Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Summer gratitudes

I'm an optimist by nature. There's a metallic "grateful" piece hanging on one wall of our small place in Tucson. To me, "gratitude" is a more distanced word than "grateful". I like the immediacy of "grateful". It's happening in the present, not in some vague, general place.

I've got lots to be grateful for from just this summer:

In late June and early July we flew to Barcelona to board the Aegean Odyssey, a small ship leased by Road Scholar, for a 14-day cruise. We saw three new countries: Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. 

We caught covid, we think, during the four hours we spent at Heathrow airport in London. The symptoms showed up three days after we got home. We got prescriptions for paxlovid. We felt like we had very sneezy, runny-nose colds for a few days. Then we got well. Very glad it was this summer, with omicron, rather than two years ago, with maybe a ventilator.

On our way home from the Seattle airport, I left my passport in the Uber driver's car. The driver lost the passport, so I got a new one. It arrived in three and a half weeks - quite a bit sooner than the five to seven weeks the Expedited option had indicated would be the required wait time.

I walked once a week with my friend Gail, three or four or five times around a park in her neighborhood. Usually I used my trekking poles, old friends for hiking through the years, and now to take some stress off my cranky knee. Those times with Gail have been a gift.

My son James is our upstairs tenant. He comes down most afternoons to tell me about his day. His remodeling business is thriving. He's also very good about doing the handyman things for us. He's always accompanied by his Aussie, Augie, who eats the cat food nearly every time he comes into our apartment. Augie waits until none of us are watching, then enjoys his snack if we've forgotten to put the cat food bowl on the sink. I love the dog - someone else's dog is the very best kind. 

I bought a new e-bike. It's smaller than my three-year-old one, so I can get on without having to stand on the curb. I've only ridden it once since I got it last month, because it's very hilly in our Brier neighborhood and I'm a little scared of it. I'll do a lot of practicing in Tucson this winter, where it's flat.

We hung up three bird feeders and one for the hummingbirds. They're right outside my sliding glass door and I can see them from my recliner. We also have a terra cotta birdbath on the deck railing, and a little fountain on the deck. The birds love it. So do the squirrels! So far we haven't found a way to keep them from getting at the feeders - they jump down from the overhanging branches or shimmy up the poles. 

We replaced the many buttercups in the side yard with a garden area and wood chips so the place won't look so wild. Earlier in the summer we ate our fill of strawberries and raspberries. A convention of birds ate every blueberry on our three bushes in one day. We know we share our property with the critters. Some of the grapes are ripening up, but we had so much rain early in the summer that the crop won't be as plentiful. 

Today is my birthday. My friend Gail organized a lunch at a beach restaurant and the five of us enjoyed a two-hour visit. For dessert we ordered two peach cobblers and five spoons. It's been years since I've celebrated a birthday, and it was a great treat for me.

I think summer is ending in a day or two. It's been a good one.

Monday, August 22, 2022

In search of my passport

On July 8 we returned from our European vacation. Our plane landed in Seattle at 5:50 p.m. Too much rush hour freeway congestion to ask any of our adult kids to battle the traffic to pick us up - most of them live north of Seattle, and the airport is just south - so we called for a Lyft. 

Hassan picked us up three minutes later. Northbound traffic on the interstate was heavy, and Hassan was an assertive driver. At one point the brake lights of the car six feet ahead went on. Hassan braked sharply, just avoiding a rear-end collision. My pink passport cover (bought because it had a slot for my passport and other slots for my covid vaccine documents) and my daypack slid to the floor in the back seat. Hassan apologized for the sudden braking and reduced his speed very slightly for the remaining half hour to our house.

I said my passport cover ended up on the floor. When we went through security at the international arrivals terminal, the agent removed my passport from its slot in the cover and returned it to me, loose. I slid the passport into the cover, but didn't put it back in the slot. Then I forgot about it.

When we got to our house it was dark outside. I retrieved my daypack and the passport cover from the floor, extracted my luggage from the trunk, and thanked Hassan. He drove off and we hauled our luggage inside.

We unpacked the next morning, and that was when I realized my passport was missing. Art made his usual comment when I lose something: "Where did you last see it?" Then I remembered I last saw it when we went through security at the airport.

So I logged into Lyft, and one of the questions was, "Did you leave something in your ride?" I said my passport might be in the car. Within half an hour I got a call from Hassan. "I have your passport."

We agreed that the next time he had a fare to the north end of Seattle, Hassan would let me know and I would meet him there and retrieve my passport. The next week he sent me a voice message about "Edmonds" (two towns over), but there was so much road noise in the recording I couldn't understand him.  A week later I called and he agreed he would come to our house the next Monday to return the passport.

Monday came and went. The following Friday I texted Hassan. He said, "I am very sorry. I couldn't meet you on Monday because I had to go to Canada for my uncle's funeral. Before I left I moved your passport from my car to my house. I can't remember where I put your passport. So you will have to get a new one. I will pay for it."

Oh, shoot! Ordinarily I'd be okay with that, but I'm scheduled to leave for Europe on October 21, and I know even expedited passports take five to seven weeks to process. 

So, that same day I filled out the "lost or stolen passport" form on the State Department travel site. Then I started looking for an in-person appointment (required for a new passport). I entered my zip code, for agencies within 20 miles of me. "No appointments available." Fifty miles - same. All of Washington State. One in Spokane (eastern Washington) on August 26, one in Ellensburg (central Washington) in ten days. I reserved appointments for both places, just in case.

Three days later I tried again, looking for a cancellation. And there it was. Lake Forest Park - the next town to the south of mine - the following day at noon!

The appointment was quick and easy. And the place was right next door to a bike shop where I'd been interested in looking at a particular e-bike. They were closed that day, but the owner was there and he let me in. Lucky! (I bought the ebike three days later).

I went home and cancelled the Spokane and Ellensburg passport appointments. And I sent a text to Hassan: "I will pay. I was the one who left the passport in your car." He responded, "Thank you! I had expenses for my uncle's funeral, and I still have more. God bless you!"

Five to seven weeks after my appointment on August 8 is September 12 to September 26. Here's hoping the times are accurate. I read that if I am traveling in less than two weeks, I should call a special emergency number. So I have that call scheduled for October 7.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Lessons learned from our trip to Europe

We've been home for three weeks, so I've had time to reflect on our 16-day cruise in Europe. Except for travel back and forth between our apartment in Washington and our trailer in Tucson, it's the first trip we've taken since the Before Times.

As usual, I learned a bunch.

1. If you have a monthly travel budget, but you haven't done any traveling for two years, you have enough to splurge on business class plane tickets. You might have trouble figuring out how to get into your middle business class seat for the first time if you don't have very good visual/spacial intelligence; you block the aisle for a whole minute until you figure it out. The seat feels like being in a space pod. You can recline until you're lying down, and you can sleep. If you sleep for three hours in your business class seat, you don't have much fatigue and jet lag when you arrive in Barcelona.

2. It's a good idea to arrive at a tour's starting point a day early. When we went to Paris years ago, we arrived late in the afternoon of the start of the tour. I slept  through the entire bus ride of "Paris at Night". Since then, we arrive a day early when we're going on a tour.

3. If you have been learning Spanish on Duolingo for two months, you can have a conversation with the Barcelona taxi driver that you almost understand. Even if you're both limited in the other person's language, it can be done. Even if you both laugh from time to time.

4. You're glad you signed up for a "relaxed" group tour. You remember times in the past when you've walked several miles without a problem. And maybe it will happen again in the future. But if you have a bad knee, you're grateful to be with a group that takes it a little easier.

5. When you are watching out for your husband, who is still recovering from a weeklong hospital stay for sepsis that resulted in physical deconditioning, you sometimes don't give your full attention to lectures and other activities. But you knew this trip would be like that, so it's okay. You would both rather have this adventure than stay at home.

6. You have a comfortable cabin on the small ship, but you come to realize that you would rather be disembarking every day than spending every other day at sea. It's unavoidable if the places you're visiting are hundreds of miles from each other, but you decide next time you'll try river cruising.

7. Wine is free at dinner, and most of your shipmates enjoy that. You, however, don't drink, so when the conversations get louder, you usually excuse yourself and go back to your cabin. 

8. Walking around on a ship is good physical therapy, especially if you use the stairs instead of the elevator and if you leave your cane in your cabin sometimes. Since we've been home, I only use my cane when I'm walking a distance; in the house, and running errands, I don't. I'm stronger now for the ship experience.

9. All the ports of call were beautiful, whether in a city or in the countryside. Barcelona, Tangiers, Porto, Bilbao, Medoc, Saint Malo, Cherbourg, and Tilbury. 

10. Art had wheelchair assistance in the airports. Especially at Heathrow, we would have gotten hopelessly lost and might well have missed our flights, except for the assistance, which was magnificent. The distances were good exercise for me and possible for Art.

11. The hardest part of the trip for me was being without wifi. How embarrassing.

12. In our group, eight people tested positive for covid at some point onboard, and they were confined to their cabins until they had a negative test. We were lucky. We didn't test positive until the first week after we got home!

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Ports of call, Part 2 - France

We disembarked at Le Verdon-sur-Mer (Medoc, France) and drove an hour and a half or so through wine country. Art and I don't drink, so I wasn't much interested in this field trip, but I'm glad we went. The ride was beautiful, with miles and miles of fields of ripening grapes.

Many years ago, I went to a winery in Napa, California as part of a road trip. We did some wine tasting (I drank back then) and I found a rose I really liked, which I bought for years. The wine cellar was like a basement. Today's wine cellar had a different look.

Our local guide commented that most of the wineries were family owned for multiple generations. The young woman in the photo above is the fourth generation in the family-owned winery. These days, one of the children will run the business, another will do the marketing, and another will be responsible for the crop. 


Our next port of call was Saint Malo in France and a 90-minute bus ride to Mont Saint Michel. The photos I'd seen of the old fortress had always made the place look like an island.

But it turns out there's a tidal bore there, second largest in the world after the Bay of Fundy. In the space of a few hours, this monument temporarily becomes an island amid high tides. The tide was low during our visit.

Of the 11 people in our group not shown in this photo, eight were quarantined in their cabins and three had remained in Saint Malo to explore the town.

There's an abbey on the crest of the island and a village full of tourists and tourist shops on the lower levels. Art and I bought ice cream cones and then found stone benches set into the walls to people watch. It looked as busy as Disneyland. I've been told that if you find lodging for an overnight stay, it's really beautiful when the day trippers leave and the stars come out.

After our return to the ship for lunch, we had an option in the afternoon to explore Saint Malo. I wish I'd had enough energy to go out again. At the suggestion of the cruise program, Art and I were reading "All the Light We Cannot See," by Anthony Doerr, which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story is about a blind French girl (Marie-Laure) and a German boy (Werner) whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Part of the story takes place in Saint Malo, and the book details many of the streets and features there in describing how the blind teenager, Marie Laure, gets around. I would love to have found the house at #4 rue Vauborel.

From the port at Cherbourg, France, a bus took our group to Omaha Beach, which was one of the five landing beaches on D-Day (June 6, 1944).  I expected this day to be a trip highlight for me. Our visits to My Lai in Vietnam in 2006, and Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland in 2015, had been similar memorable times. I grew up in a military family, but actual war hadn't been talked about much. These destinations, for me, are markers of horror, of what humans can do to each other, whether they are looked at as heroes or monsters. For some reason, I need to see these places.

And the American Cemetery. One of our group had an uncle buried here.

The Aegean Odyssey left Cherbourg for our final leg across the English Channel, to the port of Tilbury on the River Thames. It's London's major port. We disembarked the next morning, boarding a bus for Heathrow Airport and our travels home. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Ports of call, Part 1 - Spain, Morocco and Portugal

We flew to Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, a day before the Aegean Odyssey embarkation and stayed at the Hotel Del Mar, near the port. A smallish room but fine for us to catch up on the time-zone difference. And a great breakfast buffet, with conversations in multiple languages around us.

The next afternoon, we took a taxi to the pier, got our passwords checked and temps taken, and took a quick Covid test before we boarded the Aegean Odyssey. Between that time and end of the cruise two weeks later, in our group of 24, eight people tested positive. They were quarantined in their cabins until they tested negative. Passengers were required to wear masks in all the public rooms and on public transportation. We were grateful to escape the virus during the cruise.

The first tour day our "relaxed" group (one of eight separate 25-person groups in this Road Scholar tour) took a panoramic bus tour of Barcelona, exploring the sites of the 1992 Summer Olympics. I wondered, in that congested area, how the Games accommodated the traffic.

The tour on the second morning was to the Picasso Museum, where many of the artist's early works are displayed. 

He was self-taught until the age of 16, then went to school to learn the traditional methods. He was a prolific sketcher; this wall displays only a small number of them.

It was a half-mile walk from the bus to the museum and back. Art passed on this field trip. Using my cane made the walk doable. I'm not much of a fan of art museums, but we had an excellent guide who made this one interesting.


The Aegean Odyssey left Barcelona that afternoon for a day at sea on the Mediterranean passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates Europe and Africa.  We disembarked in Tangier, Morocco. It's historically a city for international trade. Our relaxed group skipped the hilly climb to the Medina, the old city and marketplace. Instead, we visited Cap Spartel, a lighthouse tower near where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.

We also went to Hercules' Cave, of archaeological and mythological fame. I was proud that Art and I both managed the walk on the downward-sloping stones. 

And an extremely rough night and day at sea, when we were advised not to move around on the ship any more than was necessary. We appreciated the grab bars in the shower and in all the hallways.


Porto, our next port of call, is the second largest city in Portugal. In the medieval Ribeira district, narrow cobbled streets wind past merchants' houses and cafes.  

I stopped in a tourist shop near the cathedral. Small shop, MANY items for sale! 


Our next port of call was Bilbao, Spain. I had never heard of this city, in Basque country, and I wonder why that is.  

From Wikipedia: "Bilbao is one of the most important ports in Spain. Beginning in the 1870s, Bilbao experienced rapid industrialization based on the export of iron ore and the development of the iron and steel and shipbuilding industries." Thirty years ago it was a dirty and polluted industrial city. The industry is no longer dominant, and the city has become revitalized. The significant amount of money spent came from the EU, from taxes remaining in the region rather than being sent to the central government, and land sales available because many companies went bankrupt and had to sell their properties to pay taxes. 

We drove from the port up the river, so we could see where the old industrial sections had been. Our first stop was at the Vizcaya Bridge, the first ever transporter bridge built in the world, and one of the few surviving examples. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Vizcaya Bridge connects Portugalete and Getxo, two port towns along the Bay of Biscay. It's like a ferryboat suspended from a bridge.

There's a hilltop park that overlooks the city. We could see the revitalized river area and the Guggenheim Museum. As we stood at the railing, I said to Art, "I could live here." 

I'm not much into art, but the Guggenheim Museum was impressive. I love how the building is designed. I can't imagine how an architect's mind works to create "unconventional" structures. 

Here's just one of the exhibits: 

I took this photo - in the gift shop - because the people, hands in pockets, looking up, looked like I felt when I looked around the museum, from outside and within it.

Here's a link to a Lonely Planet article about how the museum came to be.

Ports of call, Part 2, coming soon.



Friday, July 8, 2022

Going, going....


Neither Art nor I got covid - though my son James, who lives upstairs, did. Fortunately, we hadn't seen him for three days before he got symptoms.

Art's physical therapy is going very well. Most of the time he's standing upright, rather than bent over as he was before. He's becoming "conditioned" again.

I went to the ortho clinic on Monday, got a steroid shot in my knee and an "offloading knee brace" to minimize the discomfort when I walk a distance.

I said to Art, "Are you looking forward to this trip?" He said, "Yes. I thought for a while you weren't going to want to go, so we wouldn't be going." I said, "That's because I didn't know if you would be strong enough." He rolled his eyes. I guess he was feeling better.

I'd read that lots of flights were being canceled and that there was a great shortage of baggage handlers at Heathrow and other airports, and that passengers were being advised to pack three days of clothing in their carryons. So we did that. 

We got everything into four suitcases, and made reservations for Uber to get us to the airport. Once there, we asked British Airways for wheelchair assistance for Art, both in Seattle and at Heathrow in London for our connection to Barcelona. We couldn't have asked for more attentive treatment. 

Business class is fabulous! 

I'll be sending out two more blogs about our trip: one with pictures for our seven ports of call and the other with my "what I learned on this trip" list.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

To go or not to go

We leave for Europe in three weeks for a two-week Road Scholar cruise. We fly from Seattle to Barcelona where we board a small ship (350 passengers) that visits Spain, Portugal, Morocco, France and England. We made this reservation last November. Knowing that we'd both had surgeries during the previous summer, we splurged big time on business class airfare so we could fully recline and sleep on the ten-hour flight between Seattle and London, and we'll arrive in Barcelona a day before the trip starts to minimize jet lag.

Passengers on the trip choose "relaxed" or "discovery" events and are assigned to groups of 35 people for the entire trip. Since Art and I are still not fully recuperated from summer surgeries last year, we both use canes when we walk outside the house. So we chose the "relaxed" group which doesn't involve as much walking.

Then, in late February, Art developed sepsis and spent a week in the hospital. He is still recovering from that illness. His doctor described him as "deconditioned", which is "a complex process of physiological change following a period of of inactivity, bedrest or sedentary lifestyle." He was also very low in vitamin B12 at his wellness exam last month, so he's begun getting injections. He has already reported more energy after just two shots. He finally got a physical therapy appointment for this week. He's getting stronger, but it's a slow process.

When I think about the amount of energy traveling requires I wonder whether it's wise for us to take this trip. I looked at the cancellation policy included in the Road Scholar contract. We could cancel it any time before the date of travel, for any reason, for a full credit, to be used in the next 18 months. And British Airways will give a credit to be used in the next year.

I also looked at the travel insurance we bought. Full cancellation with refund can be had if someone dies, or for a sickness or injury that: a) occurs before departure on your trip; b) requires medical treatment at the time of cancellation; and c) as certified by a physician, results in medical restrictions so disabling as to cause your trip to be canceled. Using this insurance would allow a full refund for both the cruise and the airfare.

So, I'm pondering. After a couple more weeks we'll decide. Right now, for me, it would be almost a relief to cancel and reschedule for a year out. For Art, it doesn't seem to be an issue. I asked him last month if he still wants to do this trip and he said, "We haven't been to any of those places." He wants to go.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Airport driver

Last month I dropped people off at the Tucson airport 12 times.

I volunteer for The Inn of Southern Arizona. We provide food, clothing and shelter for documented migrants traveling from the southern US border to the homes of sponsors elsewhere in the US. I've served on the board for the last year.

Before covid, my husband Art and I volunteered every Saturday night at the shelter. It was then located in the basement of a Methodist church in Tucson. Cots were set up for families, and meals were prepared and served in the church kitchen. When families received bus tickets from their sponsors, they were taken to the Greyhound bus station for their onward journeys. 

More than a year later, we reopened - this time in a motel just off Interstate 10. For the sake of safety, families were housed in individual rooms, and volunteers knocked on the door to deliver meals. Everyone wore masks and observed social distancing. All our guests had tested negative for covid; those migrants testing positive were housed at another shelter until their tests were negative.

Now, most of our guests fly from the Tucson International airport to the cities of their sponsors. 

I haven't volunteered on site much this year because it's hard to be on my feet for the four-hour shift; I'm still recovering from my hip replacement last summer. But I offered to be an airport driver. I'll get a text from Elsa, coordinator of the drivers. "We've got a family of three leaving at 3:30 p.m. Can you take them to the airport, help get their boarding passes, go through security with them, and take them to their gate?" 

I've learned that if I'm going through the airport with families, it will take two hours and 55 minutes from the time I leave my house until the time I get home: 35 minutes to the motel to pick up the family, 20 minutes to the airport, an hour and a half from the parking lot to the ticket counter to security to the gate to the family boarding the plane, 30 minutes back to the parking lot and then back to my house.  So if I have an afternoon free I can say yes. 

My Spanish is pretty limited, so I have Google Translate on my phone. I've recorded a few messages:  "I will take you to the ticket counter and help with your boarding passes" and "I will take you through security" and "I will stay with you until you get on the airplane." I show them the message in Spanish on my phone and they nod. Or I read them the message in my not-too-terrible Spanish.

At the ticket counter there is usually an agent who speaks Spanish. I get a gate pass there. At the TSA checkpoint there is always a Spanish speaker, who looks at the family's documents and takes their picture. They look at my driver's license and take my picture. We go through security. I take off my shoes and say, "No zapatos". We go to the gate and wait. Sometimes one of the family speaks a little English and we have a simple conversation. Sometimes we use body language to communicate. When the family's boarding row is called, the adults usually give me a hug and thank me, like I am the one responsible for their upcoming new life. Sometimes they cry. When they're about to board the plane, they look back at me and wave, and I wave back. 

I have taken families to the airport who are from Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti and Brazil. The young woman in the Brazilian family talked to me via Google Translate Portuguese. Her mother died nine years ago. The family had to leave the rest of their family behind in Brazil. She cried as she told me the story. I said, "I don't understand all of your words, but I understand your heart." I put my hand over my own heart and she nodded. Her name was Priscilla and she wanted my phone number so she could text me to tell me they had arrived safely. I got a text from her yesterday, with a photo her husband had taken of us.

Volunteer driver coordinator Elsa may also say, "We've got two families leaving at 11:45 a.m. We have another volunteer who will take both families through the airport, but the volunteer doesn't have enough room for everyone in their car. Can you take the second family and drop them off at the airport to meet up with the other volunteer?"

I know this will take me an hour and 15 minutes, so it's usually an easy "yes". 

I love this volunteer work. It makes a difference to a single person or to a family. It is easy for me. I get more than I give.

"Todos somos iguales." We are all the same.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The most embarrassing moment

I wrote this piece about ten years ago. Still the most embarrassing moment of my life.

My mother was somewhat of a snob. Not intellectually, for sure. Not even socially, for the most part. She was a high school graduate who made good by marrying a career military officer. From her position of safety, she was free to cast judgment upon others. And she taught her daughters well to do likewise.

"Tacky" was an especially dismissive term reserved for artwork in a house that differed from what she liked, unattractive wardrobe accessories worn by others, the exterior maintenance of a house that was other than what she would have done. "That is so tacky" was the ultimate scornful statement.

One of the most scorned yard treatments when we lived in Southern California was plastic flamingos on a front lawn. Whether a solitary bird or a flock, all of us pointed and laughed when we saw them. In our family it was almost like looking for license plates from different states while you're on a road trip. "Oh, look! SIX flamingos over there." Heads swiveled as we took in the tackiest of tacky sights.

As is usually the case, I strove mightily to cast off my mother's less attractive teachings. I didn't gossip, didn't speak harshly to family members, and reserved the silent treatment for only the most deserving situations. 

Many years later I had moved away from California and now lived in Washington State. I obtained a professional degree and was employed in a respected occupation with a salary that provided me with more than the necessities of life. I worked for a company that developed software programs for the educational institutions' administrative needs - for example, payroll, financial accounting and student scheduling. From time to time I would be sent into the field to train people on how to use the features of the software.

On one project, we had worked for several years to develop a new financial system and it was time to train the first district on its use. The suite of applications was called WISE (Washington Information Systems for Education). As a person logged into the system, a blinking owl greeted them (you know how an owl is WISE). It was in the days before graphics were sophisticated; back then the pictures were created using the characters on a word processor.

I drove to Puyallup to spend the day with the accounts payable clerk in the school district office. I'd been told she was reluctant to be changing how she did her work, so I wanted to approach her with compassion and a bit of humor to make the process easier. Her name was Darla, and I found her in a tiny office in the back of the building. I sat down with her and showed her how to log on. The computer was slow that day and the little blinking owl displayed for an unusually long time. To break the silence I said, "What do you think of the owl?" Darla said, "It's all right". I lowered my voice conspiratorially and said, "I think it's a little tacky myself - you know, like flamingos on someone's front lawn." 

And Darla said….

Yep. She said, "I have flamingos on my lawn."

I looked for a table to crawl under, but couldn't find one. Instead, I excused myself and slunk to the restroom.

I try to learn from my mistakes, so I have told that story many times. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life. Even more than when I had a tail of toilet paper tucked into my pantihose at work. And not just the toilet paper. The back of my dress. That probably happens to everyone at some point. When I talk about my horrible flamingo faut pas, I get to remember all over again that I was tackier that morning in Puyallup than a yard full of flamingoes ever could have been.

When we redid our yard several years later, I put a metal pink flamingo into the ground in the side yard, to remind myself. I wonder if people laugh when they drive by.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Looking back on some 2014 foolishness

 I wrote this in 2014, just eight years ago.

 My husband Art is six years older than me and for at least ten years he's been complaining about his aching bones. He's had a hip and a knee replaced, two rotator cuff surgeries and a hand surgery. Oh, and a pacemaker following a cardiac arrest last winter. He didn't use to seem that old to me. When we met we were in our 40s and he was trim and strong and nimble. Now he walks with a little hunch and groans a little when he gets out of his chair. Some days when he's cranky  all he wants to do is read the paper and work the puzzles and read in the living room, I ask if his arthritis is bothering him and he says yes.  

That is not going to happen to me. I know it isn't.

I've been healthy nearly all my life. When I was younger I broke my left arm and my left leg. Once in a while my back would go out, but it would be better within a few days. Usually it happened after I lifted something heavy. 

When I was 59 I ruptured my Achilles tendon working out at the gym. No big deal, the trainer said. I'd have surgery and P.T. and then I'd have a full recovery. So I had the surgery and did the P.T. and have, I'd say, about a 90 percent recovery. I don't have any pain but my right leg is smaller than my left. Something about the other leg compensating or whatever. Funny that didn't happen when I broke my leg at 23.

That same year I strained my SI joint. Maybe doing yoga, or maybe once when I slipped on an icy sidewalk and fell. My chiropractor took X-rays and pointed out that my lower spine is messed up and my pelvis is tilted. He said I was lucky I wasn't in any pain. But I was - for six months my SI joint hurt. We went to Paris for Christmas and I walked with a cane the whole week. Eventually I figured out I could go to the gym and work out on the elliptical trainer and get myself back into shape. I thought I'd recover completely, but the SI still bothers me seven years later when I'm on my feet too much in a day, or spending too much time in an airplane seat. I'm hoping it will get itself in order pretty soon. When I was younger my body always healed right up.

Three years ago I sat down in a chair that was two inches lower than I was expecting and I messed up my back. A light show of nerve sensations ripped down my leg from thigh to knee. Within half an hour my feet were tingling. I went to a chiropractor who said the sensations would pass within a few hours. They didn't. It's been three and a half years. The sensations are still there, though not as strong as they were at first. I hear it can take five years for these kinds of things to clear up and sometimes they never do get better. I think about my feet from time to time, especially when it's cold and they complain, but I don't worry. Everyone gets injured now and then, and I'm no exception. This doesn't have anything to do with getting older.

This summer I did so much watering of my garden that I strained muscles in my arms and legs. They're still bothering me. Really, it's annoying. This never used to happen to me.

I have other little odds and ends of physical issues. Nothing serious. I had one cataract removed a couple of years ago and will take care of the other one next summer. I try to get all my errands run before dark since I don't see so well at night. I'm a little stiff when I wake up in the morning.

But I'm never going to have aching bones like my husband. Not me. Nope.

Now it's 2022, and my story is different!

Now I have aching bones and I complain almost as much as Art. I had my right hip replaced last summer and, though it's healing, my low back and my left knee are complaining. Some days are better than others, of course. But some days aren't. And while we choose to live in Seattle from May to October, I already know that until the rain stops in late June, those aches will be quite bothersome.

I watch younger people in our Tucson retirement community - they're mostly in their 50s - playing tennis and jogging. And I remember how I felt at that age. They have no idea that the same thing will happen to them. Actually, they've been told it will happen, but they don't really believe it. Just like I didn't.

This afternoon I'll take an eight-mile ride on my electric bike. It will be so easy, with a little bit of pedal assist, that I'll be inclined to forget I'm one of those with aching bones. 

Until I get off the bike and climb the four stairs to our house.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Not an ordinary week!

This has been a week!

A week ago today I got a video from my Afghan friends Shakofe and Nasar. Shakofe had arrived with her family in Turin earlier in the week, and her brother Nasar had driven with his wife and four children from Germany to be reunited with his sister, whom he had not seen in six years. I played the video several times, tearing up at least once, and feeling so glad for the outcome of Shakofe's journey.

Early in the afternoon I had an hour-long Zoom call with my sister and brother-in-law. My husband Art joined that call, and we talked and laughed together.

Then the carpet cleaner came. While he worked, I sat on the deck and read in the sunshine. I didn't know what Art was up to.  When the carpet guy left I went to find Art. 

He was lying on the bed. He said he felt terrible after half a dozen occurrences of vomiting and diarrhea. I took his temperature and it was 100.4. I gave him a covid test and it was negative. Within half an hour his color had changed to a grayish blue. I took his temp again and it was 102.1. Art said he had never felt so bad. By this time his voice was husky and his breathing was rapid and shallow.

I called the consulting nurse for Kaiser Permanente, our health care provider. She asked me a few questions, then asked to speak to Art. His voice was faint. I took the phone back from him. The nurse said, "You need to call 9-1-1."

I said, "Art, she says I should call 9-1-1." He said, "No." I said "Yes."

Ten minutes after my call to 9-1-1, the EMTs arrived at our house. Art's oxygen saturation was 83. Within 15 minutes they had carried him on a gurney to the ambulance and left for Banner University Medical Center.

Before I went to the hospital myself, I contacted several close friends; I knew I'd need their support for whatever came up.

By the time I got to the emergency room, Art was wearing an oxygen mask and receiving antibiotics. The doctor told me it was likely Art had a bacterial infection that had gotten to his bloodstream. When he arrived at the hospital he had severe sepsis - septic shock. 

The medical team at Banner saved Art's life on Saturday night with oxygen and antibiotics and expertise. A lab culture grew e-coli within two days. He spent the next four days in the hospital's Progressive Care Unit as the staff monitored his progress and administered IV antibiotics and fluids. I talked to the doctors and the nurses. They were all committed to educating us as to what was happening and the plan for Art's treatment.

By Thursday Art's medications were being administered orally and his supplemental oxygen was discontinued. And yesterday, Friday afternoon, he was discharged from the hospital. He'll be resting and recovering at home for the next week or so. Today he spent the day in his pajamas, watching TV. I went for take-out Thai soup, and as he ate it, his face lit up at the flavor. It's been a week since that last happened.

I called the Kaiser consulting nurse service and thanked them for saving his life. The nurse I talked to got a message sent directly to her. I called the ambulance service and thanked them. I have the name and email address of the administrator of the Banner hospital team. I will thank the medical team, through her, on Monday. It often happens that these lifesavers don't know the outcome of what they do. I think it's important to let them know.

Grateful, grateful, grateful!


Sunday, February 13, 2022

Journey's end for my Afghan friend

Last Sunday, my Afghan friend Samira and her family flew from Islamabad, through Abu Dhabi and Rome, to Turin. Samira has been offered a one-year research project at the University of Turin. They are now finishing up their 10-day covid quarantine in an airbnb. They have been welcomed by the academic community and she is very glad and grateful to have arrived in a safe place to begin a new life for her family. 

This was Samira's first Facebook post when she arrived in Italy.

I Never Give Up!

Maybe sometimes I will be disappointed, maybe I will be tired, but I will not give up!
In addition to working as Ph.D. scholar on the "political system of Afghanistan", in these difficult circumstances, my efforts became not less but more.
I won a research project “Asylum System and University Experience: The Role of the Mentoring Project in the Political Socialization Processes of the Afghan Refugee Community in Italy”.
I hope I can be useful for my country ,and all the friends who supported me, especially Professor Simona Taliani, my good colleague at the University of Turin, Italy, Ruth and Linda, my good friends who were with me during all the difficult days.
Good Days Will Come Soon!

Last week I sent two international wire transfers. The first was for the family's airfare, donated by my friend Jan and her partner Jack. The second was for lodging and living expenses for two months until Samira's first paycheck arrives. 21 people donated $8,000! I am so grateful.

We are all in this together. I still believe it.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Good news from my Afghan friend Samira

I chatted online last night with my Afghan friend Samira, who is still in Pakistan with her husband and three small children. In December she had found a research scholarship the University of Turin in Italy. All she had to do was get there.

Acquiring a visa required passports stamped to prove legal entry into Pakistan. And she did not have those, because when the family left Afghanistan and entered Pakistan, its passports were taken, then returned, with no stamps. Also, at the border, the family's luggage was stolen, with all of Samira's documents buried beneath the clothing. This is often the case with migrants entering a new country. 

No exceptions were allowed for Samira and her family to leave Pakistan without the passport documentation. So she recently returned to the border and got the passports stamped. That is a story for another time. I was pretty much speechless when she told me about it.

On February 2 Samira will take her passports to the Italian embassy in Islamabad, and she told me the visas should be issued within a day or so. The family will then be able to fly to Italy to begin a new life.

I have two friends, Janet and Jack, who have offered to pay the travel expenses for Samira and her family. I have been in touch with Simona, Samira's Italian contact, who is a university professor. She is working with a travel agent to get prices for a flight to Milan and a train to Turin. I will wire the funds; Janet and Jack will reimburse me.

Simona tells me that Samira's first paycheck will not be issued for two months, so funds will be needed to support the family until that time. Her paycheck will be 2,000 euros a month. So I will be doing some fundraising in the next week to give her 4,000 euros (about $4500) for rent and living expenses until her paychecks begin. 

We hear so often about the tragedies experienced by refugees who have to leave their homeland because their lives are in danger. I met many of them when I volunteered at the Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece. Samira is the sister of Nadim, one of those Oinofyta refugees. When Samira and her family arrive in Italy next week, I will be relieved and grateful to have helped.

I tell this story often:

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?” The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” The man laughed to himself and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said,
“I made a difference to that one.”

(adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley)

If you want to help Samira with a contribution to her living expenses for the first two months, please email me at budsmom48@gmail.com, or call or text me at 206-499-0934.

We are all in this together!

Friday, January 14, 2022

Happy cat

We've had Larisa, our Designer Cat, for 11 years. She is a Siberian Forest cat; her registered name is Windrifter Larisa of Lundberg. She was a breeding queen at a small cattery in Oregon, and she was retired when she was five years old. We bought her because my husband Art is allergic to cats, but Larisa is a very-low-allergen cat and he is not allergic to her.

Larisa would not let us touch her until she had lived with us for 62 days. Now she's a typical cat.  We can touch her when she lets us.

We live in a Seattle suburb for six months of each year, and in Tucson for the other six months. Larisa travels on the plane in a soft-sided crate under the seat. She knows both of our homes and heads for the litter box when she first arrives at each place.

Last June, in Washington, I watched her exploring the yard. She looked a little hesitant, a little stiff. I guessed she had some arthritis in her hips. I hadn't noticed it until then because we'd been in Tucson, where it's warmer and drier and easier on the joints of most elderly creatures. We called our vet and she prescribed gabapentin for Larisa's arthritis. Powder in a gel tab. We spent most of the summer trying to get Larisa to take her medicine, a usually fruitless effort very familiar to cat owners all over the world.

Also last summer, Art had back surgery in June and I had a hip replacement in August. We were both distracted by some pain and by the pre- and post-surgical limitations each of us had. Larisa had gotten a close haircut in the spring, when the weather in Tucson got hot, and it grew all summer in Washington. By the time we left for Tucson again in October, Larisa looked like a slow-moving hedgehog.

I noticed that she wasn't grooming herself much. She had mats in her fur - under her chin, on her belly and on her back just in front of her tail. We'd brush her, but she was sensitive in the matted areas. Her coat looked dull. I wondered if she was sick, or just on the decline.

Last month, finally, we made an appointment for Larisa to be groomed. She got a bath and a haircut. It had been over six months. Art and I had been distracted enough by our own issues that we hadn't thought about it. We realized then that Larisa's arthritis had prevented her from reaching the mats to take care of them herself. When she moved or we brushed her, the mats had pulled on her skin. 

When we brought Larisa home from the groomer's, she was a different cat. She had a very short cut. She spent the first half hour grooming herself. Then she played with toys she'd ignored for months. She sits on my lap now most evenings. She sleeps in our bed most of the night. 

She's a happy cat. She's purring on my lap right now, her tail resting on my keyboard.