Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Bag Lady is still learning

This Tucson season has been a learning time for me. It's our third year here, and we're no longer new to the idea of getting away to a sunny place in the winter. Now we just live here for four months of the year. Here's what I learned this year:

1.  Its not ALWAYS sunny here. We had a dozen or so days of rain. Half a dozen days of wind strong enough to keep us indoors. A few just-plain-cloudy ones. Some that were sunny but cool. And now, toward the end of our stay, mostly sunny with temps climbing into the 80s. Even with the variety of weather between December and April, Tucson is a good place to be living.

2. It's different when you own the place. We bought the trailer we'd rented for two years near the end of last season. Since then we've spent a chunk of money making it our own. Some was by choice - removing the popcorn ceiling, painting to cover a lot of the wood paneling and to brighten the interior, adding lamps and track lighting and pillows and throws,  replacing the deck chairs with more comfortables ones, buying a sleeper sofa for visitors and a cat condo for Larisa the Designer Cat.  

And some was necessary. A chronic leak behind the shower required the removal of the shower area, replacement of sheetrock and floor, and rebuilding of the whole bathroom. We've been using the public showers for ten days now. We have two more days before our bathroom is our own again.

3. We live quite well in 600 square feet of space. We have everything we need and not much extra. I love the simplicity of the place.

4. I can spend time in conversation with conservatives. The Current Events discussion on Wednesdays has been a growing experience for many of us, I think. The 25 of us are quite polarized in our views, but we're learning to be respectful to each other most of the time, and we laugh more often. I suspect - and this may be my ego speaking - that my "curious questions" over the last two years, which have resulted in thoughtful discussions, have been helpful.  For example, my question "I don't know much about the immigration issue. What's been the history of immigration law?" led to a review of the last 60 years and clarified how our divergent views are just different solutions to the same underlying issue. It's the mediator in me that wants to find common ground.

5. I usually say yes to new opportunities, but if I don't ask my questions before doing so, I'm likely to have expectations that don't get met. In three situations this year I said yes to positions of responsibility and then got ticked off when things didn't work out the way I thought they would. If I'm simply a participant, other people's opinions and solutions are fine with me. So I will probably be asking my questions before I say yes. I hadn't realized it was a pattern in my personality ("character defect", if you will) that I can change.

6. Not every group has cordial, collaborative meetings! I encountered arm waving, shouting and interrupting earlier this week. I had forgotten how that can happen. I sat quietly and watched.

7. When you keep your door open you hear the sounds of the day: wind chimes, birdsong, neighbors talking, bicycles and golf carts and cars. And of the night: trains, wind, coyotes. Better than music!

8.  I have made more new friends this year besides continuing to enjoy the ones I met in previous years.  Hanna is 55 and one of the younger people here; she's from British Columbia. Florence is 87, retired from New York. I also had good conversations with Rae, Tammy, Bob and Sue, PJ and Mer, Susie, Eve, Carol, Jared and Nancy, Ronnie and Tom, Mel, JoAnne and Fay. Most of these people will be leaving for home in the next couple of weeks. I'm talking about conversation. Not small talk. I love it!

9. I like riding my bicycle. I didn't really get into it until this month for some reason. I can't wear flip flops when I ride, so I finally put on socks and shoes. I'm increasing my distance gradually each time I ride. Yesterday I did nine miles, I think, all inside the park. Our bicycles live here in Tucson because it's fairly flat and easy to ride. I'm considering buying another one when we get back to Washington. It's not quite as convenient to ride in my neighborhood there because of the hills, but there are nearby trails.

10. My cat really does like me better when I bring her along.

Here's a recent feature about the Voyager, where we live in the winter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

It's warming up in Tucson

Temperatures in Tucson are warming up; it was over 80 degrees today. I suspect we'll have a 90-degree day by the first of April. That's the time we'll be leaving for home. I'm flying home with Larisa the Designer Cat on April 4; Art will begin the three-day drive a few days after that.

Here at the Voyager, the end-of-season activities are underway. We have potluck gatherings scheduled for the Reimagining God and Great Decisions groups. A cast party for Guys and Dolls. Friends to help us celebrate St. Patrick's Day by sharing Art's traditional corned beef and cabbage. Dinner with the couple who were our landlords last year. Our handbell group plays next Sunday at the resort's church service and the following night at a concert. I can see the calendar thinning out over the next two weeks. That will be good: I can get the taxes done and spend time sunning at the pool (yes, sunscreen is a good thing). It feels like the end of the school year - busy and bittersweet.

Here's what I love, love, love about this place:

  • I can be as busy as I want to be: discussion groups, water aerobics, dinners with friends, conversation conversation conversation, music, art, crafts of all kinds, dance lessons and dances. Sometimes I'm too busy.
  • We live well and contentedly in a small space - just 620 square feet including our Arizona room.
  • The community is walkable. We can also ride our bicycles. Some people have electric golf carts. 
  • We wave to people as we walk, and we say good morning.
  • There's a restaurant on the resort and the food is pretty good.
  • I can hear trains - and the wind chimes on my deck.
  • The terrain is mostly flat, but there are mountains all around. And glorious sunsets.
Here's what I love, love, love about our Washington home:
  • I can be almost as busy as I want to be: mediation, water aerobics, coffee or lunch with friends, opportunities to be with my church community, time with family.
  • We live well and contentedly in the house that's been home for nearly 20 years, with all the memories that entails. 
  • The hills in our neighborhood mean good aerobic exercise, and the espresso stand is a great break at about the halfway point of my neighborhood walk. I haven't had an espresso since we left home on December 3.
  • When I see a neighbor I can stop and chat. All ages of neighbors, from the couple up the street who are well into their 80s to the young family next door.
  • There are three restaurants within walking distance and the food is pretty good!
  • I can hear the sounds of the neighborhood - and the wind chimes when there's a front coming through.
Good places to be, Arizona and Washington. We are blessed.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The saga of Angie the Ox

This post is a combination of a piece I wrote for my writer's group (names have been changed)  and follow-up comments about Guys and Dolls, the musical my husband Art just finished performing in.

Marvin laughed with the two other cast members playing gamblers. They'd just finished running through their scene in Act 1 of Guys and Dolls and were standing in the aisle in front of the stage, where the Hot Box number was being rehearsed. Marvin couldn't remember when he'd enjoyed himself more learning how to do something new. Each of his five sisters had done some acting when they were younger, but he'd never invested the time or interest in such activities. His sisters were somewhat frivolous creatures so of course he'd stayed away.

This was fun, though. He was 72 years old and he'd been cast as Angie the Ox in the play being put on at the Arizona resort where he lived in the winter with his wife. It was actually Ellie's idea. He had to admit every now and then she came up with a good idea, though many of her suggestions weren't of much use. The rehearsals were Monday and Thursday afternoons and some Sundays. He'd been reluctant to commit that much time to one activity, but he was glad he had. The gamblers were a humorous bunch, and all about his age or a little older. They ribbed each other about their lines, their costumes - his own was an orange shirt, a yellow tie, a blue suit jacket and a derby with a wide orange band - and generally shot the breeze as men do. Marvin was something of a loner ordinarily. Until this play.

This morning he hadn't been sure he'd make it to rehearsal. He'd had a couple of little dizzy spells that he'd actually admitted to Ellie. It had been over a year since he'd had any, and he well remembered the sensation. Ellie said she'd postpone her errands just in case even though she thought he probably just wasn't drinking enough water in this dry climate. The dizziness passed, though, and he'd looked forward to this afternoon's run through.

The director called for quiet and Marvin sat down to review his script. He only had three lines but he wanted to be absolutely sure he would nail them. Then he felt a wave of dizziness, stronger than the ones this morning. And then the defibrillator did its job. After 13 months of nothing.  He hadn't expected to be shocked after all this time. And though it wasn't as bad as he'd anticipated - more like a large man punching him in the chest than like a horse kicking him - Marvin dropped to his knees, shaking.

Of course, right away he was the center of attention, as half a dozen cast members gathered around him. Someone suggested calling 9-1-1, but that was because no one knew he had a defibrillator implanted in his chest. It was last year that 9-1-1 was called, when he had a cardiac arrest on the pickleball court. Same sensation of dizziness, but that time he had blacked out - and apparently died for a brief time - until Ellie did CPR on him and another fellow shocked him with an AED. At the hospital he'd had all the tests run. No blockage of the arteries, a healthy heart. Just low potassium and dehydration. He spent three nights in the hospital while they watched him, then changed up his blood pressure meds, and then finally put in the pacemaker/defibrillator just in case. No one seemed to know exactly what happened except that it was some kind of electrical issue. They told him to take it easy for six weeks or so, which he did, and once he and Ellie had gone home in the spring he pretty much got back to the business of his life.

So here he was again, reminded. He asked someone to find Ellie. She came fairly quickly and he assured her he was fine. She said they should go to the ER as they'd been instructed a year ago. Marvin hated to leave the rehearsal but he knew she was right. He hoped he'd be back at the next rehearsal. It would be such a shame to miss out. 

And now, the rest of the story.

After two nights at the hospital to get checked out and have his meds adjusted, Marvin (Art) came home and resumed his normal life. After two more weeks of rehearsals, Guys and Dolls played to full houses at our winter Arizona home. I attended the second performance, on Friday night, with my sister Alyx (who flew in from Seattle) and Art's daughter and son-in-law, Melissa and Scott (who drove from San Diego). It was a lively, heartfelt performance, delightful to watch. 

Art as Angie the Ox

Alyx and I crafted a bouquet of orange silk flowers from Michael's, and Melissa presented them to her dad at the end of the show.

We'll be getting back to our normal lives now - maybe walking together or riding our bikes. What a fabulous memory we'll have of Angie the Ox!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Bag Lady ruffles some feathers

Here in Tucson, I'm in a couple of discussion groups where I have kind of a leadership role. I think I have ruffled some feathers this week.

"Great Decisions is America's largest discussion program on world affairs." So says the Foreign Policy Association that sponsors it all over the United States. At our resort there are five discussion groups; mine was established three years ago and is the newest of the five. I'm the moderator for the group - responsible for organizational coordination with other groups, communication to my own group, and facilitating the discussions.

Great Decisions has been going on at our resort for over 20 years. The other moderators have been around for almost that long, so they are old hands. Each year we lose some participants (mostly due to moving away or death - this is a 55+ resort, after all) and pick up some new ones. To promote the program, flyers are put up on community bulletin boards, a blurb is included in the monthly resort newsletter, the program has a table at the Saturday morning coffee sessions in January with pictures of the various groups from prior years. There's also a "Show and Tell" in March for the many activities at the resort to display their work.
I wondered whether these promotion activities were yielding results. So last Thursday I asked each of my 12 participants how they got started with Great Decisions. All but one had seen a flyer or a notice in the resort newsletter or had talked to someone who was in the program. Only one had found out about it at a Saturday coffee. No one had heard about it through Show and Tell. 

I sent the result of my poll to my fellow moderators. This year we're not going to participate in Show and Tell and we're not going to take group photos. If the goal is to increase participation in the program, we need to talk about it. People who are drawn to foreign affairs discussions will find us.  

My other group is called Re-Imagining God. It's kind of a spiritual discussion group, not based on a religion but in the sense we have that there's something out there that's greater than us, and that in some sense we're all one. There's very little talk of God and none of religion. This year I am on the planning committee.

I was tasked one week with finding a political or religious conservative to participate in a communication training session. I had a hard time. Several people were put off by the group's title. When I look around the room, everyone in the group is liberal; we may say we're welcoming and inclusive, but it doesn't look like it.

I wondered if changing the group name might be helpful. I talked to a friend in the group and we explored possible alternatives like Safe Harbor and Elder Seekers. Then the friend thought of "Re-Imagining" as a prefix for the theme of the year - Re-Imagining Oneness, Re-Imagining Ourselves, Re-Imagining Politics, Re-Imagining Communication. I suggested this idea to the group's founder and organizer. She wasn't interested.

On the home front, where I can make decisions, we're moving along:
  • I have a wonderful new night guard for my teeth, courtesy of my Mexican dentist.
  • The painting of the park model will be done by the end of this week - no more dark wood paneling!
  • We bought the Levelor blinds that will replace the dark curtains in the Arizona room.
  • We found a small, comfortable patio set for a great price, and we only had to go back to Lowe's once to get the right legs for the table.
  • Husband Art's play is next weekend and we're ready for the family coming in from San Diego and Seattle.
  • I've made my plane reservations to travel home on Saturday, April 4, with Larisa the Designer Cat.
  • My hairdresser has helped me go gray faster rather than waiting for the old color to grow out.