Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Five days solo: What the Bag Lady learned

My husband Art had an opportunity to fly home to Seattle on Thanksgiving to assist an "older couple" who needed some help with the airports. We agreed that was a good idea, since he had a small project at home to attend to, and I was fine to spend the time here in Tucson.

Here's what I did while he was gone:

  • Had Thanksgiving dinner with my good friend Ellen. She loves to cook and she took the time to plan a menu that fits the Mediterranean diet I've been following for the last couple of months. We were joined at dinner by Mr. Doodles, her cockatiel.

  • Had lunch on Friday with my friend Connie. She and I became friends late last spring and both of us are very glad to have found each other. We are both good talkers and we are also good listeners.
  • Figured out how to use the remote for our new TV. I never had a chance to learn with the old TV. It is actually pretty easy. And it was nice to have it at my side for the five days I was alone. I found an uplifting Pandora station. For some reason, it's easier to use Pandora on the TV than on my laptop. For me, at least.
  • Watched the first three episodes of "Man in the High Castle" on Amazon Prime. 
  • Read the draft of a book a friend of mine wrote nearly 20 years ago but never published. It kept my attention to the last page. I could see it as a movie and look forward to talking to her about it tomorrow afternoon.
  • Practiced my Spanish on Duolingo every single day.
  • Got a massage from a therapist new to me. He's also a personal trainer and he told me about how he trains a person to do a pull-up, so you could pull yourself up if you fell off a cliff or a roof. I would never have guessed, and it actually sounds possible, even for me.
  • Did the exercises prescribed by my physical therapist every day. Already I can cross my right knee over my left leg and put on my sock without pain. For the first time in six months.
  • Went for a 16-mile ride on my pedal-assist e-bike and fell off, for the first time. I was going too slowly as I attempted a sharp curve. I got right back on the bike. I was a little sore later that day, but have no bruises.
  • Got a holiday pedicure with my friend Lynne. Green, with glitter!
  • Scrounged for four evening meals, since Art is the cook in our household.

And here's what I learned in my five days solo:
  • When you're alone, you decide whether to have the TV on, or the radio, or nothing. You decide what to watch, or listen to. There's no need to consider the preferences of anyone else.
  • When you're alone, and a 72-foot string of solar Christmas lights is delivered by Amazon, you can decide to have a friend put them up, or hire someone to do it. That way, you don't have to worry that your husband will scare you by climbing up a shaky ladder to put the solar collector on the roof.
  • You don't have to talk because there is no one else in the house.
  • When you learn how your husband is spending his loosely planned time in Washington, you are grateful for your own way of scheduling your days.  
  • Now that Art is home, it is quieter in our house. I don't have to talk even if there is someone else in the house. 
  • And I don't have to suggest or remind. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Bag Lady and the rainy day

We spend the winters in Arizona rather than in Washington, where we have our family home. The rain and gloom begins in November there, and usually doesn't end until at least May. I struggled with the winter darkness for the 25 years I lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest. Now that I'm retired I choose the sun.

This week it rained in Arizona. After many weeks of sun it was a nice break; I knew it would last only a few days rather than months.

I'd been struggling with some low back and hip pain for a number of months. Not an injury, maybe related to being overweight or wearing shoes without proper arch support. Usually these things improve with time, but this one hadn't. I finally made an appointment with my doc. She said, "We'll want to get x-rays, and you'll need to get physical therapy. Are you ready for that?"

I said yes. I was weary from not only the chronic physical discomfort, but of thinking about it. I have health anxiety and usually make things much worse in my mind than they actually are.

I got to the x-ray place the next morning. I'd had to turn on my windshield wipers for the first time in several months. I was sitting in the parking lot and realized I'd left the x-ray order on the table at home. The retrieval of the order took half an hour. By the time I was back in the parking lot agin, I had thought way too much about my physical issue, and I did a foolish thing: I ventured alone into the dangerous neighborhood of my mind. And what I concluded, for some reason, was that I've lived a good life, and if I were to die, it would be all right. It wasn't a suicidal thought at all. It was more of an awareness, which is probably a good thing to have when you're 71.

After I got the x-rays I waited to hear from the doc. She didn't call that night so I assumed it was because she was trying to figure out how to tell me I had a tumor in my spine. Really, that's what I thought. See how my mind is a dangerous neighborhood?

I saw the physical therapist the next day. I explained my symptoms. He told me that the muscles in my hip and the muscles in my back were fighting with each other. Something about compensation for a less-than-perfectly-symmetrical alignment - and wearing shoes without good arch support, and being older. He showed me a few exercises and then handed me a paper with pictures of them. I said, "You mean what I'm experiencing is common?" He said, "Oh, yes." I have appointments with him once a week for the next month.

Later that afternoon I got a text message from my doc. She said the x-rays showed arthritis. As, most likely, would be the case for any other 71-year-old person.

So there we are.

But maybe it wasn't the rain that triggered my parking lot thoughts. Here are some other possibilities:

  • After five trips to Greece in the last three years to volunteer at a refugee camp, the nonprofit closed its Greece operation last month for lack of funding. The situation in Greece is as bad or worse than it was. Many of the people we helped have moved on; many are still living in the camp or on the streets of Athens. Many new people arrive every day. I keep repeating the starfish story..."It made a difference to that one", but politics and human nature being what they are, I'm not optimistic that things will improve.
  • I'm volunteering at an asylum-seekers' shelter in Tucson now, but we haven't had guests for more than a week because people fleeing for their lives from other parts of the world are being held at the border. Again, it's about politics. The situation may improve, but I don't know when.
  • I had spent several hours listening to the impeachment proceedings.

On the other hand, there was a fellow named Scott Warren being tried in Tucson for giving humanitarian aid to people who had walked through the desert from the southern border. I heard him speak a few weeks ago, when he acknowledged he was afraid of the possibility of prison. The day after I sat in the parking lot, he was acquitted.

"Humanitarian aid is not a crime."

The sun is out again today, and I had a wonderful massage this morning, and I'm meeting a good friend for lunch, and meeting up with other friends for dinner and a card came. I think I'm okay with being 71.

Monday, November 11, 2019

A shoe story

Until I was about 45, I bought shoes in a size 7 1/2 B. Back then I was looking for style and color.

When I was 52 I walked in the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day: 60 miles in three days of walking in Seattle. I trained for five months for that event. I needed the perfect clothes - wicking t-shirt, comfy shorts and underwear and socks. And shoes. The shoes were the hardest part.

I ended up with Brooks Addiction shoes from Shane's Food Comfort Center in Shoreline, Washington. In size 8 1/2 wide. With custom orthotics. So outfitted, I was able to walk 20 miles a day. My feet hurt at the end of each walk, of course, but the rest of my body was okay.

For the next ten years I was a Brooks fan; Addiction and Ariel were my go-to walking shoes. I'd call Shane's and ask them to save a pair, that I'd be in to pick them up. They asked if I wanted to try them on and I said no, thanks, I knew my size. My exercise of choice was a two-to-five mile walk, in my neighborhood and in neighborhoods where we traveled.

When I was 63 I hurt my back when I sat in a chair that was a couple of inches lower than I expected. An electrical light show coursed down my legs and left me with tingling feet - like a low-voltage electrical current running night and day. The doctors said I had nerve impingement of some kind - what you can't see on an MRI. They said it would probably resolve with time, but it could take a couple of years. It has been eight years now and it has not resolved.

In the meantime, my tingling feet didn't want to be enclosed in walking shoes. So I looked for more comfortable options. I found neutral Vibrams, then Merinos online in 8 1/2 or 9. Minimal arch support, but my feet were satisfied.

In June of this year - when I was 70 - I took my granddaughter to London. We did a lot of walking. I was wearing my Merinos. By the end of each day I was just about limping from pain in my feet that radiated up to my hips. I thought walking tours were over for me.

In October of this year - when I was 71 - I went to New York City with my friend Ellen. Again, we did a lot of walking. I was wearing my Merinos. By the end of each day I hurt from feet to hips. I sat down whenever I could, and Ellen had to slow down everywhere we went. I felt ancient and defeated.

Then she said over lunch, "You know, Linda, I bought a pair of Merinos at your suggestion, and they are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned - for about a quarter of a mile. But they have no arch support. I didn't even bring them on this trip. I brought my Brooks Addictions."


We found a shoe store that carried Brooks shoes half a mile from our lunch place. On the last day of our trip. The salesman grinned when I told him my problem. "Yeah, you need arch support and you probably need a bigger size." He was right on both accounts. I bought a pair of Brooks Ariel shoes. In a size 9 1/2 extra wide.

There is NOTHING like arch support. Or trying shoes on at a shoe store rather than ordering them online for eight years.

We live and learn, I guess.

Friday, October 25, 2019

What the Bag Lady learned in New York City

My friend Ellen and I have planned this four-day trip to New York City. Ellen used to live there, and I have only visited there in 1966, on my high school senior trip, and 1989, when I was meeting up with a friend.

Both of times were before 9/11, and I have wanted to see the 9/11 memorial for years. Ellen wanted to see a Broadway show, pay a second visit to the tenement museum, and eat some good meals.

So I kind of knew what would be happening. But I really didn't. That's pretty common when I travel.

Here's what I learned in those four New York days.

1. If your Tucson-to-Dallas airplane slides around on the runway while taking off, and your Dallas-to-LaGuardia flight lands so hard you're scared, you still arrive safely.

2. If you have a meal at the airport before departing for your Airbnb, you don't get cranky when your traveling companion's futon breaks as she sits down on it, and you go along in a friendly way when she wants to go to the market at 10 at night.

3. If you go six rounds with your Airbnb host because they think you broke the futon and should pay for it, and you know it was broken when you walked into the apartment, you can arrive at a cordial compromise after the super of the apartment building visits you twice. You still know it was broken when you walked in, but sometimes you let things go and split the cost of the super's time with your host. And you leave the nut and machine bolt that came loose from the futon frame on the table on your way out.

4. Lyft is a handy transportation method, but once you figure out how to use public transportation like buses and subways you can get around pretty well. You will still have to walk a lot, though.

5. If you bring along only shoes with no arch support, and you walk three to six miles a day on city sidewalks, you will hurt from your feet to your hips. And if you don't realize the problem is with your shoes until the last day, you will think you are finally falling apart at the age of 71. If you are traveling with a good and caring friend, she will go with you to buy new shoes on the last day. And even if the Brooks Ariel walking shoes cost $175, including tax, you will buy them and be grateful you brought a credit card along. And you wonder why you haven't bought good walking shoes in the last five years, even though you've taken multiple trips and your body has hurt every time.

6. If your friend wants to try a tiny Iranian restaurant, you go willingly, because you remember an Iranian at a refugee camp in Greece who cooked for you several times. And then, after your meal, you talk to the cook and tell him the story about the Iranian in the refugee camp who cooked for you, the cook in the restaurant kisses your hand and gives you a huge hug, and thanks you for reminding him of the days before he left his homeland to come to New York. As you leave, you say, "Welcome to the United States of America."

7. If you visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum you learn about more of the people who came here from other places, and you appreciate all over again how much difference a storytelling tour guide can make in bringing these people to life. And you are, again, grateful for your own fortunate life. And you eat at Katz' Deli, which is less than a half mile away.

8. A Broadway musical is especially enjoyable when you know most of the songs going in. We saw "Beautiful", the story of Carole King. What was even better was the magnificent set and the staging.

9. When you visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum, the day comes back to you. You remember where you were and what you were doing that morning, and how you felt. When you sit in a room listening to some of the victims' recorded stories, everyone is totally silent. It's like a place of worship.

10. If you are lucky enough to spend an evening with friends of your traveling companion, you may enjoy hors d'oeuvres at a Chinese place, an interesting lecture, dinner at a fabulous Italian place, a drive through Times Square, and a 43rd floor rooftop view of the city at night.

We're flying home tomorrow. We have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to meet our Lyft driver at 5:15 outside our apartment. I hate getting up that earlier.

But oh, well!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Washington or Arizona? We have a plan!

My husband Art and I have been snowbirds for seven years now. Our family home is in Brier,  a suburb just north of Seattle.

Our winter place is at the Voyager RV Resort, a 55-plus community in Tucson.

We love both.

As we've gotten older, the Washington house has been harder to manage. We have a yard with a big garden. We have a steep driveway and two sets of stairs inside the house that are not friendly to older knees.

The place is too big for just us.

Late this summer, we decided to rent our house to son Jason and his wife Kalei. They moved in on September 1 and will live there for a year. We will spend that time in Tucson, hopefully getting away from some of the summer heat.

As we thought about next steps for us, we considered these facts:
  • If we sold our house in Washington and bought a smaller house or a condo there, we'd be paying lots of money for a place we don't spend much time.
  • If we sold our house and moved to Arizona full time, we'd be leaving a state where I have lived for the last 33 years and where Art has lived his entire life. 
  • Half of our eight offspring live in Washington, and most of our grandchildren.
  • Arizona summers are brutal
Then! We considered the possibility of remodeling our daylight basement:
  • We'd have no stairs and we would have a walk-in entrance, plus access to the laundry room and the garage.
  • We have sons in the construction industry who would do the work.
  • We have ideas for transforming the space into a warm and welcoming, open-layout plan.
  • We can rent out the upstairs.
So, this is what we're going to do:
  • Go to the City and get the house plans, to identify bearing walls and plumbing 
  • Design the new space
  • Once September 1 comes, tear out what we don't need (a bedroom wall and two closets) and build what we do need (a kitchenette, plumbing and electrical stuff), and make the new space our summer home
Such a relief to have made this plan after many months of thinking about possibilities!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A "what if" story

I'm taking a class on Thursday evenings. It's about racism - but it feels more like putting ourselves in the place of others who are different from us.

Last week we did an exercise where we put a circle in the middle of a piece of paper which we labeled "me". In smaller circles around that we put our identities. My smaller circles were writer, wife, traveler, mother, friend, affluent person, organizer, listener, connector, matriarch, recovering person, planner, sage, and seeker.

For this week, we were asked to describe our life with two of our identities changed to something else. I picked wife and affluent person, changing them to widow and person with limited resources. It's likely that what I wrote isn't accurate in real life, but it's what came to mind as I wrote a fictional letter to my children.

Here's what I said:

Dear Kids:

It’s ironic that I wrote a blog for ten years called “Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting”. See, when I retired, I was worried I wouldn’t have the resources to live without a salary. And for that ten years, it seemed like a frivolous title for a blog. I took nearly a hundred trips - some with your dad, some with a friend. We had five pensions and money in investments, so we could pretty much do what we wanted. Life was good.

Then the you-know-what hit the fan. Along with the crushing downturn in the economy which erased more than half of our investments, your dad had that stroke. Though his mind remained clear to the end, he required 24-hour care for five years. Most of you stepped in to help me, but you have your lives, after all, and after a while most of the work fell on me. I was willing to do for your dad, even though he was often angry and less than kind to me, but once I got sick myself I couldn’t do it any more. A few of you helped me find a good place for your dad to live. But it was expensive. By the time he passed quietly in his sleep, most of our money was gone. And two of his three pension ended when he died.

So, here I am, with not much left. I sold the big house, but with the economy being what it was, I only got about half of what it had been worth just a few years before.

I’m surprisingly content, though. My little place in Tucson is plenty of space for me. My car is still running well, knock on wood. The AC is set to go on at 84 rather than 77 - it’s a little warm, but it makes a big difference in the electric bill. I transferred the Sedona timeshare to your sister Laura and let the maintenance payment lapse on the one in Canada. They say my credit will be hit, but at this point I don’t think it will matter. And there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

After years of ordering books and merchandise on Amazon, I’ve rediscovered the public library and made the acquaintance of local thrift shops. With the weight loss I experienced in the last year of your dad’s life, I’m finding clothes that look pretty good on me. That’s turned out to be a blessing; as you know, my weight problem bothered me for many years, but I never found the right combination of things to deal with it. Grief will do that, though.

I have the kindest, most supportive friends you can imagine here in Tucson - so different from the social situation in Washington, where it’s hard to make friends. My days here are busy and interesting. And while I miss your dad very much, there’s a kind of freedom in being able to make my own decisions and live in the quiet of my own space. 

I remember when we were comfortable financially that I wondered how people living on small incomes - like just Social Security - would manage to exist. I saw a big gap between the haves - even in our own family - and the have nots. I wondered if we would have to take care of the have nots, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. If they’d made unwise choices - or at least choices I wouldn’t have made - why should I take them in? Like the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.

Now I guess it doesn’t matter. If we end up with very few material possessions, but we’re safe and warm and fed and have friends we love and activities we enjoy, what difference does it make whether we blew it all during our life or whether we lost it all in our later years? So much of my old attitudes have kind of dissolved - especially my tendency to judge others who are different from me. 

I may have very little now. But I am definitely not a bag lady. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Bag Lady buys an e-bike

How much bike riding I'm doing depends on where I live. In Washington, where we live in the summer, our neighborhood is hilly. We'd have to put our bikes in the back of our truck and drive three miles to get on a trail with gradual enough hills to enjoy ourselves. In Arizona it's pretty flat, so we ride our bikes a lot - both inside the Voyager RV resort where we have our little place, and on the 55-mile loop around Tucson.

Last year I joined a Voyager group called Easy Riders and biked with them on the Tucson loop once a week nearly all winter. My maximum distance was about 18 miles. I noticed my fitness improving and always felt great at the end of the ride. But again, I didn't ride a single time all summer in Washington.

Then my friend Ellen and I decided it might be fun to plan a bike and barge trip in Europe. We wanted our choice to be easy rides, a small vessel, and of two weeks' duration. I asked my husband Art if he wanted to go, and - to my great surprise - he said yes. Here's what we'll be doing next May:


We decided to rent e-bikes for the trip. They cost extra, but with distances of 30 miles a day or so, we didn't want to arrive at the barge each evening exhausted and gasping for breath. We decided we should get some e-bike practice before the trip, though.

Ellen and I rented a couple of Pedego e-bikes in Tucson last May on a ride-two-hours-for-the-price-of-one deal. We felt clumsy and intimidated for about the first two minutes, and then it was exhilarating and wonderful. We rode nearly 30 miles in two hours with not much effort, though we were tired when we dismounted at the end of the ride. Take a look at the Pedego bike.


They are fun to ride but pricey, so we decided to look around at other brands. Rad City bikes were a better price for us. Art and I looked at them in Seattle, where they're made, and suggested that Ellen try one out in Arizona.


She made the two-hour drive to Scottsdale, rode a Rad City bike, but decided on another brand in the store instead. It's an Espin.


Ellen rode her Espin for a month and raved about it in every email. So two days after I arrived in Aizona, we drove with her to Scottsdale and rode an Espin. We bought two of them that day.

On our first day on the Tucson loop, Ellen and I rode 18 miles with ease.

After my first day on the loop, I gave my old bicycle to my friend Shirley. I was that sure the Espin was for me. I am still sure!

Here is my bike, last week on the trail, with Ellen and her ride.


When we drive back to Seattle, our bikes will go with us. They will be fabulous in our hilly neighborhood.

Here's what I know about e-bikes:

  • They're heavier than regular bikes because of the motor and the battery. Our Espins weigh 47 pounds; others weigh more.
  • They cost more than regular bikes. Our Espins were $1700 each, and that is close to the low end.
  • You buy according to what you want to do with the bike. We don't want to ride off road. We don't want to go more than 25 miles an hour. We do want to mount and dismount easily, so we bought a step-through version. 
  • The pedal-assist feature means the motor doesn't engage unless you are pedaling. There are several levels of pedal assist. The lowest level is where I usually ride. If I'm going less than eight miles an hour, I get a quiet, subtle boost in speed; that happens when I start up and when I'm going up an incline. If I stop pedaling, the motor goes off. 
  • The throttle feature - which the Espin has - eliminates my need to pedal. Not all e-bikes have the throttle feature, and it wouldn't be a requirement for me.
I was 71 yesterday. I love this bike!