Monday, May 26, 2014

A matter of timing

I'm a list maker from way back. It gives me a feeling of control - even though I know I actually have very little. On my electronic calendar I have lists of things to do each day, from exercise to writing to paperwork. I delete them as I do them or as I realize they're not going to happen today.

Significant happenings sometimes occur without a calendar entry. They are not matters of scheduling but of timing. They come upon me; I am the recipient rather than the initiator. Here are a few examples from just this week:

1. For the last year most of my clothes have been about five pounds too small. I knew it was due at least partly to daily mochas and the evening bowls of ice cream my husband Art and I enjoyed. But there were other food diversions - wrapped candies in bowls, peanut butter sandwiches, bars of dark chocolate. I considered a diet but didn't have much interest - just a low-grade dissatisfaction with myself.

Then, on May 1, a Facebook friend posted that everyone at her workplace was going without sugar for the month of May, and did anyone want to join them? It was 7:30 a.m. when I read the post. At 7:32 I responded, "I'm in." That was even before I told Art, who is both the shopper and the cook. He's a good sport, though, and within two days he'd brought home extra fresh fruits and vegetables. I switched from a mocha in the morning to a latte, from ice cream in the evening to fruit smoothies.

The first five days were hard. I told my Facebook friend I resented her for suggesting we go without sugar! After that it got easier. There are so many things I can eat: omelets with spinach and mushrooms over avocado slices, popcorn, baked potatoes with butter, nuts, salads, oatmeal with fresh berries. I'm now on Day 25 of no sugar. Today Art and I went to a potluck and someone had made a cheesecake. I LOVE cheesecake. We calculated one and a half tablespoons of sugar in each slice. I passed on the cheesecake.

This doesn't feel like a diet. It feels like a different way of eating. And today I noticed my jeans and T-shirt are looser. I've decided to continue without the sugar after May to see whether I lose weight or inches eating like this. I would like to enlarge my wearable wardrobe. I'd also like to have a Body Mass Index under 30. It would be a good feeling to say "I'm overweight, but I'm no longer obese." My friend's Facebook post came at just the right time.

2. My sister and her husband have moved to our area for new jobs, and they have been living in their motorhome on our property for nearly two weeks. We have abided by the "neighbors sharing a plot of land" concept. We have discovered, rather to our surprise, that we all benefit from each other's talents. I would never have imagined I'd be living so close to my sister. I left home for college when she was 11. This is a good time for us to share our lives.

3. This month I wrote a short piece about a conversation between a 14-year-old girl and her grandmother and, at the suggestion of members of my writers' group, submitted it for publication. It was accepted. My first! It's called "Grandma Speaks". I'll post a link to the online site when it's published. Again, a matter of timing. It was just making a decision to put my writing out there rather than storing it on my computer.

4. Two small group travel possibilities have come up for next year. One is a vehicle-supported hike on the Camino de Santiago in Spain - a trip I've thought about taking for years. The other is a 17-day trip with friends to Italy I hadn't considered until I received a copy of the itinerary. Time will tell on these.

5. I've been attending a local church for almost a year. After our trip to Kenya last May I realized we're all in this together and I wanted to be part of a group of like-minded people. I've decided to join the church and will be meeting with the minister this week to talk about what part I can play in the community. It's clear to me this is a matter of Timing.

My to-do list didn't include any of these things. Isn't that wonderful?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Neighbors sharing a plot of land

My sister and her husband have moved from Anchorage to Brier, our town. They lived in Alaska for five years; before that, they were in California for a number of years. They decided to relocate to Washington State to be near us. They arrived Tuesday afternoon in their 34-foot motorhome and are now settled in behind our house. They have all the amenities except for sewer, and are using only our downstairs bathroom and our laundry room.

My sister Alyx is a psychiatric nurse and my brother-in-law Virgil is a supervisor at Wal-Mart. Alyx starts her new job tomorrow, Monday, and Virgil begins on Tuesday. They will both be working nights.

Relocating is a very big deal. Alyx and Virgil are adjusting to the traffic on the new roads and freeways, to the lower cost of food, to the abundance of stores and shops. Their household furnishings arrived early this morning and are now in storage several miles from here. Virgil's car arrives tomorrow. They will be "neighbors sharing a plot of land" for three to six months until they get settled in to the area and know for sure where Virgil's management job will be once he completes his training. Then they'll find a place to live, empty their storage unit and move again.

Alyx and I discussed the living arrangements several weeks ago. We decided to set boundaries beforehand. Thus the "neighbors sharing a plot of land". My husband Art likes a quiet house, so my sister and I have agreed that when he is having his morning coffee and reading the paper, we will be in another room, or outside, if we have a conversation. I have a couple of Adirondack chairs in the garden, and Alyx and I sit out there and chat in the afternoon. In the six days they have been here, we have shared a meal only twice. The arrangement appears to be working so far. The biggest crisis to date was the two days it took our local cable company to upgrade the television channels and increase the internet capacity on our account; it required five calls, most of them forwarded to offshore call centers with marginal results. Once Virgil could watch his news channels in the RV, all was well. In the house, we still have the limited cable we prefer.

My father was a military officer and our family moved around a lot when I was growing up, and I had a number of additional moves as an adult. Art and I have lived in our current house for nearly 20 years. We are quite settled. We have our favorite restaurants, stores, and driving routes. Alyx and Virgil are starting over in their late 50s: new city, new jobs, new connections to make. Watching them begin their new life, I'm grateful I don't have to do it! I suspect we'll move to a smaller place within the next five years for the eight months we're not in Tucson, but I'm not looking forward to the effort or the change. This time, I get to just watch.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The ants go marching

We traveled to Kenya last year, and as we spent time on the game reserves watching the animals, I realized, finally and truly, that we are all the same. Those animals, us humans, we're all on this planet together.

Even the carpenter ants.

I have a lot of respect for how ants operate. I remember the ant farm of my childhood. Those little creatures were busy, each doing their own job for the cooperative survival of the colony. It amazes me how they've evolved to be successful that way.

Last year, the carpenter ants - big and black - came into our house. For a month or so in the summer they explored our kitchen, a dozen at a time. And our bathroom, two or three at a time. We had a man come out and lay down some organic chemical. The ants reappeared, though in much smaller numbers - three or four a day instead of dozens. Then their active period ended and we didn't see them any more.

I had a feeling they had not left the property and watched for them again this year. Last week they showed up, one by one by ten by twenty in the kitchen, one by one by two in the bathroom. Art stepped on the creatures as he found them, I sprayed them with 409. Still they came. I wore shoes in the kitchen; the idea of stepping on one creeped me out.

Finally I logged onto Angie's List and called several of the recommended exterminators. I was hoping for a nontoxic organic substance, but no one advertised they used one. One company was owned by a veteran and had over a hundred positive references, so I scheduled them to come out on Friday.

We had to leave the house - with our cat - for four hours. The tech said the odor bothered some people, but I wondered whether the fumes might be toxic. I didn't ask. Art and I ran several errands with Larisa the Confused Cat. Always before she'd been put in her crate to go to the vet. This time that didn't happen. She was quiet in her crate in the back seat, her eyes huge.

When we came home there was no odor in the house and there were a dozen dead ants in the kitchen, with a half dozen or so moving around sluggishly. We'd been told to leave the dead ones on the floor, because others would drag them back to the nest. The chemical on their bodies would be dispersed and the rest of the ants would die.

We went to bed on Friday night. Saturday morning in the kitchen, half the dead ants were gone and no live ones remained. On Saturday afternoon we swept up the bodies and took them outside.  It is now Sunday. We have seen no live ants in the house in two days.

I am relieved. At the same time, I am sad. Not for the ants, but for whatever chemical it was that killed them. I hope it's toxic only for ants - and only the intruders. I have no wish to overkill. Actually, I have no wish to kill at all. If I'd been able to tell them to leave, and they had, that would have been good enough for me.

I still believe we're all on this planet together.  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Clearing thoughts

My thoughts got uncrowded this week. On Monday I attended an hour-long information session for mediators considering serving at the Oso mudslide disaster. Pairs of mediators will be knocking on doors of people in the area to see what they might still need. Many services are available, but some residents might not know about them. The situation was described as "fluid" and "a pilot". I signed up for the required two-day crisis counseling training, but within two hours I emailed the office to say I had decided, with regret, to pass up the opportunity. Instead, I said, I'd be available to work in the office to replace the staff members who were participating in the Oso project. I've heard from the office that they do want me to help.

It's interesting how that came to pass. I'm currently taking a MOOC (massive open online class) on Practical Ethics. During a discussion on our moral responsibility to help the poor, a speaker talked about how best to give. He advised a young finance major, for example, to consider whether it would be more useful for him to join a nonprofit and work in the field for that agency, or whether getting a higher-paying job and then donating a chunk of money might be more productive from the giving perspective. "Anyone can work in the field, but not everyone can make very, very good money and donate a lot of it."

I applied that idea to my current decision. I decided that other mediators can go to Oso, but only I can be Art's wife as he goes through his medical testing. I felt better immediately - always a sure sign I've made a decision in alignment with my values. And I went with Art to two appointments this past week, and will go to two more in the next few days. In between times, I may be at the dispute resolution center in some capacity.

I used the same line of thinking this weekend. I wanted to attend a membership class at my church that's offered two or three times a year. I was also invited to the Greek Orthodox baptism of my neighbors' baby, Elsa. I decided late last night to go to the baptism. I knew I would miss the class. But I figured that little baby will only be baptized once, it was important to the family that I attend, and I can go to the next membership class at my own church. In the big picture, it's above love and community, and today it was about Elsa. That decision felt good too.

My sister and her husband leave Anchorage tomorrow in their motorhome. She and I have talked about house rules for the period they're living in our back yard. Seems like "neighbors sharing a plot of land" is a good starting point, but we listed some other guidelines. Alyx and I are both verbal and active and tend toward intensity (!), so it's important for us to make some agreements ahead of time rather than hoping things will just work out.  

On a lighter note, I decided spontaneously on Thursday to participate with a group in a "no sugar May".  It's not a diet. I can eat anything I want as long as it has no sugar. Turns out that is quite an order! My customary morning mocha without sugar is a cup of coffee, and I can make that at home for cheaper. For a day or two I was annoyed with the idea, but my body is happier now. And my shopper, Art, has brought home vegetables and salad ingredients and cooked me a pot of black beans. I'm at the end of day four and still okay. I apply the "one day at a time" mantra to this project. Instead of stewing over the excess weight, I got presented with a "not a diet"eating opportunity. Sounds good to me!