Sunday, May 31, 2015

A quality of life

Quality of life. Mostly I think of this phrase when thinking about very old people - not me for sure! - and  how they want to live in their final years. It's almost a catchphrase, calling up choices for the elderly.

This week I thought about quality of life in terms of how things are going right now for me and mine. I had this idea, when I quit working, five years ago, that I'd continue to set goals for myself and continue to keep a to-do list as well as a bucket list. I did that for about the first three years. But it's different now.

I think it changed when my husband Art had a cardiac arrest a year ago last January. He's fine now - living normally with a pacemaker/IED and a few meds - but the impact of that event has remained with me. The ups and downs of fear and uncertainly, the exploration to find a cause, the occasional episodes that send us to the ER or Urgent Care, the realization that we do not, indeed, have forever to live - have shifted how I am living. I didn't really think about it until tonight, when I looked back at my calendar for the past week. 

I've talked before about the values that define my priorities: spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose. They're still a pretty accurate description of what's important, even with the shift.

I'm so glad for my decision to join a church last year. My UU community is exactly right for me. Most weeks I attend Sunday services and I am always moved - near to tears most weeks - by the openness and exploration and vitality of the hour I spend there. Wonderful music, wisdom from the pulpit, meaningful rituals. I had no idea such a spiritual community was even out there. I participate in a couple of small groups there - one with Art - and we have become little bonded communities. 

I'm still committed to eating right and getting exercise, though I do not always meet my own expectations. During May I cut bread, dairy and pasta from my diet. I'd say I was about 85% faithful to that discipline, and I'll continue on with it now that I have lost my craving for cheese. I do water exercise several times a week, walk a couple of miles a couple of times a week, and ride my bicycle with my sister Alyx once a week or so. This weekend we rode 11 miles on Saturday, and we plan to increase the distance by a couple of miles each time we head out. Again, I'm about 85% faithful to that schedule, because some mornings I have other commitments and have to skip the swimming. I have in my mind that I want to walk sections of the Camino de Santiago in Spain in the next year. But it's not a burning desire I have to travel now. It's an impulse to have meaningful times, and that walk would be one of them.

Community. It's no longer something I strive for. It's something I'm experiencing. I am amazed by the people who are my friends. I am a one-on-one friend type person, and several times a week I have lunch or coffee with someone. This week I had that lovely experience on Wednesday with Carol, Thursday with Marilyn and Friday with Vicki. I emerge from those conversations enriched and grateful. Such fabulous women! I'm lucky to have met every one of them. I will have a hard time when I leave them for the winter. 

Curiosity will ever  be with me, as I'm a lifelong learner. I recently decided to abandon the effort to keep up with the magazines I subscribe to, and will only be renewing Atlantic and The Sun when the time comes. Now I'm reading books again, both fiction and nonfiction. Recommendations from friends,  mostly, but a couple I read years ago that I want to revisit. On Wednesday afternoon I lay on the couch for three hours and read a Jodi Picoult novel. It has been years since I indulged myself that way.

And purpose. I'm now the lead mediator for district court small claims when I'm in town. Every other Tuesday a half a dozen mediators work with a dozen or so cases to help people resolve their issues without going to trial. I had my first lead experience last week. I'm quite comfortable speaking to a group. I forgot about six things I should have said, but we have a strong team and the others provided the missing information. 

And laughter! Not on my list of priorities, but definitely frosting on the cake. I have laughed so much this week: with my women friends, my husband Art and sister Alyx and brother-in-law Virgil and stepson Peter and neighbor Jennie. Their stories, our common experiences, our aging complaints, our weight, our quirks. It's only been in the last ten years or so that I've developed a sense of humor. It's like a gift.

The cool thing is that this quality of life I'm living isn't something I worked hard for or even deserve. It's almost like it has just come to me, like winning the lottery of intangibles. I did have goals and I continue to have priorities in my values, but I'm not toiling to achieve them. They seem to be just happening.

Art has a remote device on the wall in our bedroom that tracks his heart rhythm and notifies his cardiologist if something irregular is detected. Right now all is well, but that may not always be the case. I am learning to live with the uncertainty. In the meantime, though, I wake up every morning with gratitude for all the goodness of right now.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Bag Lady thinks about home

I attended a women's group meeting one evening this week. We meet the third Thursday of every month for an hour and a half. Each time there's a topic selected by the moderators. This month we talked about home.

When I was growing up in a military family, we moved every three years or so. So I lived in California, Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina and Hawaii. That was in the first 20 years. Then, during my first marriage I lived in California, Georgia, Texas and Oregon. I count 47 residences in my lifetime, and I moved into my current house 20 years ago, when I was 47.

I talk about houses, though, not homes. I can remember the interior rooms of most of the houses I've lived in, and most of the exterior views. But I can't conjure up feelings for any of the places I lived in my early childhood.

The house I live in now is a home. Really, a home. When my husband Art and I moved here we had eight children ranging in age from eight to 23. Three of them lived with us and the rest with their other parents, but we had frequent visitation. This place was big enough for everyone to gather.

We went through a long string of teenagers here, being our pointless parenting selves for over ten years, but establishing bonds in our blended family that still exist. When our kids were all grown and gone, Art and I lived quietly in our big house for 15 more years.

Then last year, my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil moved from Alaska and now reside in their motorhome on our property. Originally intended to be a one- to three-month stay, it's now for an indefinite time. The four of us find our little community to be a positive combination of people with varying skills and aptitudes, and most of the time we all get along. (It helps that Alyx works nights and Virgil works days and Art and I don't work at all!) And last month Art's son Peter asked to rent a room while he attends nursing school. Now we are a community of five. It's not anything I would ever have expected - to have a full house after so many years - but I like it.

In my women's circle, home is also about community outside our houses. Here in Washington we are part of a web of caring. In Tucson, where we live in the winter, our very small home is just the right size for our friendly community of North Americans escaping dreary weather elsewhere. We feel home the minute we drive through the gate.

I have friends who grew up in one house with a close-knit family or a not very happy one. And friends who grew up like me, moving around every few years. In July I'll be attending a reunion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where I attended high school. Nearly everyone there will be like me. There's a kind of home that may happen at the reunion, as we return to our common ground after 50 years away.

From my perspective as a child I could never have imagined what home would look like now.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A week of riches

I quit my job five years ago next month, but this week I don't feel very retired. My life is full and interesting. I don't write much about the things in my life that are hard or sad or frustrating or scary. I focus on the good things. And this week, I felt like a rich woman.

1. Mother's Day. I have two children and Art has six. When we first got together they were all between the ages of six and twenty. We had a long string of adolescents with their usual angst, drama and mayhem, and then they were grown and gone. This year I received two bouquets, a box of Harry and David chocolate covered strawberries, and phone calls. It was all good.

2. I had a friend over for coffee. I haven't known Susan for long, but we spend time well together. She and her husband Craig left for Europe this week. One of their sons died last year and they will be spending his birthday with other family members. We talked about how people grieve in different ways and we also laughed about some of life's absurdities. I so appreciate Susan's openness.

3. I had lunch with Carol, one of my favorite people. She and I have been meeting once a week for coffee or a meal. I have longer conversations with Carol than anyone else I know.  She is newly retired, smart and interesting and an avid reader. I love that our schedules are open enough to spend the time together.

4. I am being trained to be a lead mediator at a district court in my county. This week I watched how the paper and the people get processed after I mediated between an employer and a recently-quit employee who heartily dislike each other. I got to remind one of the women to be respectful. At the next small claims session - next week - I'll be the person who introduces the mediation program to people in the courtroom and then gives them instructions in the mediation room. It will be a first for me. I've mediated in small claims court a couple dozen times and I've spoken before groups many times, but this is a new combination. I'll get a stipend for this work. I would do it for free, so being paid is a nice treat.

5. I had lunch with my niece and friend, Colleen at a Vietnamese pho restaurant. Colleen is bright and energetic. We have been getting together for several years now and our conversations are varied and interesting. She is the daughter of one of Art's five sisters but she is mostly my friend now.

6.  I facilitated a meeting at an area technical school between massage school owners and massage business owners. Art and I have an ownership interest in a Massage Envy clinic, and this meeting was organized by my business partner. Lillian and I spent multiple hours on a PowerPoint presentation and the agenda. The meeting was very successful. I even got paid for my work.

7. I have been offered a regional Massage Envy position to attend the state Board meetings as liaison for the 27 clinics in the Puget Sound area. Six meetings a year plus communications and prep. The regional director is willing to work around my snowbird status. I'm supposed to write up a proposal tomorrow for what I think the job will be like and what compensation I need. I see myself flying from Tucson to Seattle a couple of times next winter for a couple of days.

8. I had coffee with my friend Vicki. She was my project manager years ago - the best I ever worked with. Now that we are both retired we sit at Starbucks and talk about everything but work. Vicki and her husband Monte live on their boat in Mexico in the winter.

9. I visited my friend Nora in a local rehab center where she is recovering from a MRSA infection following surgery. She once told me we are cut from the same cloth, but she is wiser than I. I'm grateful for every conversation.

10. I bought my first new car in 17 years. Researched, selected, test drove, negotiated, caught the dealer's paperwork errors (saved $500), and drove it home. Honda Accord, maroon with beige interior and a BACKUP CAMERA to prevent any more of those accidents.

11. I went geocaching with my sister Alyx in a nearby town. I am seven years older but as we age we have more in common than when we were younger. I laugh more with Alyx than with anyone else.

Yep. A week of riches.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Six girls and a grandma: Girls Night Out

My granddaughters Mary and Malayne are 14 years old. They moved to Spokane two years ago from southern Oregon with their mom and stepdad. I used to see them more often than I do now because my son and their mom used to live in the same town. Now they don't.

I had a business trip to Spokane this week and decided to visit the girls. I sent each of them a Facebook message. "I'm coming to Spokane on Thursday. Would you rather I have dinner at your house or take you out for pizza?" Both girls said something akin to "whatever". Then I changed my question. "Would you rather I have dinner at your house or take you AND A COUPLE OF FRIENDS out for pizza?" Both girls said something like "awesome!"

I reconsidered and decided on Red Robin. From my Google map I could see it was considerably closer to Mary and Malayne's house than Domino's.

When I got to their house, Malayne came running to me in her bathing suit (all the girls were in the pool). "Grandma Linda, we have a problem. We accidentally invited four friends."

I thought about the midsize car I'd rented and knew it didn't have enough seat belts. "Dan," I said to their stepdad, "Can you drive a few of them over?" Dan said yes.

Eventually all six girls - Mary and Malayne, Rachel, Demitri, Amelia, and Kyia - changed out of swimming suits and showed up ready to go and we took off for Red Robin. We had a 20-minute wait for a table for seven. The girls waited outside and I kept an eye on them from inside while I waited for my name to be called.

The Six: Back row Demitri, Rachel, Amelia.
Front row Kyia,  Mary, Malayne

Once seated, the girls giggled and texted and ordered their drinks and their meals and shared their food and took selfies and sang The Cup Song and some others I didn't know, from their glee club. I had told them this was Girls Night Out, and they liked that idea. I chatted briefly with most of them and watched and listened for the rest of the time. All nice girls at the very end of the first part of their lives. I am happy about the friend choices my granddaughters have made in their new city.


Malayne was to let Dan know when we were ready to leave. The girls were finishing up. I said, "Layne, is it time to text Dan yet?" She said, "Not yet." Everyone was still chattering and giggling and texting and singing. Fifteen minutes later the server came around with the bill. I paid it - $112 with tip - and we left.

We waited outside for Dan to arrive. More singing and giggling and taking of selfies, stepping on and off benches, hanging out with each other.

The four who rode with Grandma
More giggling on the drive home, "their" music on the radio, who had a crush on what boy, much discussion of "Supernatural", their favorite show.

When we got back to the house everyone piled out of the car and ran inside to wait for their parents to pick them up. I stood outside with mom Rebekah and stepdad Dan, talking about their new lives in Spokane.

It was the best $112 experience ever.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

There's something about the light

The days are getting longer and my spirit is light. The simple things in my life give me special pleasure this time of year.

  • I rode my bike on a regional trail both yesterday and today with my sister Alyx. Yesterday we rode eight miles and today we extended to ten miles. The sun was out, temps in the 60s as we rode along the watercourse that connects two lakes in our area. We passed families and walkers and pairs of geese and slower cyclists. We were passed by faster bikers. It was a bit of a traffic challenge but that was okay because everyone was outdoors enjoying the same glorious day as we were. We came upon a just-happened bike crash between two riders and Alyx was the first nurse on the scene. Two bloody heads but no serious injuries. One of the men had worn a helmet and the other had not.
  • It has been almost a year since Alyx and her husband Virgil took up residence on our property in their motorhome. Originally set to be one to three months until they found a place to live, we have extended their time indefinitely as they made the decision to live permanently in their RV. It is a well functioning community we have with them. We have had a few problems - most recently have been the proper way to store plastic bowls and lids in the kitchen cupboard and where to put their mail so they remember to take it. All things considered, this is a win-win for our family. Alyx is seven years younger than me and we were never close until after our mother died in 2008. We get along well now and enjoy each other's company most days. We laugh a lot! She works nights and I sleep nights, so our time together is limited to her days off. That's probably a good thing! Alyx is also the person who now goes with my husband Art to his medical appointments, since she's a nurse able to ask the questions in a way doctors can understand and respond to.
  • On Wednesday I went for a walk in my neighborhood and the first person I saw was my neighbor Karen who lives across the street. I recognized her only by her voice because she has lost over 50 pounds since I saw her last fall. We chatted for a few minutes and she told me she and her son had joined an eating program. She said essentially she stays away from bread, dairy and pasta. So that's what I've been doing for the last three days. So far I am a bit hungry for cheese and ice cream, but I know this too shall pass, and I can do anything for a month, one day at a time. I will allow myself one day a week to eat - moderately - other things.
  • Alyx is the primary gardener this year. The first of the radishes and beets and lettuce are up in the raised beds. We have the beginnings of apples and pears and cherries and blueberries. We cleared out a bed of St. John's wort to make room for the raspberries to spread. We weed a little every day. 
  •  I have lunch or coffee every week with a good friend. I love our conversations.
  • I am following the issue of money in politics. I believe we can change what's happening in our country. For the first time in my life, I'm collecting signatures on an initiative petition. It's for I-735 concerning a proposed amendment to the federal constitution. This measure would urge the Washington state congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations, and constitutionally-protected free speech excludes the spending of money. This isn't a partisan issue; whether conservative or progressive, Republic or Democrat or Something Else, everyone I know has the same hope of getting money out of politics. I'm not a natural signature collector, but I am an optimist. We may be able to do this.
  • I am following the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders.
  • I get to take a two-day class this week on Communication Skills for Effective Leaders.
  • I get to fly to Spokane for a conference and take my twin granddaughters and two of their friends out for pizza.
Really. It's something about the light. I love this time of year.