Saturday, December 29, 2012

Downtime slog

Ever feel like you're running out of gas?

It's not that I've been too busy. On the contrary. I've had no mediations for two weeks - normal for this time of year. Christmas is done. My husband Art broke a rib last week so his activities have been limited and he has been cranky with the pain. It has rained for three weeks, and the days are just now starting to get longer. I am so, so ready for some sun. I sleep eight or nine hours a night, run an errand or two, and am left to my own devices otherwise. I don't have the energy or interest to do much more than that. I'm not sick or depressed. Just all December'd out. I'm even caught up with my filing. How embarrassing!

My 12-year-old granddaughters Mary and Malayne are visiting this week. They flew by themselves this time, from Eugene to Seattle. Mostly what they want to do is sleep until 11, read, play with the tablets their other grandparents gave them for Christmas, not do laundry, not do dishes, and stay up until 1 or 2. Very normal, and they're still nice girls just barely entering puberty. I told them I would really like it if they would spend their time - between the time they get up and the time the grandpa and I go to bed - upstairs with us, so we can keep each other company while they read or play on their tablets. I can hear them chattering in the living room, and it's a nice sound. This is the fourth year they've been with us between the day after Christmas and New Year's Day.

Mary and Malayne

We try to have some kind of outing each day. Wednesday it was the library, where each of them checked out about eight books. On Thursday we went to the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, which they pronounced "boring" and then to an Imax showing of "The Mummies of the Pharaohs" (or something like that). Not so boring, especially with the apple snacks that came out of Grandma's purse. Another trip to the library yesterday. And today one twin got her hair "layered and thinned, but not cut shorter". Tomorrow they get picked up by their Uncle James for an overnight while the grandpa and I attend an evening event.

While they're gone, we'll take down the holiday decorations and start packing for our departure on New Year's Day. Two months in Tucson means more than suitcases; we also need the kitchen essentials and folders we need for taking care of business while we're gone. I've installed Go2mypc on my desktop at home and on my laptop so I'll be able to take care of whatever comes up. We've been on 24 trips since we stopped working in June of 2010, but this is the first time travel has spanned the start of a month, when most of our paperwork activity occurs. I also have Dropbox on both computers so I can easily access the common documents. Once we're in Arizona, I want to be able to live life day to day - and that includes the daily things I do online.

I'm pretty sure this week feels like a slog partly because I haven't gotten any exercise. We didn't get to our morning classes (broken rib and my own laziness) and we haven't been able to walk outdoors (rain and my disinterest) and we haven't gone to the gym (same excuse). See, even when I know exercise is an upper, and I'll feel sloggy if I don't do it.... I don't do it anyway.

Oh, well. A week from today, weather and the gods permitting, we'll be settled into our park model in Tucson. Let the sunshine begin!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Passing along the memories

For years, I acquired a new Christmas ornament sometime during the year. A box of plain old-fashioned balls for my newlywed year, a special edition for each of my two infant boys, a little gold church from a boyfriend when I first moved to Seattle, a teddy bear from another relationship, a Gumby treetop ornament from who knows where, a set of eight tiny brass musical instruments, a Nutcracker-style wooden soldier. The box grew fuller each year until we needed two boxes to store them all. When Art and I got together 20 years ago, some of his ornaments got added to the bunch. Each ornament was laden with memories: when I got it, the circumstances of my life at the time, all the trees in all the houses I've lived in.

Three years ago we bought a live tree in a pot. I put on my beloved Christmas CDs and decorated the tree by myself. When it was done, I looked at it and started to cry. For all the memories, for the sadness of all the kids grown and gone. Then I took all the ornaments off the tree, boxed them, and asked Art to please put the tree outside in the yard. Which he did without even rolling his eyes. Not in front of me, anyway.

This year I asked for another live tree and Art said no, he didn't think so, since we're leaving for Arizona on January 1, and didn't I remember what happened when we put up the tree the last time?

It was time, I thought, to pass the memories along. We saw six of our eight children in the weeks before Christmas. I asked them to look through the ornaments and take the ones that had special memories for them. Art's older daughter Melissa took several - one was from her first year of life. My son James took his special edition ball, the little gold church, the teddy bear and the Gumby. He told me his memories of each of them. They were nothing like my memories. They were about how he remembered seeing them nearly all his life, for all those years of trees. He and his girlfriend have a larger tree this year, and need more ornaments. Art's youngest son Greg took several also. He remembered the year we went to the Puyallup Victorian Christmas celebration when he was little and he picked the Nutcracker soldier to put on our tree.

Now most of my memory-laden ornaments have gone to other trees. And that is a good thing.

On another topic, I am profoundly grateful that the solstice has arrived and the days are now getting longer. I wish they were getting less rainy so that I could go for my daily walk without having to dash out during the sun break that may or may not happen during a day.  I actually wish they we were getting some snow, but it's not cold enough around here for snow very often. My sister Alyx, in Alaska, is grateful for the solstice as well. She had a bad day today with temperatures way below zero. You can read about it on her blog here.

I love the quiet days just before Christmas. Especially when daylight lasts a few minutes longer today than it did yesterday. I light the candles and put on the music, and I have my good, good memories, and we maybe make some new ones.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Picking up the torch

It began in October, at Art's daughter Laura's wedding in Akumal, Mexico. All but one of his six kids were there. And his ex-wife Nancy and her husband Clete were there. And Art and me. We spent six days there - some of it as a group, some in smaller groups, some in couples or singles. Everyone got along. Effortlessly. It seems that, 20 years after their divorce, the bride's parents were amicable and glad to be there. Laura had both her parents, and both her stepparents, sitting in the front row at the ceremony. And, before the vows, she gave each of us - all four of us - a long-stemmed red rose and a hug.

It continued last Saturday, when Nancy and Clete and Art and I cohosted a family gathering at a local venue. Laura and her husband Brian flew out from New Jersey, and Laura's sister Melissa and her husband Scott flew up from San Diego, and Laura's three local brothers drove over. And 46 people - Laura's aunts and uncles and cousins from both sides of her family - celebrated the season, with a toast from Laura's brother Jason welcoming his new brother-in-law.

And in conversations with some of these grown offspring over the weekend, topics included what Art and I would like as we grow older and what our expectations are - or are not - from our kids; suggestions from people further along in their careers as to financial strategies for the younger ones that might lead to a values-driven life and/or a comfortable retirement; who might be able to help someone get a job in a company they work in; possible destinations for future all-family gatherings (Sand Point, Idaho or Yosemite or maybe Lake Tahoe).

The "torch" part is that most of these conversations were initiated by the offspring rather than us, the parents. No one is passing the torch yet - it may be another decade before Art and I are ready to give up our driver's licenses or downsize to a single-level house or move to a drier climate - but we can see the next generation is ready to pick up the torch as it's needed. To give their younger siblings - or us - a hand. I told Melissa if she had any questions about our plans for our later years, she could ask. And she did. I told her where the "executor stuff" is and she didn't say, "Oh, we don't need to talk about that yet."

I've been in Art's kids' lives for 20 years. I've been an involved stepmother. Two of the six have lived with us at some point. Now I see that they have been raised well by their parents. They are taking care of each other, and they're willing to give us a hand if we need it.

They're picking up the torch. And that is a good thing.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Season of darkness and light

Twelve more days until the winter solstice. Then it starts getting lighter again. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, it's dark when we get up unless we sleep in, and it's dark before the 5:00 o'clock news. And, west of the Cascades, it's rainy, or shrouded with low clouds with no snow on the ground to reflect available light. Every few days the sun comes out for a time. Then we go for a walk and squint gratefully into the sky.

Some people like this time of year. They say it's cozy. Others, like me, feel heavy and dark inside. I double up on my vitamin D, take a homeopathic supplement, and turn on a lightbox for half an hour every morning. Even then, it's a long slog through this time of year in the darkness. Even though I know it's coming, it's a shroud on my spirit.

And yet, here we are in the holiday season. We have lights and little ornaments on our artificial ficus and a small LED-lit tree in our bay window. Last year's live tree spent the season in a pot in our living room; it's now planted along our walkway and festive with lights.  We have 22 stockings hung on the banister - including one for our potbellied pig, Bud, who passed away over a year ago at the age of 18. This week I have family visiting, with a small, laughter-filled gathering last night over a lovely shrimp pasta dish, and another larger one this afternoon. 

We are honoring Art's daughter Laura and her new husband Brian with a holiday gathering attended by both sides of her family. Laura's mother Nancy and I have collaborated on the planning. It will be a festive, fun day. Next weekend we'll host several of our children and grandchildren at a family dinner and generic gift exchange. And then our holiday season home events will be finished until we welcome our 12-year-old granddaughters on December 26 for their annual holiday visit. 

Yesterday, Art and I went to the funeral of an elderly neighbor. Once again we were sitting in a church - a place we rarely go these days except for weddings and funerals. Years ago I was a liturgical musician, and this Advent season was a busy one for us as we prepared for the coming of the Light. Those songs still reside in my spirit, and yesterday I sang one of them at the funeral. I noted I can still read music after all these years.

"The music of the spheres" is a phrase from a hymn I remember from my childhood. It seems to me that this season of darkness and light is all a part of it. The music, that is. 

On January 1 we leave for Tucson and the sun. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

They always come in threes

The answers always come in threes for me.

Usually I'm fairly competent at getting through my life. Sometimes, though, I get stuck on a problem. I don't realize I'm stuck for a while, though. I keep on examining the issue, from various angles and "what ifs", and my feelings get exhausting, and I lie awake at night.  Then I find myself in a willpower-induced corner, surrounded by ugly barking dogs - pretty much trapped. That's when I realize I'm stuck. And, as a last resort, I say, "Okay, Universe, I'm stuck. Please give me the insight on what I should do, and give me the willingness to do it."

You know what? I ALWAYS get the answer. It comes within just a few days, and from three separate places I wouldn't have expected. That's how I know it's the answer.

Here's a very recent example.

Back in May of 2011, I was on vacation and sat in a chair that was a couple of inches lower than its companions in the room. Immediately I felt the nerves in my back objecting in my legs, and within two hours both of my feet were tingling.  Within three days the accompanying balance issues had resolved, but not the tingling. Apparently there had been a major nerve root insult, and nerves take lots of time to heal. They have been healing for a year and a half now, and while improved, they're still annoying.

Over the next six months I saw two doctors and had three MRIs. The doctors assure me these things take time, or sometimes they never heal and I should live with the sensations in my feet, and the MRIs look normal. Still, I worried this issue in my head nearly every day, and lay awake at night with my feelings.

Finally, about three weeks ago I said to the Universe, "Okay. I've been asking for over a year now to be a good sport about this, but now I'm changing my request. I want this issue to be healed." And then I said the magic words: "Please give me the insight on what I should do, and the willingness to do it."

Then I flew to Alaska to spend Thanksgiving with my sister. She is about three quarters through nursing school. In my dozenth, at least, conversation with her about this back issue, I commented that the tingling in my feet is somewhat positional. When I'm in my car, for example, with its lumbar support, it's much less annoying than when I'm lying on the couch.  And she said, "Then at least part of the problem is postural." Had I never told her about the positional issue? It had honestly never occurred to me. That's ONE. 

Last year, when I whined about my feet in a blog, a blogging friend named Murr suggested an exercise followed by a "get back to me". I did.  She recommended a book called Pain Free. I bought the book immediately, did the back exercises for three days. Nothing changed. I put the book away. Last week I was going through books I'd planned to donate to the library and came upon the book. I decided to read it! By the time I'd finished the first three chapters, I knew my back issue was at least partly postural. The book suggested ways - not just back exercises, but others - to help. I started doing the exercises. That's TWO.

I got a massage last week. I talked to my therapist about my back. He said, "That postural thing makes a lot of sense. The muscles that need to be supporting your lumbar spine are weak, and the right exercises can strengthen them." That's THREE.

So I made an appointment for next week with a practitioner specializing in the techniques recommended in Pain Free.  I am hopeful.  

It could be that my foot discomfort is here to stay. But maybe not. The point is that, when I pay attention, I get answers. If I rely upon my willpower and then sink into victimhood, I may not.

Here's to the Universe! And thank you again, Murr.