Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Duty Kid

In my family of origin, the "duty kid" was a person who represented the family at an event. The event was usually hosted by someone in the generation before mine. 

My husband Art and I just returned from the celebration of life of my cousin Bob McNeal. His family lives in San Clemente, California. Bob was the oldest cousin on my mother's side of the family, and I was the second oldest. Now I am the senior member of that generation of McNeal offspring. 

My sister Alyx was pretty close with Bob, as she spent many years as a resident of California, and Bob was the power of attorney and executor of my mother's estate. Alyx and her husband Virgil had planned to meet us for the California weekend, but Virgil was undergoing chemo for stage 2 bladder cancer. Alyx didn't want to create a risk for Virgil's compromised immune system, so she decided not to go. I offered to read any tribute she might write.

I'm not a shy person, but I am quite uncomfortable walking into a room where I only know one or two people. There were over 100 at Bob's celebration of life. Fortunately, the first person I saw was Bob's wife Judy. I asked her if there was anything I could do to help. She said, "I've been walking around with my camera all afternoon but I haven't taken a single picture. Could you do that?" "Sure," I said. So I spent 20 minutes meeting people at every table in the room. It was much easier than random small talk.

Bob McNeal had a younger sister, Patti, who's four months younger than me. So she'll be 75 in January. I haven't seen Patti in 50 years, and I'd heard that she was really looking forward to having a conversation with me. And that did come to pass. She and her daughter Christy wanted to meet up with Art and me for dinner the night before the celebration of Bob's life. We spent 15 minutes on the phone trying to decide where to eat. It was hard because we live in Tucson and they live near Dallas and Patti is a picky eater and we didn't know local restaurants or how to get around in San Clemente. Eventually Patti decided on IHOP! I have never been to IHOP for dinner, but I was game. I had fruit crepes - quite excellent, actually. Patti and Christy and Art and I sat together at the celebration the next day and then went to IHOP again for dinner. 

Most families have an interesting dynamic, especially when there are multiple generations present. Patti told me all about them from her perspective. It seemed important to her to tell me, and I'm a good listener. From time to time Christy modified what Patti said so I understood a little better. What was most interesting to me is that I would never have recognized Patti if I'd seen her on the street, but Christy looked just like her mom. I'm glad she came along!

Bob's oldest son hosted the tribute session. Patti spoke first and then he called on me - probably because we were the same generation as Bob. I read Alyx's tribute and then added a story of my own. Then the grandkids, childhood friends, Navy buddies, FBI associates, and neighbors. It was a fun and heartwarming gathering.

Sitting in the airport this morning waiting for our flight home, I sent copies of the 50 photos I took to Judy. 

I'm very glad to have seen so many of my relatives though, as I said, it's been a lot of years for most of them. I've decided there are advantages to being the duty kid.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Still here and still grateful


Like other blogging friends, I found myself taking a break even though that wasn't my intention. It wasn't that nothing was happening, either. I have been way too busy in my body and in my head. But I am grateful for almost everything.

  • We spent our summer in Washington at our family home. My younger son James lives upstairs. He has been our concierge, handyman, trash bin taker-outer, and friend. 
  • James has met the woman of his dreams and Ashley has become part of our family. Every time she visited James this summer, she came downstairs to our apartment and gave Art and me a hug. She cooked for us half a dozen times. She has a wonderful laugh, and James laughs with with her, and so do we.
  • I decided that, nine years after joining my UU congregation, it was time to start giving back. I have taken on three service activities; I'm now on the finance committee for the church, and I'm the "calendar person" who keeps track of requests for rooms from multiple groups within the congregation, and recently I've become the lead for the web redesign team. Not the tech part, but the coordination. I'm content to be "part of" in this community, so the time I'm spending is more than worthwhile.
  • My knee replacement on May 29 was successful. The biggest challenge was not the PT, but the walking in my neighborhood. It's hilly there, and my post-surgical sedentary time meant I was out of aerobic shape. I used to be a big walker and that's still my goal, though most likely on a smaller scale. Now that we're in Arizona where it's much flatter, the walking is easier. I rarely use my cane, and haven't used my trekking poles at all yet this season.  
  • When Art and I started volunteering at Inn 2 (a shelter for asylum seekers in Tucson) six years ago, we would usually have 25 guests in three classrooms of a Methodist church. Then we became a nonprofit, The Inn of Southern Arizona. Then I became a board member, and then vice president. At present we have 80 rooms in a hotel with up to 300 guests a night. We have had growing pains! Meeting the needs of staff, volunteers and guests can be time consuming. I'm grateful I have the time and I know how to listen.
  • I continue to take online classes a couple of days a week through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (Olli). This activity started during covid, and now that there are in-person classes I can attend, I still prefer the online ones. If I miss one, I can usually watch a recording later. Really glad to have an opportunity to learn new things.
  • My goal as been to age with grace. Now that I'm actually getting old - I was 75 in September - I'm not always graceful. I keep expecting my body to return to a place similar to where it was ten years ago. I am beginning to believe that probably won't happen. On this one, I'm grateful I'm still healthy, and usually in my right mind. That may be as good as it gets.
These days I am busier that I'd like to be, but when I consider what I could drop, I'm not ready to let go of any of them yet. Time will tell.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you've got lots to be grateful for as well.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Curling up like a sow bug

We're leaving for Tucson in a few weeks. The Seattle rains have started, and the Tucson temperatures have dropped below 100 degrees, so it's time.

Last spring I told my Tucson friend JoAnne (actually, she's from St. Louis but she and her husband spend the winter in the same retirement community as we do) that I would take a beginning drawing class this year. JoAnne is a fearless kind of person and she tries all kinds of things, and she said I should try it. I promised her I would.

Ten years ago or so I was in a writers' group here in Seattle. We'd taken a certificate program in nonfiction writing at the University of Washington, and after the program ended we decided to meet up regularly to continue writing together. Mostly it was conversation, with a little bit of writing. I called it the "apologetic writers' group" because we often apologized to each other for not having written anything since our last meeting.

Then we started doing "20 minute writes" during our meetings. We'd pick a topic and then write for 20 minutes, and then read what we'd written to each other.

Here's what I wrote on April 28, 2014:


Well, I don't know about you, but in the family I was raised in we all had our roles. Me and my sister, we was kind of labeled by our folks from a young age. I was the smart one, but they also thought I was lazy and selfish and disagreeable. My sister Moo Moo was the creative one. She was younger than me and my Mama liked her best. It wasn't just me that thought that. Even Mama's friends thought so. They told me that right at Mama's wake. "You sure did get the short end of your Mama's kind thoughts," they said. I knew that already, but Mama was dead by now so it didn't matter so much. Just a little.

Didn't much matter that I toed the straight and narrow most of my life and Moo Moo was a wild and crazy one. I was quieter and just did my life in kind of a rule-following way, not doing chancy kinds of things. Nothing too spectacular about me except I got good grades. That's easy for a smart and quiet person. Moo Moo just barely passed high school, always carrying on.

Anyway, I did the school plays and the singing shows and the choruses, because I loved music and liked the other kids who did those things. But I never took art. That was Moo Moo's area, my Mama said. "You're the smart one and Moo Moo is the artist." And you know, Mama was always right. Everyone thought that, especially her and our Daddy. Daddy told us once, "Your Mama has only been wrong one time, and that was when she thought she was wrong and she was really right." He was kind of smiling when he said it, but it was pretty true.

So I never did learn how to do art, except for paint-by-number sets and coloring books. In the coloring books, sometimes I outlined and sometimes I didn't. I didn't like coloring the big spaces like sky and whole bodies. I liked the littler things like flowers.  And Moo Moo did drawings from chalk and then painted from watercolors in a box. I remember one of her paintings in the hall of Mama's house. Every time I walked down that hall I seen it. You can't put glee clubs on a wall, so I always remembered that Moo Moo was the artist.

Now I'm pretty old, and Mama has been dead for a while, and I want to see if I can do some art. I don't exactly know why. Maybe because I don't want to be scared of it. So I would take a class called "Art for the Terrified."

I have a friend Barbara who is an art teacher. I was down at the community center last week and we got to talking and I admitted that when I just think about drawing or painting a picture I want to curl up in a little ball like a sow bug. Just scares me. I'd be pretty bad. I'm not the artist, you know. And Barbara said she would teach a class at the center next year for people like me who are scared of art. "You know, all art is is a bunch of shapes," she said. "You start with shapes like circles and rectangles and cubes and pretty soon you have done some art." I was just amazed to hear that. I wondered how I got to be so old and not know that. I read a lot and I know a bunch, but not that.

And then I found out that when an artist is working, and they's looking at a model or something, they don't try to make their art look like an exact copy of what they're seeing, like a photograph. They make it like they feel it. I never knowed that. That's a sow bug kind of thing, for sure.

So anyway, I told Barbara if she teaches a class called "Art for the Terrified" I will take the class, at least for the first day. If I find out all the other people in the class aren't as scared as me, I will most likely not go back. I don't want to be the only sow bug in the room.

I told Moo Moo about the class and she thought it would be a fun class. Maybe for her. 

But I got to try it. I never got the chance for Mama to say I was an artist.


It's been over nine years since I wrote this. I'd forgotten about this piece until I started moving all my old writing from my old MacBook Air to my new one. I'm still afraid of taking the class, but I promised JoAnne. These days, though, it's not about wanting my mother to approve of anything. I've succeeded in my life in ways beyond anything she would have imagined. But I am a lifelong learner, and I want to continue to grow.

I will try very hard not to curl up like a sow bug!

Friday, September 8, 2023

A Few Little Things

I keep waiting for something to happen that calls for a blog post. Not a lot, it turns out. But several little things, I guess, are worthy of discussion.

  • One of my twin grandchildren, Kai, came to spend the weekend with us last month. They live in Spokane and are 23. For several years their job has required them to work some weekends, so their availability for a quick trip has been limited. They have a new job, though, with weekends off, so they came to Seattle on Friday night and went back home on Sunday late afternoon. I was concerned about driving in the dark to pick them up, but couldn't find a willing substitute. It turned out I missed the exit for the airport - after at least 100 trips over the last 20 years - and ended up in the next city over, on a detour, in the dark, with ridiculous traffic. Fortunately, the plane was late unloading passengers because they started standing up before the plane stopped at the gate and the flight attendants wouldn't let them get off until everyone had sat back down again. Next time I'll send younger eyes or sprint for Lyft or Uber.

Kai came for a weekend visit a year ago and was very quiet, spending a lot of time in their room. This year, they talked from the time they got in the car at the airport until I dropped them back off two days later. We went to see "Barbie" - the first time I've been in a theatre in over four years - and Art and Kai and I played a party game called "Do You Know Me?" Such a fun time! I found out that Kai tells their friends I'm their "cool" grandmother.

  • Slow improvement in the rehab of my new knee. I've taken just three walks in my neighborhood because if it's over 68 degrees I get too sweaty after a mile, and I'm not a morning person who gets out there when it's cooler. I have, however, started walking up and down the stairs between our lower deck and the upper one. Twelve cedar stairs with railings. At first I had to cling to the railings to pull myself up. Now I just use them as balance aids. Three times up and down the stairs, twice a day. My physical therapist says that is better for strengthening my legs than just walking, so I'm encouraged. 

I had my final PT session this morning. I got a few more exercises to loosen up my hips and strengthen my core and glute muscles. But I walked into the clinic, and back out, without trekking poles or a cane or a limp !!!!!! 

  • My once-every-ten-years colonoscopy came and went last week. Four days on low fiber food, two days of liquid only, the miserable prep, and a good outcome. The next day I made our flight reservations to Tucson for November 14. The weather is still good here in the Seattle area, but I expect increasing clouds and rain to be coming soon, so we'll be heading for our sunny winter place. Fortunately, son James lives upstairs so there will be someone at our house all winter. We decided not to rent out our apartment this year because it's more convenient just to pack up and go without having to box up everything for a tenant. Besides, we paid off our mortgage two months ago - YAY! - so we have a bit of extra cash.
  • I'm the business manager for my son James' remodeling business, now three years old. I am still learning new things about laws and contracts. This has been a great bonding experience for all the household residents. 
It's the little things, you know. And I am, as usual, grateful for all of them.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Our Weekend Away

Last month a friend of ours in Tucson passed away from ALS. When we got the email from his wife Joan giving us the sad news, I said to my husband Art, "Do you want to go to John's celebration of life?" He said, "Of course. We want to say goodbye to our dear friend." We'd last seen John and Joan in late April for a meal, just before we came back to Seattle for the summer. At that time John was just beginning display signs of his illness.

For this trip, I used frequent flyer miles, bought seats with extra legroom and requested wheelchair assistance at both the Seattle and Tucson airports. I'm nine weeks past my knee replacement and figured the airport walks would be arduous. I'm grateful we had the miles available and the money for the seats with extra legroom, and for wheelchair assistants.

We got up at 4:45 a.m. on Friday for an 8:00 a.m. flight. After comparison shopping for transportation to and from the airport from our Washington home, we'd decided to drive to the airport and park in one of the nearby lots. It's been 15 years since we've taken a short trip by plane, and in that time parking rates have increased significantly. But traffic was light and the shuttle from Master Park Lot C to the airport was efficient. 

Without wheelchair assist I would have been exhausted and ready for a nap by the time we got to the gate. I was a little embarrassed to be using the service, because I can walk, but I'm not yet comfortable with anything beyond a stroll, especially without my trekking poles. I took my cane because the poles didn't fit in my carryon.

After a smooth flight, we were picked up at the Tucson airport and delivered to our park model at the Voyager RV Resort, where we spend half the year. Our summer care guy Steve had turned on the hot water and set the A/C to 75 - since it was 105 when we arrived, that was a necessity. Art hooked up the battery to our Prius, and we were ready for our weekend.  Lunch and dinner at two of our favorite places. I'm grateful for our own place in Tucson and for the familiarity of restaurants there.

Saturday was the celebration of life for our friend John - a lovely progressive mass followed by a luncheon. And then a family party at the house. We said hello to John and Joan's children and grandchildren, a number of John and Joan's siblings, nieces and nephews, and a few other friends. I'm grateful that I have learned to have conversations with new people.

We left our place at 10:30 a.m. and got back home at 8:30 p.m. It was still 99 degrees at that time, after a high of 109 when we were leaving the church and walking across the asphalt parking lot. We were both very tired but glad and grateful for the day we'd spent with others mourning John's loss and celebrating his life. 

And Sunday we flew home. At Master Park Lot C the cashier asked if we had a discount coupon. I said, "No. Can you give me one?" He said yes! Three days of parking cost less than a Lyft would have for just one way. I'm grateful!

We stopped at our favorite Thai place in Mountlake Terrace, the next town over, and then drove home to greet our cat, Dutchy, who was glad to see us but annoyed we'd left her for three days. She'd been fed twice a day while we were gone, but ate two cans of food once we'd arrived home.

So now we're home, listening to the sounds of birds and the trickling water from the fountain just outside our door. 

So glad we went, so grateful we could.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

The long slog

In three days it will be six weeks since I had my left knee replaced. I have a final appointment with my ortho surgeon that day. Here are the questions I'll ask him: Can I go to the dentist, give blood, get Hep C and covid vaccines, ride a bicycle, do water exercise, fly on a plane?

I have finished up the antibiotics and assorted other meds prescribed for me immediately after the surgery. All the PT exercises given to me in the first month are easy now; most of the ones given in the last two weeks are hard. That's how it should be. My range of motion was 0 to 124 degrees four weeks after surgery, which is pretty good.  

In consultation with my physical therapist over the last month, I put away my walker, skipped the using-a-cane phase, started using trekking polls inside and on short walks outside, started sleeping on my side and stomach again, and resumed driving. Yesterday I picked raspberries in my yard and was able to set the trekking polls by the raised garden beds and stand among the canes to pick the berries.

Just in the last couple of weeks I've accepted invitations for lunch with friends. A group brunch and a concert at my church are coming up on my calendar in the next couple of weeks, and it's likely that I will really go. I've got increased energy now, and an actual interest in getting out there again as I'm able.

I've learned that recovering from the surgery is not a straight and upward line. It's more like a shallow, wavy one. Some days I feel like I'm coming along pretty well physically, but on others it seems I've regressed just a little with regard to pain or strength. 

And I hadn't expected the emotional and mental wave that's happened.  Part of that, I think, may be the amount of time I've spent at home, with just my husband Art or with no one. Everyone else is out in the world and I am not. I'm sure that's not the case, but in my moments of discouragement it seems like it.

One advantage of the increased time on my hands is that I've been able to spend chunks of time on things I've put off for months: revising our trust, getting our medical reimbursements taken care of, modifying our long-term care policies. This past week I sent a small check to pay off our mortgage. I may not be moving forward physically as much as I'd like, but it feels good to be more caught up on other things in life.

We are scheduled to fly to Budapest in three and a half months for a two-week river cruise. I'm hoping to have the stamina and strength to do that, rather than postponing the trip until next spring. 

Here's to a summer of recovery!

Monday, June 12, 2023

Ice and elevate

I've had my new left knee for 12 days now. Pretty much routine surgery and rehab so far.

For the first week, we had a friend or family member visit for a couple of hours each day, to give Art a break from his primary caregiver role. It was good to see every one of them.

I've been told PT is critical to regain full range of motion of my knee and strength in the surrounding muscles. I am resolved to be fully compliant and so far I have been. 

This is not fun. Granted, most of the surgical pain is gone. Most of the PT is working. I HATE heel slides. That's where you draw your bent knee back as far as you can, to increase the range of motion. It hurts. I do it anyway. 

Here's what I can do now that wasn't possible a week ago: lift my leg onto the bed from the floor; walk easily with a walker; shower by myself; dress myself; empty my own urinal (female version means I don't have to get myself to the bathroom at night - a fabulous invention); get my leg into the car to go to PT; eat at the table; pet my cat when she's lying on the floor; change out the frozen water bottles in the ice machine; get my coffee cup from the pot to the table.

I am tapering off oxycodone. So far, so good. Tylenol works pretty well.

The joint replacement and rehab is the only goal I have for the summer. I'm only two weeks in, with another 14 to go before fall. It looks like a long and boring road, but my expectation is that I'll be able to climb stairs - on alternating legs! - and maybe walk a couple of miles in my neighborhood. Oh, and we have a river cruise scheduled for late October. Maybe I'll be able to walk a couple of miles in some riverside town in Eastern Europe.

In the meantime, there is icing and elevating and physical therapy. And there are books to read, and movies to watch, and conversations to have with visitors. For now, that needs to be enough.

This photo was taken three days after the surgery.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Two weeks later, here's what I've noticed

We flew home from Tucson after our six-month stay. Here's what I've noticed:

  • It always feels weird to be back for about a week.
  • It is much quieter in our Brier apartment than it is in our Tucson place. Maybe because the lots are much larger. Maybe because most of our neighbors in Brier are at school or at work. In Tucson, our neighbors are mostly all retired, so they're usually around.
  • If you rent out your place to someone for the months you're gone, you have to put a lot of your stuff into storage to make it like an Airbnb for the tenant. And when you get back you have to spend several days putting all your stuff back. It's a lot of work. But you get to decide where you really want everything to go, and what you really don't need. That's a good thing.
  • If you think you'll get right back into your usual social activities, you may be mistaken. You may, instead, want to spend all your time indoors as you adjust to the change in your living space. Fortunately, in the second week you'll be interested in getting out of the house again and seeing a few people.
  • If you bring a new cat with you, the cat will explore immediately rather than hiding behind the dryer or under the bed like she did in Arizona. That's because she knows you now, so she can be curious rather than afraid.
  • If you know your new cat liked dogs where she lived before, you may be encouraged to think she will like the dog who lives upstairs. But if that dog, on its first visit downstairs, eats the cat's food, the cat will immediately take control and terrify the dog. Then, even in a heat wave, the dog will remain upstairs in the hot rooms rather than coming downstairs where it's cooler.
  • There is a noisy goose who lives across the street from you. The goose has lived there for the last three years. You wonder what the life expectancy of a goose is.
  • You will be surprised at how much greater the cost of living is in your Seattle suburb than in Tucson. The first time you order food from Door Dash, you will pay $60 for two Thai dinners and spring rolls. You only paid $45 two weeks ago for the same thing in Tucson.
  • You have been waiting for months to start the process of getting a knee replacement. You see your orthopedic doctor a week after you get home. He says there is a list you have to get in, but the scheduler will call you. Three days later you find out you are scheduled for May 31 - about a month earlier than you expected. That is very good news. You are excited to get your presurgical labs done and you are grateful that all the tests come back normal.
  • You have a Tucson Facebook group, and every day you can see what your Arizona friends are doing. Most of them have gone home for the summer like you have, but their faces all come to mind. You also have a Brier Facebook group and you know that now you'll be able to see their faces in person. It's all good!

Friday, April 28, 2023

Snowbirds going home tomorrow

This was our tenth year as snowbirds in Tucson. A few things made it less satisfying than usual:

  • Larisa, our Designer Cat, crossed the rainbow bridge on December 1. She was 17 and had been ailing for a couple of months. Being without that girl has been a big deal. We weren't ready for a new cat for almost three months. 
  • Dutchy, our new Siberian Forest cat, is also Designer Qualified. We drove five hours from Tucson to Kingman to pick her up on February 26. Nine weeks later, she has become part of the household, but so far, if I want to pet her, I have to bend over where she is lying stretched out on the floor. She won't share a chair or a couch with us yet. She ignores Art except at feeding time. Tomorrow she is going to take her first airplane ride.
  • Tucson had a cooler winter than usual, with more cloudy days. We kind of skipped spring, as the temps went from the 60s to the 80s just a few weeks ago. 
  • The resort swimming pools underwent maintenance for much of the season, so water exercise wasn't in the cards for me this year.
  • My left knee needs to be replaced. I have an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon on May 8. I didn't want to have surgery and then physical therapy in Washington's fall weather, or arthritis as I was recovering, so I bit the bullet and accepted the awkwardness and pain of bone on bone.
Still, a bunch of things were just fabulous:
  • I love playing handbells. The only times my busy mind is quiet is when playing bells or doing yoga. 
  • We painted all the cabinets in our park model. They'd been brown wood, and now they're a pale gray-green. The place looks bigger and lighter. I'd never even thought of paint until this, our ninth season.
  • My next door neighbor Sharon has a wonderful eye for decorating. This year we replaced the faux leather loveseat that came with the place with a new-to-us LazyBoy sleeper sofa, and the Ikea desk with a couple of Wayfair pieces that I would never have considered except for Sharon's recommendation. I love the new look.
  • We have a dinner group - eight people that go out to eat every Friday. We meet at a restaurant of choice at 4:30 and we're home by 6:45. Living the life! 
  • I led an online class through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (Olli). Three 90-minute sessions in March. The class was called "Saying Yes to Life After Retirement - Making a Difference." It took time to prep for the class, and I was quite nervous during the planning part, but the class went well.
  • I still volunteer at The Inn of Southern Arizona, though in a different capacity than a few years ago when I worked a shift with asylum seekers in the basement of a Tucson church. Now I'm vice president of the Board, so I get to have input on both current issues and planning for the future. 
  • We spent four February days in Sedona. Five of our eight grown kids joined us. During the day they did all the adventurous things while Art and I hung out in our condo. Each evening we gathered for dinner, either in a restaurant or in a condo unit. We have some good cooks in our family!
  • We've decided not to bring a second car to Tucson next year - road trips aren't as fun as they were when we were younger and our bodies were more flexible - so we traded in our battered, high-mileage 2005 Prius for a 2009 model in better shape and with lower mileage. Art drives it now, but next year we will share.
We're ready to go home tomorrow, to the greener Pacific Northwest.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

March was quite a month!

 I thought I'd write all this down so I don't forget what happened in March.

  • First, of course, is our Dutchy. She's the most interesting cat I've ever owned. Follows me around. Brings catnip mice to the foot of my bed. Steals my recliner as soon as I get out of it. Has the zoomies every morning and every evening. Lies flat on the floor to be brushed or admired. Really a fun addition to our household! Next week we'll take her to the vet for a first checkup and to be chipped so we can find her if she ever gets out of the house.
  • One of the residents of our winter retirement community, Fran, was a cardiac nurse for many years. Since 2014 she has held three chest-compression CPR classes each season. First- or second-year medical students, sponsored by the Sarver Heart Center in Tucson, come to the Voyager to teach the procedure to residents. The Saturday after I took the class, Art had a cardiac arrest on the pickleball court, and I saved his life.

        I tell the story in my blog post dated January 26, 2014: CPR in the real world

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Fran asking if Art and I would be willing to talk to the class about our experience. Of course we said yes. I believe that storytelling is a powerful way to make a point; the immediacy of an actual experience is more compelling than a lecture or a set of PowerPoint slides. Art had a dentist appointment so he missed most of the talk.

The communications person at Sarver Health was unable to make it to the class, but came out two days later to interview Art and me about our experience. They plan to put the edited video on their webpage to let people know about this method of CPR. 

  • I had the opportunity to be a Study Group Leader for a three-session Olli (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) class on Zoom called Saying Yes to Life in Retirement - Making a Difference. I kind of got talked into it, and I worried about it for a couple of months before the actual dates. The last session was yesterday. Overall I'm happy with how it went.
  • Last Friday night Art and I went to a going-away party for a friend. The next morning, two of the attendees tested positive for covid. Art had sat next to one of them during the meal, and by Tuesday he tested positive.  I hadn't been close to either person, so I didn't get covid from the party; I got it on Thursday from Art. This is a second round for both of us. Fortunately, both of us have had mild cases so far. It has been a very long time since we have spent days in our pajamas. It will be good to get out of the house again.
We're beginning to make our going-back-to-Washington plans. We fly home on April 29. 

Monday, March 6, 2023

It was worth the drive

Our Designer Cat, Larisa, was 17 years old when she "crossed the rainbow bridge" on December 1. We called her a Designer Cat because my husband Art is allergic to cats, and she was hypoallergenic. 

When Art and I  first got together in 1992 my previous cat Muffin had been in my household for five years. One day Art said he was sorry, but if the cat was going to sleep in our bed he would have to sleep in the guest room, because he was allergic to her. So after that we closed the bedroom door and Muffin slept somewhere else.

After Muffin was gone we were catless for five years. Then I heard about Siberian Forest cats. The breed began to be imported from Russia in the 80s, but I hadn't heard about them until I started researching hypoallergenic cat possibilities. Some, but not all, Siberians lack the protein in their saliva that causes allergies. 

In 2008 we drove to Stayton, Oregon, to do an allergy test with Larisa, one of the Lundberg Siberian queens. Art buried his face in her fur, and he didn't get all watery eyed and sneezy. He wasn't allergic to her! So we put our names on the Lundberg kitten list, hoping for one of Larisa's kittens. Six months later, we were looking at the Lundberg Siberian webpage and discovered that Larisa was being retired as a breeding queen and was available for a family. We applied to purchase her and we were accepted. We drove again to Oregon. We let Larisa out of her crate in the car on the four-hour drive home, and she did her exploring. But once we got her home, she hid, as cats usually do in a new and unfamiliar place. Larisa knew where the litter box was, and she found the food and the water. But she lived mostly under the bed, and we'd had her for 62 days before she'd let us touch her.

Larisa took her time to become a regular house cat. She was always a bit shy, not much of a cuddler. But she loved to be brushed, and she spent time near us in the evenings, usually on the back of a sofa where she could see what was going on. When we started dividing our time between Brier, a Seattle suburb, and Tucson, she traveled with us in her soft-sided Sherpa crate, under the seat in front of me on the plane. Both places were home to her as they are to us.

After Larisa died, I did a national search for another retiring Siberian queen. I found five - in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, California, Oregon and Arizona.  I'd developed a short list by Christmas, and asked Art what he thought. He said, "I know you want another cat, but I think it's too soon." He rarely expresses an opinion, so when he does I listen.

We decided on a cat living in Kingman, Arizona. Her registered name is Pumaridge Killjoy Dutch, but she is called Dutchy. She is a red mackerel tabby. She was due to be bred one more time, and her owner said she'd probably be ready to pick up in June. That was fine with me. We'd be traveling home to Washington in late April. I intended to have my knee replaced in early June. I figured by July I'd be ready for a new cat. We would fly to Las Vegas to pick up Dutchy, with the cattery owner driving from Kingman to meet us.

In late January I heard from Tina, the owner of the Pumaridge cattery in Kingman. She said they'd decided not to breed Dutchy again, so she would be spayed and available to us in late February. I wanted to be sure Art wouldn't be allergic to her, so we decided to meet Dutchy first. As it happened, we were meeting several of our grown children in Sedona for four days in early February. When our family time ended, we made the three-hour drive from Sedona to Kingman to meet the cat. Again, Art buried his face in her fur, and again he did not sneeze or get watery eyed. 

So last weekend we drove from Tucson to Kingman - a five-hour drive - to pick up Dutchy. We spent the night in a Kingman motel. We arrived at the Pumaridge cattery at 10 a.m., and by 11 we were on our way back to Tucson, with the cat in a crate in the back seat of our Accord. Dutchy did a lot of talking on the way home, but she was a pretty good car traveler.

Road trips used to be more fun than they are now. Art and I are older and way less agile than we used to be. Every time we got out of the car for a meal or for gas, it took a few feet of walking for us to get our legs working properly, and Art used his cane most of the time. Plus, I did most of the driving, because Art is a very assertive driver and when he is behind the wheel I am scared. So this trip to Kingman was a must-do thing, but I wouldn't say it was fun. 

For the first 24 hours at our house, Dutchy talked a lot. I'm thinking she was asking questions: "Where am I?" and "Who are you?"

Dutchy has been with us for a week now. She knows where the litter box is, and she's eating and drinking. She's found her favorite hiding spots. But she's already let us touch her - no 62-day wait for this one! She loves to be brushed under her chin. We heard her purring yesterday. She's starting to hang out with us, though she dashes away at sudden sounds or movements. We put treats where we want her to explore, and she finds them all. Including the ones on our bed. I suspect she'll be a snuggler when she feels at home.

Our new girl was worth the drive!

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Good things during our time away

When Art and I got together in 1992, his six children ranged in age from 5 to 19. Most of them visited us on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other weekend. Some of them lived with us for a time until they graduated from high school or went on to college or graduated from college. I know them all pretty well, and they know me. We joke that I am their Wicked Stepmother.

We have a timeshare in Sedona, Arizona that we've owned for about 20 years. Before Art and I retired, we spent two weeks in Sedona every other year. After that, we usually spent a week there in February. Sometimes it was just us, other times another couple, and a number of times two to five of our children. Seven of the eight children in our blended family have spent time with us in Sedona at least once. 

This year we reserved two units for February 3 to February 7. Art's grown children Melissa, Jason, Pete and Greg flew from Seattle, along with Jason's son Kaleb (14) and Pete's girlfriend Danielle. Art's daughter Laura flew in from Philadelphia. My sons Russ and James had planned to come, but they both had to work. So there were nine of us.

Our custom for these times together is that people do their own activities during the day and then everyone gathers for dinner. On Friday night, after a long travel day, we went to a Mexican restaurant. 

On Saturday, all seven of them took a long Sedona hike. For dinner, Greg (the chef) rummaged through our refrigerator and found pork chops, potatoes and broccoli. He served a delicious meal to six of us at the main table and the other three at the patio table dragged in from outside. 

On Sunday, two of the women took another hike and the other five rented mountain bikes. In the evening Greg prepared a chicken pesto spaghetti, artisanal green salad and crusty bread. 

On Monday they all took another long hike, and Melissa made her signature enchiladas for dinner.

The seven hikers and bikers talked on the trail, kidding around but also encouraging each other, and commenting how good it was that they could be together as grown siblings and enjoy each other's company.

Art and I took many hikes like that years ago when we were younger. This year we stayed in our unit and read or napped. I was glad to read five back issues of "The Sun", the only magazine I currently subscribe to.

I'd been feeling sad that the young people were doing things I used to do but no longer can (bad knee and elderly). One of the stories I read in "The Sun" talked about not looking back wishing I could still do those things, and trying to still do them, but, instead, being glad I had done them and looking forward to what I still have ahead of me. That is helpful.

Everyone but us left on the early morning of the 7th to catch flights out of Phoenix. We had an appointment in Kingman, Arizona, about a three-hour drive from Sedona. Here's that story: 

Art is allergic to cats, but there is a breed that's often hypoallergenic. Siberian Forest cats began to be imported to the US from Russia in the 1980s. Some of those cats lack the protein in their saliva that causes allergic reactions. There are tests available that will identify that protein level, but the tests are expensive. Another reliable test is for the allergic person to bury their face in a cat's fur to see if there is an allergic reaction. Back in 2008 Art buried his face in a cat's fur at the Lundberg cattery in Stayton, Oregon. Larisa (Windrifter Larisa of Lundberg) was four years old at the time. He had no reaction, so we added our name to the Lundbergs' kitten list. Several months later I looked at their webpage and saw that Larisa was being retired from her breeding career. She was available for sale. We put in our appication, then drove from Seattle to Oregon and bought her. Larisa lived with us from that time until she "crossed the rainbow bridge" on December 1 of last year. 

I did a nationwide search for a retiring Siberian queen. I found two in Boston, one in New Hampshire, several in Oregon, and one in Kingman, Arizona. Our timeline was for a spring pickup, after a period of mourning for our beautiful Larisa.

As luck - or fate - would have it, Pumaridge Siberians in Kingman had a queen available. They planned to breed Dutchy (Pumaridge Killjoy Dutch) one more time, with a male whose line they wanted to establish. She'd be available for us to pick up in early summer. That sounded good to us. Then, two weeks ago, I got a call that they'd decided not to breed Dutch again and were having her spayed. So she'd be ready to go to a new home in late February. Since we'd be in northern Arizona anyway, it seemed reasonable to drive to Kingman at the end of our Sedona trip to meet Dutch and see if Art was allergic to her. We could then return a couple of weeks later and make the drive with her from Kingman to Tucson, where we live in the winter.

All went well in Kingman! We met Dutchy and spent about an hour with her. I was grateful to observe that she looked and acted nothing like Larisa. Different color, different eyes, different face shape, friendlier. It seemed the only thing the two cats had in common was their breed - Siberian Forest - and their hypoallergetic status.

So, two weeks from today we'll be driving home from Kingman with our new girl. We're taking the cat condo, litter box and other feline accessories out of the shed and setting them up. We're buying the same food and cat litter and food Dutchy is familiar with. We're making an appointment with our Tucson vet to meet her and get her chipped. We're excited.

Good things happened during our time away!

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Two days in a row!

I am not a morning person. At all. One of the great benefits of retirement is being able to sleep until I wake up without an alarm clock. Usually.

Yesterday, though, I had an 8 a.m. massage appointment. It was the only one available from my fabulous therapist. About a 25-minute drive for me. So I woke up at 7, jumped in and out of the shower, had a quick cup of coffee and a piece of toast, and drove to my appointment. I arrived right on time. The receptionist welcomed me. I said, "I have an 8 o'clock appointment with Angie." The receptionist said, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I tried to call you to let you know that Angie called in sick this morning." I hadn't heard the phone but apparently the call came in ten minutes before I arrived. I said, cheerfully, "Oh, well, sometimes these things happen." I made another appointment for next week and left.

On my way home it occurred to me that the place where I get my pedicures was right on the way. So I stopped in, looking forward to having someone take care of my feet. Parked the car, walked across the sidewalk and read the sign, "Hours 9 to 6". It was 8:20. Too early. I drove home and finished my now-cold coffee.

Then today I actually had another 8 a.m. appointment, this one with my new medical provider. The doctor we've been seeing while we're here in Tucson in the winter is leaving the clinic, and we'll be seeing a PA instead. The appointment was for a "transfer of care" conversation. Again, I woke up at 7, did my morning things, drove for 20 minutes, and got to the clinic at 8. I said to the lady at the front desk, "I have an 8 o'clock appointment with PA Goodman." And the lady said... "Oh, I'm sorry, the PA called out sick today. We called your number and left a message." I stood there for a few seconds, thinking maybe this is Groundhog Day, and then I said, "Well, can you reschedule me?" My appointment is now February 24, nearly six weeks out. 

I had a conversation with my son James earlier this week. He'd gone out to get in his car and it wouldn't start. He said, "I'm cursed!" I said, "James, everyone has problems." Then today, he told me it was a dead battery and all is now well. His was a car, and mine was two canceled appointments.  

Two days in a row! However, there are these positive things:

  • Both receptionists were apologetic and pleasant
  • Early morning traffic was light
  • I got replacement appointments
  • I can afford a massage
  • I have good medical coverage
  • I am not sick
  • I saw the sun rise both days

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Eight hours on the phone

My son James started his own business last year. For the prior 15 years he'd been an employee and gotten medical insurance through his company. He decided to get some medical coverage as a self-employed person for 2023. Actually, I was somewhat of an influencer because he's 43 now and that's about the age things can come up. Besides, I'm his business manager.

When we've got coverage through work we usually don't pay much attention to its costs because we're not paying for it directly. When we're buying it ourselves, we do. So when James and I had the discussion he emphasized he doesn't want to pay a whole lot. 

Because his business is only a year old, his income for 2022 was fairly low. So I checked out the state Exchange to see if he was eligible for a supplement for his insurance cost. He was.

My husband and I are insured with Kaiser Permanente in Washington, so that's where I started. Kaiser has really good coordination of services and we've had excellent care for many years. I went on their webpage to apply for James' coverage using the Exchange. The site said to enter the net taxable income. I subtracted the standard deduction amount from his net income and went to the Exchange site to order the insurance. The price on the Exchange was $300 more a month than on the Kaiser site!

I called Kaiser. They said the Exchange determined the price. I called the Exchange. They said Kaiser determined the price. I was pretty annoyed to be in the middle of two "it's not our problem" statements. I called our lawyer to make an appointment the next day to talk about possible "bait and switch" consumer fraud.

I called Kaiser the next morning and got a different customer service person. I explained my problem. They said if a person gets a W-2, they enter the net taxable income on the form. But if they're self-employed, they enter the net income (without the standard deduction amount). When I entered that amount and went to the Exchange, the numbers matched exactly. I ordered less expensive insurance. Then I called the lawyer and canceled the appointment.

I was in IT before I retired, and I knew the sentence on the Kaiser form was misleading for self-employed applicants. I called customer service and asked to speak to the technical department. They transferred me to sales. The man didn't understand what I was talking about. He said, "Well, you got the insurance, right?" I said yes, but I wanted the tech people to add a phrase to the form about self-employed people applying. He said, "I'll call someone and get back to you."

He didn't. Maybe he thought I was an unreasonable old person instead of a customer wanting to prevent other self-employed people from having the same problem.

Eight hours on the phone, on hold for much of it because "We're experiencing a higher than usual call volume." My son James is happy with the insurance I chose for him. But I feel bad for all the other confused self-employed people who thought they were getting good assistance, but ended up with insurance they couldn't afford.