Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reflections: What's in a Year?

A year ago today I was recovering from pneumonia. During that down time I blogged on "The Bag Lady reflects on a quiet week" (comments 1-5 below). By the next week I was feeling better, and in response to a friend's comments about my muted mood, I recast my thoughts in "Blog response from a friend" (comments 1a-5a below). Today I'm looking back a year and adding my current reflections.

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.

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

Today: I'm grateful for simple Christmases, where we can donate our time and our money to those less fortunate than us and then spend the special times with special people, whether family or friends. This year we went to San Diego for Christmas and spent a lovely three days with daughter Melissa and son-in-law Scott. The 425-mile trip from Tucson was easy.

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.

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

Today: Still grateful to be past the 2a issues!, and very grateful for the second cataract surgery in September that now allows me to drive at night and without glasses.

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 day a week to write. And I plan to do a lot more reading.

3a. 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.

Today: Grateful to have people and activities to keep me engaged, and the freedom to choose what to take on and what to let go of. This year in Tucson I won't play handbells or take a Spanish class, but I will finish my Rosetta Stone Spanish course and my second book, and take an online course offered by Brene Brown.

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."

4a. 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.

Today: Still working on letting go of things over which I have no control!, but I'm getting better at noticing ways I can be useful. I'm now a lead mediator in small claims court in my county and the liaison between Massage Envy franchise owners in the Puget Sound region and the Washington State Massage Board. And in Tucson this winter I'm responsible for ticket sales for our 55+ community's March production of "Oklahoma!" 

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

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

Today: Sleeping until I wake up on my own is still the greatest! 

I think these periodic reflections are a good idea. I don't want to lose track of myself! I can see I am still moving forward, still engaged. That's a good thing.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Volunteers for a fabulous day

In the winter, we live at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson. It's a very active community and participates in multiple charitable activities. This month volunteers for the "Larry's Shoe Angels" drive provided 1000 pairs of shoes and socks for needy kids, which were given out at the Gospel Rescue Mission's annual Children's Christmas party in town.

And, since July, volunteers have been working on the Salvation Army Toy Drive. Nearly 200 Voyager residents participate in this event; according to one source, 95% of the volunteer labor for planning and execution of the event is Voyager folks. The toy drive has been staffed by Voyager volunteers for over 20 years.

Each year, money for the toys is donated by individuals and church groups and local organizations. Retailers provide discounts. Volunteers reconfigure a local warehouse for the event, putting up room dividers for a shopping area and a behind-the-scenes staging area. Booths are set up. Volunteers shop for the toys, sort and bundle them for appropriate age groups, put bicycles together, restock booths as gifts are selected, monitor the booths and the parking lot, escort clients through the shopping area, carry clients' shopping bags to their cars, and provide snacks, lunch and drinks for all the workers. Volunteer officers of the Tucson Police Department take care of security. And Spanish-speaking interpreters are available.

The toys are being distributed over a four-day period this week to the parents of 4,500 children. The Salvation Army screens applicants beforehand for the service; each parent must prove they have an address in Pima County and that they are the parent or legal guardian of all the children they will be shopping for.

Yesterday, we were two of the volunteers. As first timers, we were assigned the role of escorts for the moms and dads coming through to gather Christmas gifts for their children.

We showed up at 8:15 a.m. Stations have been set up for clients to walk through: a book station where a mom or dad chooses three books for each child;

an escort station where two volunteers join up with a parent to accompany them through the toy area (my husband Art is the fellow working the crossword puzzle as he awaits his next escort assignment);

age-appropriate tables where the parent selects a gift bundle or a single larger item for each child; 

a station where the battery-operated toys receive their power source; 

"Two AAs and a 9-volt, please!"
and a carry-out station where volunteers take the gift-filled bags to the clients' vehicles.

Another group of volunteers takes care of food and drink for the workers.

Love the beef with noodles. And chocolate cake!
Art and I knew a number of the other volunteers: people from the handbell group, from the current events discussion group, from last year's musical. It was good to be there with them. We are all very lucky to have what we need in our post-retirement years. The smiles on the faces of the clients as they left - with bags full of Christmas gifts for their children - were all we needed.

We both took naps, though, as soon as we got home!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The holiday letter

I have kept all our annual holiday letters since I started writing them on my computer about ten years ago. They're almost like a journal of our lives through the years. We used to list all eight of the kids in our blended family and what they were up to. This year we only mentioned one, Pete, and that's because he lives with us this year.

I have friends who have given up the letter-writing tradition. Sometimes it feels tempting, but my husband Art wants me to send them out still. He has many family members and even though they may not see each other often, they're a loyal bunch.

This year I decided to do it differently. I wrote the holiday letter, but I'm only sending them in cards with an envelope and a stamp to people without an email address. Everyone else gets an email. Or they can read it in Facebook. Or in this blog post! I'm going with the times in some ways, but the wishes are just as warm.

Here's Art and Linda's holiday letter for 2015.

Christmas 2015

Holiday greetings from Tucson!

It got cold and rainy at home in early November, and Art was bothered by his arthritis. I asked him if he wanted to come to Arizona early next year instead of waiting until December, and he said “Maybe”. Notice how our time here is expanding?

At home in Washington, my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil still live in their RV on our property. Alyx was the lead gardener this summer, and we had three or four plantings of beets, carrots, spinach and radishes, plus kale, several varieties of lettuce, green beans and squash. Plus many strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and an enormous number of table grapes.

Art repurposed the kids’ play area, unused for at least a decade, and built a chicken coop and run. Alyx has now raised six chickens from pullets and they produce four to six eggs a day. Most likely that will stop soon because of the dark and chilly weather. Still, those eggs really do taste different from the ones sold in the grocery store. The yolks are so rich that if I cook fried eggs I have to lick the plate to get the last of the yolk! Well, I’ve only actually done that a couple of times, when no one was looking.

Art’s son Pete is renting a room from us while he attends nursing school. He’s very tidy, a good cook and an agreeable housemate. He is gnashing his teeth over the school challenge but is doing well. He worked the night shift at an assisted living facility place this summer and learned that he doesn’t want to be a geriatric nurse. Too bad for us!

Art and I traveled to Atlanta in July for a convention. I was sick in bed for all four days, but Art had a great time. In September we spent three weeks in Central Europe with a Rick Steves tour. We added pins to the world map in our entryway for the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany. One of the most memorable experiences was being stranded in the Saltzburg train station because there were refugees on the tracks and Germany had closed its borders. There were also refugees in the train station.

We found an alternate route to Munich. Now we have personal experience with one of the big news events of the year. I also took solo trips to Muskoka, Ontario (two hours north of Toronto) and Santa Cruz to visit a friend.

The Voyager Light Opera Company is putting on “Oklahoma” this year, and Art has a lead. Rehearsals started a month before we got here. Fortunately, he got the CD ahead of time and has been singing in the car every day. We ALL know Will Parker’s songs! The Light Opera Company is the theatre group here at our resort. Last year the group did “Guys and Dolls”. At 72, Art was one of the youngest in the cast! It was his first experience ever. He can sing and he can dance and he has a comic presence on stage I never would have suspected.

I have signed up for fewer activities here than in years past. In the quiet of my tiny home I want to complete the Rosetta Stone Spanish course and write the book I have in my head. It will be called “Why We Travel: A Love Story.”

Wishing you all the best of holidays!

Art and Linda

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Goodbye, Hello

My husband Art and I live in two places.

From April 1 until December 1, we live in Brier, Washington, a northern suburb of Seattle. We've lived in that 2000 square foot house for over 20 years as we raised our blended family of eight children and worked in our careers.

From December 1 until April 1, we live in Tucson, Arizona, in a 620-square foot park model (trailer) in a 55+ RV resort. This is our fourth winter here. At first it was like a vacation. Now it's a home.

Last week I said my face-to-face goodbyes. On Sunday, to my church community in the morning and a 12-step group in the evening. On Monday, to a friend with whom I sometimes walk (but only until January 6, when she arrives in Tucson for a weeklong visit). On Tuesday, to my niece and friend Colleen in the morning and to another 12-step group in the afternoon. On Wednesday to my housekeeper Melissa and my magician massage therapist, Christopher in the morning and my new friend Lisa in the afternoon. On Friday to our "property mates": my sister Alyx, my brother-in-law Virgil and Art's son Peter.

I don't need to say goodbye to people I talk to via email, text and Facebook. They will hardly know I am away from my first home because I usually meet them online, which has no physical location. That's one thing I love about this electronic age. And even my face-to-face people can keep in touch that way, though it's only a substitute for the real, live conversations over coffee or lunch.

We flew from Seattle to Tucson yesterday afternoon.

Now I am saying my face-to-face hellos. Today, to our remodel guy Jim, who will be replacing the carpeting and railings on our deck and installing a new kitchen counter. To Mary, who is a member of the "Voyager Light Opera Company" along with Art; this year, they will be playing Ado Annie and Will Parker in "Oklahoma!" To Mike and Michelle, our neighbors across the street. To Florence, my wise friend on the other side of the park. Tomorrow we'll meet our Tucson church community and then have dinner with friends Joan and John whom we met just before we left in April. On Monday I'll greet Victoria, my excellent massage therapist in Tucson. On Tuesday I'll revisit my dentist in Mexico and say hello to Maria, my Tucson housekeeper, and attend our regular 12-step meeting in the evening. On Wednesday I'll say hello to my current events group members; I've known most of them for four seasons and have come to respect most of them, even those with vastly different views from my own. On Thursday I'll turn in my curly Washington hairstyle to my desert hairstylist Marissa and emerge from her shop with my Arizona look; in the evening we'll meet up with a small group in our Tucson church that's much like a similar group we attend in Washington. And all week long it will be sunny.

We live in two places. We love them both. We are lucky!