Monday, December 30, 2019

The smaller things

For the last three years I've been experiencing life larger than I had before - volunteering five times at a refugee camp in Greece, multiple other travel destinations (Sedona, Spokane, Las Vegas, Denver, NYC, Toronto, London, Iceland, Greenland).

I'm no longer traveling to Greece, and for now I've slowed my travel to other places.

But now there are the smaller things:
  • We had a low-key holiday season. We plugged in the lights on our little tree each morning. I said, "Alexa, classical Christmas" a dozen times or more, and the music of the season played on low for hours each day, bringing up the best of the memories for me. We had an advent wreath and lit the candles each night, with readings by John Pavlovitz. We went to two music presentations. I went to church on Christmas Eve with my neighbor, a new widow. And on Christmas Day my husband Art fixed prime rib for me and four friends. No gifts given or received, except love and community. I'm grateful to have had just the right amount of holyday experiences.
  • We've been volunteering at an asylum seekers' shelter on Saturday evenings. At first it was just us, but now a half dozen or so other people from our retirement community have joined us. Shirley loves to manage the kitchen; Sharon and Judy want all the donated clothes to be sorted out and available to our guests; Art takes charge of bus tickets and getting the travelers to the Greyhound station. My friend Huen is blessedly bilingual. And Pete, brand new last week, wants to go again. I'm grateful to have such company each week.
  • Last week at the shelter, there was no underwear for our guests. I put out a plea in my community, and the result was several hundred dollars in cash and checks and almost that many pairs of underwear! I am grateful to live in this generous community.
  • I'm no longer doing the accounting for the nonprofit I volunteered for. With the time I'm saving, I can spend more time reading, which I'd set aside as a primary interest. I'm grateful to be able to give up things that no longer engage me and to take up things that do. On Facebook, I signed on for a "chain letter" to post, each day for a week, books that I have loved: The Chosen; Your Money or Your Life; The Kite Runner; Plainsong; Being Mortal; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; and The Poisonwood Bible. I'm grateful to have had a love of reading instilled in me when I was a little girl.

  • Sometime in the next week I'll go to the movies with a friend to see "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" and "Little Women". It has been a long time since I've seen a movie other than on Netflix. I'm grateful for friends to join me.
  • As a result of supportive walking shoes, custom orthotics, physical therapy and massage, my body is realigning itself and the discomfort in my back and hip is receding. I'm grateful that my body has somewhat forgiven me for my inattention to its needs.
  • I hadn't realized that Larisa, our Designer Cat, has a daily routine. That's probably because I'd been out of the house so often that I didn't notice. But I can pretty much count on her to find my lap at 8:30 in the evening, whether I'm watching TV in our Arizona room or reading in my recliner in the living room. And she goes to bed with us until about six minutes after we turn out the light. I think she really wants to be with us as part of her daily schedule. When we first got Larisa, ten years ago, she wouldn't let us touch her for 62 days. I'm grateful that she's come around!
  • My husband and I bought e-bikes. Today he's gone to U-Haul to have a hitch installed on one of our cars, so we can ride together on Tucson's extensive bike trails. I've been going with a good friend, but I'd like Art to have the same experience. Besides, we're taking a bike-and-barge trip in May, and I want us to be prepared so we can really enjoy the adventure. I'm grateful to be able to travel still.
  • For four days in January, we will be in Sedona at a timeshare on Oak Creek. We're grateful that four of our children have decided to join us.
  • I had a joyful "pay it forward" experience. I was selling a small humidifier for $15 and a woman asked if it was still available. I said yes. She asked if I would take $10, since "I am low on funds and my baby is sick." I said yes and we agreed to meet somewhere at 6 p.m. She wasn't there, and apologized by saying "I was taking care of my baby and lost track of time." I asked when a better time would be. She said, "Really? My friend can meet you at 7. She will be riding her bicycle." I went to the place and waited for the friend. She handed me $10 and I said, "Is there anything else she needs?" She said she didn't know, just that the baby was crying. I gave her back the $10 and said, "Tell her Happy New Year and to pay it forward." Fifteen minutes later I got a thank you message from the young woman. I am grateful for opportunities to help others who haven't been as fortunate as me. 
My very best wishes to you for a peaceful new year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

I don't have to!

Christmas is in eight days. Art and I have an Advent wreath, and candles, and simple readings each evening at dinner. We want to do this.

I don't have to send out Christmas cards or write a Christmas letter. Instead, I keep in touch with friends through Facebook and my blog and face-to-face conversations and phone calls.

I don't have to buy a Christmas tree and put on all the memory-infused ornaments, from when our kids were growing up. Instead, I put up a small artificial tree to display in the window of my small winter home, and appreciate the lovely light it makes.

I don't have to buy gifts for family and friends. Instead, I donate my time to an asylum seekers' shelter and my money to the Salvation Army toy drive - which last year provided a Christmas gift to several thousand children in the Tucson community - and to The Inn Project so volunteers can buy socks and underwear, razors and deodorant, coloring books and crayons and gloves and hats.

I don't have to attend Christmas parties with more people than I'm comfortable with. Instead, Art and I can host a Christmas Day dinner for four woman friends.

I don't have to be perfect when my handbell choir plays next Sunday. I can miss that D# and still feel grateful for the opportunity to do music.

I don't have to make the Christmas cookies from my mother's recipe. Instead, I can lick the beater as Art makes his biscotti with cranberries, which he'll give out in baggies to friends over the next week or so.

I don't have to worry about the state of our divided country. Instead, I can listen to others while they say their truth, and respect what they say, and be grateful that we are all entitled to speak our minds and hearts.

I don't have to spend time wishing I had a younger, more flexible body. Instead, I can do the stretching and strengthening exercises my physical therapist has given me, and I can buy custom orthotics to put in my shoes, and I can take three short walks a day, and I can follow my Mediterranean diet with about 85% compliance and notice as my clothes get looser.

I don't have to!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Five days solo: What the Bag Lady learned

My husband Art had an opportunity to fly home to Seattle on Thanksgiving to assist an "older couple" who needed some help with the airports. We agreed that was a good idea, since he had a small project at home to attend to, and I was fine to spend the time here in Tucson.

Here's what I did while he was gone:

  • Had Thanksgiving dinner with my good friend Ellen. She loves to cook and she took the time to plan a menu that fits the Mediterranean diet I've been following for the last couple of months. We were joined at dinner by Mr. Doodles, her cockatiel.

  • Had lunch on Friday with my friend Connie. She and I became friends late last spring and both of us are very glad to have found each other. We are both good talkers and we are also good listeners.
  • Figured out how to use the remote for our new TV. I never had a chance to learn with the old TV. It is actually pretty easy. And it was nice to have it at my side for the five days I was alone. I found an uplifting Pandora station. For some reason, it's easier to use Pandora on the TV than on my laptop. For me, at least.
  • Watched the first three episodes of "Man in the High Castle" on Amazon Prime. 
  • Read the draft of a book a friend of mine wrote nearly 20 years ago but never published. It kept my attention to the last page. I could see it as a movie and look forward to talking to her about it tomorrow afternoon.
  • Practiced my Spanish on Duolingo every single day.
  • Got a massage from a therapist new to me. He's also a personal trainer and he told me about how he trains a person to do a pull-up, so you could pull yourself up if you fell off a cliff or a roof. I would never have guessed, and it actually sounds possible, even for me.
  • Did the exercises prescribed by my physical therapist every day. Already I can cross my right knee over my left leg and put on my sock without pain. For the first time in six months.
  • Went for a 16-mile ride on my pedal-assist e-bike and fell off, for the first time. I was going too slowly as I attempted a sharp curve. I got right back on the bike. I was a little sore later that day, but have no bruises.
  • Got a holiday pedicure with my friend Lynne. Green, with glitter!
  • Scrounged for four evening meals, since Art is the cook in our household.

And here's what I learned in my five days solo:
  • When you're alone, you decide whether to have the TV on, or the radio, or nothing. You decide what to watch, or listen to. There's no need to consider the preferences of anyone else.
  • When you're alone, and a 72-foot string of solar Christmas lights is delivered by Amazon, you can decide to have a friend put them up, or hire someone to do it. That way, you don't have to worry that your husband will scare you by climbing up a shaky ladder to put the solar collector on the roof.
  • You don't have to talk because there is no one else in the house.
  • When you learn how your husband is spending his loosely planned time in Washington, you are grateful for your own way of scheduling your days.  
  • Now that Art is home, it is quieter in our house. I don't have to talk even if there is someone else in the house. 
  • And I don't have to suggest or remind. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Bag Lady and the rainy day

We spend the winters in Arizona rather than in Washington, where we have our family home. The rain and gloom begins in November there, and usually doesn't end until at least May. I struggled with the winter darkness for the 25 years I lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest. Now that I'm retired I choose the sun.

This week it rained in Arizona. After many weeks of sun it was a nice break; I knew it would last only a few days rather than months.

I'd been struggling with some low back and hip pain for a number of months. Not an injury, maybe related to being overweight or wearing shoes without proper arch support. Usually these things improve with time, but this one hadn't. I finally made an appointment with my doc. She said, "We'll want to get x-rays, and you'll need to get physical therapy. Are you ready for that?"

I said yes. I was weary from not only the chronic physical discomfort, but of thinking about it. I have health anxiety and usually make things much worse in my mind than they actually are.

I got to the x-ray place the next morning. I'd had to turn on my windshield wipers for the first time in several months. I was sitting in the parking lot and realized I'd left the x-ray order on the table at home. The retrieval of the order took half an hour. By the time I was back in the parking lot agin, I had thought way too much about my physical issue, and I did a foolish thing: I ventured alone into the dangerous neighborhood of my mind. And what I concluded, for some reason, was that I've lived a good life, and if I were to die, it would be all right. It wasn't a suicidal thought at all. It was more of an awareness, which is probably a good thing to have when you're 71.

After I got the x-rays I waited to hear from the doc. She didn't call that night so I assumed it was because she was trying to figure out how to tell me I had a tumor in my spine. Really, that's what I thought. See how my mind is a dangerous neighborhood?

I saw the physical therapist the next day. I explained my symptoms. He told me that the muscles in my hip and the muscles in my back were fighting with each other. Something about compensation for a less-than-perfectly-symmetrical alignment - and wearing shoes without good arch support, and being older. He showed me a few exercises and then handed me a paper with pictures of them. I said, "You mean what I'm experiencing is common?" He said, "Oh, yes." I have appointments with him once a week for the next month.

Later that afternoon I got a text message from my doc. She said the x-rays showed arthritis. As, most likely, would be the case for any other 71-year-old person.

So there we are.

But maybe it wasn't the rain that triggered my parking lot thoughts. Here are some other possibilities:

  • After five trips to Greece in the last three years to volunteer at a refugee camp, the nonprofit closed its Greece operation last month for lack of funding. The situation in Greece is as bad or worse than it was. Many of the people we helped have moved on; many are still living in the camp or on the streets of Athens. Many new people arrive every day. I keep repeating the starfish story..."It made a difference to that one", but politics and human nature being what they are, I'm not optimistic that things will improve.
  • I'm volunteering at an asylum-seekers' shelter in Tucson now, but we haven't had guests for more than a week because people fleeing for their lives from other parts of the world are being held at the border. Again, it's about politics. The situation may improve, but I don't know when.
  • I had spent several hours listening to the impeachment proceedings.

On the other hand, there was a fellow named Scott Warren being tried in Tucson for giving humanitarian aid to people who had walked through the desert from the southern border. I heard him speak a few weeks ago, when he acknowledged he was afraid of the possibility of prison. The day after I sat in the parking lot, he was acquitted.

"Humanitarian aid is not a crime."

The sun is out again today, and I had a wonderful massage this morning, and I'm meeting a good friend for lunch, and meeting up with other friends for dinner and a card came. I think I'm okay with being 71.

Monday, November 11, 2019

A shoe story

Until I was about 45, I bought shoes in a size 7 1/2 B. Back then I was looking for style and color.

When I was 52 I walked in the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day: 60 miles in three days of walking in Seattle. I trained for five months for that event. I needed the perfect clothes - wicking t-shirt, comfy shorts and underwear and socks. And shoes. The shoes were the hardest part.

I ended up with Brooks Addiction shoes from Shane's Food Comfort Center in Shoreline, Washington. In size 8 1/2 wide. With custom orthotics. So outfitted, I was able to walk 20 miles a day. My feet hurt at the end of each walk, of course, but the rest of my body was okay.

For the next ten years I was a Brooks fan; Addiction and Ariel were my go-to walking shoes. I'd call Shane's and ask them to save a pair, that I'd be in to pick them up. They asked if I wanted to try them on and I said no, thanks, I knew my size. My exercise of choice was a two-to-five mile walk, in my neighborhood and in neighborhoods where we traveled.

When I was 63 I hurt my back when I sat in a chair that was a couple of inches lower than I expected. An electrical light show coursed down my legs and left me with tingling feet - like a low-voltage electrical current running night and day. The doctors said I had nerve impingement of some kind - what you can't see on an MRI. They said it would probably resolve with time, but it could take a couple of years. It has been eight years now and it has not resolved.

In the meantime, my tingling feet didn't want to be enclosed in walking shoes. So I looked for more comfortable options. I found neutral Vibrams, then Merinos online in 8 1/2 or 9. Minimal arch support, but my feet were satisfied.

In June of this year - when I was 70 - I took my granddaughter to London. We did a lot of walking. I was wearing my Merinos. By the end of each day I was just about limping from pain in my feet that radiated up to my hips. I thought walking tours were over for me.

In October of this year - when I was 71 - I went to New York City with my friend Ellen. Again, we did a lot of walking. I was wearing my Merinos. By the end of each day I hurt from feet to hips. I sat down whenever I could, and Ellen had to slow down everywhere we went. I felt ancient and defeated.

Then she said over lunch, "You know, Linda, I bought a pair of Merinos at your suggestion, and they are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned - for about a quarter of a mile. But they have no arch support. I didn't even bring them on this trip. I brought my Brooks Addictions."


We found a shoe store that carried Brooks shoes half a mile from our lunch place. On the last day of our trip. The salesman grinned when I told him my problem. "Yeah, you need arch support and you probably need a bigger size." He was right on both accounts. I bought a pair of Brooks Ariel shoes. In a size 9 1/2 extra wide.

There is NOTHING like arch support. Or trying shoes on at a shoe store rather than ordering them online for eight years.

We live and learn, I guess.

Friday, October 25, 2019

What the Bag Lady learned in New York City

My friend Ellen and I have planned this four-day trip to New York City. Ellen used to live there, and I have only visited there in 1966, on my high school senior trip, and 1989, when I was meeting up with a friend.

Both of times were before 9/11, and I have wanted to see the 9/11 memorial for years. Ellen wanted to see a Broadway show, pay a second visit to the tenement museum, and eat some good meals.

So I kind of knew what would be happening. But I really didn't. That's pretty common when I travel.

Here's what I learned in those four New York days.

1. If your Tucson-to-Dallas airplane slides around on the runway while taking off, and your Dallas-to-LaGuardia flight lands so hard you're scared, you still arrive safely.

2. If you have a meal at the airport before departing for your Airbnb, you don't get cranky when your traveling companion's futon breaks as she sits down on it, and you go along in a friendly way when she wants to go to the market at 10 at night.

3. If you go six rounds with your Airbnb host because they think you broke the futon and should pay for it, and you know it was broken when you walked into the apartment, you can arrive at a cordial compromise after the super of the apartment building visits you twice. You still know it was broken when you walked in, but sometimes you let things go and split the cost of the super's time with your host. And you leave the nut and machine bolt that came loose from the futon frame on the table on your way out.

4. Lyft is a handy transportation method, but once you figure out how to use public transportation like buses and subways you can get around pretty well. You will still have to walk a lot, though.

5. If you bring along only shoes with no arch support, and you walk three to six miles a day on city sidewalks, you will hurt from your feet to your hips. And if you don't realize the problem is with your shoes until the last day, you will think you are finally falling apart at the age of 71. If you are traveling with a good and caring friend, she will go with you to buy new shoes on the last day. And even if the Brooks Ariel walking shoes cost $175, including tax, you will buy them and be grateful you brought a credit card along. And you wonder why you haven't bought good walking shoes in the last five years, even though you've taken multiple trips and your body has hurt every time.

6. If your friend wants to try a tiny Iranian restaurant, you go willingly, because you remember an Iranian at a refugee camp in Greece who cooked for you several times. And then, after your meal, you talk to the cook and tell him the story about the Iranian in the refugee camp who cooked for you, the cook in the restaurant kisses your hand and gives you a huge hug, and thanks you for reminding him of the days before he left his homeland to come to New York. As you leave, you say, "Welcome to the United States of America."

7. If you visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum you learn about more of the people who came here from other places, and you appreciate all over again how much difference a storytelling tour guide can make in bringing these people to life. And you are, again, grateful for your own fortunate life. And you eat at Katz' Deli, which is less than a half mile away.

8. A Broadway musical is especially enjoyable when you know most of the songs going in. We saw "Beautiful", the story of Carole King. What was even better was the magnificent set and the staging.

9. When you visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum, the day comes back to you. You remember where you were and what you were doing that morning, and how you felt. When you sit in a room listening to some of the victims' recorded stories, everyone is totally silent. It's like a place of worship.

10. If you are lucky enough to spend an evening with friends of your traveling companion, you may enjoy hors d'oeuvres at a Chinese place, an interesting lecture, dinner at a fabulous Italian place, a drive through Times Square, and a 43rd floor rooftop view of the city at night.

We're flying home tomorrow. We have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to meet our Lyft driver at 5:15 outside our apartment. I hate getting up that earlier.

But oh, well!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Washington or Arizona? We have a plan!

My husband Art and I have been snowbirds for seven years now. Our family home is in Brier,  a suburb just north of Seattle.

Our winter place is at the Voyager RV Resort, a 55-plus community in Tucson.

We love both.

As we've gotten older, the Washington house has been harder to manage. We have a yard with a big garden. We have a steep driveway and two sets of stairs inside the house that are not friendly to older knees.

The place is too big for just us.

Late this summer, we decided to rent our house to son Jason and his wife Kalei. They moved in on September 1 and will live there for a year. We will spend that time in Tucson, hopefully getting away from some of the summer heat.

As we thought about next steps for us, we considered these facts:
  • If we sold our house in Washington and bought a smaller house or a condo there, we'd be paying lots of money for a place we don't spend much time.
  • If we sold our house and moved to Arizona full time, we'd be leaving a state where I have lived for the last 33 years and where Art has lived his entire life. 
  • Half of our eight offspring live in Washington, and most of our grandchildren.
  • Arizona summers are brutal
Then! We considered the possibility of remodeling our daylight basement:
  • We'd have no stairs and we would have a walk-in entrance, plus access to the laundry room and the garage.
  • We have sons in the construction industry who would do the work.
  • We have ideas for transforming the space into a warm and welcoming, open-layout plan.
  • We can rent out the upstairs.
So, this is what we're going to do:
  • Go to the City and get the house plans, to identify bearing walls and plumbing 
  • Design the new space
  • Once September 1 comes, tear out what we don't need (a bedroom wall and two closets) and build what we do need (a kitchenette, plumbing and electrical stuff), and make the new space our summer home
Such a relief to have made this plan after many months of thinking about possibilities!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A "what if" story

I'm taking a class on Thursday evenings. It's about racism - but it feels more like putting ourselves in the place of others who are different from us.

Last week we did an exercise where we put a circle in the middle of a piece of paper which we labeled "me". In smaller circles around that we put our identities. My smaller circles were writer, wife, traveler, mother, friend, affluent person, organizer, listener, connector, matriarch, recovering person, planner, sage, and seeker.

For this week, we were asked to describe our life with two of our identities changed to something else. I picked wife and affluent person, changing them to widow and person with limited resources. It's likely that what I wrote isn't accurate in real life, but it's what came to mind as I wrote a fictional letter to my children.

Here's what I said:

Dear Kids:

It’s ironic that I wrote a blog for ten years called “Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting”. See, when I retired, I was worried I wouldn’t have the resources to live without a salary. And for that ten years, it seemed like a frivolous title for a blog. I took nearly a hundred trips - some with your dad, some with a friend. We had five pensions and money in investments, so we could pretty much do what we wanted. Life was good.

Then the you-know-what hit the fan. Along with the crushing downturn in the economy which erased more than half of our investments, your dad had that stroke. Though his mind remained clear to the end, he required 24-hour care for five years. Most of you stepped in to help me, but you have your lives, after all, and after a while most of the work fell on me. I was willing to do for your dad, even though he was often angry and less than kind to me, but once I got sick myself I couldn’t do it any more. A few of you helped me find a good place for your dad to live. But it was expensive. By the time he passed quietly in his sleep, most of our money was gone. And two of his three pension ended when he died.

So, here I am, with not much left. I sold the big house, but with the economy being what it was, I only got about half of what it had been worth just a few years before.

I’m surprisingly content, though. My little place in Tucson is plenty of space for me. My car is still running well, knock on wood. The AC is set to go on at 84 rather than 77 - it’s a little warm, but it makes a big difference in the electric bill. I transferred the Sedona timeshare to your sister Laura and let the maintenance payment lapse on the one in Canada. They say my credit will be hit, but at this point I don’t think it will matter. And there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

After years of ordering books and merchandise on Amazon, I’ve rediscovered the public library and made the acquaintance of local thrift shops. With the weight loss I experienced in the last year of your dad’s life, I’m finding clothes that look pretty good on me. That’s turned out to be a blessing; as you know, my weight problem bothered me for many years, but I never found the right combination of things to deal with it. Grief will do that, though.

I have the kindest, most supportive friends you can imagine here in Tucson - so different from the social situation in Washington, where it’s hard to make friends. My days here are busy and interesting. And while I miss your dad very much, there’s a kind of freedom in being able to make my own decisions and live in the quiet of my own space. 

I remember when we were comfortable financially that I wondered how people living on small incomes - like just Social Security - would manage to exist. I saw a big gap between the haves - even in our own family - and the have nots. I wondered if we would have to take care of the have nots, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. If they’d made unwise choices - or at least choices I wouldn’t have made - why should I take them in? Like the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.

Now I guess it doesn’t matter. If we end up with very few material possessions, but we’re safe and warm and fed and have friends we love and activities we enjoy, what difference does it make whether we blew it all during our life or whether we lost it all in our later years? So much of my old attitudes have kind of dissolved - especially my tendency to judge others who are different from me. 

I may have very little now. But I am definitely not a bag lady. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Bag Lady buys an e-bike

How much bike riding I'm doing depends on where I live. In Washington, where we live in the summer, our neighborhood is hilly. We'd have to put our bikes in the back of our truck and drive three miles to get on a trail with gradual enough hills to enjoy ourselves. In Arizona it's pretty flat, so we ride our bikes a lot - both inside the Voyager RV resort where we have our little place, and on the 55-mile loop around Tucson.

Last year I joined a Voyager group called Easy Riders and biked with them on the Tucson loop once a week nearly all winter. My maximum distance was about 18 miles. I noticed my fitness improving and always felt great at the end of the ride. But again, I didn't ride a single time all summer in Washington.

Then my friend Ellen and I decided it might be fun to plan a bike and barge trip in Europe. We wanted our choice to be easy rides, a small vessel, and of two weeks' duration. I asked my husband Art if he wanted to go, and - to my great surprise - he said yes. Here's what we'll be doing next May:

We decided to rent e-bikes for the trip. They cost extra, but with distances of 30 miles a day or so, we didn't want to arrive at the barge each evening exhausted and gasping for breath. We decided we should get some e-bike practice before the trip, though.

Ellen and I rented a couple of Pedego e-bikes in Tucson last May on a ride-two-hours-for-the-price-of-one deal. We felt clumsy and intimidated for about the first two minutes, and then it was exhilarating and wonderful. We rode nearly 30 miles in two hours with not much effort, though we were tired when we dismounted at the end of the ride. Take a look at the Pedego bike.

They are fun to ride but pricey, so we decided to look around at other brands. Rad City bikes were a better price for us. Art and I looked at them in Seattle, where they're made, and suggested that Ellen try one out in Arizona.

She made the two-hour drive to Scottsdale, rode a Rad City bike, but decided on another brand in the store instead. It's an Espin.

Ellen rode her Espin for a month and raved about it in every email. So two days after I arrived in Aizona, we drove with her to Scottsdale and rode an Espin. We bought two of them that day.

On our first day on the Tucson loop, Ellen and I rode 18 miles with ease.

After my first day on the loop, I gave my old bicycle to my friend Shirley. I was that sure the Espin was for me. I am still sure!

Here is my bike, last week on the trail, with Ellen and her ride.


When we drive back to Seattle, our bikes will go with us. They will be fabulous in our hilly neighborhood.

Here's what I know about e-bikes:

  • They're heavier than regular bikes because of the motor and the battery. Our Espins weigh 47 pounds; others weigh more.
  • They cost more than regular bikes. Our Espins were $1700 each, and that is close to the low end.
  • You buy according to what you want to do with the bike. We don't want to ride off road. We don't want to go more than 25 miles an hour. We do want to mount and dismount easily, so we bought a step-through version. 
  • The pedal-assist feature means the motor doesn't engage unless you are pedaling. There are several levels of pedal assist. The lowest level is where I usually ride. If I'm going less than eight miles an hour, I get a quiet, subtle boost in speed; that happens when I start up and when I'm going up an incline. If I stop pedaling, the motor goes off. 
  • The throttle feature - which the Espin has - eliminates my need to pedal. Not all e-bikes have the throttle feature, and it wouldn't be a requirement for me.
I was 71 yesterday. I love this bike!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

What the Bag Lady learned in Greenland

I wanted to go to Greenland "before the glaciers melt". A Road Scholar trip included a couple of days in Iceland and then a small-ship cruise in Greenland, so I signed up with my travel companion. It was an expensive trip, but as I look back, it was worth every penny.

Here's some of what I learned.

1. Greenland is the largest island in the world, with a population of only 60,000, living entirely on the coasts. It is a territory of Denmark and IT IS NOT FOR SALE.

2. Most Greenland towns are tiny. The population is 88% Inuit and 12% Danish and Other.

  • Sisimut - population 5,524
  • Ilulissat - pop 4,905
  • Uummannaq - pop 2,282
  • Qeqertarsuaq - pop 845
  • Nuuk - pop 17,635

From where we docked, the towns were an uphill but doable ascent.

Photo by Erikur Einarsson 

3. Greenlandic dogs are not pets. They are working animals who live outdoors. Puppies begin their training at six months. We were told not to touch the dogs.

4. Many cemetery markers have no names on them. The people believe the soul of the person is still alive, so marking the body is unnecessary.

5. "Climate", according to Google, is "The usual condition of the temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, and other meteorological elements in an area of the Earths's surface for a long time. In simple terms climate is the average condition for about thirty years." It is warmer in the current 30 years than in the previous 30. But 1,000 years ago it was warmer than it is now. The earth undergoes periodic climate changes, from warmer to cooler to warmer again, in a kind of wave pattern. It is currently in a warmer phase. I don't know how much of the current climate change is because of human activity and how much is the normal earth cycle.

6. I understand more about what causes glaciers, and what sustains them. That happened one afternoon when my travel companion - who has expertise in geomorphology - drew the story of a glacier for me on the back of a daily schedule.

7. Icebergs are a wonder. We traveled past them, up to them, among them, and beside them. 

Ginger ale and a 2,000-year-old ice cube

  • From the National Snow & Ice Data Center I got this excellent description of how they form and what happens to them: 
    • " Icebergs form when chunks of ice calve, or break off, from glaciers, ice shelves, or a larger iceberg. Icebergs travel with ocean currents, sometimes smashing up against the shore or getting caught in shallow waters. 
    • When an iceberg reaches warm waters, the new climate attacks it from all sides. On the iceberg surface, warm air melts snow and ice into pools called melt ponds that can trickle through the iceberg and widen cracks. At the same time, warm water laps at the iceberg edges, melting the ice and causing chunks of ice to break off. On the underside, warmer waters melt the iceberg from the bottom up."
  • About 80 percent of an iceberg's mass is under the water. We learned that at some point an iceberg will flip over, and that no boat should be in the vicinity because the wave made by the turning is dangerous. I asked how long it takes for an iceberg to melt and was told "within a year". Here's one that was beginning to rock toward toppling as we motored beside it:

8. Whales - I've seen humpback whales in Hawaii, and now I've seen them in Greenland, where they were hanging around the icebergs. None of my photos caught them, but our guide says I can share the one he got:

Photo by Erikur Einarsson

9. Small cruise ships are the best! Our vessel carries a maximum of 224 passengers, with over a hundred crew members. We were able to get into fjords that the larger boats couldn't manage. In most of our ports, our boat's passengers were the only ones on the streets. We experienced the usual comforts of a cruise: great service, wonderful food, interesting lectures, and memorable outings. My companion and I were on the 3rd deck, with the least expensive fare, but with porthole views:

10. Back in Iceland, before our flight home, we met the puffins. Sixty percent of the world's puffins live in this area, and they are the most common Icelandic bird. The adults mate for life. When the young bird is ready to fly, the parents leave. The young make their way to the sea by moonlight. In modern times, though, many are drawn to the lights of town instead. In those communities, many are rescued by local residents, and taken to the sea and released.

My husband and I were in Iceland in 2005, before it became a tourist destination. This summer I could see how the country has changed, for better and for worse, with the arrival of many visitors. So far, Greenland is still a quiet place. I hope it stays that way.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Getting to the boat

Our Road Scholar group left Reykjavik yesterday afternoon, taking a chartered Icelandair flight to meet our boat, the Ocean Diamond, in Kangerlussuaq. There's an airport there, but no town. I'm accustomed to getting myself to the airport, checking myself in and finding my gate. Instead, we followed our guide through the airport, obedient as fourth graders. Trust the process, I told myself.

The plane landed. My travel companion Terra and I were seated near the back of the plan, so we were nearly the last to disembark. We descended the stairway, walked across the tarmac and entered the terminal building. None of our group members were in sight. An Ocean Diamond t-shirted person greeted us and said, "Get on a bus outside." I said, "What about our luggage?" They said, "It will be delivered to you."

Four buses waited in the parking lot to the rear of the terminal. We still did not see any of our group members. An Ocean Diamond person said, "You can get on the bus and they will come." At this point I was not trusting the process. What if everyone was still inside the terminal someplace, waiting for us?" Still, all the buses were going to the ship.

Our vehicle was an old yellow school bus with deteriorated stairs. And the road was bumpy for the whole 20-minute ride to the pier. There were some hills on the way, and I was reminded of the time years ago when we had six kids in a used motorhome going over the mountains. The engine overheated and we had to pull over to the side of the road until it cooled down. This time, though, the bus groaned over the top of the hill and descended to the water.

And there we found the rest of our group.

Our guide put on our life jackets for us. We waited until it was our turn to join another eight people to board a Zodiac, which would take us to the Ocean Diamond.

We were welcomed by the ship staff and it felt wonderful to be aboard at last.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Flying away again - to Iceland and Greenland

I should have written this a few days ago, because we've been in Iceland for three days and we're leaving for Greenland today. Now I don't have time. But in Greenland I won't have access to the internet, so I'll be offline. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

What I'm leaving behind

I quit my last paying job just about nine years ago. Here's what I've done since then:
  • Became a certified mediator, mediating about 100 cases at my county's dispute resolution center and in small claims court
  • Joined a very liberal church community
  • Became a snowbird, spending two months in Tucson in 2013 and increasing the amount of time to seven months in 2019
  • Volunteered five times at a refugee camp in Greece
  • Volunteered at an asylum-seekers' shelter in Arizona
  • Set up and maintained the accounting for a nonprofit with a 500,000 annual budget
  • Took 72 trips of three days or longer
  • Wrote 630 blog posts
I've always liked to be busy and to keep my mind engaged. That is still the case. But this summer I've shifted:
  • I've only done one small claims court mediation, and no family disputes, since I got home from Tucson, where we spend our snowbird months. I've realized the activities no longer "call" me. I use my mediation skills nearly every day in my ordinary life, and I love that. But I've moved on. I didn't actually acknowledge it until last month - and last week I notified the dispute resolution center and the small claims team that I wanted to be taken off their lists.
  • I haven't attended a church service all summer. I have had multiple conversations with church people - the pastor and people involved in social justice programs - but that was about the possibility of facilitating opportunities for congregation members to volunteer with one of the immigration programs in Tucson. Not sure why I'm not going on Sundays.
  • Except for my trip to London last month, I'm not doing much walking.  And I'm not swimming. I don't like that about myself, but there it is. Once we get to Tucson it will become part of my routine again.
Here's what I AM doing at home:
  • Having good conversations with my closest friends.
  • Catching up on reading the magazines I subscribe to.
  • Checking books out of the library.
  • Going through drawers and closets and photo albums.
  • Finishing up the accounting work for the nonprofit.
  • Clearing out emails.
  • Being a helpmate, as needed, to my husband recovering from thumb surgery with his arm in a cast. That means a lot of errand running, which he usually does.
  • Hiring people to maintain the lawn and clean the carpets.
  • Getting the house ready for Art's son Jason and his family to be living here for a year.
Early next month we leave for Tucson, and we will be there for a year. It wasn't in our plan until Father's Day, when it came up in a phone conversation between Jason and Art. It just happened into our lives. That's actually how things usually work out for me, anyway. We've been considering a permanent move for several years - me more seriously than Art - but this year is a perfect time to see if it's what we want, without having to sell the house first.

Here's what I'm doing to prepare for Arizona:
  • Researching e-bikes. We've found what we want, and we'll buy it on September 8 in Phoenix.
  • Researching OLLI (Osher) classes in Green Valley, half an hour from our Arizona place. We'll arrive early enough and stay long enough to take advantage of all the course offerings.
  • Thinking about carpet colors.
  • Deciding which three decorative pieces I want to have in Arizona.
  • Getting my car ready to drive down. We'll need both cars if we're there for a year.
The changes - what I'm leaving behind - are not sacrifices. They're more like evolutions. I'm not ripping myself away from home. I'm sliding into something new.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Did I get scammed?

My husband Art and I disagree. Here's what happened.

While we were in Tucson between November and May, we rented out our Washington house. The man was very reliable and the experience was positive on both sides. However, he had told us before he signed the lease that he was not a "yard guy". So, when we got home, the garden areas of our property had gone to tall weeds. 

We didn't get around to doing anything about it until a couple of weeks ago. I knew we couldn't do it ourselves, and I didn't know anyone who did that kind of work. We do have landscapers who come in once or twice a year to prune and keep our plants healthy, but it seemed to me that what we were looking for was something different. Plus, the landscapers charge $50 an hour, which was more than I wanted to pay.

So two weeks ago, I watched as two men worked on the yard across the street, mowing and weedwhacking. I went over and asked them to come look at the work I needed done, and to give me a price.

They did. One of the guys, Mario, said the job would take two people three days, and he quoted me $700. He said that was an excellent price, that other companies would charge over a thousand. That seemed like a good deal to me, so I agreed to have them do the work.

Mario arrived this morning with truck and tools. He worked by himself all day - from 8:00 a.m. to about 3:30 p.m. He did everything he'd said he would do, and more: mowed areas I hadn't asked him to do; cleaned up downed branches and a side yard that hadn't been part of his bid; blew clean our driveway, sidewalk and porch. He really did a good job in those seven hours.

When he finished, I asked how much I owed him. He said, "$700, no more, no less."

So I paid him about $100 an hour for the work. And I thought maybe I had been scammed, and I asked Art about it.

Art said, "Did he do the work you wanted done?"

"Yes, and more."

"Did he do the work for the price he quoted?"


"Then what's the problem?"

Well, if Mario quoted me $700 for two people for three days, that's a good deal. But the same work for $700 for one person for seven hours? That was $100 an hour. Twice what I pay the landscapers.

I guess I assumed he was bidding on the time it would take to do the job. And Mario was bidding on the job.

So, did I get scammed, or did I just misunderstand?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

What Grandma learned in London

I've taken this trip with my granddaughter Kai. It's a high school graduation gift. I told her and her twin, Ethan, that I would take them, one at a time, anywhere in the world they wanted to go as long as it wasn't hot, within a budget. Kai said, "I want to go somewhere with history and castles. And Iceland." So we spent two days in Iceland on our way to England, then a day at Bath and Stonehenge, then a week in London.

I don't know how much Kai learned in London, but I learned a lot!

1. It is easier to be part of a tour because you don't have to plan anything except for how you're going to spend your free time. Rick Steves tours are busy and interesting, with fewer than 25 people. When you ask your granddaughter what she thinks of the other people in the tour group, and she says, "They're interesting," you're surprised. But not really.

2. Your granddaughter may say she wants to see historical places, but her eyes really light up when she finds an open-air shopping opportunity. If the first thing that catches her eye is a leather skirt, but she finds out it costs 750 pounds, she can quickly move on to find a jumpsuit, blouse, shades and a hat for less than 120 pounds. And when she says to you, at the end of the day, "London deserves better from me than skinny jeans and a hoodie," you are impressed by her wisdom.

3. You may be able to find that perfect shopping opportunity when your tour guide has taken you there, but when you try to find it on your own the next day, you can't find a subway line that goes the right direction. This is especially true when your granddaughter is sure she knows how to get there, and you want to give her an independent experience, so you let her lead you onto trains that aren't going to the right places. And then you come back to your hotel and order fries and ice cream from room service.

4. If you hit the spacebar too hard when you're typing, you may drive your granddaughter to play MineCraft in the bathtub.

5. When you're getting around with your granddaughter in the city, she walks about 20 feet ahead of you, but she checks every few minutes to make sure you're still in sight. She is wearing a beanie or a hat, and mostly dressed in black, so it's not too hard to keep track of her. You've agreed that if you get separated you will either return to the last place you saw each other, or meet back at the hotel. You can almost always find each other. 

6.  You may have wanted to see "Midsummer Night's Dream", but your granddaughter prefers "Phantom of the Opera". You may have seen it twice before, but she never has. And when she says, "I liked that" before you even ask, you know it was the right decision.

7. Even when you're 70, you can still walk between four and eight miles a day for a week. When you lie down to sleep at night you're pretty sure you won't be able to get out of bed the next morning, but when morning comes, you can.

8. When a picture is taken of you and your granddaughter, and you look as old as you are and your granddaughter looks as old as she is, and you post it, people don't say, "You look old." They say, "What fabulous memories you're making!

9. When you go to London Pride, and you are wearing a "Free Grandma Hugs" t-shirt that your granddaughter has given you, you give a lot of hugs. Some people cry when you hug them. And when you say to them, "I love you just as you are," sometimes they hug you harder. And when you are giving those hugs, your granddaughter is standing close by, grinning.

10. A week is about the right length of time to spend with your granddaughter in London. We learned to navigate the subway system and city buses and how to get to Trafalgar Square on foot from our hotel.  We saw the city by bus, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral, the British Museum including the Rosetta Stone, the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels, an East End food tour, Windsor Castle (we overslept but needed the day off), the Churchill War Rooms, the South Bank of the Thames and the Borough Market, several pubs, and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. When we were sitting in Heathrow waiting for our flight, we were both ready to go home.