Sunday, January 25, 2015

A year ago this weekend

It's been a year since my husband Art had a cardiac arrest while playing pickleball with me at our winter home in Tucson. Here's what I said last winter about that experience: and

I'd say it was a life-changing experience. I realized that we are not guaranteed happily ever after. It can change in a heartbeat -  or a lack of one. To that end, we've had a busy year full of learning.

  • I was Art's advocate while he was in the hospital. I listened to the doctors as they discussed possible diagnoses and prescribed new medications. They took him off one medication and added two new ones. Pacemaker appointments were scheduled, and follow-up visits. We were in Tucson and our medical insurance carrier is in Seattle, so it was up to me to keep everyone informed. Until Art got used to his health regimen I was the reminder and the encourager. But after three months Art wanted to take over his own care. That was when I had a problem: how to let go of the responsibilities I'd taken on and trust Art to assume them. That phase was a bigger adjustment for me than for him.
  • I wanted Art to take it easy. He wanted to live his life. I had to let him.
  • We decided to stay in the States this year, to put off international travel until he had a year of recovery behind him. We took trips to Idaho, Maine, the Washington coast and Hawaii, and came to Arizona in December. On the first two trips my eye was on Art. On the latter three it wasn't. I had learned to trust his judgment.
  • We bought the park model we'd rented in Tucson for two winters. I love the sun and Art loves the arthritis relief. There's no time like the present to plan for living.
  • I joined the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church. I had learned the importance of a spiritual community.
  • We invited family - my sister and her husband - to live indefinitely with us on our property. In a nurturing family, everybody wins.
  • We planted a big garden and harvested strawberries and raspberries and blueberries and grapes and lettuce and spinach and radishes and beets and tomatoes. We watched a mother bird sit on her nest in our grape arbor and we watched the babies hatch and then we grieved when bigger birds found them. Life happened in our garden.
Yesterday we celebrated a year of Art's recovery with a trip to a Tucson nursery for a tomato start (a winter garden) and lunch with Arizona friends.

We are living a blessed life.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Annoying and the Just Plain Fun

I do this to myself. I get asked to do something and I am flattered and I say yes.

Two winters ago I signed up for a program called Great Decisions. It's a national program for groups to read about and discuss foreign affairs issues. I knew very little about foreign affairs but I was curious to learn, so I went. I had to give a presentation - lead a topic discussion, that is - and I was very scared, like I'd signed up for a class but never had gone and was now heading for the final. I felt like an impostor. But Dick, the facilitator, asked me after that meeting if I would be the facilitator for the group for the next year. So I did that. And now I am doing it again. I still don't know much about foreign affairs. But coordinating a group, from signups to assignment of topics, to juggling the doctor appointments of presenters, to planning a season-end potluck, takes some time. Fortunately, I'm good with details. And the people in my group seem to like what we do. But it's no longer flattering. Just annoying sometimes.

I'm also in this discussion group called Reimagining God. It's mostly people who were in churches and left them or people who never had much religion. This group is mostly liberal in politics and spirituality and I like going because I have my own spiritual-but-not-religious thoughts and I'm interested in hearing about the opinions of others. So this year, the woman (a retired Methodist minister) asked me if I'd be on the steering committee for the group to format and guide the discussions. I was flattered and I said yes. Now I find myself doing a little mediation as ideas not held in common get discussed. I know I'm needed, but it's a little different from what I had in mind.

Those annoying things are of my making, but this last thing is not. We paid $80 to go on a tour at dusk last Friday to watch the sandhill cranes coming in from the fields for the night. Thousands of these birds winter in the area about 80 miles east of us. We went on the tour, but we spent our time near a lake watching other birds, and then at an observation deck watching the cranes from a distance. Then we came back 45 minutes before the tour was supposed to end, without ever going to see where the cranes came in to roost in the evening. It was like the tour guides forgot to take us there. When we got back to the administration center I complained - politely. I told the lady we wouldn't have paid for a tour that didn't include the dusk viewing. So the head of the Wings Over Willcox festival is going to call me in the next day or so. I'm hoping for a refund. Then we'll go over there on our own and watch the cranes.

And in the Just Plain Fun category? When we're home in Washington, we rarely have anyone knock on our door. Usually I meet friends for coffee or email or text. Here in Arizona, people just knock on the door. "Hello?" It might be our friend Judy wanting to know if we'd like to go to dinner and a movie, or our neighbor Barb offering a start from the plants she picked up yesterday at the nursery, or our old friends Ann and Larry stopping by to let us know they've arrived at the resort. Things are quite spontaneous here. Last night we did go to dinner and a movie with Judy and her husband Ken. We saw "Wild". It was the first movie we've seen in a theater since last February, when we went with Judy and Ken to see "Nebraska".

This week we will be planting spinach and lettuce and peas and radishes in a tiny garden in back of our park model. We'll eat them by April when we go home. And in May we'll plant the same things in our garden at home. Like Groundhog Day!

Life here has a light touch.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A week in the life of a snowbird

We've been living in our park model in Tucson for six weeks, but high season is just starting and so are some of the many activities offered at this 55+ RV resort, the Voyager. Here's what happened this week in the lives of the two snowbirds in this household.

The second annual Voyager Light Opera is producing Guys and Dolls (Jr) and will have two performances the first week in March. I did a few high school and summer community musicals and I knew how time-consuming and mind-absorbing they are. But my husband Art had never experienced the delight of the stage. I asked him if he wanted me to sign him up and he said, "Whatever." I took that as a yes, and he is now Angie the Ox, attending six to nine hours of rehearsals a week. We have scheduled our entire winter season around these rehearsals. If an extra rehearsal is called, Art is committed to attend, so I rearrange our plans. Art appears to be enjoying himself, and I am happy about that because this is the first time in the three years we have been coming to the Voyager that he is participating in an activity without me. Last year he was recovering from a cardiac arrest, and mostly all he did was read.

I had my first handbell practice on Tuesday. I learned to play handbells over 30 years ago, and it had been over 25 years since I'd played when I got here two years ago. This year I'm playing four notes in the bass clef (G,G#, A and A#) rather than the four notes I played in the treble clef (D, D#, E and F) before. I'm grateful that reading music is like riding a bicycle - you don't forget how to do it. The biggest problem I have with handbells is figuring out which of my three pairs of glasses works best for reading music that's two feet away from me at eye level. We'll have two performances in late March - one at the nondenominational Sunday service at the Voyager, and another with the Voyager Show Choir.

Also on Tuesday we met up with a group of people who traveled from the Voyager to a Methodist Church in Tucson last year. This church had a very, very progressive minister and, though Art and I are not Methodists, we enjoyed the services. But the minister retired in May. The new minister came to the Voyager to meet with the group and said we could ask him any questions we wanted. And we did. Most of the group members are spiritual seekers and we wanted to find out whether the new minister is liberal enough for us. Art and I are still undecided.

On Wednesday I met with our former landlord (we bought their place last March after renting it for two winters) and we went over the home inspection report they'd had done when they bought the park model in 2007). We wanted to know which of the inspector's suggestions had been carried out. They all had.

Also this week I talked to Gary, who washes windows, and got an estimate for the outside windows. It was much less expensive than at home in Seattle. And the painter, Tammy, came by to talk about ideas for making our home brighter. There's a paneled Arizona room that has never been painted. We want everything to be brightened up and for the park model to feel comfortable and welcoming. When we were renters we took it as it was. Now we get to make it our own. The windows will be washed on  Thursday and the painting will happen in February.

I'm a facilitator for one of the five Great Decisions (conversations about selected foreign affairs topics) groups at the Voyager. On Wednesday I picked up 20 "briefing books" for my group.That program starts next week.

Then I went to Current Events, an energy-filled event each week. Participants run the gamut from Tea Party conservatives to flaming liberals, with a healthy infusion of reasonable Canadians. We talked for over an hour about the current low gas prices - why they're low and what the various outcomes of the low prices might be. Most of the participant are way more knowledgeable than I am and I always learn. I especially like this group because I'm a political moderate and I want to understand the thinking of conservatives.

On Friday I started back to water aerobics, after taking a few weeks to recover from last month's pneumonia. It always surprises me how quickly I lose conditioning when I miss regular exercise, but I know it will return.

Next week?  Monday we go to the first gathering of the Reimagining God group, an interesting and engaging program for seekers. Tuesday I start my eight-week conversational Spanish class while Art goes to beginning line dancing lessons. Wednesday, Art will do his vendor booth at Market Daze, selling our book about Viet Nam and talking to veterans who come by.

Friday we'll take an hour-long drive to Willcox, Arizona, where the sand cranes winter. Willcox has a festival every year, and we'll be taking a tour at dusk, watching the birds return to their nests from a day foraging in the fields. I understand the cranes are beautiful.

At home, Art and I are taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Class) in microeconomics, and I'm taking one separately on Genetics and Evolution.

And I am on Level 678 in Candy Crush!

We have a variety of activities but we have plenty of downtime. Fortunately!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Blog response from a friend

In my blog post last week I discussed some realizations I've come to about the changing nature of Christmas, the physical realities of aging, and my growing abilities to relax rather than being constantly on the go and to let go of unnecessary complexity. I was recuperating from pneumonia and spending quiet time, so I was noticing these things about myself.

Several of the responses were from people I haven't heard from before and most acknowledged a similar situation in themselves. I'm always interested in hearing that I'm not the only one experiencing such and such physical or mental or emotional issue. I love that we're all in this together.

Then I heard by email from a good friend of mine who had a different take on my post. She said, "You need to come home soon. I miss you and you sound depressed. Sorry to be blunt. You are NOT old. We all experience those aches but we don't have PMS or cramps any more or all that awful angst about 'who am I?' I have a ton of energy and can't wait to get up in the morning - we need to see if your CPAP is working correctly. If I was there with you I would kick your butt. Be glad the kids are grown and gone. Job accomplished - well done. This is your time."

I am 66 and this friend is a year or two older than me. She has just recently retired. She is smart and interesting and relishing her new freedom. I respect her opinion so I took another look at what I'd written that prompted her response.

I had forgotten about the PMS and the cramps but I am heartily glad to have them in my past. And the existential angst? I've noticed myself being more accepting and calm about The Way Things Are. I'm pretty content with who I am now. These are only a few of the gifts of aging. I'm thinking if I were given a choice to be 46 again, or 66, I'd take the 66.

I think sometimes I lose sight of what I've gained and pay attention to what I've lost. That's not good, and I'm grateful to my friend for the virtual kick in the butt.

So here's another take on my thoughts of last week.

1. I'm grateful for all the years of Christmas with kids and the years when we traveled or just enjoyed quiet times.

2. I'm grateful that I'm past PMS and cramps and angst, and for modern medicine that provides cataract surgery to millions of elders.

3. I'm grateful to be surrounded by people and activities that interest or provoke or confirm, and that I have the freedom to choose what I'll do with each day.

4. I'm grateful that I'm learning to let go of things over which I have no control and to pay attention to ways I can be useful.

5. I'm grateful that I can sleep until it's light outside.

As usual, it's a matter of perspective.