Monday, August 30, 2010

I'm on it!

Remember my three goals for my post-work life? If not, here they are again.

1. Learn how to teach English as a second language and then do it.
2. Learn how to be a mediator and then do it.
3. Learn how to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, and then participate in doing that - one house in my local area, and one house in the Gulf.

And on the way, get in shape.

Here's where I am.
1. I finally started working on Module 4 of my online ESL class. I've been putting it off for nearly a month because I don't know how to do a lesson plan, and that's the assignment. Tonight I expressed my frustration to my husband Art and he said forget about doing it perfectly, just give it my best shot and turn it in. What a concept!
2. I found a mediation class happening in January in Olympia, about 90 miles south of me. It's sooner than the one happening in March 10 miles north, so I'll either commute or stay down there for the week.
3. I got a call today from a guy at our local Habitat affiliate and signed up to work on October 9 and October 16. He knows I'm a beginner and says that's fine.

I spent 30 minutes on Wii Fit today, working on balancing exercises. My balance is terrible but bound to improve. I've finally figured out how to turn on the Wii. We have three remotes and the Wii remote, and I think I'm getting the hang of all of them. I'm going to ask for a universal remote for my birthday next month. I shouldn't have to do so much thinking about how to turn on the TV, the DVD or the Wii.

Plus! I went to visit a sick friend and found out, to my delight, she's been cleared to go back to work four hours a day. And I spent some time petting her cat Leo, and then I came home and spent some time petting my cat Larisa.

I've had these numbered goals for a year now. I expected I'd get on them the day after I quit my job. Instead, it's taken a couple of months. Which is just fine. I don't have to get it all done this year.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Day of rest

I've decided to try doing Sunday differently. Once I've checked in with email, blog, and Facebook, I'm going to try to spend my day relaxing. Even though I'm no longer working, I tend to fill my days - or think I should. I'm not there yet, with every day being a "whatever you want to do, including nothing" experience.

My husband Art has been on retreat for three days. He's the cook, so I'm eating poorly. Pizza one night, pot pies the other two. I feel guilty about this, so I'm glad he'll be home soon to resume the BBQ and steamed vegetables routine. I'm also noticing my designer cat, Larisa, is hanging out with me more than usual. Right now she's curled up in my inbox. We're having a restful time together.

I blogged earlier this week about my need for a certain amount of face-to-face external stimulation, and there were a surprising number of comments, so I guess it's not unusual. On Thursday I went to an Alanon meeting. I've been in Alanon for years now, and though my usual meeting is on Friday night, I chose a morning meeting. It was lovely to see people I know there who know me. And not on a superficial level. I was welcomed and invited to the regular lunch afterwards. It dawned on me that I don't have to start from scratch to create a post-work retirement network. These people are already in my life. That's a relief!

I'm still procrastinating on my ESL module. I'm making too big a deal of this lesson plan business. I feel guilty when I think about how it's been nearly a month since I've logged into that website. I know I want to do ESL as a volunteer, but my inexperience with lesson plans has frozen me up. Doesn't matter what anyone says about how we all start out a new activity without knowing anything. I'll just have to get over this, whatever "getting over it" looks like.

However, I have spent two sessions on Wii Fit. I'm working on balance, which isn't as good as it was before a bad ankle sprain two years ago. You should see me heading soccer balls and slalom skiing in my living room!

I have a stack of various types of squash on my kitchen counter. Time to get out the old vacuum packing gadget. Our freezer is full of vegetables. It's remarkable how much a 120-square-foot garden can produced. On the other hand, we have about 400 green tomatoes on the vines. I heard somewhere that the Iceland volcano has affected the atmosphere this year. Oh, well, I can always pick them and put them in paper bags indoors. Eventually they'll turn red.

Off to my day of rest.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's up to me

I'm figuring out that my life is up to me now. I don't have someone else defining ten hours of my day. I get to make it up myself.

So, two days ago, I contacted the director of the Women Build program in Bremerton. She sent me a friendly, welcoming letter and referred me to the director of the same program in Tacoma. I want to be part of their next house build from the start. The idea is that women learn the construction skills they need working on a special project as a group. Then, when they show up at a regular build, it isn't so scary.

Also two days ago, I looked around for a mediation training class that happens before March. The March one is in Everett, near where I live. I found one in Olympia, in January. I think I'll sign up for that one. It's a 90-minute commute, but I may go on and find a place to stay.

And, two days ago, I set up WII Fit and spent half an hour working on balance exercises.

Then yesterday, I spent nine hours working on genealogy - way too much time to be sitting at a computer. My eyes were sore afterward. But every now and then I allow myself a day like that.

Last night I finished a wonderful book - "The Help", by Katherine Stockett. It has been a long time since I've read for hours. This morning I walked to the library to return it, feeling sad the experience is over. Reading is a great thing!

This evening I'm going to tackle my ESL assignment.

First, though, I'm headed to the garden to plant fall crops. Maybe do a little weeding in our riparian area.

And maybe take a nap.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm thinking out loud here

In the first five weeks after I stopped working in June, I went on four trips. In between, I stayed organized and motivated. Then, because of minor surgery on my eyelids, I scheduled no trips for a month. Now I'm a week out from the surgery, stitches have been removed, bruising is looking less drastic every day, and I have All This Time.

I'm waking up at 7:30 these days, as opposed to the 6:30 I used to endure. Then I lie in bed for a few minutes, my cat Larisa at my side waiting for me to get up and feed her. And I think.

Thinking while lying in bed is not usually productive for me. But I had a few insights this morning.

First, I am hyperaware of my need for social contact. I knew when I stopped working that I'd need to replace people at work with people in the world. So far, I haven't done that other than with my blogging. And, as much as I enjoy my blogging community, there's nothing like a live face, with eyebrows and a mouth, to pull me into the land of the living. And yet, when I think about my current social options, none of them engage me. When I start volunteering, I'll meet other people with like interests. In the meantime, it's up to me. So this morning I called a sick friend and made plans to visit with her next Tuesday. That's a start, anyway. It's getting out of myself - always a good idea.

Second, I notice I get mentally saggy when I'm not getting enough exercise. That's one reason why the Segway excursion on Monday was so cool. I'm still in decent shape. But, because of my eyelid bruises, I haven't gone to my exercise class in a week. People get worried unless I tell them what happened to my eyes. Don't want to do the treadmill, don't want to join the gym that's opening up where my old gym was before it ran out of money to pay the rent and got closed down by the landlord. So tomorrow, which is supposed to be a gray weather day, I'm going to set myself up on Wii Fit. I am absolutely sure that will help.

Third, I am reminded again that when I am out of touch with my spiritual side I am worse off. I have no idea why I let that happen, but it does. Repeatedly. Must have something to do with being a human being. Or lazy. Or something.

Anyway, those were my thoughts this morning. Sun's out now, so I'm headed for the garden to pull up the lettuce and bok choy gone to seed. I'll add some fertilizer and plant peas and onions and lettuce for the fall crop. That will replenish my vitamin D and perk me up.

By the way, the Habitat guy emailed and said they're full up for this Saturday, so I'll go sign myself up for another time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Turning it around

Yesterday when I woke up I was resentful and bored. Not a good place. By the time I went to bed I was grateful and energized. A much better place.

I've felt stuck for a couple of weeks, somehow not motivated to move forward with plans I'd made for my post-work life. Then I decided not to fight it. To allow myself to recover from my eye surgery. To talk to my doc.

Yesterday Art and I went on a two-hour Segway tour in downtown Seattle. With us were his two daughters, his youngest son, a husband and a boyfriend. Riding a Segway is really easy to learn and fun to do, and a great way to see a city rather than by bus or on foot. Art hit a curb bump and did a controlled fall off his Segway - right in a downtown intersection - but it looked worse than it was and he got right back on. Today I looked on Craigslist for a Segway - I found one for $5,200 - fortunately, it's out of my price range.

There is no place on earth more beautiful than the Pacific Northwest on a sunny summer day. We got one of those. Learning to ride a Segway was on my bucket list. Now it's been replaced by learning to parasail. We saw someone doing that yesterday.

The other two things on my bucket list right now are overcoming my fear of heights and learning to embrace risk. I expect parasailing may help with both of those. We'll be in Puerta Vallarta in January, so I may try it there.

When I got home there was an email from a crew supervisor with our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. He was asking for volunteers for a project this Saturday. I responded, "I just signed up, I have no experience, and I'm newly retired. Should I sign up for Saturday or wait for another time?" So far, no response, but I have decided to do it if I hear back. Working with Habitat is one of my three retirement goals, but I'd planned on getting in shape first. Maybe that's not supposed to happen. Maybe I'm just supposed to do it if the opportunity comes along.

I'm grateful for my good health. For my back not hurting. For the financial resources to go on a Segway tour. For perfect summer Seattle days. And for emails that kick me out of my lethargy.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wicked Stepmother

My husband Art and I are sometimes known by his six children as "the Old Goat and the Wicked Stepmother." When he and I got together his kids ranged in age from 7 to 20, and it's been 17 years, so they're all grown now.

Yesterday we attended a nephew's wedding along the Columbia River in central Washington. Art's two daughters flew out from their homes on the east coast, and three of his sons drove out from their homes in the Seattle area. The five of them spent much of the evening standing on the grass, in a circle, talking. The circle included a husband, a wife and a sweetheart as well. It was the first time I'd ever seen them all, as adults, enjoying each other's company. It was likely a first for them too.

I spent a lot of time with these young people as they were growing up. We went through over ten years of being "pointless" as all eight of our kids went through their teen years. I can remember private, honest conversations I've had with all of Art's children - pep talks I've given, arguments I've had, and confidences I've kept.

Last night, Old Goat and the Wicked Stepmother were not standing in the circle with his grown children. Instead, we were watching them - and feeling gratified by the people they have become.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Black-Eyed Woman

I look like a Halloween mask, but I can see so much better! When I got out of the opthalmologist's chair after my procedure - before the bruising and puffiness had a chance - I looked in her mirror and said, "When I was young my eyes were beautiful. They're going to be beautiful again!" I had forgotten how my eyes used to look.

Tomorrow we're going to a family wedding in central Washington. I bought enormous sunglasses at Fred Meyer last week, so I'll look like the mysterious aunt rather than like Count Dracula. I don't want to draw any attention away from the bride.

Last night I dreamed I was in Paris again, and a local commented that my clothes were six years out of style. I've never paid much attention to style, so I wondered why the dream. Then it dawned on me - as I read more about voluntary simplicity and as Art and I make sensible cutbacks in our spending, I don't need to buy new clothes every year. My current wardrobe is just about fine, thanks. But some part of me, maybe, is not so sure.

I had an insight, too. I've got these goals of teaching English as a second language, becoming a mediator, and working with Habitat for Humanity. I like the goals because they all help someone's life improve. But I wonder why I've chosen goals that require me to learn new things, to be not an expert, at least for some period of time? Why don't I have goals that require me to use skills and strengths I already have? This is Chicken Linda speaking. Pay no attention.

My doctor assured me today that I don't have a terminal illness. I just have normal aging issues. I feel so much better knowing I'm probably going to live a while longer! All of a sudden, our several upcoming trips look interesting again. Maine, then Italy, for starters.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reality sets in

So, seven weeks after my last day at work, I get it.

I have all these plans - an online ESL course, mediation training, getting in shape and working for Habitat for Humanity. And travel, lots of travel.

But right now? What I want to do is read and declutter, isolate and then wonder why I'm not getting out more and why my cell phone doesn't ring. And pay undue attention to every single tiny muttering of my body until I'm convinced I have a terminal illness - or, if I don't, I will soon.

I have acted this way in the past - between jobs, mostly. In my younger years, when we'd move, I'd tell my then-husband I wanted to stay home for a while. But after three weeks I'd be restless and bored and probably terminally ill, and I'd go find a job.

I really thought I was past all this. But I guess not. I'm still basically the same person, only older and, supposedly, wiser.

So I guess reality has hit. I'm not working and I'm not between jobs. My time is entirely my own, and what I do with it is up to me. My intention is to say yes to what the universe offers, but what if the universe remains silent?

On Tuesday I'm having my eyelids "lifted" - not for cosmetic purposes, but because time and gravity have had their way with the lids, which now obscure my looking-up vision. Supposedly I could be injured by an overhanging tree limb I don't see. That will probably keep me at home for a few days, unless I go out wearing the oversized sunglasses I bought at Fred Meyer last week. I am well aware this procedure is rarely done on people younger than 60, and once again I am reminded that I am no longer young.

On Friday my desktop computer crashed. It's an IMac, and I've been using Macs for 15 years at least, and that's never happened. But now it has. I'm hoping the tech guy can get all my data back - I've got it backed up to three places, but if the data was corrupted the last time it got saved, it may not be useful. And in that data is all my writing and financial recordkeeping, all my planning and analysis documents. Everything I needed to keep my Bag Lady calm.

So I booted up my laptop and got some things done. Then I pulled out the filing folder, put everything in the filing cabinet in the basement, pulled out the old docs I no longer need - paycheck stubs for Art and me, old bank account and credit card statements - and brought them upstairs to shred. And the shredder broke.

So here I am, on a Sunday in August in Seattle, in a heat wave, without the comforts of the computer that provides me with the illusion of safety and security, with a new folder called "shred", feeling like Alfie. You know, "What's it all about?"

I'm an optimist. I guess I thought I'd just glide through this large life transition, unlike everyone else who has to slog through it.

Go ahead and laugh!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Watching the chickens

I've been a nonworking person for nearly seven weeks now, but we've been busy. I checked my calendar today and, since June 25, I've only had 15 weekdays out of 35 when I was in town or sans grandchildren. And most of those at-home days I've been loaded up with tasks - getting our lives adjusted around retirement, taking care of paperwork, making travel arrangements.

Today, I finished up at 4 pm. I spent half an hour in the garden and then went down to the easement to watch my neighbor's chickens.

When I approached their pen, they all ran to the fence, looking for a treat. I had brought nothing, though. I sat in the old chair we put down there and watched, quietly. After a few minutes the fowl apparently forgot I was there and went about their pecking, scratching, clucking business.

For 20 minutes I sat in that quiet place, imagining I was still working and feeling bad about it. I decided to stop imagining and enjoy the chickens. And I did.

I have a lot of reading I want to do. And I am still working on my ESL class. But today I took the time to watch the chickens. Sometimes I need to remind myself it's okay to do what they do - nothing much, but enough.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lesson Learned

We've been in Alaska for ten days. We've done a lot of eating, reading, talking and sleeping. Also paid numerous visits to the local fishing river, searching in vain for the pink salmon that didn't get there until half an hour after our Kenai flight took off for Anchorage!

I worked for a few hours on my ESL class. It's a scary project, learning something entirely new. Each assignment, I read with unease and mild panic. I procrastinate for a few days, then give the assignment my best shot.

I realized in this slow Alaska time that my expectations for myself are way too high. I see myself thrown into a full ESL class, with all levels of students, having no idea what I'm doing. I had a similar experience 35 years ago. My first husband and I had moved to Columbus, Georgia, where he was going to the Army Officer Candidate school. I'd done some substitute teaching the prior year at the elementary school level. Each time, the teacher had left a lesson plan. Even so, I had taken no education classes and had no classroom experience. I met with some success, but I was never comfortable when the principal called, early in the morning, asking me whether I could come in and "help us out".

In Georgia, I went to the school district office to see if I could get on the sub list. They asked me if I had a degree and, when I said yes, they offered me a job teaching high school! We needed the money, so I said yes.

The district had just integrated its schools the prior year. I was assigned to a formerly all-black high school. All the athletes attending that school had been bussed to the formerly all white schools. So my school was left with little to be proud of. When I met with the principal, he said, "I don't care what you teach them. Just keep them out of the halls."

I braved the situation for six weeks and then quit. I was simply unprepared for the job. And that was the last teaching I did. 1972 is a long time ago.

Now I'm willing to learn how to teach ESL, but I realize some of that old fear was coming up. So then I looked up volunteer opportunities to work with ESL and I found several for classroom aide. Perfect! I don't have to start out knowing how to do it all! I get to learn and practice first.

I feel much better now. I can take it slow. I'm retired, after all. Jeez.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Alaska Hopes

This is our seventh day in Alaska. I told my sister Alyx I wanted to see three things here: a moose, a fish on a line, and the Northern lights.

Last night we saw three moose grazing on a neighborhood lawn. One down.

I now understand when the pink, silver and red salmon return to the streams where they were born. For the pinks, it's any day now. So we'll go down to the park again tonight. Art will bait his hook and we'll stand in the hours-long dusk watching the sky and the water greet each other, listening to the gulls and the sand cranes and bald eagles calling out, noticing the tide come in minute by minute, and wait for a fish to jerk a line.

So far, the only thing caught in that park is a case of pushki (cow parsnip) rash on my hand - looks a lot like poison ivy, itches like crazy, and required a trip to Walmart for calamine lotion and bandages. But I'm optimistic about the fish on the line.

Northern lights, if they've been there as a result of Sunday's sunstorm, were hidden behind the clouds. But today the sky is mostly blue, so I'm hopeful about tonight's sky.

Otherwise, we've spent the last six dinnertimes with family - my sister and her husband and two cousins and their spouses. Lots of wonderful food, conversation and laughter.

And because we're away from home, without the to-do list, we've done a lot of reading and sleeping. Almost like Ground Hog Day, but in a good way.

In my extra time, I'm doing the assignment for Module 4 of my ESL class - the creation of two lesson plans. This is a first for my lifetime, so it is a little scary.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Alaska gathering

The days are long, long, long here on the Kenai peninsula in Alaska. We're here for ten days visiting my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil. So far it's been cloudy nearly all the time. People are waiting for the sun to come out. I could not live here. The sun comes out in Seattle, reliably, between July 5 and about October 1. So why are we here?

We're visiting family, and that's a good thing. I grew up in a military family, with a not-close set of parents and a sister seven years younger. We moved around a lot, with rare family visits. My sister and I became friends only after our parents had died. Last year, on Facebook, I contacted most of my cousins on both sides. On my dad's side, I had never met two of them because our fathers were brothers who had a feud of some kind and died before it was ever resolved. In February, we spent three days in Las Vegas, meeting one of them, Mike and his wife Jamie, and reconnected with another, Steve, whom I hadn't seen since 1957, when I was nine years old. I'd been exchanging Christmas cards with their sister Georgia, for many years, but hadn't seen her, either, until last summer, when she came to Seattle to visit her son.

So here in Kenai, we're staying in my sister's motorhome in their driveway. We spend part of each day with my cousin Georgia and her husband Alan, and with Mike and Jamie who are visiting from Las Vegas. My sister met Mike last Wednesday when they arrived. The eight of us hang out, eat and laugh, fish from the riverbank and talk and laugh. We laugh until we hurt. It is wonderful and so worth the cloudy weather. We are all eager to be connected as family.

I finally finished Module 3 of my ESL class. I'd been putting it off for two weeks because I wasn't sure of the answer to the essay test. I finally sat down this morning and did my best and sent it off. I figured the knowledge wasn't going to fall out of the sky. If I missed the point, my tutor will tell me and then I can move on.

And my back is getting better! I'm looking forward to getting back into my exercise program at home.

In the meantime, the sun is out. Alyx and I are going to walk a mile or two, to take advantage of the light. She's fixing one of my grandmother's spaghetti recipes - it's called "Daddy's spaghetti". Everyone is coming for dinner today. We'll eat Daddy's spaghetti and talk about Ula, our common grandmother, and share memories, and laugh until we hurt.

It's all good.