Tuesday, October 28, 2014

At the coast: storms, seabirds and a great lunch place!

We spent last week at Ocean Park, on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula. If you look on the very southwest tip of Washington, you'll see it. Formed over millions of years by silt from the Columbia River, the peninsula has 28 miles of continuous beach and has retained an old timey beach feel. It's a great place for storm watching and walking.

We spent five days at Ocean Park and it rained nearly every day from large storms that also hit the Seattle area over a hundred miles away. Once it hailed. The wind blew a lot. When the rain and wind stopped each day, we went for a walk. On two of the days we were the only people on the beach. Just us and the seabirds.

One-lane bridge on the walk to the beach

On the other side of the bridge.

"I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky."

Art looking for clams. Otherwise known as "the old man and the sea".

Seabirds like this fly in great flocks, patterned like an undulating wave in the sky. Once on the sand, they run to the edge of the tide, then run back. Art says they're looking for plankton.


The dimples in the foreground are clam "shows". We decided to rest on our clamming laurels from our last visit here three and a half years ago. Clamming is hard work!

This injured bird made numerous attempts to launch itself into flight. When we returned to the same spot two days later, it was still trying. It made two final attempts, then weakened and was carried to the shoreline. The locals do not rescue these birds, but let nature take its course.

Across the parking lot from our condo, Great Day Cafe has been in business for about three years. Its owner, Steve, runs a one-man show for lunch. Arriving early each day, he cooks a roast and a turkey. Every day. And puts on a pot of clam chowder and another pot of "soup of the moment."

We ate lunch at the Great Day Cafe four days in a row, selecting a different sandwich to split each time from the very tempting menu - and a bowl of the finest clam chowder I have ever eaten. I can't remember ever taking a trip where lunch was the high point of our eating day.

Away from our usual activities, we had a lot of quiet time during our beach stay. I had promised myself I wouldn't talk unless Art did, and he usually doesn't, so we mostly read. It was a good break.

Art wants me to add this story about the clams:

"The wind and the waves were so rough and high that the clams used their shells as surfboards, and came surfing in on the crests of the waves. All you needed was a dipnet to dip them off the crest."

"How many clams did you get?"

"None. I didn't have a dipnet."

Monday, October 20, 2014

I get the conversation thing

When our daughter Laura was 16 (nearly 20 years ago), she said to me one day, "Linda, it doesn't take much to make you happy. All you need is something to read, something to write, somewhere to walk, and someone to talk to." She was right.

My husband Art is not a talker. When we're at home, or on a quiet vacation, he can sit and read for hours without saying a word. This happened several years ago when we were on a home exchange at Peaks Island, just across the harbor from Portland, Maine. By the 7th day of our stay, I was nearly mad with boredom, and he was entirely content, having read five books.

I had this idea that if I persisted in trying to initiate conversations with Art, one day he'd realize that he was, in fact, an avid conversationalist. That an exchange of dialogue with me was far more interesting than a football game or a murder mystery or repair of the front porch or a nap. I've had this idea for more than 20 years and so far it hasn't happened.

When I quit my last job four years ago, I took up new activities to meet new people and engage my curiosity. I became a mediator and I met with my writers' group and I chatted with my neighbors. It wasn't quite enough. Then we spent a winter in Tucson and it was an answer because I had regular activities and some of them were discussion groups where people talked. Then we spent another winter in Tucson and I met more people. Art met some people too, of course, but he was also free to spend quiet time in our park model, reading or puttering or watching TV. I found that once I had met my social needs, I could leave the man alone and we could enjoy quiet time together as well as occasional conversation. In six weeks we will be leaving for Tucson. I am getting emails from people in our winter community and I'll be glad to see them all.

This summer I joined the Unitarian community. I participate in a few activities and Art does a couple of them with me. I took on a scheduling project for the church photo directory and I had phone conversations with people I hadn't met yet. I'm part of the planning group for the Tiny Houses project.

I spent last weekend at Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island with the Vashonistas, a group of women who blog. It was our third year together, and probably not the last. We did a lot of talking and laughing.

I now find that I am getting enough conversation from other people that I relish quiet time as well, and that's a good balance for Art and me.

For the next five days we are in Ocean Park, Washington, in a timeshare condo three blocks from the Pacific Ocean. We got here this afternoon and in four hours we have said relatively little except for a few brief exchanges of mutual interest. So far it feels pretty good.

This conversation thing. It sure took me a long time to figure it out.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Retired but still thinking. Not humble yet, though.

When I worked for money, I thought all the time. Once I stopped working for money, I wanted to stay busy and I wanted to be useful, but I wasn't sure I wanted to think.

Four years later, I'm still thinking a lot. Here's what happened this week.

1. I'm working in the early stages of a project to build tiny homes for the homeless. I was assigned to talk to Chris, the influential pastor of a church who also serves on the city council - to find out what Chris knew, who he knew, and who could help us. I sent him an email one Friday telling him briefly what we were up to and asked if he'd have time the following week to meet me for coffee. We got together last Monday - he had only half an hour open on his calendar - and talked for 45 minutes anyway. I asked a couple of open-ended questions and took pages of notes. I got a few names from Chris and gave him one of my own. I wrote up a report. The coordinator of the project trusts me and has asked me to interview another organization.

Now that I'm older, my instincts are better. I'm not trying to prove anything - just get the job done. If people trust me, they'll be more open. And the more I listen, the better.

2. I had a tough mediation on Wednesday. A divorcing couple needed to work out a dissolution agreement but they could not be in the same room with each other, so the two mediators had to shuttle from room to room to communicate the negotiation points. We had to listen carefully - past the anger and frustration and disappointment the two people felt - and extract the meaning in addition to the feelings. The mediation was scheduled for three hours and we were there nearly five, with a second session scheduled for this week. 

These mediations are very tiring. They require patience, good listening, an intuitive give-and-take relationship between the co-mediators. Mediators must remain neutral and nonjudgmental. If the parties trust the mediators they'll be more open. 

I trained to be a mediator after I stopped working, but I'd acquired many of the skills required in my work life and in the 12-step program I've been in for a couple of decades. It's mostly about the listening, and trusting the process.

3. My Unitarian church community is putting together a member photo book. A photography company is spending eight days at the church and the members' photo sessions are carefully scheduled. I offered to work with the church administrator to schedule the appointments and also the hosts for the sessions - community members to greet arriving people and get them set up for their photos. I probably spent 15 hours on this project in the last week. I sat in the church narthex for two hours each of the past three Sundays, sent emails and made phone calls and listened to people in person and on the phone. So far the sessions are going well and my work is nearly done. I joined this church in June, and the church administrator trusts me. I'm good with details, so I know I can be useful in my new community. 

4. I attended a couple of meetings this week where people with diverse opinions were trying to reach consensus. I have opinions of my own, but I didn't talk nearly as much as I did when I was working. I was mostly listening and then reflecting back what I heard. I think this way of participating is more useful than advocating for a particular position. This is another advantage of being a mediator. It doesn't so much matter what my point of view is if I can help a group coalesce around a common understanding.

I have an old friend I met when we were both teenagers. We lost touch about 40 years ago, but through the miracle of Facebook we made contact again last year. We've chatted several times online. I knew my friend had worked for Apple and is now at Facebook, and she told me she travels a lot for her work. The night before last she posted on Facebook from India. As we chatted I realized that my friend plays a significant role at Facebook. She said, "Mark is fun so different from Steve." I realized she was talking about Mark Zuckerberg who started Facebook and Steve Jobs who started Apple. She has been working directly with these world changers for over twelve years. I told her I was astonished she hadn't mentioned it before and commented on her humility. She said, "Well, I try to leave my ego at the door and be open to what I can learn." I said, "I'll bet you give your team all the credit." She said, "Well, I'm nothing without my team." 

I hope that on my deathbed I will be able to make statements like that. I'm not there yet. So far I can think and I can listen, but I like to take credit for those things I do well. I hope I'll move past that.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Bag Lady notices

Here's what I've noticed recently.

1. You can have family members living on your property without much stress if boundaries are established from the beginning. "Neighbors sharing a plot of land" has been a good rule for me and my husband Art and my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil. We chat nearly every day and share a couple of meals a week. Their cats go out from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and mine goes out after that. We split the cost of the utilities. Virgil works on our computers and patches little holes in the wall. Alyx the Nurse checks us out to confirm we're well. Art cooks. I mediate. Really, they've been here for five months and we're all doing well with the arrangement. None of us have kids at home, so that helps.

2. When a teenager decides he really wants to go to New York City with his grandmother, he may be motivated to pass his classes. I texted my grandson Kyle yesterday to see if he wanted to work in our yard today and he responded, "Can't because I have an English project to work on." Really? REALLY? I'm thinking June of next year he and I will be flying east. Until he was ready, though, no amount of encouragement would help. It could be he's just all of a sudden, in ninth grade, interested in school, but I doubt it.

3. You will see more of your grown son if he's doing a paying job for you. My son James fabricates and installs marble on yachts. He was supposed to be working on a nine-month job on a boat in Florida, but the deal got delayed for quite a while. James told me last week that the boat's owner is Putin's personal banker and his assets have been frozen, so no boat for now. When business is slow James looks for side jobs.  That would be our upstairs bathroom. He and his workmate Josh have been here half a dozen times in the last week as they move along on the marble project. James tells us about  odds and ends of his life. It is so good to see him.

4. If your husband decides to install the faucet for the new under-mount sink in the bathroom you should probably stay out of his way until the job is entirely done. When a 70-plus-year-old man is lying on the bathroom floor for three hours, his repaired-rotator-cuff shoulders and arms completely within the cabinet, hammering and pounding and cursing, it is useless to suggest he take a break, or let his brother-in-law help, or calm down. Useless. Tonight the water is coming out of both faucets but I can tell the job is not yet done. Tools lying around, you know, and unknown metal objects on the counter. If you make the mistake of thinking something you say will help the situation, you will be wrong.

5. If you read one of your favorite blogs and the writer notes with bafflement that no matter how much he exercises and no matter how well he eats, he is going to be powerless over the physical decline of his body, you nod with relief, because you have noticed the same thing and you thought you were the only one. My sister Alyx and I are thinking about writing a lighthearted but informative book about the aging process: why women develop wings under their upper arms; why we lose body hair in some places and grow it in others; why our night vision gets so bad; why it takes us three steps when we get up from a seated position to get ourselves moving.

6. If you spend all summer watering your corn patch and you get 15 ears of chewy corn, and then you hear that you shouldn't plant corn in the same place two years in a row, and you don't have any other place to plant the corn next year, you feel relief that next year there will be no corn in your garden.

7. If one night at dinner you have yourself and your husband Art, your brother-in-law Virgil who cooked the ribs, your stepson Jason and your grandson Kyle who shoveled gravel onto your driveway, and your houseguest Karuna who came up from California for the Jewish holiday, you can have a pretty cool dinner conversation!

8. If you are 66 and you strain your back and your shoulders from watering your garden, it will feel like they'll never heal. They do.

9. If you're annoyed with the man in the water aerobics class on Monday because he treats women like they were treated in the 50s, you'd best smile at him and give him silent credit for trying to be a good guy. Because on Thursday he might have a cerebral hemorrhage and on Friday he might be dead.

10. Each day is a gift.