Sunday, April 27, 2014

Crowded thoughts

I just finished three days of training on mediating with elders - that is, how to facilitate "the conversation" between elders and their families. My husband Art and I have wills and a trust and we have expressed our intentions and our wishes to our blended family of eight grown children. We have designated a power of attorney for finances and one for health care. We have long-term-care insurance and a financial planner. We set out to be organized about our life together - we were in our 40s when we met - and for the most part we've been successful - and lucky.

The training included all those things, but focused on the conversations that need to happen when a parent is healthy and then when the normal aging process begins to take its toll. The "four pillars" of such conversations might be Home, Health, Finances, and Legal.

I've participated in numerous mediation trainings, both before I was certified as a mediator and since that time. This one was the hardest for me, for a couple of reasons. First, I'm an elder myself now. And second, Art had a health event in January that got me thinking about the next stage of life. I've already been through the decline and passing of both my parents, so I could evaluate those processes in the light of my training this weekend. For the most part, our family did okay, but not as well as we could have.

I've been thinking about whether we might be experiencing "the new normal". Art recuperated well from his cardiac arrest, but still has very occasional arrhythmias that have been picked up by his pacemaker. Our home medical team wants to find out what's going on. So Art had an appointment with a cardiologist last week, and he has upcoming ones with an internal medicine person for his low potassium and with a cardiac physiotherapist for the arrhythmia. I'm grateful for the excellent medical services available where we live and I have confidence in his medical team. But I am a worrier about health and an inveterate question asker. I have a list of questions in my head for each of the docs to be seen in the next two weeks.

The hitch is that I have an opportunity to be part of a team of facilitator/mediators to be "fourth responders" to victims of the Oso mudslide. We get required FEMA training on Thursday and Friday of this week, then more flexible work assignments in the community for at least the month of May and possibly extending to August. It would be a nearly full time, paid job. As soon as I heard about this project I signed up to learn more about it. Like the universe sent it my way, you know.  But I want to go to Art's appointments with him. I wondered whether the universe wants to distract me from health worries by putting me in a place where I'm needed and where I can make a difference. So far I don't know. There's an orientation meeting tomorrow and I'll find out more then. I told Art I need to know the questions and the answers from his Thursday appointment, when he'll be in Bellevue at the clinic and I'll be in Darrington at the FEMA training. He said he'll think about how to do that for me. I know he wants me to do the FEMA thing, so I expect he'll come up with something.

It's a two and a half hour drive to Darrington. I've decided to stay in a motel up there for two nights this week. I have energy and stamina, but I think 13-hour days (including the drive) might do me in.

And on about May 15 my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil arrive from Anchorage in their motorhome. Alyx has a new job here and Virgil is just about to secure one. They were ready to leave Alaska and want to live closer to us. They'll be parking their RV on our property for three to six months while they get situated. We have never lived close to each other so it's an exciting but scary time. 

Crowded thoughts!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Bag Lady, the IRS, and the SSA

It's been about the government's money this week. The Bag Lady has been busy.

On April 15 I put a check for $3,200 in the mail to the Department of the Treasury.  

It used to be easier to file our taxes, and we almost always got a refund. Not so this year. It's because we're retired now. I quit my job just before I turned 62, but I didn't want to collect my pension until I turned 65, when I'd get my full entitlement. So, each month for three years, I took a pension-equivalent amount from an inheritance I got from my mother and moved the money into our checking account. For the last three years, we've been living on the amount we'd be getting from our pensions once I did retire. Problem was, the money from my mother had already been taxed, so our income tax returns didn't include that monthly amount. Because we showed a lower income, our deductions kicked in at a lower level and our taxes were lower. 

Not so this year. I turned 65 in September and my first pension payment arrived in October. Three months of taxable pension income got included. Plus, my husband turned 70 1/2 so he had a required distribution on his 401(k). And that money was taxable too.

I didn't like putting $3,200 in the mail to the IRS. But I feel grateful that we have the resources in our retirement to owe the money. It started me thinking about how we might spend a little more on deductible things - like contributions to causes we feel strongly about - instead of sending money to the government. The government and I often disagree on how its money should be spent.

On April 16 I spent an hour at the local Social Security office. As I said, I started collecting when I was 62. For the last 20 years of my career I worked for a company that didn't pay into Social Security, so I knew that when I retired the WEP (Offset Of Some Kind) would reduce my Social Security entitlement. When October rolled around last year and I got my first pension payment, I went to the local SS office, gave them the paperwork and told them I needed to have my check amount changed. They said okay. Three months later, no change. I went down again and repeated my request. They took my documents again. This time I got two sets of paperwork - one from Washington and one from Alabama - to fill out regarding my pension. I sent it in. Last month I got a letter saying my SS entitlement was being changed because of my pension.

I had done my research and I knew my SS check should be about $300 a month less once the pension kicked in. I'd been putting that amount away each month since October. But the difference in my revised check was only $20.

That's why I went down to the local office again on April 16. I waited half an hour for my turn. Told the man my circumstances. He went to talk to the manager. Came back. Said, "Your check is correct. You worked for 30 years so your WEP isn't affected. I said, "Yes, but the last 20 of those years were in a job that didn't collect Social Security." He went to talk to the manager. Came back again. "You are right. Let me copy your paperwork and we'll send it off. You should hear within a month."

I could have just kept my mouth shut and collected the $300 extra each month. But I didn't because (1) I'm not entitled to it and (2) I know the Social Security Administration will find out eventually - like maybe 20 years down the road when I'm really a Bag Lady - and want their $72,000 back, plus interest. Nope. Not going to happen.

On a more pleasant note, I helped save Snohomish County money this week by mediating as a volunteer in Small Claims Court. Two gentlemen had a business dispute, and after an hour and a half of facilitated conversation they agreed to settle their difference instead of going to court.

The Bag Lady is doing her part!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A week in ordinary time

It seemed like an ordinary week. But if I compare it to a week from, say, two years ago, I see that my "ordinary" has changed.

One of the priorities I set back in 2012 was to attend to my spirituality. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I knew I wanted to. Now I'm a regular attendee at Sunday services in a denomination to the left of mainstream, and I fit right in there. I'm part of a small group in that community that meets a couple of times a month. This week we discussed disabilities - how we learned as children to respond to disabilities in others, how we grew (or not) past that, and our attitudes now that we are sometimes disabled ourselves. I like the perspective this small group provides me. On Thursday night Art and I attended an event on freedom led by a rabbi I'd heard about. The event included chant and meditation. Two years ago I wouldn't have gone. It would have been too different for comfort. And yesterday, we went to a talk about investing our time and our money in opportunities that align with our values. Like sustainability and clean energy and making contributions to local small businesses. I'm also doing some reading in the area of left-of-mainstream spirituality. I heard it described as "spiritual oneness theology" and that's pretty close to how I understand it.

When I set out to explore spirituality, I didn't know what roads I would walk. Where I am now seems quite natural, but it's not at all where I would have guessed I'd be. Pretty cool! I'm learning that if I put my intentions out there, the path opens up.

I got a massage on Monday. I do that nearly every week since we own part of a massage clinic. I would never have guessed I'd be doing this in the second half of my life. I lie down on a table for 90 minutes and a skilled person takes good care of my muscles and my spirit. What a treat! I have been doing this for more than two years, though, so it's a long-term "ordinary".

I met a friend for lunch on Tuesday. She's a judge in a local court that I met last year while mediating in small claims, and she's retiring this year. She and her husband have bought a motorhome and want to start traveling. She wanted to know about the 55+ resort in Arizona where we spend the winter. I told her about the many activities and interesting people.  She thinks they may want to spend a month there next year. Word of mouth is the best advertising, I think. It would be great to have her and her husband there. Two years ago I would never have imagined we'd be spending winters in Arizona.

I had a mediation on Wednesday. After I retired I took 140 hours of training to become a certified mediator. I hadn't done a mediation in five months and I was a little worried that I might have forgotten how. I hadn't! Like riding a bicycle, I'd say. And, as usual, when I drove home I was grateful for my life and the opportunities I've been provided. Here I am, nearly 66, and still active and healthy and able to participate in numerous areas of interest. 

I have aches and pains, of course - I had forgotten I had arthritis in Arizona and I am now reminded daily here in Washington! - but my life is pretty good.  Two  years ago I don't think I had arthritis. I really didn't think I'd ever get it. The Peter Pan syndrome, you know? But here I am, like many people my age, wishing I could get out of bed one morning and not hurt anywhere. I remember my mother used to say that, and I thought she was exaggerating. She wasn't.

I thought that after three months without espressos I would have overcome the habit, but I haven't.  I love sharing a few minutes of conversation with the barista in my neighborhood - and his mother who works a shift each day. So nice to keep my connections.

Today it was beautiful and sunny. Our grandson Kyle came over and I taught him how to test the garden soil to see what nutrients it needed, then add them and then plant lettuce and spinach and peas. Kyle is 14 and I think he likes to come over. When he gets dropped off he usually comes into the house. "Hi, Grandma." I know we'll have some kind of conversation where I can actually get him to talk. I'm pretty good at that with kids and teenagers. Seems like just yesterday I was doing it with our own teenagers. Kyle is very motivated to get no grades lower than a C this quarter. We will be celebrating by taking a trip to New York City - his most-wanted place to visit. I'm thinking about how much energy it will take to keep up with him. Ground Zero will be good, and the Empire State Building I can do. But a Yankees game! That means taking the subway across town and sitting in stands for several hours. I will really have to pace myself. But the time with Kyle will be wonderful. There's nothing cooler than watching the carefully blank face of a teenager transform into a grin at something I say. "Score"!

I had a list of things to do today. Got hardly anything done except what came along, none of which was on the list. The list will wait. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Long road home

From Sedona to Brier was a four-day drive. We stayed with travel club members Shirley and Tom in Las Vegas, then with travel club members Nancy and Rob in Reno, then with old friend Jeanne in Roseburg. Traffic was light but several hundred miles of the drive was on two line highways - nice wide lanes but with passing necessary. It snowed between Reno and the California interstate. Even alternating driving, Art and I were both tired by the time we got home on Wednesday.

And we are still tired on Sunday. We do a bit of something, putter, and then take a nap. We feel fine - we are not sick - but we still haven't gotten back to our customary energy level. It could be the change of climate - it's in the 50s here in Washington and it has been cloudy for three of the four days we've been home. I notice twinges of arthritis that haven't been around since December. I also feel kind of weighed down, mood wise. Very glad we will be getting out of town next year for most of the gloomy months.

People are glad to see us. "Welcome back," they smile. I smile back. Their faces are familiar and dear. Our Washington life. On Thursday I went to water aerobics at our local recreation center. In the afternoon I visited my neighbor Jennie, and four-month-old Elsa smiled at me with very blue "old soul" eyes. Friday at noon was my customary 12-step meeting; that night Art and I went to vespers at my church - a lovely hourlong meditation. Yesterday I returned to drumming circle. This morning I sat with the congregation and smiled with delight at minister Eric's springtime talk. I have a massage tomorrow afternoon and a mediation on Wednesday morning. I am home.

In my mind are the faces of my Arizona friends and the time we spent this winter in the sun. Most of them are taking their own long roads home by now - returning to Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere. 

Five years ago I would never have imagined we'd buy a winter place in Arizona. That was for "old" people who wanted to slow down and play bridge and sit in the sun in their declining years. Now I see it is for people who want to live in a sunny place. We can be as active or as sedentary as we want. I slowed down only from time to time. I didn't play a single hand of bridge. I sat in the sun on four occasions. Even Art's January health scare has resulted in our taking a look at the quality of our lives and making small adjustments in our activities and our attitudes. It's all good.

We have decided to sell one of our timeshares. It's in Whistler, British Columbia - a spring or a fall week each year. A beautiful destination, but no longer for us. We'll sell it for next to nothing and that is fine. Let me know if you'd like to hear more. 

Ahead of me this month? Do the taxes in the next nine days. Get a pedicure to repair my Arizona feet. Take the cat to the groomer. Call for estimates on refinishing our decks. Check on my grandson's grades to find out whether we're going to New York City this summer. For him, I hope so. For me? I'm not ready to leave home again just yet.