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.