Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Bag Lady reflects on a quiet week

We arrived in Tucson, our winter home, a month before high season. It's quieter then. We got busy fixing up the place and then I got pneumonia and Art got a sinus infection. We were pretty much knocked out for nearly two weeks. Antibiotics did their job, but the fatigue lingered. Neither of us felt like doing more than the minimum. 

In that time, I got quiet. Unusual for me, the doer. I learned a few things about myself.

1. I am okay with Christmas these days. Once our eight children grew up, I had a tough few years. The holiday tree made me sad, as I decorated it with all the memory-laden ornaments and realized that holidays with the kids were a thing of the past. I felt left behind for several years. Then we traveled during Christmas weeks - to Idaho and Kauai and Paris, substituting one pleasure for another. Now we are content with quiet. Aside from sending out holiday cards, putting up a small artificial tree, sending money or gift cards to our grandchildren, and gathering for Christmas dinner with over a hundred other 55+ people at our winter residence, we spent low-key days and evenings. Partly it was because we were sick and recovering - and partly because it was enough. 

2.  I am beginning to come to terms with the realities of aging. Though my brain is still quite nimble, my body is not. I do exercise but my stamina has decreased in the last few years. I injured my back nearly four years ago; the symptoms show up as tingling in my feet and I no longer expect to recover from that injury. I need to have the second cataract removed. And I no longer consider driving at night to be an option. That sense of disbelief that I am getting older is gone. I've moved past denial. Finally. Now I can move on with what comes next. I take comfort in the knowledge that everyone my age is having the same experience.

3. I have a busy life, but I'm no longer pushing myself to stay busy. I can waste time extravagantly without guilt. I noticed this especially when I was sick, since I didn't have the energy to do much besides sit. Now that I feel like being more active, I don't plan to go go go all day. I've set aside one a day a week to write. And I plan to do a lot more reading.

4. I'm letting go of unnecessary complexity. I spend less time thinking about what's going on in the lives of family members. They will find their way. I'm not obsessing about my health or the health of others. I'm not worrying about the state of the world. I'm learning that if my mind is quiet, it's receptive to other possibilities. I think of what Mark Twain said: "I am an old man, and I have had many troubles, but most of them never happened."

5. Nearly five years into retirement, one of my greatest pleasures is still sleeping as long as I want, most mornings. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Let's hear it for antibiotics

The virus that began in our Washington household with my sister Alyx just before Thanksgiving had two outcomes. It led to a secondary bacterial infection, and it spread from Alyx to her husband Virgil, who carried it from Washington to Arizona to me and to my husband Art. Thanks to the miracle of antibiotics we are all on the mend - Virgil and Art from sinus infections, and Alyx and me from pneumonia.

Pneumonia used to be a very big deal before antibiotics were developed. It still is in the elderly population. It's been called "the old person's friend"; indeed, my mother had pneumonia five times in the last six months of her life. I call it the "don't give a shit" illness. When I woke up on Wednesday after six days with a cough and realized I didn't give a shit about anything, I knew it was time to go to the urgent care clinic in Tucson. The knowledge was reinforced when Art's blood work at the VA came back with a high white count. We picked up his prescription from the VA and drove directly to urgent care. I got two shots in the butt - cortisone and an antibiotic - and spent 20 minutes breathing in some formulation to open up my airway, then picked up prescriptions for z-pack, cortisone, cough medicine and an inhaler. The nurse practitioner told me I'd feel better in three days. I felt somewhat better within five hours. The coughing is minimal now, I'm breathing fine, and I can tell I'm on the mend. But my energy is low. So I'm resting a lot.

Here's what I learned this week in my adventure with pneumonia:

1. If you can hear your lungs bubbling when you exhale, you should go to the doctor.
2. If you have an HMO in Washington State with no reciprocal arrangement with an HMO in Arizona, you learn how to get your costs covered by reading the part of your contract called "out-of-network services." In the meantime, you keep your credit card handy at the urgent care clinic and at the pharmacy across the street.
3. If you have plans to drive six hours to San Diego to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with your daughter and son-in-law, you cancel them. You might feel completely recovered by Tuesday, but you probably won't be. And that's just you. You also have a recuperating spouse.
4. You feel pretty good when you get up in the morning, but after an hour or two of small household tasks you sit down or lie down. You do not go for a walk. You do not go to the solstice service you were looking forward to. You do not wash the outside windows. What you do instead is read or spend time with your computer or watch the birds around the feeder or watch the cat watching the birds.
5. Antibiotics are a miracle and you are grateful you live in a time that has them.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's different when you own the place

After two years of renting our park model at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson, we bought it. We like the location and the layout, and the purchase last March just confirmed what we already believed: the place was ours. It felt good to leave some of our stuff when we returned to our Pacific Northwest home at the end of the season.

So it's time to make it our own. Here's what we've done since arriving two weeks ago:

1. We brought Larisa, our Designer Cat. Though our park model is in the non-pet section, there's an unwritten understanding about indoor cats. I have told Larisa she has to be an indoor cat during our months in Arizona. So far, she seems agreeable. To make that easier for her, we bought a cat condo - a structure for sharpening claws, climbing, and sitting off the floor. She's explored it, motivated by the treats I put on each level a couple of times a day. We've also ordered a smaller structure for by the door of the Arizona room, and a cat bed for lounging. Larisa lived under our bed until three days ago. Now she sleeps on the bed and comes out for dinner and treats in the condo. Her normal life has resumed in a different residence.

2. I brought a quilt from home and replaced the comforter on the bed. The comforter will go in a plastic bag for use by visitors who will sleep on our air mattress.

3. We bought a metal javalina at the vendor fair on Wednesday to put in the tiny desert garden in front of our park model. It's in memory of Bud, our potbellied pig, who lived to be nearly 19 and looked an awful lot like a javalina, though pigs and javalinas are not related at all. I thought it would look tacky, but where Art placed the little metal animal it looks kind of cool - like the javalina is eating the cactus out there.

I did A LOT of internet research. Then:

4. I ordered a table with adjustable legs from Ikea. I have a standing computer table at home, and I'll be able to do the same thing here as soon as the table parts arrive. I can tell my back and neck are not crazy about my computer work at the dining table.

5. I ordered a 99-gallon deck box for storing items we need but don't use regularly: extra blankets and comforters, tools, storage boxes. It should fit just fine in a corner of our deck.

6. We ordered the parts needed to repair or replace the rods for the eight sets of one-inch aluminum blinds that cover the windows in our front room. Last year I had to stretch to reach the little turning piece at the top of the blind. Now that we own the place, we can reinstall the rods to twist instead. We also downloaded the manual for our oven and figured out how to set the thermostat.

7. We bought a Coleman portable bbq from Amazon. Actually, I ordered two by mistake. Though the shipping was free on both, returning one of them will cost $45. So I've placed an ad on the bulletin board in the activities complex to see if we can sell it to avoid the return postage. I figure one mistake is human, but I wish the extra something had been more lightweight.

8. We set up two laptop computers and a wireless printer. The printer ran out of black ink quite soon so I have ordered more ink - an ongoing expense, unfortunately.

We're pretty much set up now, so we're getting on with our winter activities.

9. We started our community activities: we took line dancing lessons on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning Art sat at a table at our every-other-week vendor fair and sold four of our Vietnam books. He told me they would be Christmas presents. He also talked to four Vietnam vets who came by. In the afternoon I went to the current events discussion. And Art has signed up to be in the cast of the Second Annual Voyager Light Opera's play, Guys and Dolls (abridged version). He had rehearsals on Monday and Thursday afternoons and, as of today, has purchased his costume and props from Goodwill in Tucson.

10. And we both have bad colds. Climate change, maybe?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Larisa the Designer Cat's Great Adventure

You probably know They call me the Designer Cat, but you might not know why. I am a Siberian Forest Cat and genetically my saliva does not contain the protein that makes people allergic to cats. I lived in a cattery in Oregon until I was nearly five. I had 26 kittens in five litters and most of them are hypoallergenic too. We are a Special Breed. I came to live with Him and Her when I was finished having all my kittens.

My People - He and She - go away often. They call it traveling. Since I came to live in Their house four years ago, They have taken 38 trips. They leave me in the house with Other People who feed me and pet me and clean out my box.

A month ago a black Sherpa bag came to live in the living room. It was made out of canvas and it had mesh places to see into and a door. Usually when I would look in the box there would be two treats for me, so of course I'd go into the box to gobble up the treats. Sometimes I sat on the door which was open on the ground. Once or twice I took a nap in there.

Then two weeks ago She started putting this blue harness on me during the day. It itched a little at first, but I got used to it. A couple of days later She attached a leash to the harness and tugged on it a little. That felt odd but it wasn't scary.

On Monday last week He packed suitcases and coolers and loaded them into the blue Prius and then He and the Other He got in the car and drove away. But She was still in the house. That was different from the other traveling.

On Wednesday morning She put my harness on me. I went into the Sherpa bag for my treats and She attached the leash to my harness and closed the door and zipped it up. She told me we were going to ride on an airplane to Tucson. I have only done that once before and it was a long time ago when I was a kitten, so I don't remember much. The doorbell rang and She put on her backpack and picked me up in the Sherpa bag and we left the house and got in her Friend's car and drove to the airport. I meowed a few times to let them know I was there, but the ride wasn't so bad.

At the airport a lot of people were moving around and I got scared and pounded on the walls of my Sherpa bag. She carried my bag in a different hand then, and then all I could see was Her legs walking. She talked to a lady about me and the lady gave her a piece of paper called a ticket.

Then more walking. She carried me to a place called TSA-Pre Security. She opened my bag and reached in for me and bundled me into her arms, talking to me in her mmmmmmm-hmmmmmm voice which I know is a good sound. We walked through a machine and then she put me back in my bag and we walked some more. She sat in a chair and put me in my bag in front of her facing her legs so that was all I could see.

We walked again, down a ramp and onto an airplane. We got to go first since we needed extra time to get settled. She talked to me mmmmmmm-hmmmmm again and she slid me and my bag under the seat in front of her. I was pretty sleepy so I took a little nap.

Then a loud noise started and then the airplane started moving fast and going up in the sky. I pounded on my bag again because I was scared. After a few minutes the loud noise went away and She unzipped my bag just a little and gave me a treat. I tried to get out but She pushed my head back in.

I took a long nap then, for about three hours, and then the airplane came down from the sky. The loud noise started again and the airplane slowed down very fast. I pounded on my bag and I was really scared and I threw up inside my bag in a place where I wouldn't step in it.

We walked some more and She called a place called Thrifty Car and a van came and She got in with me in my bag. Pretty soon the van stopped and we went into a little building for a few minutes, and then we walked across a parking lot and there was a different car there. She opened the trunk and opened my bag and I got out inside the trunk. I still had on my leash. She offered me some water but I wasn't thirsty. Then she put some of my favorite food on a little cloth and I was hungry and I ate about 25 pieces of the food while She changed my bag liner and put in a clean one.

She put me back in my bag then and in the front passenger seat of the car. We were driving to a place called PetSmart. She told me they had a new litter box for me and a big bag of cat litter.

When we got to PetSmart, She got out of the car and opened the trunk again. I think She was looking for something She'd left in the trunk while I was eating. She closed the trunk and then locked the car door with me inside. It was a nice day outside, sunny and warm - not like where I live where it's usually raining this time of year and cold. I settled in for another nap now that I had eaten.

Then I saw Her face in the window. She looked scared. She ran into the store for a minute and then ran back out. She talked to someone on the phone. She was holding the phone with one hand and running her hand through her hair with the other hand. She talked on the phone for 20 minutes and She looked scared the whole time. I wondered what the problem was, but I was getting sleepy.

Then a man came to the window. He had a long thin stick and a couple of other tools and he was doing something to the door of the car. Pretty soon the door opened and She leaned in and talked to me. I looked at her and blinked. She said thank you to the man and he went away. She opened the trunk of the car and found Her keys in there. That was a good thing, She said.

Then She went back into the store and in a few minutes She came out with my litter box and litter. She put it in the trunk and we drove for about 20 minutes and then She stopped the car and got out. She came around to my side and took me and my bag out of the car. We went up four steps and into a different house. This house is small and it is called a Park Model. She let me out of the bag. I explored the new house and then I found a bed and crawled under it.

I stayed under the bed for four hours. It was dark under there and it was safe. I could hear Her moving around the house, and every so often She would talk to me. Once I came out from under the bed and I found a hole in Her closet where I could hide too. That wasn't as good a hiding place because She could reach into the hole and pull me out. So I went back under the bed.

Now I have been in this Park Model for four days. He is here and She is here and the Other He is here until tomorrow when the Other He goes back to the other house. I have new dishes for food and water right next to the kitchen. My new litter box is in the Arizona Room where it is quiet. I have a climbing thing They bought yesterday at the pet store, and four new toys, and a new collar. Sometimes there is catnip which I especially like. I sleep on the back of the new couch just like I do at home. Today I started taking my nap on Their bed instead of under it. I am getting used to the Noises outside. People walk by, and I can hear Trains sometimes. The only different thing is that I have to stay inside. They leave the screen door open so I can look out, but I can't go exploring at night like I do at home. Still, I am with Them and I am purring. We will live in this Park Model until April and then we will go home.

If you have questions for Larisa the Designer Cat, tell Her what they are and She will probably answer you.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Flexibility is the name of the game

I'm a planner. I plan travel, financing, schedules and holidays. When I was younger, I would make a plan and want everyone to go along with my plan. If they didn't, I'd be mad or frustrated. If people would just do things MY way, everything would turn out great.

These days, as part of my planning, I pay attention to what's important to the other people involved and I don't have fixed solutions. Here are a few examples:

WE HAD seven people for Thanksgiving. Two of those are grown sons James and Peter. They both live within 20 minutes of us and they are both football enthusiasts. Usually on Thanksgiving at our house, we decide on a time for dinner. Sons show up, eat, and stay a bit before saying, "Well, I gotta go. Thanks, you guys." Then I'm disappointed because I didn't see much of them. This year, I looked at the football game schedule. There was a game at 1:30 and another one - with our team (Seahawks) playing - at 5:30. So we scheduled dinner for 4:30 and asked people to be there at 1. They showed up, they chatted for a bit, and they turned on the 1:30 football game. At breaks they came out and prepared whatever they'd been delegated to fix. At the end of the game we gathered at the table, talked about what we were grateful for, and ate a fabulous meal. After dinner we cleared the table and then everyone returned to the living room to watch the Seahawks game together - even those of us not crazy about football. The gathering broke up at about 9.  Wonderful day!

If I'm flexible around time, things go better. If you've got football people in your house, it's senseless to set a dinnertime that ignores the game and its importance.

WE'RE LEAVING this week for our winter home in Tucson. Since we bought the place we'd been renting for the last two years, we'll be taking our Designer Cat, Larisa. Usually Art and I drive from Seattle to Tucson in four days. This year Art and my brother-in-law Virgil are doing the drive in two days, with an overnight stop in Ogden, Utah. I am flying with Larisa. Four days in a car with a cat sounds dreadful to me.

I would prefer Art and Virgil take it easy on the drive. They're not young men. But I have no control over how they do their trip. The best I can do is suggest a motel in Ogden, which is about halfway to Tucson. And ask them to text when they arrive. They don't have the same priority as I do about this trip. Or at least I don't think so. I want them to be safe. They want to get there!

I NEED a ride to the airport on Wednesday morning. The men will be gone. My sister will be getting off work at about the time I need to leave home. I don't want to pay for a shuttle or leave my car at the airport for a week. Then I met my friend Lillian for coffee and she said, "I'll take you to the airport." I didn't even think of asking! I knew something would work out, and it did. My only requirement was to be at the airport at about 8:30.

I HAVE to take Larisa out of her carrier going through security and hold her while we go through the metal detector. She has never been to the airport. I heard tales of cats who escaped and were lost in the airport for a month. I need to have a calm cat. I tried Happy Traveler, a calming supplement, on her a few weeks ago. Sprinkled it in her food. She got completely stoned - jumped into a box and stared at me for an hour with huge eyes. So that won't work. I bought a harness and a leash. Larisa has been wearing the harness for a few hours a day and the leash for a few minutes a day and she has made friends with the carrier because it often has treats in it.  I noticed online tonight that so far there is no one sitting in the middle seat next to my window seat. Maybe we'll have a little extra room. Maybe I'll get a first class upgrade. I have no idea how this travel plan is going to work. I have to be flexible. I suspect Larisa will be happier with us in Arizona for four months in a new place than she will be at home for four months without us. I know I will be happier!

Larisa will be the author of the next post.