Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Bag Lady reflects on a quiet week

We arrived in Tucson, our winter home, a month before high season. It's quieter then. We got busy fixing up the place and then I got pneumonia and Art got a sinus infection. We were pretty much knocked out for nearly two weeks. Antibiotics did their job, but the fatigue lingered. Neither of us felt like doing more than the minimum. 

In that time, I got quiet. Unusual for me, the doer. I learned a few things about myself.

1. I am okay with Christmas these days. Once our eight children grew up, I had a tough few years. The holiday tree made me sad, as I decorated it with all the memory-laden ornaments and realized that holidays with the kids were a thing of the past. I felt left behind for several years. Then we traveled during Christmas weeks - to Idaho and Kauai and Paris, substituting one pleasure for another. Now we are content with quiet. Aside from sending out holiday cards, putting up a small artificial tree, sending money or gift cards to our grandchildren, and gathering for Christmas dinner with over a hundred other 55+ people at our winter residence, we spent low-key days and evenings. Partly it was because we were sick and recovering - and partly because it was enough. 

2.  I am beginning to come to terms with the realities of aging. Though my brain is still quite nimble, my body is not. I do exercise but my stamina has decreased in the last few years. I injured my back nearly four years ago; the symptoms show up as tingling in my feet and I no longer expect to recover from that injury. I need to have the second cataract removed. And I no longer consider driving at night to be an option. That sense of disbelief that I am getting older is gone. I've moved past denial. Finally. Now I can move on with what comes next. I take comfort in the knowledge that everyone my age is having the same experience.

3. I have a busy life, but I'm no longer pushing myself to stay busy. I can waste time extravagantly without guilt. I noticed this especially when I was sick, since I didn't have the energy to do much besides sit. Now that I feel like being more active, I don't plan to go go go all day. I've set aside one a day a week to write. And I plan to do a lot more reading.

4. I'm letting go of unnecessary complexity. I spend less time thinking about what's going on in the lives of family members. They will find their way. I'm not obsessing about my health or the health of others. I'm not worrying about the state of the world. I'm learning that if my mind is quiet, it's receptive to other possibilities. I think of what Mark Twain said: "I am an old man, and I have had many troubles, but most of them never happened."

5. Nearly five years into retirement, one of my greatest pleasures is still sleeping as long as I want, most mornings. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Let's hear it for antibiotics

The virus that began in our Washington household with my sister Alyx just before Thanksgiving had two outcomes. It led to a secondary bacterial infection, and it spread from Alyx to her husband Virgil, who carried it from Washington to Arizona to me and to my husband Art. Thanks to the miracle of antibiotics we are all on the mend - Virgil and Art from sinus infections, and Alyx and me from pneumonia.

Pneumonia used to be a very big deal before antibiotics were developed. It still is in the elderly population. It's been called "the old person's friend"; indeed, my mother had pneumonia five times in the last six months of her life. I call it the "don't give a shit" illness. When I woke up on Wednesday after six days with a cough and realized I didn't give a shit about anything, I knew it was time to go to the urgent care clinic in Tucson. The knowledge was reinforced when Art's blood work at the VA came back with a high white count. We picked up his prescription from the VA and drove directly to urgent care. I got two shots in the butt - cortisone and an antibiotic - and spent 20 minutes breathing in some formulation to open up my airway, then picked up prescriptions for z-pack, cortisone, cough medicine and an inhaler. The nurse practitioner told me I'd feel better in three days. I felt somewhat better within five hours. The coughing is minimal now, I'm breathing fine, and I can tell I'm on the mend. But my energy is low. So I'm resting a lot.

Here's what I learned this week in my adventure with pneumonia:

1. If you can hear your lungs bubbling when you exhale, you should go to the doctor.
2. If you have an HMO in Washington State with no reciprocal arrangement with an HMO in Arizona, you learn how to get your costs covered by reading the part of your contract called "out-of-network services." In the meantime, you keep your credit card handy at the urgent care clinic and at the pharmacy across the street.
3. If you have plans to drive six hours to San Diego to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with your daughter and son-in-law, you cancel them. You might feel completely recovered by Tuesday, but you probably won't be. And that's just you. You also have a recuperating spouse.
4. You feel pretty good when you get up in the morning, but after an hour or two of small household tasks you sit down or lie down. You do not go for a walk. You do not go to the solstice service you were looking forward to. You do not wash the outside windows. What you do instead is read or spend time with your computer or watch the birds around the feeder or watch the cat watching the birds.
5. Antibiotics are a miracle and you are grateful you live in a time that has them.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's different when you own the place

After two years of renting our park model at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson, we bought it. We like the location and the layout, and the purchase last March just confirmed what we already believed: the place was ours. It felt good to leave some of our stuff when we returned to our Pacific Northwest home at the end of the season.


So it's time to make it our own. Here's what we've done since arriving two weeks ago:

1. We brought Larisa, our Designer Cat. Though our park model is in the non-pet section, there's an unwritten understanding about indoor cats. I have told Larisa she has to be an indoor cat during our months in Arizona. So far, she seems agreeable. To make that easier for her, we bought a cat condo - a structure for sharpening claws, climbing, and sitting off the floor. She's explored it, motivated by the treats I put on each level a couple of times a day. We've also ordered a smaller structure for by the door of the Arizona room, and a cat bed for lounging. Larisa lived under our bed until three days ago. Now she sleeps on the bed and comes out for dinner and treats in the condo. Her normal life has resumed in a different residence.

2. I brought a quilt from home and replaced the comforter on the bed. The comforter will go in a plastic bag for use by visitors who will sleep on our air mattress.

3. We bought a metal javalina at the vendor fair on Wednesday to put in the tiny desert garden in front of our park model. It's in memory of Bud, our potbellied pig, who lived to be nearly 19 and looked an awful lot like a javalina, though pigs and javalinas are not related at all. I thought it would look tacky, but where Art placed the little metal animal it looks kind of cool - like the javalina is eating the cactus out there.



I did A LOT of internet research. Then:

4. I ordered a table with adjustable legs from Ikea. I have a standing computer table at home, and I'll be able to do the same thing here as soon as the table parts arrive. I can tell my back and neck are not crazy about my computer work at the dining table.

5. I ordered a 99-gallon deck box for storing items we need but don't use regularly: extra blankets and comforters, tools, storage boxes. It should fit just fine in a corner of our deck.

6. We ordered the parts needed to repair or replace the rods for the eight sets of one-inch aluminum blinds that cover the windows in our front room. Last year I had to stretch to reach the little turning piece at the top of the blind. Now that we own the place, we can reinstall the rods to twist instead. We also downloaded the manual for our oven and figured out how to set the thermostat.

7. We bought a Coleman portable bbq from Amazon. Actually, I ordered two by mistake. Though the shipping was free on both, returning one of them will cost $45. So I've placed an ad on the bulletin board in the activities complex to see if we can sell it to avoid the return postage. I figure one mistake is human, but I wish the extra something had been more lightweight.

8. We set up two laptop computers and a wireless printer. The printer ran out of black ink quite soon so I have ordered more ink - an ongoing expense, unfortunately.

We're pretty much set up now, so we're getting on with our winter activities.

9. We started our community activities: we took line dancing lessons on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning Art sat at a table at our every-other-week vendor fair and sold four of our Vietnam books. He told me they would be Christmas presents. He also talked to four Vietnam vets who came by. In the afternoon I went to the current events discussion. And Art has signed up to be in the cast of the Second Annual Voyager Light Opera's play, Guys and Dolls (abridged version). He had rehearsals on Monday and Thursday afternoons and, as of today, has purchased his costume and props from Goodwill in Tucson.

10. And we both have bad colds. Climate change, maybe?


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Larisa the Designer Cat's Great Adventure


You probably know They call me the Designer Cat, but you might not know why. I am a Siberian Forest Cat and genetically my saliva does not contain the protein that makes people allergic to cats. I lived in a cattery in Oregon until I was nearly five. I had 26 kittens in five litters and most of them are hypoallergenic too. We are a Special Breed. I came to live with Him and Her when I was finished having all my kittens.

My People - He and She - go away often. They call it traveling. Since I came to live in Their house four years ago, They have taken 38 trips. They leave me in the house with Other People who feed me and pet me and clean out my box.

A month ago a black Sherpa bag came to live in the living room. It was made out of canvas and it had mesh places to see into and a door. Usually when I would look in the box there would be two treats for me, so of course I'd go into the box to gobble up the treats. Sometimes I sat on the door which was open on the ground. Once or twice I took a nap in there.

Then two weeks ago She started putting this blue harness on me during the day. It itched a little at first, but I got used to it. A couple of days later She attached a leash to the harness and tugged on it a little. That felt odd but it wasn't scary.

On Monday last week He packed suitcases and coolers and loaded them into the blue Prius and then He and the Other He got in the car and drove away. But She was still in the house. That was different from the other traveling.

On Wednesday morning She put my harness on me. I went into the Sherpa bag for my treats and She attached the leash to my harness and closed the door and zipped it up. She told me we were going to ride on an airplane to Tucson. I have only done that once before and it was a long time ago when I was a kitten, so I don't remember much. The doorbell rang and She put on her backpack and picked me up in the Sherpa bag and we left the house and got in her Friend's car and drove to the airport. I meowed a few times to let them know I was there, but the ride wasn't so bad.

At the airport a lot of people were moving around and I got scared and pounded on the walls of my Sherpa bag. She carried my bag in a different hand then, and then all I could see was Her legs walking. She talked to a lady about me and the lady gave her a piece of paper called a ticket.

Then more walking. She carried me to a place called TSA-Pre Security. She opened my bag and reached in for me and bundled me into her arms, talking to me in her mmmmmmm-hmmmmmm voice which I know is a good sound. We walked through a machine and then she put me back in my bag and we walked some more. She sat in a chair and put me in my bag in front of her facing her legs so that was all I could see.

We walked again, down a ramp and onto an airplane. We got to go first since we needed extra time to get settled. She talked to me mmmmmmm-hmmmmm again and she slid me and my bag under the seat in front of her. I was pretty sleepy so I took a little nap.

Then a loud noise started and then the airplane started moving fast and going up in the sky. I pounded on my bag again because I was scared. After a few minutes the loud noise went away and She unzipped my bag just a little and gave me a treat. I tried to get out but She pushed my head back in.

I took a long nap then, for about three hours, and then the airplane came down from the sky. The loud noise started again and the airplane slowed down very fast. I pounded on my bag and I was really scared and I threw up inside my bag in a place where I wouldn't step in it.

We walked some more and She called a place called Thrifty Car and a van came and She got in with me in my bag. Pretty soon the van stopped and we went into a little building for a few minutes, and then we walked across a parking lot and there was a different car there. She opened the trunk and opened my bag and I got out inside the trunk. I still had on my leash. She offered me some water but I wasn't thirsty. Then she put some of my favorite food on a little cloth and I was hungry and I ate about 25 pieces of the food while She changed my bag liner and put in a clean one.

She put me back in my bag then and in the front passenger seat of the car. We were driving to a place called PetSmart. She told me they had a new litter box for me and a big bag of cat litter.

When we got to PetSmart, She got out of the car and opened the trunk again. I think She was looking for something She'd left in the trunk while I was eating. She closed the trunk and then locked the car door with me inside. It was a nice day outside, sunny and warm - not like where I live where it's usually raining this time of year and cold. I settled in for another nap now that I had eaten.

Then I saw Her face in the window. She looked scared. She ran into the store for a minute and then ran back out. She talked to someone on the phone. She was holding the phone with one hand and running her hand through her hair with the other hand. She talked on the phone for 20 minutes and She looked scared the whole time. I wondered what the problem was, but I was getting sleepy.

Then a man came to the window. He had a long thin stick and a couple of other tools and he was doing something to the door of the car. Pretty soon the door opened and She leaned in and talked to me. I looked at her and blinked. She said thank you to the man and he went away. She opened the trunk of the car and found Her keys in there. That was a good thing, She said.

Then She went back into the store and in a few minutes She came out with my litter box and litter. She put it in the trunk and we drove for about 20 minutes and then She stopped the car and got out. She came around to my side and took me and my bag out of the car. We went up four steps and into a different house. This house is small and it is called a Park Model. She let me out of the bag. I explored the new house and then I found a bed and crawled under it.

I stayed under the bed for four hours. It was dark under there and it was safe. I could hear Her moving around the house, and every so often She would talk to me. Once I came out from under the bed and I found a hole in Her closet where I could hide too. That wasn't as good a hiding place because She could reach into the hole and pull me out. So I went back under the bed.

Now I have been in this Park Model for four days. He is here and She is here and the Other He is here until tomorrow when the Other He goes back to the other house. I have new dishes for food and water right next to the kitchen. My new litter box is in the Arizona Room where it is quiet. I have a climbing thing They bought yesterday at the pet store, and four new toys, and a new collar. Sometimes there is catnip which I especially like. I sleep on the back of the new couch just like I do at home. Today I started taking my nap on Their bed instead of under it. I am getting used to the Noises outside. People walk by, and I can hear Trains sometimes. The only different thing is that I have to stay inside. They leave the screen door open so I can look out, but I can't go exploring at night like I do at home. Still, I am with Them and I am purring. We will live in this Park Model until April and then we will go home.

If you have questions for Larisa the Designer Cat, tell Her what they are and She will probably answer you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Flexibility is the name of the game

I'm a planner. I plan travel, financing, schedules and holidays. When I was younger, I would make a plan and want everyone to go along with my plan. If they didn't, I'd be mad or frustrated. If people would just do things MY way, everything would turn out great.

These days, as part of my planning, I pay attention to what's important to the other people involved and I don't have fixed solutions. Here are a few examples:

WE HAD seven people for Thanksgiving. Two of those are grown sons James and Peter. They both live within 20 minutes of us and they are both football enthusiasts. Usually on Thanksgiving at our house, we decide on a time for dinner. Sons show up, eat, and stay a bit before saying, "Well, I gotta go. Thanks, you guys." Then I'm disappointed because I didn't see much of them. This year, I looked at the football game schedule. There was a game at 1:30 and another one - with our team (Seahawks) playing - at 5:30. So we scheduled dinner for 4:30 and asked people to be there at 1. They showed up, they chatted for a bit, and they turned on the 1:30 football game. At breaks they came out and prepared whatever they'd been delegated to fix. At the end of the game we gathered at the table, talked about what we were grateful for, and ate a fabulous meal. After dinner we cleared the table and then everyone returned to the living room to watch the Seahawks game together - even those of us not crazy about football. The gathering broke up at about 9.  Wonderful day!

If I'm flexible around time, things go better. If you've got football people in your house, it's senseless to set a dinnertime that ignores the game and its importance.

WE'RE LEAVING this week for our winter home in Tucson. Since we bought the place we'd been renting for the last two years, we'll be taking our Designer Cat, Larisa. Usually Art and I drive from Seattle to Tucson in four days. This year Art and my brother-in-law Virgil are doing the drive in two days, with an overnight stop in Ogden, Utah. I am flying with Larisa. Four days in a car with a cat sounds dreadful to me.

I would prefer Art and Virgil take it easy on the drive. They're not young men. But I have no control over how they do their trip. The best I can do is suggest a motel in Ogden, which is about halfway to Tucson. And ask them to text when they arrive. They don't have the same priority as I do about this trip. Or at least I don't think so. I want them to be safe. They want to get there!

I NEED a ride to the airport on Wednesday morning. The men will be gone. My sister will be getting off work at about the time I need to leave home. I don't want to pay for a shuttle or leave my car at the airport for a week. Then I met my friend Lillian for coffee and she said, "I'll take you to the airport." I didn't even think of asking! I knew something would work out, and it did. My only requirement was to be at the airport at about 8:30.

I HAVE to take Larisa out of her carrier going through security and hold her while we go through the metal detector. She has never been to the airport. I heard tales of cats who escaped and were lost in the airport for a month. I need to have a calm cat. I tried Happy Traveler, a calming supplement, on her a few weeks ago. Sprinkled it in her food. She got completely stoned - jumped into a box and stared at me for an hour with huge eyes. So that won't work. I bought a harness and a leash. Larisa has been wearing the harness for a few hours a day and the leash for a few minutes a day and she has made friends with the carrier because it often has treats in it.  I noticed online tonight that so far there is no one sitting in the middle seat next to my window seat. Maybe we'll have a little extra room. Maybe I'll get a first class upgrade. I have no idea how this travel plan is going to work. I have to be flexible. I suspect Larisa will be happier with us in Arizona for four months in a new place than she will be at home for four months without us. I know I will be happier!

Larisa will be the author of the next post.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Bag Lady and the driver's license

If you're the usual driver on vacation roads, you should have a current driver's license. Here's the Bag Lady's story of a recent experience on the Big Island in Hawaii. A name has been changed for the sake of marital harmony.

Bag Lady and her husband Henry got together when they were in their 40s and each had been driving for more than 20 years. Each was terrified by the driving of the other. Henry thought Bag Lady stopped too quickly at intersections and didn't allow enough space between herself and the car in front of her when stopped at an intersection. Plus she had had seven accidents in the last 45 years where she backed into something - either a mailbox, a garage support post, or another vehicle. Bag Lady cringed every time Henry drove over a curb when making a right turn, or accelerated from an intersection as though he was in a race, or refused to yield on the freeway when a car was merging into the right lane. Plus, he never met another driver who wasn't an idiot or a "blonde on a cellphone". Henry felt honor bound to coach Bag Lady on her driving, but resented any attempt on her part to encourage him to drive more safely. At home they often went to events in separate cars, especially in the last year when Bag Lady decided she had to finally set a boundary to feel safe on the road. At night, Henry drove and Bag Lady hunched in the front passenger seat. Her night vision was very poor, and Henry swore that his was as good as it had ever been even though he was now over 70 years old.

When they went on vacation Bag Lady always drove; whether it was a road trip or a fly-in-and-rent-a-car, she was more comfortable with unfamiliar places and had a much better sense of direction. She didn't mind driving four hours at a stretch because she didn't worry about her own driving and she wasn't constantly glancing over at Henry to make sure he wasn't falling asleep at the wheel - which he had done, twice, in their years together.

Bag Lady and Henry loved to spend a week or two in Hawaii in the fall, when the seasonal rains started in the Pacific Northwest. On their last trip they'd had especially good fortune with their scheduling. Airport traffic was light, security even more so. The TSA guy was friendly and he and Bag Lady even had a chat. He said, "Sundays are usually light days for traveling. Oh, and by the way, your driver's license has expired. You don't need to worry because it's still valid for a year as a photo ID."

Bag Lady didn't remember getting a notice of her license expiring. But she thanked the TSA man and continued on her way to the boarding gate.

It was over 80 degrees and humid when they stepped off the plane in Kona. Their luck continued; as they walked across the street in front of the airport their car rental shuttle drove up and they were the first ones on. And also the first ones off. Bag Lady trotted into the rental car office while Henry retrieved their luggage.

The rental car guy was smiling and friendly. "Aloha. Welcome to the Big Island. Is this your first visit?"

"Nope. We've been here half a dozen times in the last ten years. It's our favorite island."

The man smiled and asked for her driver's license, as usual. Then, "Did you know your driver's license is expired?"

"Oh, yes, they told me that at security in Seattle."

"Well, you'll have to give me your husband's driver's license."

Bag Lady went outside and retrieved Henry's license.

"Okay, now a credit card." Bag Lady handed him her MasterCard.

"The name on the card has to be the same as the name on the driver's license."

Bag Lady went outside and got Henry's MasterCard.

The man smiled again. "Your husband is going to have to sign the contract."

Bag Lady said, "I always drive when we rent a car."

"Well, you could go to the police station and see if they'll give you a waiver for the time you're here. I hear that sometimes happens."

Bag Lady went outside and traded places with Henry. She sat down on a bench with the luggage while Henry went in to sign the rental contract and pick up the keys.

Henry was cautious as they started off. He'd always been a passenger on these roads and he didn't have a good sense of direction. Bag Lady became the navigator and they made it to the police station.

Bag Lady went inside and told her story to two friendly police officers. They said no, they were sorry, but no waiver could be provided for her to drive on this vacation. Bag Lady said, "What would happen if I drove anyway?" They said driving without a license was a crime in Hawaii, she'd have to go to court and pay a fine as high as $500.

Bag Lady walked back out to the car, considering whether she should drive the rental car with an expired driver's license. She was a good driver. Then she remember just last year, on this island, she she'd backed into another car in a parking lot in Kona. Maybe not, she thought.

After a week, Henry had driven over three curbs and gotten into an altercation with another driver at an intersection which morphed into an altercation between Bag Lady and Henry. But the rest of the time he kept them safe on the road.

The day after their arrival home, Bag Lady got her driver's license renewed. The lady at the Department of Licensing said "the system" had neglected to send renewal notices to 18,000 people in recent months. Bag Lady was glad to know she hadn't just forgotten.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The lava we didn't see

We've been on the Big Island for a week now. Our routine has been quite relaxing: we eat, we sun, we read, we take a short walk to a neighborhood Thai place. We have visited this same Waikoloa resort five times before, and on previous visits we've explored most of the island, so we are taking it easy. It's been humid this week - unusually so, I thought - and I heard today from a woman that the trade winds are about to begin, which will reduce the humidity. I remember it's usually been windy here on the slope of the mountain, and I can hear the wind tonight, so we may not sweat as much during the five days we have left here. Even so, we love it here.

One special treat we've had is spending time with Danielle and her husband Phil. Danielle served in the Navy with our daughter Laura, and we'd met her two years ago in Mexico at Laura's wedding. She's since met (online) and married Phil, a modern-day sailor. He's at sea for a month and then home for a month. Danielle moved from Chicago, her hometown, to Hawaii. What a difference!




They've got a home near Hilo on an acre of land with a bunch of tropical fruit trees. 


We wanted to see the current lava flow near Pahoa, which is about ten miles from where Danielle and Phil live. On Friday night we went to dinner in Pahoa; on the way we drove on Pahoa Village Road toward the flow until we were stopped by a "Road Closed" sign, a policeman and two National Guardsmen. They were friendly but firm. Close to the road is private land; further away is state land. The edge of the flow is about 400 feet away. Letting people near would be dangerous. It was almost like a make-believe scenario except the whole area smelled like sulphur, our eyes were burning and our throats were scratchy.


This week Art and I have decided to walk on a couple of beaches. Three outstanding ones are six miles downslope from us, on the Kohala Coast. We'll try out 'Anaeho'omalu Bay (where we scattered my mother's ashes from a glass-bottomed boat six years ago), Mauna Kea, and Hapuna (where we've walked several times before). These beaches are fit for postcards.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering the Hawaii travel day


We've traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii more than half a dozen times in the last ten years. But I'll remember yesterday.

We live about 12 miles north of Seattle, and Sea-Tac is south of the city. If there’s no traffic it takes 35 minutes to get from our house to the airport. Yesterday was Sunday. We decided to leave home at 8 a.m. to have time to catch our 10:05 flight.

It’s sometimes a challenge to find a ride to the airport if our time away is long enough that we don’t want to leave our car in a lot nearby. Usually we can find a friend or an offspring to drop us off for $20. Once in a great while we resort to the airport shuttle.

Yesterday my brother-in-law Virgil was our ride. He and my sister Alyx live in their RV behind our house, and Virgil is often blessedly helpful. He dropped us off at the Alaska curb and carried our luggage to the sidewalk. For free.

We checked our bags in five minutes. This year we’re MVPs on Alaska Airlines (last year we flew 25,000 miles on Alaska or its partner airlines, so we get a special check-in line until the end of this year). The agent was friendly and envious of our Hawaii destination.

The security line was short.The TSA security person who checked my identification and ticket was friendly, even as he told me that my driver’s license expired on September 20, my last birthday – seven weeks ago. But it was still valid as a personal identification.

The TSA-Pre line was even shorter (a couple of years ago we paid $100 each for five years of preferred security. We no longer have to take off our coats or shoes, and recently we no longer had to remove our CPAP machines from their case. Now that Art has a pacemaker (in addition to an artificial hip and an artificial knee) he gets a special machine for his pieces-of-metal check. He was through security as quickly as I was. We had an hour before our plane left, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.

By the time we finished our meal, used our respective restrooms and walked to gate C-15, nearly everyone had boarded the plane. I noticed a man and three young boys standing near the desk. As we approached the gate, one of the women murmured “Myers”. She said to us, “Would you mind trading your seats (7-D and 7-F) for seats further back that aren’t together? Three boys are traveling alone, and they’re nervous flyers, and they’d like to be seated together.” I said, “That’s fine.” Then I added, “Can we get a bonus of some kind?” We followed the lady over to the desk and received two new boarding passes and the promise of 2,500 frequent flyer miles each. Art’s new seat was 12-A (a window seat) and mine was 21-D (an aisle).

We made our way onto the plane. The man just ahead of us said, “Do you have an aisle seat?” I said yes. He said, “Would you be willing to trade it for a window seat?” I said okay. So my final seat was 17-A – in an exit row with about a foot of extra legroom. Score! I’m flying to Tucson on December 3 with Larisa, our Designer Cat, and she’ll be in a soft-sided Sherpa carrier that fits beneath the seat. In the next few days I’m going to change to 17-A on that flight. The two of us will have ample room - as long as the airline allows a pet carrier in the exit row.

I chatted with my seatmates, telling them I was happy for the extra legroom and explaining my travel plans. The man said he was a veterinarian, and he recommended Feliway as a product that you spray into the carrier. It is a synthesized version of the pheromes produced by cats that tells them they’re in a safe place. He said it should work well to maintain Larisa’s peace of mind rather than the Happy Traveler which I tried out last week and which got her loaded.

The six-hour flight was routine except for 25 minutes of the worst turbulence we’ve ever experienced. Fortunately, I remembered that no plane has ever fallen out of the sky from rough air. I looked out at the wing on my side only once. It was bending and shaking. I reminded myself that these airplanes are built and tested for extreme conditions.
Our luggage arrived quickly at the carousel. We crossed the street just as the Thrifty shuttle bus pulled up, and we were the first ones on – as opposed to the 45 minutes we waited last September in Boston. At our destination, Art handled the luggage while I disembarked. I was the first person in line at the Thrifty counter. The agent was friendly as he informed me that my driver’s license had expired. “I’ll need your husband’s license.” I went outside and got his license. A few minutes later, “I’ll need the credit card with your husband’s name on it. I got his credit card. “Your husband will need to sign the contract.”

 I always drive when we’re out of town. Art has never signed the contract. I told the agent. He said, “Well, you can go into Kona to the police station. I hear that sometimes they’ll give a waiver that allows a person to drive while they’re here on an expired license.” I thanked him and went outside, replacing Art as the keeper of the luggage.

(I went to the police station the next day. The agent was incorrect. Driving with an expired license in Hawaii is a crime. I would be required to come back for a court and potentially a $500 fine. The police were friendly and sympathetic, but no. I considered the car I backed into last year in Hawaii and could not justify saying to myself that I’m a really good driver and willing to take the risk.)

We retrieved our car, a Ford Focus, and drove south eight miles to Costco to pick up the basics. Then drove north 30 miles and upslope another six to Paniolo Greens at Waikoloa, where we always stay.  Checked into our condo and shortly thereafter welcomed our guests Danielle and Philip. They live on the other side of the island and were staying the night with us. Danielle and our daughter Laura are friends from their Navy days. We’d met Danielle only once, and Phil never, but we had a great dinner and conversation. The perfect end to our travel day!

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Going-to-Arizona lists

In four weeks we're leaving for our winter home in Tucson. This will be the third year for us to travel from our home in Seattle


to our park model in Tucson


but it's more complicated this year for a couple of reasons: (1) we own the place now and (2) we're taking Larisa, our Designer Cat.


If you're renting your winter residence, you just find someone to live in your regular house and take loving care of your Cat for a few months, find three nights worth of lodgings, load up your car with clothes and personal essentials (CPAP machines, small exercise items, food coolers), and go.

If you now own the winter place, you load up your car with the usual stuff plus what you have in Seattle that you want to take to Tucson permanently: the extra Keuric coffeemaker you bought on sale at Fred Meyer last week, decorative items that will look better in your Southwest place than they do in your Northwest place. One way to declutter in Seattle is to decorate in Tucson.

If you are taking your Cat, you make plane reservations for one person. You don't want the Cat roaming in the car for four days - because the car is loaded with your stuff - or caged - because there isn't room in the car for the cage. Plus, you don't want to hassle with three pet-friendly lodging places or stop at rest areas to put on a cat harness and leash. You think first class will be better because of more legroom, and you buy Happy Traveler, an herbal capsule you will sprinkle in the Cat's food on the day of the flight so she will be calmer than you are. You try it out a month early and find out the Cat gets quite loaded and calm. A good sign, you think.

The car needs to get to Tucson before the Cat because the driver has to go to PetSmart in Tucson to pick up a cat box and litter and a favorite spin toy, and also get groceries and get the park model in some kind of livable shape so there's not a lot of settling-in chaos that will disturb the Cat, who will be freaked out enough just because she's in an unfamiliar place. So the Prius will leave Seattle on about November 30, driven by husband Art and brother-in-law Virgil. They'll probably make the 1600-mile drive in fewer than our usual four days; I've heard mutterings about "driving straight through, because my brother and I made it to San Antonio 45 years ago in 36 hours without stopping".

So, here are the lists I'm making:

1. What to load in the car: anything Art decides, plus:
  • All my clothes for four months, except what I'll wear on the plane
  • A bin full of paper records and projects; we'll be doing our taxes in Arizona
  • A case of Purina Friskies Prime Filets with Ocean Whitefish & Tuna in Sauce - purchased on sale, six cans at a time. The only food the Cat will eat without throwing up.
  • Two laptops and a wireless printer
  • Christmas cards and a few decorations
  • Two CPAP machines
  • A new king-sized blanket I bought in March and had hemmed to fit the queen-sized bed in Tucson
2. What to do between November 30 when the men leave and December 3 when I get on the plane:
  • Clean out both refrigerators at home; they'll be unused for four months
  • Stop the Seattle paper
  • Have the mail forwarded
  • Start the Tucson paper
  • Do a final load of laundry so I'll have something clean to wear on the plane
  • Everything Else 
3. What to take on the plane:
  • The Cat in her Sherpa carrier lined with her favorite blanket from our bed in Seattle - in her harness because she will have to be taken out of the carrier going through security
  • A purse with my essentials for the day
  • Nothing Else
These lists will probably be added to during the next few weeks. They're all my lists. Art has his list in his head and I have no idea what's on it. I know from previous trips that he's pretty reliable about getting the necessities packed. And he doesn't want to know much about what's on my lists. He knows from experience that I'm pretty reliable about doing most of the planning.

We haven't got a lot of time. We leave next Sunday for 12 days on the Big Island of Hawaii, then come home for a week to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family, then leave for Arizona. That's why I'm making these lists in advance.

The Pacific Northwest is entering the Long Dark. We're going to the sun.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

At the coast: storms, seabirds and a great lunch place!

We spent last week at Ocean Park, on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula. If you look on the very southwest tip of Washington, you'll see it. Formed over millions of years by silt from the Columbia River, the peninsula has 28 miles of continuous beach and has retained an old timey beach feel. It's a great place for storm watching and walking.

We spent five days at Ocean Park and it rained nearly every day from large storms that also hit the Seattle area over a hundred miles away. Once it hailed. The wind blew a lot. When the rain and wind stopped each day, we went for a walk. On two of the days we were the only people on the beach. Just us and the seabirds.


One-lane bridge on the walk to the beach



On the other side of the bridge.



"I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky."



Art looking for clams. Otherwise known as "the old man and the sea".



Seabirds like this fly in great flocks, patterned like an undulating wave in the sky. Once on the sand, they run to the edge of the tide, then run back. Art says they're looking for plankton.


 

The dimples in the foreground are clam "shows". We decided to rest on our clamming laurels from our last visit here three and a half years ago. Clamming is hard work!







This injured bird made numerous attempts to launch itself into flight. When we returned to the same spot two days later, it was still trying. It made two final attempts, then weakened and was carried to the shoreline. The locals do not rescue these birds, but let nature take its course.



Across the parking lot from our condo, Great Day Cafe has been in business for about three years. Its owner, Steve, runs a one-man show for lunch. Arriving early each day, he cooks a roast and a turkey. Every day. And puts on a pot of clam chowder and another pot of "soup of the moment."






We ate lunch at the Great Day Cafe four days in a row, selecting a different sandwich to split each time from the very tempting menu - and a bowl of the finest clam chowder I have ever eaten. I can't remember ever taking a trip where lunch was the high point of our eating day.

Away from our usual activities, we had a lot of quiet time during our beach stay. I had promised myself I wouldn't talk unless Art did, and he usually doesn't, so we mostly read. It was a good break.

Art wants me to add this story about the clams:

"The wind and the waves were so rough and high that the clams used their shells as surfboards, and came surfing in on the crests of the waves. All you needed was a dipnet to dip them off the crest."

"How many clams did you get?"

"None. I didn't have a dipnet."

Monday, October 20, 2014

I get the conversation thing

When our daughter Laura was 16 (nearly 20 years ago), she said to me one day, "Linda, it doesn't take much to make you happy. All you need is something to read, something to write, somewhere to walk, and someone to talk to." She was right.

My husband Art is not a talker. When we're at home, or on a quiet vacation, he can sit and read for hours without saying a word. This happened several years ago when we were on a home exchange at Peaks Island, just across the harbor from Portland, Maine. By the 7th day of our stay, I was nearly mad with boredom, and he was entirely content, having read five books.

I had this idea that if I persisted in trying to initiate conversations with Art, one day he'd realize that he was, in fact, an avid conversationalist. That an exchange of dialogue with me was far more interesting than a football game or a murder mystery or repair of the front porch or a nap. I've had this idea for more than 20 years and so far it hasn't happened.

When I quit my last job four years ago, I took up new activities to meet new people and engage my curiosity. I became a mediator and I met with my writers' group and I chatted with my neighbors. It wasn't quite enough. Then we spent a winter in Tucson and it was an answer because I had regular activities and some of them were discussion groups where people talked. Then we spent another winter in Tucson and I met more people. Art met some people too, of course, but he was also free to spend quiet time in our park model, reading or puttering or watching TV. I found that once I had met my social needs, I could leave the man alone and we could enjoy quiet time together as well as occasional conversation. In six weeks we will be leaving for Tucson. I am getting emails from people in our winter community and I'll be glad to see them all.

This summer I joined the Unitarian community. I participate in a few activities and Art does a couple of them with me. I took on a scheduling project for the church photo directory and I had phone conversations with people I hadn't met yet. I'm part of the planning group for the Tiny Houses project.

I spent last weekend at Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island with the Vashonistas, a group of women who blog. It was our third year together, and probably not the last. We did a lot of talking and laughing.

I now find that I am getting enough conversation from other people that I relish quiet time as well, and that's a good balance for Art and me.

For the next five days we are in Ocean Park, Washington, in a timeshare condo three blocks from the Pacific Ocean. We got here this afternoon and in four hours we have said relatively little except for a few brief exchanges of mutual interest. So far it feels pretty good.

This conversation thing. It sure took me a long time to figure it out.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Retired but still thinking. Not humble yet, though.

When I worked for money, I thought all the time. Once I stopped working for money, I wanted to stay busy and I wanted to be useful, but I wasn't sure I wanted to think.

Four years later, I'm still thinking a lot. Here's what happened this week.

1. I'm working in the early stages of a project to build tiny homes for the homeless. I was assigned to talk to Chris, the influential pastor of a church who also serves on the city council - to find out what Chris knew, who he knew, and who could help us. I sent him an email one Friday telling him briefly what we were up to and asked if he'd have time the following week to meet me for coffee. We got together last Monday - he had only half an hour open on his calendar - and talked for 45 minutes anyway. I asked a couple of open-ended questions and took pages of notes. I got a few names from Chris and gave him one of my own. I wrote up a report. The coordinator of the project trusts me and has asked me to interview another organization.

Now that I'm older, my instincts are better. I'm not trying to prove anything - just get the job done. If people trust me, they'll be more open. And the more I listen, the better.

2. I had a tough mediation on Wednesday. A divorcing couple needed to work out a dissolution agreement but they could not be in the same room with each other, so the two mediators had to shuttle from room to room to communicate the negotiation points. We had to listen carefully - past the anger and frustration and disappointment the two people felt - and extract the meaning in addition to the feelings. The mediation was scheduled for three hours and we were there nearly five, with a second session scheduled for this week. 

These mediations are very tiring. They require patience, good listening, an intuitive give-and-take relationship between the co-mediators. Mediators must remain neutral and nonjudgmental. If the parties trust the mediators they'll be more open. 

I trained to be a mediator after I stopped working, but I'd acquired many of the skills required in my work life and in the 12-step program I've been in for a couple of decades. It's mostly about the listening, and trusting the process.

3. My Unitarian church community is putting together a member photo book. A photography company is spending eight days at the church and the members' photo sessions are carefully scheduled. I offered to work with the church administrator to schedule the appointments and also the hosts for the sessions - community members to greet arriving people and get them set up for their photos. I probably spent 15 hours on this project in the last week. I sat in the church narthex for two hours each of the past three Sundays, sent emails and made phone calls and listened to people in person and on the phone. So far the sessions are going well and my work is nearly done. I joined this church in June, and the church administrator trusts me. I'm good with details, so I know I can be useful in my new community. 

4. I attended a couple of meetings this week where people with diverse opinions were trying to reach consensus. I have opinions of my own, but I didn't talk nearly as much as I did when I was working. I was mostly listening and then reflecting back what I heard. I think this way of participating is more useful than advocating for a particular position. This is another advantage of being a mediator. It doesn't so much matter what my point of view is if I can help a group coalesce around a common understanding.

I have an old friend I met when we were both teenagers. We lost touch about 40 years ago, but through the miracle of Facebook we made contact again last year. We've chatted several times online. I knew my friend had worked for Apple and is now at Facebook, and she told me she travels a lot for her work. The night before last she posted on Facebook from India. As we chatted I realized that my friend plays a significant role at Facebook. She said, "Mark is fun so different from Steve." I realized she was talking about Mark Zuckerberg who started Facebook and Steve Jobs who started Apple. She has been working directly with these world changers for over twelve years. I told her I was astonished she hadn't mentioned it before and commented on her humility. She said, "Well, I try to leave my ego at the door and be open to what I can learn." I said, "I'll bet you give your team all the credit." She said, "Well, I'm nothing without my team." 

I hope that on my deathbed I will be able to make statements like that. I'm not there yet. So far I can think and I can listen, but I like to take credit for those things I do well. I hope I'll move past that.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Bag Lady notices

Here's what I've noticed recently.

1. You can have family members living on your property without much stress if boundaries are established from the beginning. "Neighbors sharing a plot of land" has been a good rule for me and my husband Art and my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil. We chat nearly every day and share a couple of meals a week. Their cats go out from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and mine goes out after that. We split the cost of the utilities. Virgil works on our computers and patches little holes in the wall. Alyx the Nurse checks us out to confirm we're well. Art cooks. I mediate. Really, they've been here for five months and we're all doing well with the arrangement. None of us have kids at home, so that helps.

2. When a teenager decides he really wants to go to New York City with his grandmother, he may be motivated to pass his classes. I texted my grandson Kyle yesterday to see if he wanted to work in our yard today and he responded, "Can't because I have an English project to work on." Really? REALLY? I'm thinking June of next year he and I will be flying east. Until he was ready, though, no amount of encouragement would help. It could be he's just all of a sudden, in ninth grade, interested in school, but I doubt it.

3. You will see more of your grown son if he's doing a paying job for you. My son James fabricates and installs marble on yachts. He was supposed to be working on a nine-month job on a boat in Florida, but the deal got delayed for quite a while. James told me last week that the boat's owner is Putin's personal banker and his assets have been frozen, so no boat for now. When business is slow James looks for side jobs.  That would be our upstairs bathroom. He and his workmate Josh have been here half a dozen times in the last week as they move along on the marble project. James tells us about  odds and ends of his life. It is so good to see him.

4. If your husband decides to install the faucet for the new under-mount sink in the bathroom you should probably stay out of his way until the job is entirely done. When a 70-plus-year-old man is lying on the bathroom floor for three hours, his repaired-rotator-cuff shoulders and arms completely within the cabinet, hammering and pounding and cursing, it is useless to suggest he take a break, or let his brother-in-law help, or calm down. Useless. Tonight the water is coming out of both faucets but I can tell the job is not yet done. Tools lying around, you know, and unknown metal objects on the counter. If you make the mistake of thinking something you say will help the situation, you will be wrong.

5. If you read one of your favorite blogs and the writer notes with bafflement that no matter how much he exercises and no matter how well he eats, he is going to be powerless over the physical decline of his body, you nod with relief, because you have noticed the same thing and you thought you were the only one. My sister Alyx and I are thinking about writing a lighthearted but informative book about the aging process: why women develop wings under their upper arms; why we lose body hair in some places and grow it in others; why our night vision gets so bad; why it takes us three steps when we get up from a seated position to get ourselves moving.

6. If you spend all summer watering your corn patch and you get 15 ears of chewy corn, and then you hear that you shouldn't plant corn in the same place two years in a row, and you don't have any other place to plant the corn next year, you feel relief that next year there will be no corn in your garden.

7. If one night at dinner you have yourself and your husband Art, your brother-in-law Virgil who cooked the ribs, your stepson Jason and your grandson Kyle who shoveled gravel onto your driveway, and your houseguest Karuna who came up from California for the Jewish holiday, you can have a pretty cool dinner conversation!

8. If you are 66 and you strain your back and your shoulders from watering your garden, it will feel like they'll never heal. They do.

9. If you're annoyed with the man in the water aerobics class on Monday because he treats women like they were treated in the 50s, you'd best smile at him and give him silent credit for trying to be a good guy. Because on Thursday he might have a cerebral hemorrhage and on Friday he might be dead.

10. Each day is a gift.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Remembering Maine - part 6 - talk like a pirate

This post is an excerpt from our first cruise on the schooner Heritage back in 2003. We sailed last week on the Heritage - our sixth trip to Maine.

Friday

There are 29 stories aboard the schooner Heritage. Here are two of them:


Linda:
Art was acting a little strange before breakfast this morning. When we were seating ourselves in the galley, there were two places together along the wall, and I waved to him to join me. He shook his head and, instead, sat at the other end of the horseshoe table, on the outside. I wondered what was wrong.

Art:
“National Talk Like a Pirate Day” is one of Dave Barry’s, a humor columnist who does guy things and writes about them. This was one of his pet causes, which he might have picked up from one of his alert readers. The year before, I had talked some coworkers at the PUD [Public Utility District] into joining me, and at least wearing costumes, which included eye patches, bandanas, and swords (pronounced “swored’s”). I sang and put on a show for seven or eight people at work. So I was well prepared. I had picked up a T-shirt and sword the day before. And, with the help of Captain Doug, I got a hook. I had been bringing everyone along all week with a few ditties, usually Jim Hawkins and Captain Long John Silver stories, such as, “Hawkins! (blustery voice)” “Aye, captain (squeaky voice)”. “Fetch me my cat o’nines (blustery)” “Aye, aye, captain (squeaky). Here, kitty, kitty.””Argh.” (Linda groans out loud.)

So I went to breakfast, making sure Linda had the camera - which I found out later she didn’t use – and sat so I could slip out the door easily, being as I did not want to miss breakfast.

Linda:
Toward the end of breakfast, I looked up and noticed that Art was no longer in the galley. I was concerned now. I thought he might be sick – maybe he’d eaten too many lobsters, or had gotten a bad one. I decided that if he had not returned in five more minutes, I’d go looking for him.

Art:
Choking down the food, I made my escape. I dressed in my costume, which I had laid out in an empty cabin. To appease the crew, which was on deck eating their breakfast, I sang a little ditty, “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum (gruff voice).”

Linda:
Suddenly, I heard a commotion on the deck. A man was shouting. The voice sounded like Art’s, in a confrontation of some kind. I hoped he would keep his temper under control and that there wouldn’t be a physical altercation.

A few seconds later Art appeared on the top step of the galley. My mouth dropped open. He was wearing a red bandana, one arm ended not with a hand, but with a hook, and he was waving a pirate’s sword in the other. I remembered then that today was National Talk Like a Pirate Day. Art descended the stairs.
Art with hook hand and sneer
“Avast,” he bellowed. Of course, by now all the other passengers were watching him and, once their initial alarm had passed, they were laughing. Once in the galley, oh, my God, he started to sing a sea chantey, waving his hook in time to the music. I wanted to slide under the table in embarrassment. He sang two verses of the thing, and looked like he was ready to start in on a third. But no, he continued with a ribald joke.

Art:
This started off the descent into the galley, singing “You can tell I am a pirate, for I wear a pirate’s hat. Three times I have been shipwrecked and been found drowned.” A few more verses of this song worked me right into a Hawkins/Silver story. “Hawkins” “Aye, captain” “We’re about to embark on some rape, pillage and plunder. And being as you’re of such an age where you should not participate in such manly escapades…” “Aye, captain” “…I want you only to participate in oral sex. Just talk about it.”

The crew members were hanging over the stairwell. A couple of them almost fell through the hatch on that one. They said Nellie and Gretchen’s mouths almost hit the floor.

Linda:
By this time some of the passengers had turned to look at me. I don’t blush easily, but I’m sure my face was scarlet. God, it was embarrassing. I hoped no one would think he was a complete idiot, and prayed no one would think I had had anything to do with this stunt. I covered my face with both hands and waited for Art’s big moment to pass. Finally, after an endless two minutes or so, Art made his grand exit to laughter and applause – whereupon breakfast ended and the passengers began moving toward the stairs, laughing and shaking their heads.
Pirates Art and Linda
Art:
A couple more songs, and not wanting to start in on any more ribald classics, I made a quick exit.

Linda:
I hoped this display of juvenile behavior was over, but it appeared to have struck a chord with some of the other passengers – particularly the men and including Captain Doug. Within ten minutes four other passengers were wearing bandanas – two of them belonging to Art – and calls of “avast” and “argh” were exchanged all morning. The hook eventually ended up on Captain Doug’s arm. And then the jokes began. “What’s the pirate’s favorite kind of sock? – Argh-yle!” Hoots of laughter. “What’s the pirate’s favorite animal? – Argh-vark!” Chuckles all around. It was remarkable to watch these mature men trying to outdo each other with their “argh” jokes.

Fortunately, by the time we were ready to row ashore to Castine, today’s town, the joke swapping had reached its peak and was winding down. Only three people wore bandanas in the rowboat. I hoped fervently that the rest of the day would be without incident.

It wasn’t, of course. The pirate chatter continued off and on all day, picked up by the other passengers. Art went about his business, grinning to himself from time to time, but letting others carry on his excellent joke.

Art:


The participation lasted all day, with the help of the captain and the other brigands of the schooner Heritage. We even hoisted the Jolly Roger. We noticed another schooner with a similar flag during that day. Most likely they had nothing on us.hoisting the Jolly Roger

[Note: On all six of our Heritage voyages, Art the Pirate has appeared in the galley one morning. Even if it is not on National Talk Like a Pirate Day. It is just as embarrassing to me now as it was back in 2003.]
flags in the wind
We now return to our regularly scheduled commentary.



We walked through the town of Castine, notable for its Merchant Marine Academy and the uniformed, backpacked young men walking its streets. While some of the passengers toured the ship docked there, Art and I walked across the island to Back Bay Beach and back through town.

When we had reboarded the schooner for our afternoon sail, the news of the hurricane was becoming the front-page story. Isabel was expected to make landfall somewhere in Virginia, and high seas and winds were expected to extend clear to Maine. Off the bow of the schooner, the water was glassy calm. We sat dead in the water for nearly a half hour. Captain Linda said that if the wind didn’t come up in another 15 minutes, she’d use the yawl boat to push us. Captain Doug had decided that we would sail for Rockland Harbor and anchor inside the breakwater as protection from any high seas.

I decided to take my shower while we were still becalmed. When I stepped out ten minutes later, an eight-knot wind had us moving along smartly.

The sail down Penobscot Bay was profoundly restful. At one point I looked up from my book. Sally was working on her needlepoint and four men were asleep in deck chairs. The afternoon snack was chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven. I took two, promising myself to renew my commitment to Weight Watchers for the next several weeks until I recovered from our seagoing feasts.

By the time we reached the Rockland breakwater, the sea was choppier than at any other time during the week. Captain Doug directed the crew to drop two anchors rather than the usual one, and to raise the yawl boat. The sails were lowered and tarps placed over them for protection from possible high winds. We settled in for our final meal and the last Archie stories before we disembarked the next morning.

The captain’s log for Friday, September 19:


Friday, 22 miles. Overcast, calm morning. Motored to Castine for morning shroe trips – got underway at noon and sailed down the bay with an easterly breeze – sometimes very light. It perked up later on and we sailed to anchor behind the Rockland breakwater out of the big swells. It was “Talk Like A Pirate Day!” Aarrgh! Saw a mink whale today and an osprey. Toured the ship at Castine this morning.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Remembering Maine - part 5 - hair washing

Excerpt from our 2003 sail on the schooner Heritage out of Rockland, Maine. We spent last week on our sixth trip on the Heritage.

Thursday

This morning’s breakfast was French toast and bacon. There were no prunes. Fortunately, I no longer needed them.

Our morning shore trip was to the town of Stonington, on the southern coast of Deer Isle, but we had anchored in a different location, so the yawl boat was used to push the schooner. A little larger than the hamlets of the previous days, this community had a number of shops, including a few selling antiques. We had an hour and a half this time, so Art and I took a three-mile walk in the country and allowed ourselves some time to browse in the shops.

I found a store selling espresso and eagerly bought my usual double tall mocha. It had been nearly two weeks since I’d had anything but regular coffee, and I looked forward to this treat. To my dismay, it was the worst mocha I’ve ever had – watery and weakly flavored – and, except for those I pick up in airports, the most expensive. I take good espresso for granted, since it’s so common in the Pacific Northwest. Foolish of me.

Art stepped into a little shop where he found a T-shirt that immediately appealed to him. He held it up delightedly. It was black, with a skull and crossbones over the words “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Art complains a lot about his work, so I figured he was buying the T-shirt to proclaim his displeasure with the environment where he makes his living. In the same shop he found a 30-inch, wide-bladed plastic sword. I supposed that would be a gift for our grandson Kyle. I was surprised at his purchases, though. Art rarely buys souvenirs when we travel.

Our sail that day was under sunny, nearly cloudless skies. When I finished taking my shower and washing my hair, I found a comfortable spot on deck to finish up my novel. My lower lip was displaying early symptoms of a herpes outbreak, which happens to me frequently these days when I get too much sun. Imagine, too much sun in Maine! I had forgotten, all week, when I was putting sunscreen on my face and neck and arms and legs, to pay attention to my mouth. I knew that within a few days I would be quite uncomfortable, but it was too late to prevent, so I resigned myself to some discomfort in the coming few days.

I noticed Marjorie and Karen on the port side of the deck. Marjorie was pouring a bucket of water on Karen’s head. I put my book down and walked over to see what they were up to. Karen and her husband Ned had sailed previously with Doug and Linda, including on the Isaac Evans, their previous schooner, where there had not been a hot water shower available. Karen was showing Marjorie how passengers had washed their hair - by dipping a bucket into the water, getting their hair wet, shampooing with some sort of special soap, and rinsing with another bucket of water.

They both had wet hair and they were both giggling. Marjorie said, “Linda, want me to wash your hair?” I told her that I had just gotten out of the shower where I had washed it myself. Marjorie said, “Oh, well, you have to do it this way, too.”

I was reminded, for some reason, of the antics of high school girls. But I was game. It was a warm day, after all, and I’d spent enough time for now in the solitude of my book. So I said okay.

Marjorie told me to lean over the side of the schooner. I watched the bucket being lowered into the water on the end of a rope. When it arrived back at deck level, Marjorie poured the water on my head. That water was so cold I gasped. For some reason, I had forgotten that we were sailing on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, that the water was cold, and that it was salty. Marjorie’s firm fingers massaged my frigid scalp as she worked in the shampoo. Then Karen dipped the bucket again. I shrieked as I saw it coming back up, full of water, and I realized that my head was already cold. I wondered if there would be brain damage done to me by lowering the temperature of my scalp even further. That second bucket of water was just this side of painful.
washing hair over the side of the schooner
Karen handed me a towel and I dried my hair. Now that the shampooing was over, I felt exhilarated and clear headed, and proud of myself for stepping outside of my normally conservative habits.

Marjorie looked around. “Who’s next?” I knew with complete certainty that no one but Marjorie could persuade anyone else to go through this ordeal. Marjorie’s husband Bill had been watching, and he decided to give it a try. His bellow as the cold water was poured on his head drew the attention of other passengers. Once Bill’s hair was clean, he proclaimed that he was the owner of the shop and that Marjorie and Karen were the “girls” working for him. By this time, the captains and crew were keeping an eye on the small commotion on the port side.

I watched with astonishment as, one by one, the passengers and crew of the Heritage were exhorted, persuaded, teased, and otherwise induced to allow Marjorie and Karen to wash their hair with bucketfuls of seawater.

Here’s Art’s recollection:

When I saw Linda getting her hair washed, I got the camera out and proceeded to take some pictures. I was nagged and cajoled by Marjorie and Karen, but I was interested in reading my book. I kept one eye out, though, watching the goings on. It was like a bunch of teenagers performing some juvenile stunt, like stuffing a telephone booth full of people. Finally, after everyone else had been talked into getting their hair washed, they all started in on me. So, rather than fight everyone, I gave in – an “in for a dime, in for a dollar” attitude. The first bucketful was quite invigorating, but the second one, which was larger in rinsing, kind of numbs the skull. But a good round of laughs was had by all.
In the end, of 29 passenger and crew, 23 participated – including both Captains Doug and Linda. It was one of those times when the spirit of spontaneity and fun prevailed over good sense.

When the beauty shop closed down for the day, we made ice cream on the deck. The ingredients for chocolate and vanilla ice cream were poured into metal canisters sitting in buckets of ice and salt. Sally and I sat side by side on the canisters while two of the men turned the cranks to cool the mix. Two others took our places. That was the only ice cream we had all week. It was worth the wait!

All week, we had been looking for ugly boats. Usually that meant “not schooners”. On this day we anchored across a cove from a black, steel, low-lying yacht. It reminded me of something out of a James Bond movie. We could see no signs of life on it. We dubbed it the “Big Ugly Boat.”

I’d had conversations, by this time of the week, with most of the other passengers. They were, for the most part, congenial and interesting, and they shared with Art and me an adventuresome spirit. After all, we’d all chosen to spend this week on a sailboat rather than on a cruise ship. Most of us had traveled other places. On this day, I learned more about a number of them. One woman had two artificial hips. One man had had multiple heart attacks. One had severe emphysema. One woman had lost a breast to cancer. I’d been aware all week, of course, of the botched surgery that had resulted in Charlotte’s need for a breathing tube.

I’ve been fortunate to have had good health most of my life. Now that I’m getting on in years – or at least into middle age – I’m conscious that every day is a gift. That I must take care of my body so that it will serve me as I move through life. I probably won’t be able bodied forever. Two years ago I went on my first rest-of-my-life medication to keep my blood pressure down. I had this idea that once my body started to decline, I would be done traveling and would need to stay home – or maybe wouldn’t want to be far from home. Yet, all of these Heritage passengers continue to move toward life and adventure, even as their bodies age and falter. It was a wonderful realization. There is plenty of life experience remaining. It’s all in the attitude.

Here’s the captain’s log for Thursday:

Thursday, 22 miles. Sunny. Pushed to Stonington after breakfast for morning shore trips. Got underway just before lunch and sailed pout into the day to see seals and porpoises. Then sailed up the bay with a nice easterly wind. Cold salt-water hairwashing had by almost all. Ice cream in the afternoon. Anchored in Smith Cove near Castine. Saw the “BUB” boat of the week.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Remembering Maine - part 4 of 6 - lobster!

This post is an excerpt from our 2003 cruise on the schooner Heritage. We spent last week on our sixth sail out of Rockland, Maine.

Wednesday

Heavy anchor chains and sloshing water woke me again, but today it sounded comfortably familiar. We made our way to the galley. Breakfast was oatmeal with toppings of raisins, brown sugar and nuts. I was hungry in my stomach, but my digestive tract was still full, and I was feeling more uncomfortable. To my relief, one of the oatmeal toppings was prunes. Ah! I put five prunes discreetly on my plate. I hoped I would eat just enough to do the job digestively but not so many that I’d become indisposed for the day.

I remember a time years ago when I took a trip with my mother and my sister Alyx to Yosemite. My sister was single then, and she was a dangerous flirt. During dinner at Yosemite Inn she’d carried on with the busboy, who asked her to meet him after he got off work. My mother, who was paying for the trip and therefore calling the shots socially, said no way. Alyx was infuriated that Mom would impose behavior requirements on her. She and I went to our room for a game of cards. She had brought along a bag of prunes, and as she vented to me she ate about 20 of the prunes.

Alyx and I, night people both, were roused from sleep the next morning at the ungodly hour of six to get on the road for home. So, heading down the east side of the Sierra Nevadas were my bossy, morning person mother and two grouchy grown daughters. Twenty miles later, Alyx realized that the 20 prunes she had eaten the night before had more than done their job. She was seized with an urgent need for a restroom. At this point we were traveling a two-lane highway with 30 miles between each tiny desert town. Alyx was in great distress until we finally found a deserted service station with an unlocked restroom. When she emerged, looking pale but relieved, she described that restroom as the dirtiest one she had ever visited.

I remembered that Captain Doug had told us we’d be leaving civilization. So I was careful with my prune consumption.

After breakfast the rowboat, not looking so spastic this morning, carried a load of us to Birch Bay Island. Again, Art and I took a walk, up the hill to the center of the island. This time, we were accompanied by Ray, the companion of Charlotte the Noisy. As we conversed, I noticed what a quiet, mild mannered man he was. He was very respectful of Charlotte. He said, “She is a real lady.” They must have a double life!

While we were walking the island, Captain Linda came ashore in the yawl boat to buy lobsters for our afternoon picnic. When we’d all returned to the Heritage, we learned that the lobster salesman had wanted too high price for the lobsters, so Linda had returned empty boated and a little miffed. Later in the day, while we were sailing, someone took the yawl boat to another island and bought 93 pounds of lobster. At the market rate, that would cost well over a thousand dollars. I doubt it was even close to that on this Maine island. I wonder if people who live on the islands think of lobster as a treat like the rest of us do.

After an exhilarating afternoon sail – sunny weather and a brisk, steady wind – we anchored near Wreck Island. The yawl boat was launched first with Captain Linda, three crew members and the 93 pounds of lobster. The rowboat made two trips to deposit all passengers and the rest of the picnic gear.
Linda standing around lobster traps
A fire had been built in the sand near the edge of the water. When we arrived on the beach, there were hamburgers and hot dogs being cooked over the fire, which would become a bed of coals for the lobster pot. Pans of potato salad and beans had been set out. Art says, “Being as hungry as I was, I had a hamburger and a hot dog and potato salad while waiting for the main course to arrive.”

An old washtub was filled with seawater and put on the coals to boil. When the steam was rising from the tub, Trevor and Sam pulled seaweed from the water near the shore. At the same time, Captain Linda and Gretchen transferred the live lobsters from their crate to the boiling water. The seaweed was then spread over the water in the pot. I asked Linda why this was done. She said it served two purposes. While the lobster were cooking, the seaweed layer insulated the water – like having a lid on the washtub – and flavored the lobster. Then, when the lobsters were cooked, the tub was dumped over, and the seaweed spilled out first onto the sand, acting as a bed for the pile of cooked lobster. The captains and crew then formed a chorus line on the edge of the shore and performed a celebratory lobster dance, ending up with a big “ta da”, which they repeated several times for the photographers in the group.
crew performing their lobster dance
Stacks of paper plates were set out on a nearby rock. Each person took a plate (or two, in some cases, for sturdiness). Captain Linda selected a lobster and put it on the plate, and Gretchen handed the person a paper bowl of melted butter. Linda looked especially for the “shedders”. These lobsters were beginning to discard their shells while alive, so they would not have been shipped to market. Rather than throwing the shedding lobsters away, though, the market proprietors are able to sell them each day to individuals coming to the dock – whether locals or, in our case, passenger schooners. Seems like a good deal for both sides.

Then the feast began in grand style. We ate our lobsters standing in the sand, on a beach, with our paper plates on large boulders. We needed no eating utensils or shell crackers. We used rocks instead, to break open the shells. The meat was juicy and tender and very fresh. We dipped the pieces in melted butter. As we ate the lobster, butter and salt water ran down our chins. Not having eaten lobster except at a restaurant, Art got a few pointers from Bill and Marjorie, the Louisiana couple, who were used to eating soft-shelled crab. They provided the finer points of eating the lobster butter, which some people see as something to throw away. Being as Art was so hungry, and the crew kept insisting that there was plenty, he was disappointed that he could only eat three of the lobsters. We made a delicious mess. Art had butter and water and juices from the top of his head down to his belly. We had to wade in the water to rinse off.

When everyone was full, Sam, the cook, made a final count. There were 31 lobsters left to take aboard. Art was eagerly waiting to see what he would do with them. The next day we had lobster-stuffed mushrooms, lobster soup, and lobster and artichoke dip. What a treat!

After we’d rinsed off, Art and I went for a hike on the island. We made our way through shrubs and stunted trees. Within a hundred feet we could no longer hear the sounds of the picnickers. We got a terrific view of the Heritage sitting in the cove. Art noticed deer tracks on the sandy moss-like ground. We followed the tracks, leaving behind our view of the water, until we crested the island, and were startled by the deer we had tracked, which we caught napping in the undergrowth. It was very quiet on the island. I became a little nervous. I had lost my bearings and it was nearing dusk. I persuaded Art that we should find our way back to the beach. I had faith that, if we could not retrace our steps, if we continued downslope we would come to some beach – hopefully in the spot we had left. After less than a mile, we could hear the picnickers again, and rejoined them for the row back to the schooner.

Captain Doug told us that conditions were right for the Northern Lights. I’ve only seen them once before, flying into Seattle from Chicago, but Art has seen them many times. In the city, though, light pollution keeps Lights from being as vivid as they are elsewhere. We decided to go to bed early, but asked to be called if the Lights were visible. I’d just finished reading to Art and turned out the light when Captain Doug called, “Northern Lights”. I scrambled out of my bunk, threw my windbreaker over my nightgown, and climbed the stairs to the deck. Doug showed me where to look. Off to starboard was a low-lying island. Around and above the island was a greenish glow. Doug said, “They may be brighter if we wait.” I stood there for 15 minutes, watching the glow and looking at the sky as Linda pointed out the Milky Way overhead. It was a clear night, and the starry sky was a spectacular display.

I grew chilly, so I went back to bed. I heard the next day that later in the evening the Northern Lights put on a colorful show for the late-night watchers.

The captain’s log for Wednesday:
Wednesday. 18 miles. Sunny. Shore trips after breakfast. Then sailed down to Stonington to buy lobsters for our afternoon cookout on the beach on Wreck Island. Sunset cannon – stars, Mars and Northern Lights.