Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Mexico sunshine

We're based in Santa Fe for a week of exploration and a weekend with our 11-year-old grandson Alex. It's a home exchange we're doing - with a couple visiting their grandchildren in Seattle. They're staying in our house, driving our car, enjoying time with their family. It's a practical way to travel.

Yesterday we visited Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument, both about 45 minutes from the house. The Bradley Museum in Los Alamos does a colorful, informative, earnest job of explaining what the Los Alamos lab is currently up to. One of their responsibilities is to make sure our aging nuclear weapons are maintained and usable, now that we're not making any new ones. Lots of money going into that, which disturbs the progressive pacifist in me.

Bandelier is the site of numerous archeological sites and petroglyphs of the Ancient People who lived in the valley and in caves carved into volcanic stone on the valley walls.

The one-mile walk includes a series of stairs and walkways and ladders that take you right up into a few of the caves.

A deer walked across the path in front of us. The wind was soft and sighing. It wasn't crowded. The temperature was in the upper 60s. I could have stayed there a bunch longer. I'm glad we closed our day at this peaceful place.

Today we took the "High Road to Taos", stopping first at the Santuario de Chemayo. This area had long been known to the native people as a site for healing. Two hundred years ago a cross miraculously appeared to a villager, who built the Santuario. It's now the destination for thousands of pilgrims who come each year seeking miracles and healing.

Art and I arrived midway through the mass. The priest was low key and sincere. Parts of the service were in the original Greek, part was in English, and the final prayer was in Spanish. It was a lovely service even to me, a lapsed Catholic. I recalled the last time I was in a Catholic church was last November at St. Peter's in Rome. I liked this one better. It seemed much more in the spirit of simplicity and service, like St. Francis of Assisi, whom the brothers in this area follow.

We drove on to Taos and visited the Taos Pueblo, a national historic site. This pueblo has been inhabited for the last thousand years. The people I talked to, in their little shops situated in the old buildings, seemed reluctant to respond to my questions - except for the last woman, an artist, with whom I had an animated and candid conversation about Native American history and politics these days. We agreed there is power and greed at work everywhere.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Three small victories

It's been a stressful week, what with working and all. But I have had three good outcomes.

1. I'd been unable to blog using my iPad Version 1. I could touch the header line and type in there, but I couldn't get into the body. So I had to take a laptop when we were on the road if I wanted to blog. My tech-savvy niece Colleen told me I could send an email to my blog and have it published! There's a "Settings/Email and Mobile" option in Blogger. You enter an email address of "Your login dot (secret word you choose)". You designate whether you want blog entries to post immediately or whether you want to edit them first (obviously, I wouldn't on my iPad, since that's the problem). Then, when you send an email to the designated address, it gets transmitted into a blog entry, either posted or ready to edit and post.

I was delighted with this information. I've tested it and it works. I don't have a solution yet for uploading photos, but I suspect Colleen does, and when she reads this blog she may comment on how to do it so we all know.

2. Our furnace went out last week and the new one has had a couple of hiccups in the first few days that required a couple of under-warranty service calls. At one point the temperature in the house was 82 degrees and rising. It seems to be fine now - just in time for our home exchange guests, who will arrive tomorrow afternoon at about the same time as we pull into the driveway of their house in Santa Fe.

3. I figured out what I was doing on my work project. Finally got it together in my head. Today I spent a couple of hours on the project and got done what needed to happen before we leave. So I'll be able to enjoy Santa Fe without working! Yay!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Newbie again

I've accepted a part-time project for the massage franchise we have a quarter interest in. We're working on retaining all our clients as we acquire new ones. I'm the analyst calling the clients who've recently cancelled to see if there are patterns. We give them an incentive to call us back and talk to us. We'd like to provide such a good service that our clients don't want to leave.

I've put in about 16 hours this week. I'm making the usual newbie mistakes. I'm slow. I don't know the clients, or the employees. I don't know who knows what at the site. I've broken house rules about when to go online remotely. I've made a couple of blunders on the phone. It's nothing really new or unusual, these just-starting-out mistakes.

However, for the past nine months I haven't been in the business environment. I've been in the know in my activities. I have made my own rules or gone without.

It feels very weird to be a newbie again in the business world. I'm waking up early thinking about the phone calls. I'm stewing over how to make calls at a time when people won't be annoyed - that means not in the evenings and not on Sunday. I'd like to leave a voicemail with a brief explanation, the incentive, and my phone number. And I can do that on Monday, except that we're leaving on Tuesday for nine days in Santa Fe, and I'd really rather not be doing business when we're out of town. Oh, well. Life happens, I guess.

This is my choice, this part-time project. Now I remember, though, how it was in the working world for the last 20 years.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Happy aftermath

My husband Art retired last May. He had worked for the electric company for over 40 years and his last job was line crew foreman - a thinking and supervising position, but also a lot of active physical labor. Art was accustomed to working hard. He had a couple of rotator cuff surgeries and then, last January, a surgery to remove the painful arthritic joint in his left thumb and replace it with a tendon from his forearm. He had no more pain, but his grip strength was diminished - so even if he hadn't retired, he wouldn't have been able to do his job any more. At present he collects long term disability (for another 15 months) as well as a pension.

Since retiring, Art has worked a Sudoku and the crossword puzzle every morning. He's worked in the yard in good weather. He's read. He's been on ten trips with me. But except for one day last month when he climbed a tree to saw off some dead branches, Art's level of physical activity has been pretty low. It just hasn't come up in his life. And since his appetite has always been excellent, he's put on some weight, which isn't real great for arthritis in other joints.

When I suggested we do a Habitat build in Louisiana, he was amenable. "It's on your bucket list after all," he said. He packed his work boots and his work jeans and his oldest t-shirts. And in Louisiana, he worked hard physical labor for four days. He was on the roof, sawing and hammering. He was lifting sheets of plywood and anchoring them. The construction foreman would say to him, "Do you know how to do this?" Sometimes Art would say no and the foreman would show him how and he would do it. He learned a lot up there on the roof, and apparently he did his usual hard work, because more than one person told me, "He's an animal up there." Here are a couple of pictures of Art I posted previously from last week.

On the plane coming home, I asked Art if he'd be interested in working for Habitat at a local affiliate in our area (Seattle). He said yes. So yesterday I went online and learned the East King County affiliate is working on a group of houses in two locations. They have full volunteer crews on Saturdays, but they need people on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Since we're not working, we can do that together. We'll be signing up to work once a week when we're in town. Our first day is Thursday, April 7.

Today is Art's 68th birthday. We went to exercise class this morning. He wore a t-shirt that says "How the hell did I get this old?" Everyone wished him a happy birthday. I suspect one of the great gifts, though, is his knowledge that he can still build, still be useful, and that there are projects out there that need him. He may be retired from paid work, but not from the opportunity to work more and be of service.

What's also cool is that yesterday we got a letter from Elderhostel telling us that our entire trip expenses are tax deductible - half of the fee is a donation to Elderhostel for administration and the other half is unreimbursed expenses for a volunteer activity. Even our airfare and car rental can be deducted. I had no idea. Guess it will make future out-of-town builds more feasible!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Last day in Louisiana

We took a two-hour swamp tour before lunch and our drive back to the Houston airport.

Duck blind built by our guide and towed into the middle of the swamp.

Young alligator in the sun. He watched us as we motored quietly by.

Nesting pair of yellow-crested somethings.

I'd never seen a swamp. It was quite different from what I'd expected, and beautiful.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Habitat Build - Day 4

For a group of "old guys", the ten men in our Road Scholar group got a lot done this week. My husband Art came back to the motel room each night "beat", but a shower and a short nap brightened him up. This is the most exercise he's gotten since he retired last May. He told me yesterday that he would be interested in doing other Habitat builds. So we'll be looking to volunteer in our home area. And who knows? A visit to Mongolia is on Art's bucket list, and I found out yesterday there's a Habitat build there in June of this year. Probably not enough time to save up for it, but it sure is an interesting possibility.

Lauren led the women today at the second site, and Joe led the men on the house. Both of them full of energy and patience - a credit to the Habitat organization in Lafayette.

Our Road Scholar Habitat builders.

Our little group of builders, "Sisterhood of the Bent Nails".

This has been a week! I'm grateful for a healthy body in reasonable physical condition - for our stamina, our motivation, our persistence in the warm Louisiana sunshine, our recognition of each other's strengths and limitations. By today we were working as a team: hammering, nailing, sawing, loading and unloading the pickup with plywood and lumber and tools.

I had a couple of thoughts. I'd love to find a Habitat build in a new place and invite our grown children to join us in a family built. But I think, even more fun, would be to do a build with my blogging community. Maybe someplace in the central US?

I'll be doing this again, for sure. Check one more item off my bucket list.

Dinner tonight at another dance hall. I ordered grilled catfish, which came with cole slaw, jumbalaya, and bread pudding for dessert. Art and I tried dancing the Cajun two step with a tiny bit of success. The band tonight was an accordian, a guitar, drums and a fiddle.

Tomorrow morning we load up the car, go with the group on a swamp tour and then lunch. We'll leave directly after that for our 200-mile drive to the airport in Houston. We'll be home tomorrow night.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Habitat Build - Day 3

Our crew of five women built three more work tables today. We were familiar with the process so the work went faster. But the weather was warmer - it got to about 82 - and we spent more time in the sun, so it seemed like harder work. Still, we all collaborated so we were more efficient. Meanwhile, the men installed about half the roof on the site house.

I asked how people get Habitat houses. Lauren said the people have to be working and they have to be in a living situation that they need to get out of - like numerous people living in one small place, or a slum landlord. They put in several hundred hours of sweat equity and then get a zero-interest mortgage which is often about the same amount as the rent they were paying.

Back at the motel, we had a guest storyteller and fiddler. He told us how the Cajuns of Louisiana got here - beginning with 1601 when a group of sharecroppers in France were promised land in Nova Scotia if they'd leave France and settle there. Once settled, they lived in Nova Scotia for about 150 years until political pressure from the British forced them out. It's a long story! Between sections of his narrative, the storyteller played the fiddle for us, demonstrating how the music of 400 years ago gradually changed into the styles of today.

We had dinner at a dance hall and Art and I got to try out the Cajun waltz we learned last night. Fun!

I am surprised at my stamina. I take an exercise class three days a week, and I go to the gym a couple of times a week to work on balance with the bosu ball, and I take yoga one night a week. For some reason I didn't get that all those things would make this project easier. Sometimes I'm a slow learner.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Habitat Build - Day 2

Four of us women worked off the primary Habitat site today. A few miles away there's a Catholic church whose parishioners have donated the money to build a house. The walls of the house will be built this Saturday in the church parking lot and later moved to the final build location three blocks away. Our group's job was to build a work table for Saturday's builders. We loaded 12 plywood boards and 16 trusses into the back of a trailer. With two women carrying each piece of plywood and three carrying each truss, the work was done without injury. We took the plywood and trusses to the location and unloaded them all.

Once the materials had been delivered we returned to the main site for po' boy lunches. Here's what Wikipedia says:

A po' boy (also po-boy, po boy, or poor boy) is a traditional submarine sandwich from Louisiana. It almost always consists of meat, usually roast, or seafood, usually fried, served on baguette-like Louisiana French bread.

A key ingredient that differentiates po' boys from other submarine sandwiches is the bread. Typically, the French bread comes in two-foot-long "sticks". Standard sandwich sizes might be a half po' boy, about six inches long (called a "Shorty") and a full po' boy, at about a foot long. The traditional versions are served hot and include fried shrimp and oysters. Soft shell crab, catfish, crawfish, Louisiana hot sausage, roast beef and gravy, and French fries are other common variations.

A "dressed" po' boy has lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise; pickles and onion are optional. Non-seafood po' boys will also usually have mustard; the customer is expected to specify "hot" or "regular"—the former being a coarse-grained Creole mustard and the latter being American yellow mustard.

Mine was loaded with fried shrimp. Good thing I don't always eat like this!

After lunch we returned to the church parking lot. We lined up eight upright trusses two feet apart. A second layer of upright trusses was placed on top, perpendicular to the first, and anchored via "toenails" (nails angled inward). Plywood sheets were then laid on top of the two layers of trusses, then hammered and screwed into the trusses. I learned how to use a screw gun correctly for this project.

We had two and a half feet of plywood hanging over the end of the trusses, so I learned to use a circular saw to cut off the excess. Our foreperson, Lauren, was a patient teacher.

Four young women, students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and working with AmeriCorps for their work study, arrived to help. We were interested in their stories, and they were curious about why we were there.

Once we had created the work table, we loaded all the scraps and tools into the truck and returned to the Habitat site.

After an hour-long break at the motel, the group met again for a 90-minute dance lesson on Cajun waltz and two step. It's been a while since Art and I danced together, and I'd forgotten what fun it is. I understand we're going to dance halls tomorrow and Friday night where we'll have a chance to practice for real. We also learned how to play a washboard with spoons!

For dinner at a nearby restaurant, I ordered boiled crawfish. Three pounds of the freshwater creatures arrived in a box about 12" by 12" by 6". They look like miniature lobsters and have a similar taste - about one small bite of meat per crawfish. I ate about half of mine and donated the rest to our coordinator's take-home box.

We found out that Ellen will have a "cementing" procedure done tomorrow morning and will probably be released from the hospital tomorrow afternoon. She hopes to be at the work site on Friday as an observer.

Lots of work and learning today under a sunny sky. I'm surprisingly not stiff and sore. I guess pacing myself has worked! Or maybe the combination of exercise classes, training at the gym and yoga has conditioned me enough.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Habitat Build - Day 1

I'd decided to pace myself so I'd be able to get out of bed tomorrow. And I did! The sun was out and it was about 74 in the heat of the day. Our group of 20 Road Scholars arrived at the job site at 8 a.m. We broke for morning and afternoon snacks and for lunch. Most of the men worked on the flooring for the attic

and most of the women measured and nailed blueboard (form insulation, called Tyvek where we live).

I chatted during breakfast with a woman named Ellen. She's a widow and originally from New Jersey. After her husband died, she wasn't able to get her life going again. She finally went to a therapist, who told her after several visits that she needed to move to a new place and start over. Ellen found a website called "Find Your Spot", where you take a quiz on your interests and preferences. She took a road trip to check out her top four places. She found Fayetteville, Arkansas and told me she really likes it there and yes, starting over had made all the difference for her.

This morning, Ellen was working with the men on the flooring. One of them lost his footing and, when she reached out to help, she fell through unnailed boards to the floor below. The paramedics came and took her to the hospital. We hear tonight that she has a compression fracture of the spine. From what I read online, she'll need bedrest and medication and maybe a brace for a period of time. I hope I read correctly. Apparently this is the first injury the Habitat crew and the Lafayette Road Scholar program have had.

The Habitat crew foreperson is a young woman. Laurie has a degree in architecture and has applied to Tulane to earn her Master's in building design. We talked about the Katrina tragedy in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. She told me many people left the area after the hurricane. Even before then, many of the houses were rentals. After Katrina, the landlords often sold their properties to developers. When people didn't move back, the developers decided not to build. Apparently there's lots of political conversation happening around this, but not much else. I'd thought it might be a racial issue, but apparently it was more economic. At least, that's my understanding now.

Before dinner the group went to the Martin Accordion place. Several generations of Martins build accordions and also play them. I'd thought the idea was a little hokey but instead it was fascinating. The father "Papa", his daughter Penny and his grandson Joel played bass-slide guitar-accordion for us, demonstrating Cajun and zydeco music. Many families have lived in this area for generations, and the music gets passed down. It isn't written down anywhere, though, so you wind up with multiple variations. It was a very cool way to get introduced to the culture of this area.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day One - Lost in Houston

Three things we didn't bring on this trip: (1) our GPS (momentarily misplaced); (2) a Mapquest printout from George Bush International Airport in Houston to our first night's lodging; and (3) my iPad (left with a friend to see if he could find an app so I can blog successfully on it in the future).

We could have used any one of the three of them during the three hours it took us to get the 20 miles to our motel.

So we're talking to the guy helping us load up our rental car. I've realized I don't have directions to the motel. He enters the address in his iPhone and pulls up the driving directions. I write down careful instructions. We set off. The attendant says, "Ya'll have a good time on ya'lls trip."

When we get to instruction #2, Highway 59, we discover there's a 59 North and a 59 South. We take the North route since the south route goes to Houston, and we're heading away from Houston on our way to Louisiana. We're looking for Wilson Road which is supposed to be about seven miles away. We drive 12 miles and 59 North is definitely becoming more rural. I pull off, open up the back of the car, get the map out of my suitcase, and figure we should have taken 59 South. We turn around, return 12 miles, pass the airport, and then go another 10 miles. No Wilson Road, but I-10 eastbound comes into view just before the downtown exits.

We choose I-10 rather than downtown Houston. Two offramps later I pull into a semi-seedy motel parking lot and tell my sad story to the night clerk behind the glass window. She calls our motel, gets driving instructions, and pulls up Mapquest on her computer. Wilson Road is nowhere to be found. She shows me the route and prints out the instructions. I thank her very much, go down one traffic signal, do a U-turn onto I-10 westbound. I'm looking for 59 North again, but it isn't marked, and we end up in downtown Houston anyway. Fortunately, we find another place to do a U-turn and find I-10 eastbound, then 59 North.

I should say at this point that I do most of the driving when we're in unfamiliar places, and Art is an earnest but inexpert navigator. Each time one of us makes a mistake, the other is hard pressed to remain silent. Furthermore, I have very poor night vision and am darn close to inept when driving at dusk even in places I'm familiar with. Also, I get hypoglycemic when I haven't eaten for a few hours, and it has been more than a few since we shared a fruit and cheese plate on the plane.

So, we're on 59 North. We pass the airport again and and find the exit - FM 1950. FM stands for Farm to Market. The first block is 100. Our motel is at 7700. There's a stoplight at every block. It has now been two and a half hours since our plane landed in Houston.

We finally arrive at the motel at 8:45. We check in and the clerk recommends Hasta La Pasta, a popular Italian restaurant across the street. We arrive at 9:01 and the place has closed at 9:00. I put on my helpless but friendly traveler persona, have a nice conversation with the young hostess. She agrees we can order lasagna and dinner salads to go. When they arrive, bagged up, I pay and include a $5 tip for her trouble. We head out. The hostess follows us with to-go silverware and says, "I threw in a piece of cheesecake."

We chat for a few minutes. One of the servers asks us why we've come to Houston and we tell her we're driving to Lafayette tomorrow for a four-day Habitat for Humanity build. She tells us she did that a few years ago with her church group. They went to work on a woman's homeless shelter. I asked her if she liked it. She said, "It always feels real good when you help someone else." I agreed.

When we left the restaurant and started across the parking lot, I called back to them. "Seattle loves you, Houston." They waved.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


We leave tomorrow morning for a four-day Habitat for Humanity build in Lafayette, Louisiana. I found this build through Road Scholar, an educational and travel company for people aged 55 plus. Doing the build is on my bucket list, and Cajun country is a place I'd like to see. And Art said sure, he'd like to go. I understand the temps will be in the 70s and there may be a thunderstorm or two. So we'll be taking lightweight clothes and sandals and sunscreen and hats and maybe a light rain poncho. We've made arrangements for our cat, Larisa, to have her usual paid companion during our absence.

I'm a little concerned about the amount of exertion this trip will require. After a yoga session I can feel the muscles used for about 48 hours. I'm still feeling them from my Thursday night class. What happens if I overexert on the first day and then have to lie on a plank on a sawhorse for the rest of the week, watching the other, more fit 55-plus folks do the work I've come to do?

No matter. For me, intention is important. I want to help out - not only for people who need a house, but for an area that was affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita way back in 2005. I've noticed, again, with the earthquake and tsunami in Japan this week, how the people of the world want to help each other in such calamitous times. What about six months down the road, though, or five years?

Also, I live a fairly sheltered life. I have a house with a roof that doesn't leak and a furnace that comes on reliably when the temperature inside drops below 68 degrees. Art and I each have a car that runs and a pickup truck to share. We have excellent health care coverage and a travel budget. I expect next week I'll see some things that will remind me of my extreme good fortune. And maybe I'll be able to be of genuine service to someone else.

I've been asked if I'm excited about this trip to Louisiana. I say no, I feel anticipation. I'm open to whatever comes along. I have few expectations. I'm grateful for the opportunity.

I'm taking my laptop and my camera. I hope I'll have time and internet to blog and post any photos I take.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A small milestone

When I quit work last June I signed up for an online class to learn how to teach English as a second language. I wanted to spend a month or so in Nicaragua in the winter, living in a small village, giving the people a hand with their English.

I procrastinated on the modules for the online class, and bemoaned that procrastination, until several of my blogging friends wondered whether teaching ESL was really something I wanted to do.

Today I finished the last online module. In the evaluation, the first question was, "What are your plans now that you've finished this ESL series?" My response was, "I learned during this class that I wouldn't be a good teacher, of ESL or anything else in a classroom, and I'd like to be an ESL tutor instead. Maybe."

That's a nice lesson to learn. One of my goals wasn't realistic, given my personal talents and limitations. So I can move on. But I did finish the course, and I'm proud of that.

Also this week, my business partner has presented me with a project that requires analysis of customer records. I'm sure I won't procrastinate. I love analysis. I was a systems analyst when I worked. We're meeting tomorrow to go over the records. In this endeavor, I'm using skills I already have and am applying them to a field completely different from the one I worked in. That's a good thing.

Also, I just installed Rosetta Stone's Latin American Spanish course on my computer. I doubt I'll be fluent when I finish it. However, I may be a bit more comfortable next January when we spend three weeks in Ecuador. Or maybe not. Maybe the dialects will be too different from the formal language that I won't be able to make myself understood or comprehend a word anyone else says. But it's worth the effort.

So I move on from one learning opportunity to two others - and am glad for all three of them.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The gifts of choice

It's been over eight months since my last day of work. I haven't been bored. I've discovered the delight of free time - or, at least, time to spend as I choose. Art and I have an hour-long exercise class three days a week. When the weather is good we walk the mile and a half to the rec center, and the shortcut mile back. The weather hasn't been good enough for about five months, but I can see the day coming as the days get longer. We've joined the neighborhood gym and I walk a mile there and back another three days a week to work on balance and strength with the help of a trainer every now and then. In each of these cases, the exercise has become something I do, rather than something I think about doing. I need to take care of my body if I want to do anything else.

One of my blogging friends, an avid hiker and skydiver, has recently taken up swimming. I read about her continuous commitment to exercise and I am encouraged to keep up my own. I'm wearing a pedometer again with the goal of 10,000 steps a day, even though it will probably be weeks before I'm to that level again. I have a touchy SI joint and a weak left ankle, but I can still move, and I will.

I've spent more time writing since I stopped working than I expected to. The blogging community is rewarding but it requires time and commitment, just like face-to-face friendships do. I also belong to a writers group that meets twice a month. Last week we submitted a joint piece to four journals in the hope of getting it published. I am the point of contact for that group, so it was my name that went on the cover letter. My Facebook Cat piece was not accepted by the magazine I sent it to, but just the act of putting it together and sending it out was satisfying.

The goals I set for myself when I quit my job are coming along. In one more unit I'll be finished with my online ESL class. In two more weeks I'll have helped build a Habitat for Humanity house in the deep south. In June I'll take mediation training. But I think the things that have happened that weren't goals at all have been more interesting. Like now, I can lie down for an afternoon nap with my cat on my lap without feeling like I really should be doing something else. We order a box of vegetables and fruits most weeks from a local farmer, and I have learned how to cook fresh beets and found out they are delicious.

Last month I made my first volunteer commitment when I joined the planning commission of my little town. Now open on my dining room table is a very thick, very dry planning book. I am wading through the relevant sections, grateful that once upon a time, in a life far, far away, I was in the legal profession and learned how to read dry language.

Next week we leave on our 11th trip since I left work. We're going to Louisiana to participate in a Habitat for Humanity build. Since June I've traveled to San Antonio, Whistler, California, Alaska, Maine, Italy, Alaska (again), Idaho, Mexico, and the Washington coast. After Louisiana we'll be going to Santa Fe and then the Midwest. That will be 13 trips in 11 months. I'll be ready to take a break.

I think I've been able to be active like this because we haven't had any crises or emergencies and we live fairly frugally. Our health is good and our eight kids are doing well at the moment.

And now I think I am ready to work part time. After the freedom of not work, I can choose to work again.

Choices - such a gift!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Bag Lady and the Little Banker

The thought of being a bag lady terrifies me. It doesn't matter that, according to my friends, there's no way I could be such a thing. I've got financial resources, and eight grown children and stepchildren, and social and family contacts. Still, it comes up from time to time in my life, and never in a good way. It's always a frightening experience.

Next January, Art and I are trading houses with an American couple now living in Ecuador. We'll be in their house for three weeks. As part of that journey, we're considering a side trip to the Galapagos Islands. But the islands are not cheap. Excluding airfare, ten days would cost about the same as our 17-day trip to Italy last fall. When I think about the cost, my bag lady fear twists in my gut.

I know the bag lady fear is not rational and I would like to get over it. So I talked yesterday with a woman who works as a money counselor and calls herself an "untangler". I told her about my mother - who was orphaned by the age of 18, married a military man because "I knew the military would take care of me", and held money out to me and my sister with strings strongly attached. Gifts of money from her were tied to whether we had been "good", and the definition was hazy. Mostly, I think, it was related to how she felt about us at money-giving time.

The counselor suggested that I picked up the idea of a relationship between money and being good when I was a small child - maybe five years old or so. Yesterday, during the phone call, I named that part of me the Little Banker, because she knew she had to watch out for money so she would be a good girl and she would be safe. Therapy stuff. But it made a kind of sense, because I know the bag lady is an ancient fear of mine. Maybe she comes from the idea that if I'm not good, I won't have any money and I'll end up as a bag lady.

The counselor helped me tell the Little Banker that she had done a very good job, but that I would take over the money now, because I'm a grownup and I know how to do that. She could go read or dig clams or whatever else she loves to do.

Anyway, I felt pretty good after that phone call, and I decided to make plans for us to go to the Galapagos next January when we're in Ecuador.

There's a second part to where I'm going with this story. Art and I have an ownership interest in a massage clinic a few miles down the road. Our two business partners Lillian and Sophia own a second clinic close to where we live. Lillian runs both clinics and Sophia works two days a week in the one close by. Last night I stopped by the close-by clinic and Sophia was working. I asked her how she liked working there. She said it gives her a much better idea about how the business runs than just looking at the financial statements, and she recommended I do the same thing. So I talked to Lillian and she said it would be fine if I work at the clinic down the road a couple of days a week, starting in August when I get back from the last of this string of trips. I could easily work weekends, when most people would rather be home.

As I was driving home I realized the extra money I'll bring in will be a good way to pay for our Galapagos trip. The Little Banker doesn't have to worry any more. And the Bag Lady doesn't have anything to say about it.

Just taking care of business, you know.