longhaired cats in the summer. The tech's notes said, "She didn't hit me today, but she gave me a lot of verbal sass."

Then it was off to the airport to pick up David and Sharon, our houseguests. We had a good conversation, got them settled in, and went to our favorite little lunch place.

I had a three-hour mediation in the morning and another role play in the afternoon.

Water aerobics and a noon meeting.

And then, each day, all the little things: tending the garden, laundry and paperwork and finances and talking to our lawyer about our family trust and planning our October trip to Iowa. And my current computer game. And the ongoing contest between me and random ants in the bathroom. Hopefully, that will get resolved next week with the exterminator's second visit.

I have a new exercise from my postural therapist, using a slant board. He thinks once my pelvis and hips get aligned the pressure on my back will be relieved. The slant board addresses multiple oddities with my body structure, and the previously unused muscles are complaining today.

Recently I decided I want to take Sunday as a quiet day. Of course, I'm feeling some pressure to get everything done today, Saturday. And I'm tired and mostly what I want to do is take a nap.  But I'm not sleepy.

I know there are many people who relax easily. I'm not one of them. I do think I'd like to acquire that skill, though. Maybe I'll lie on the floor or in our hammock or sit in an Adirondack chair and read.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

In year four, the Bag Lady buys dancing shoes

I've started into my fourth year of not working. It's not really retirement until October 1, when I start drawing a pension. You could say I've had a three-year running start on it.

I've found I'm best off when I'm busy and engaged. I'm not a good day-to-day drifter, even on vacation. I like having a to-do list, even if some of the items are optional.

So, in the first year I had three goals: to learn to teach English as a second language; to work on a Habitat for Humanity build in an area affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and to take training to become a mediator. I did all those things. I found out I don't want to teach English as a second language. That I don't have the stamina for Habitat builds (plus, I'm afraid of heights so can't do roofs, scaffolding or even high ladders). And that I love mediation. I took the first training in the last week of my first year of not working, then put in the 140 hours required to be certified by the state to work as a volunteer mediator for the local dispute resolution center. I work sometimes at small claims court, try to do a mediation a week, and use what I've learned in my life every day.

In year two I shifted from setting goals to identifying the values most important to me. I came up with spirituality, community, exercise, curiosity and purpose. For the most part, my life aligned with those values - but I didn't seek out activities in those areas. I just recognized them, and that was good.

In year three I realized that my values needed another look. I had hurt my back and cut back on exercise and gotten out of shape, and other areas of my life were affected by my inactivity. I redefined my values as spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose - in that order.

We spent last winter in Tucson at a 55-plus RV resort. I took a water aerobics class three days a week and my husband and I took line dancing lessons on Wednesday mornings. By the time I got back to the Pacific Northwest I'd developed the exercise habit. Here at home, I still do water aerobics or walk two miles almost every day, and my husband and I are continuing our line dancing lessons at the local senior center. The "health" value is something I'm acting on now, rather than just listing.

This summer I started attending a church, for the first time in 30 years. I love the spirituality and the community. And the music. And the community garden. And the small group opportunities. And the drum circle and the book club I'll join in September.

I look at the values I identified last year and see they are still valid for me. Now, in year four, I'm seeking out opportunities that express my values. That feels good, like I'm still growing.

I now "get" why I love mediation; it is spiritually satisfying, engages me within a community of like-minded people, satisfies my curiosity and gives me a sense of purpose for part of my week. I'm grateful I found mediation early in my post-work life.

We've done a lot of traveling in the last three years; I think we've taken 30 trips - some as short as three days, one as long as three weeks. Travel isn't a value of mine, but it satisfies most of them. The connections we make with other people when we're away confirms my sense that, spiritually, "we're all in this together".  We've made friends in new places. We've explored on foot. We've learned. And we see our connectedness to others and the world. That's the best part.

This week, I bought a pair of dancing shoes. I'm moving forward into year four!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Scattered thoughts

First, a follow up on my "looking for my grandfather" post last week:  I didn't hear from Sydney about my grandfather, but I did find a genealogist in Colorado who tracked down the birth and marriage and divorce records I needed to conclude Sydney is not related to me. A newspaper article the genealogist sent me related that my grandfather Myron and his wife Edna were both high school students when they married secretly, but a church bulletin leaked the news. At that time (early 1900s), married students could not attend school, so they both had to drop out. Still, I wonder why Edna's mother signed for permission for her daughter to marry. Was there an unsuccessful pregnancy? I don't know. The dropping out of school piece was enough information for me to be able to move on to other genealogical curiosities.

Now, on to my scattered thoughts.

I used to be able to juggle nine balls in the air. Not actual balls, you know, but things I was thinking about or working on. I noticed as I got older that I'd drop a ball occasionally, until I only tried juggling eight. I can do it now with about five. But I still have a to-do list on the refrigerator and on my online calendar.

Still, I'm scattered this week. There are a lot of balls looking for a basket to rest in.

1. My husband Art is leading a weekend retreat later this month. It's not something he ordinarily does, so I'm spending time listening and reflecting and helping him prioritize. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours rekeying an application packet because the leader last year didn't save an electronic copy. Phone calls Art makes sometimes don't get returned, and, while he has many, many redeeming qualities, patience is not at the top of the list.

2. We filed an extension on our taxes this year. I have all the information I need now to complete them. I need a couple of hours of uninterrupted time to take care of them. "Finish taxes" has been at the top of my list for over a week and it is still sitting there, guilting me.

3. We were invaded by carpenter ants. The exterminator came on Sunday. I still see an ant every now and then, but I believe they have left the residence. They creep me out.

4. I have overscheduled us for hosting travelers.

One couple, David and Sharon, are friends we made in Tennessee on our road trip last year. They arrive on August 12 for a week. The other couple, Ray and Marianne, are home exchangers from Maryland on their way to Australia. They'll be here on August 22, also for a week.

Once those arrangements had been made,  our 13-year-old twin granddaughters' summer camp got rescheduled from July to August, so they'll be arriving and departing between sets of houseguests, with a one-day overlap at the beginning of Ray and Marianne's stay. There was nothing I could do about that one. The girls will just have to share a bed, or one of them will use an air mattress on the floor.

We also have a couchsurfer, a fourth-year veterinarian student doing her externship in our area. I thought she was coming in October, but I just noticed today it's September - with a two-day overlap at the end of Ray and Marianne's visit! That one I missed because I was juggling too many balls.

It will all work out. I'll have the housekeeper come over an extra time and I'll remind Art he needs to clean up the office/second guest room and he needs to be patient!

5. I filled out my application for retirement today. I quit my job three years ago but am just now old enough to get a full pension. I have many thoughts about this.

6. Every day I walk or swim or line dance. Most days, anyway. Fitting it in can mean juggling times.

7. We need 1600 more air miles to qualify for MVP on Alaska Airlines for next year. I'm thinking Colorado, Maryland, Iowa or San Diego. Maybe there and back in one day, but more likely a week, using a timeshare or Evergreen Club. I know this sounds like a frivolous ball to be juggling, but it takes time also. I ask Art where he wants to go and he said, "I don't care." He'll have a good time wherever we go. Right now he's focused on planning the retreat.

8. Our Designer Cat, Larisa, needs to have her nails trimmed. I have to catch her first, and then do one or two nails a day. In the meantime, she is snagging many fabrics.

9. Art got hearing aids last Saturday. They are quite state of the art, but they are not quite perfectly adjusted yet. I am hearing a lot about that.

10. Last but not least, I am on level 130 of Candy Crush on Facebook. It's a good few-minute filler. But I find myself thinking about it when I should be doing other things. An embarrassing number 10!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Looking for my grandfather

My grandfather Myron died of a ruptured appendix in 1931, at the age of 43. That was almost 20 years before I was born. My mother said he and my grandmother were crazy about each other. I know he wrote a little book of flowery poems about the joys of marriage and family; I have a battered copy in my nightstand.

But Myron was a mysterious figure when I was growing up. There were whispers of some kind of scandal, some other woman. One statement, attributed to Myron's mother (my great grandmother Alma) was, "He was more sinned against than sinning." Such a curious comment from a devout Baptist.

I'm a genealogist, and I've been looking around for years for information about Myron. But sometimes I miss things. Just this year I checked out the 1910 census again. He was living in California with a roommate, which I'd seen on previous visits to the census record, but this time I noticed that he was listed as "married".  He didn't marry my grandmother Ethel until 1912, so this was a different marriage. I called my oldest cousin, Bob, and asked if he knew our grandfather had been married before. He said no.

I tracked down the Colorado marriage record. February 1909, to a young woman named Edna. And the  Colorado divorce record in August 1910. The only appearances in court on the divorce date were Edna and her mother Annie. No Myron. He was in California by then.

I remembered, "He was more sinned against than sinning." I wondered if there had been a baby.

I checked out the 1910 census record for Edna's family. Her parents William and Annie had three daughters: Edna (with my grandfather's last name), age 18; Wilma, age 16; and Dorothy, age two. William was in his early 40s and Annie in her late 30s. I noted the number of years between Dorothy and her two older sisters and I wondered if Dorothy might be the child of my grandfather Myron and Edna. Might William and Annie be raising their granddaughter as their own child? That did happen back then.

I continued searching. In the online records for a cemetery in Greeley, Colorado, I found a family plot. William and Annie are buried there, and Edna and her second husband Wilbur, and Wilma, and Dorothy and her husband Harry. The person who had made the arrangements for the most recent burial - Dorothy, in 1994 - was Sydney, her daughter. I followed the trail. In another Colorado town, I found the mortuary who had handled the arrangements for Dorothy's husband Harry. Their records included an obituary. I asked for a copy.

I found Sydney. She is 80 years old and she lives in Honolulu. I called and left a voicemail. I didn't hear back. Last week I wrote her a letter. I told her about my research and my curiosity. What did Sydney hear about her Aunt Edna's first husband when she was growing up? If her mother Dorothy was my grandfather's daughter, we are cousins. I told her about DNA testing and offered to pay for one if she was interested. 

So far, I have not heard from Sydney. Maybe she is on an extended trip, or maybe she's sick, or maybe she's not interested, or maybe she feels threatened. I need to honor all those possibilities.

Harry's obituary includes the name of a granddaughter, Kimberly. She would be close to my age. I'm thinking about seeing if I can find her. But if I don't hear from Sydney, most likely I won't.

I'm still looking for my grandfather. I noted a newspaper article in 1922, from Bakersfield, California. He lived in Long Beach, California by then. He had stopped in at the home of a young woman in Bakersfield on his way back from school in Chico. His wife, my grandmother Ethel, was six months pregnant with my mother then. Who was the young woman in Bakersfield?

"He was more sinned against than sinning."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sliding into home, churchwise

I have been unchurched for almost 30 years. When I got divorced in the mid-80s, the church I'd attended for 15 years - the one where I'd served as a liturgical musician and youth retreat leader - didn't know what to do with me. Or maybe I didn't know what to do with it. When I moved from a small town in Oregon to a large suburb in Washington, I didn't seek a new church in my denomination or in any other. And the longer I stayed away, the easier it became. I remembered all the things about the church's doctrine that I didn't believe. There was some relief to my nonparticipation as I moved on with my life.

In recent travels I've been reminded of my separateness from a religious community. Three years ago, in Italy, I visited Assisi and learned about Francis, the bad boy who renounced his family's wealth and chose instead to live simply and walk in the footsteps of Christ. That would be love and service, I thought. I visited the Vatican and saw a lot of gold and thought about how many people that gold could feed. I visited art museums and felt grateful for the role the Catholic Church played in supporting Renaissance artists. On that trip I was able to clarify my convictions about the role of spirit and of religion and to release old guilts and resentments.

Last month I visited a village in Kenya where the people sacrificed a goat we had bought from them, drank its blood, and shared the meat with us. I noted the similarity to sacred rituals in churches and wondered whether those rituals happened first in villages or in churches. I'm pretty sure it was in villages, to celebrate love and community.

When I got home from Africa I was invited by a friend to attend a church service in a denomination I'd never known much about. I explored the website and decided to give it a try. From the moment I walked in the door I was comfortable. The service was a celebration of life and community, of love and service. I believed every word spoken during the service. I went back two more times. I still felt comfortable. People welcomed me and shared their own experiences. I have decided to attend this church.

It's been a journey traveling around the bases. I don't regret a single step. But I am glad to feel like I'm sliding into home.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The heat wave and the veterans

My husband Art had been asked to speak to the Viet Nam Veterans of America at their monthly meeting in Roseburg, Oregon. We've written a book about his experience in Viet Nam in 1968, when he originally served, and in 2005, when we returned to the country on a journey of reconciliation and healing. The veterans wanted to hear his story.

There's a heat wave this week in the Pacific Northwest. We drove the 380 miles from Seattle to Roseburg. As we passed through Portland, the thermometer read 100 degrees. When we got into Roseburg, it was down to 97.

The VA auditorium is an older building and on this early evening it was cooled by several noisy fans. A semicircle of folding chairs was three quarters filled with 60-somethings, mostly men, mostly wearing hats or vests displaying their branch of service.

After a short business meeting, the fans in the room were turned off to cut the noise and Art was introduced. For this event he'd decided to wear a pair of tan shorts, a yellow shirt and sandals - plus his Viet Nam Veteran-United States Marine Corps hat.

Art is not an experienced public speaker, but he is an experienced veteran. He didn't talk much about his first time in Viet Nam. Instead, he talked about his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how it affected him and his family. And he described his return to Viet Nam and how that trip has changed his life.

It was probably 85 degrees in that auditorium. For the 20 minutes Art talked, no one moved. No one went outside to get a breath of air or smoke a cigarette. No one got up for a cup of coffee or a bottle of cold water. Even the refreshment ladies in the back of the room were quiet. Everyone was listening.

We took a 15-minute break. Four men came up to Art to talk. All of them bought a book and asked him to sign it. He got up to speak again after the break. Not a single person had left. They stayed in that old auditorium, all those veterans, to listen to one of their own.

When the meeting ended, more men talked to Art. Two women talked to me. Two more books were sold and signed.

We were among the last to leave the building. It was 8:30 p.m. and still over 90 degrees outside. We went for ice cream to celebrate the veterans.