Saturday, December 24, 2011

The day before

Christmas Eve Day is my favorite time. The morning is a rush, the afternoon slows down, and the evening is peaceful and still.

No matter what happens tomorrow, we have today.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Grandma's Christmas Present

The kids are all grown and gone. The last few years have been quiet holidays, once we've done the "blended family" meal the week before Christmas. We usually have three or four of our eight kids at these events, plus girlfriends, wives and grandkids. We have Costco lasagna and salad and dessert and we do a "pick a gift or steal a gift" and then we talk and then everyone leaves. Our kids know each other pretty well because of visitation schedules while they were all growing up, but these days, the only time they see each other is at our house the week before Christmas. We usually take off for ten days sometime in December to get away from the month-long festivities. I loved the holidays when I was growing up and when my kids were small, but that really wonderful time passes, as we all know, and it can be a sad time of year.

This year I decided I wanted a special Christmas present - to have just my kids and their girlfriends and my granddaughters for a Christmas ritual that includes a meal together, stockings, and opening of gifts. My granddaughters live in Oregon with their mother, so I've never experienced Christmas with them. And their dad, my older son, lives in Oregon also, and it's been 20 years since I've spent Christmas with him. And my younger son always spends Christmas with his girlfriend's family. So I made a small adjustment for my Christmas present - the date. Here's what Grandma's Christmas Present looks like.

On December 26 my younger son James will drop his girlfriend Keri off at our house and drive to the train station in Seattle to pick up my older son Russell and his girlfriend Amanda and my 11-year-old twin granddaughters Mary and Malayne. They'll come to our house where Grandpa Art will have prepared a turkey dinner (he'll be working on it all day, in perfect contentment). We'll share a meal and, after the girls go to bed, stockings will be filled at our house for the first time in 20 years - I was a little rusty about selecting, but Toys R Us and the Dollar Store had what I was looking for. In the morning gifts will be unwrapped by the girls. I sent shopping money and their dad did all the work of choosing and shipping. I'll just do the wrapping. The 27th will be a quiet family day - or at least an unplanned one. On the 28th, I will take my older son and his girlfriend to the train station. On the 1st, Grandpa Art and I will make the seven-our drive to Oregon to take the twins home.

This Christmas Present has been a long time coming. Everyone has grown up, including Grandma. She's gotten more flexible through the years, and December 26 looks like a tremendous date for Christmas. She's realized that it's perfectly fine to buy six train tickets and all the trimmings for just the right kind of Christmas. She's looking forward to whatever happens this year. And she's anticipating memories will be made.

Doesn't Grandma's Christmas Present sound, well, grand?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Going home tomorrow

We've been on the Big Island of Hawaii for nine days. Usually I get restless after this much time away. Not this year!

It's our fourth visit to the Big Island, our third to this two-bedroom condo resort in Waikoloa - six miles upslope from resort beaches, 30 miles north of Kona. It's breezy here in the afternoon. There's a local shopping center and a residential community of about 7,000. No muumuus, luaus, leis or tour buses. Just daily temperatures in the upper 70s - whether cloudy, sunny or pouring rain for five minutes. We leave the sliding glass door open. One day I forgot the screen was there and walked into it! We wear light clothing and no shoes unless we're headed out. We eat in most of the time. We read and chat and nap. We read about the weather at home and we're glad we're here.

A daughter and son-in-law visited for three days last week. They perused our favorite book about the area - "Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed" - and decided what we'd see on our two-day trip to the other side of the island. We ascended Mauna Kea - me to the 9200-foot visitor center, the rest to the 13,200-foot summit. We took a short hike to Akaka Falls, ate at a roadside place with fabulous smoothies, settled into cottages in Volcano, dined grandly at the Kilauea Lodge, paid a nighttime visit to a new eruption inside the park, hiked two miles at the bottom of Chain of Craters Road, visited South Point - formerly a favorite stopping point on the way back from the park, but not so interesting now that the eerie sound of the wind farm on the highway has been silenced by a newer one further from the road - and completed the two-day circle drive in time for a homey meal.

The best part of this visit, though, was spending time with Melissa and Scott as four grownups rather than parents and offspring. They're interesting people - fortunately, our politics are similar because they were certainly discussed! - and we share a fondness for good books, quiet times and out-of-the-way places. Plus, we laugh a lot when we're together. And Scott drove. Wonderful!

On our own, Art and I have taken a couple of beach walks and a short hike to petroglyphs. We've befriended the local animals - especially the turkeys - and watched the golfers nearby. We've explored most of the rest of the island on our previous visits, so this time it's been quiet. That's mostly a good thing.

We get home late tomorrow night, to temperatures about 40 degrees cooler - and Friday is a full day - exercise class and a meeting and a massage and a holiday gathering in the evening. Plus a quick stop at the mall to pick up Christmas gifts for two grandchildren.

It's been a good time away. I think our next trip here will be for longer. I'll miss it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Our book has been published!

Our book listed today on! It's called "Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of Healing." If you'd like to order a paperback copy, you can click on the link on my blog and order it now. The hardcopy will turn up in a couple of days and the ebook shortly thereafter.

Here's what "About the Book" says:

Arthur Myers is a Viet Nam veteran with memories. In 2005 he and his wife Linda traveled to Viet Nam with a group led by a psychotherapist who works with veterans affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). From the Mekong Delta in the south, to Hanoi in the north, it was a life-changing journey.

Art's story is not unusual. He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps in 1968, a radio repairman stationed at Da Nang during the Tet Offensive. He saw only one day of combat, but that day affected every aspect of his life for 35 years.

Many veterans suffer from their memories of their time of war. They may bury them, or deny them, or run from them, or act out in other areas of their lives. Alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide rates are higher than average, as are failed relationships and chronic unemployment.

Art decided to return to Viet Nam, to overlay the memories of a young man during a terrible time with those of a man in late middle age. It was a good choice for him -- and for his family.

About this book, Art says, "I hope that talking about this journey of healing -- and how it has changed me -- will help other veterans and their families. The idea of helping even one other veteran stop the nightmares and gain some peace made my story worth sharing."

It's very odd to see our book on Amazon. Almost like planning a wedding and finding yourself standing, surprised, at the altar. I'd hoped to be very organized with this release -- like preparing an elaborate dinner and having everything ready to put on the table at the same time. That hasn't happened. The marketing materials haven't arrived, nor has the complimentary copy for me to check out first. And the hardcopy version on Amazon has a slightly different name - with Vietnam rather than Viet Nam, so it doesn't show up with the paperback. But since I'm currently on the Big Island, it wouldn't have mattered anyway!

So our story is out in the world, for better or for worse. It might make a good Christmas gift.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Bag Lady and the tenant

We have a Siberian Forest cat named Larisa. We bought her two years ago from a cattery in Oregon; she was being retired as a breeding queen after having produced 26 hypoallergenic kittens in five years. A sensitive princess, Larisa didn't let us touch her for 62 days after her arrival. She is very much at home now, a typical cat. But when we leave her to travel, she freaks out. So for the last couple of years we've had a person stay at our house while we're gone, to keep Larisa company in the evenings.

Recently, one of the catsitters asked if she could rent our basement bedroom for three months. We agreed, since we'll be gone for about seven weeks during that time. We decided that she would pay a small amount of rent for each day we're home, and nothing for each day we're gone.

I can tell you after only two weeks that I am not a good landlord. I didn't set up house rules because I didn't realize what they ought to be. As little things came up, I didn't say anything. But I did start to get resentful, and testy, with the tenant. I don't like confrontation. I got a stomach ache whenever I thought about the situation. Then I talked to a good friend and she told me the only way I'm ever going to get over my issues around confrontation is if I practice being direct when issues come up, rather than dancing around them. She suggested I create some house rules. So yesterday, I did.

1. The kitchen is available from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. This one came up after two nights in a row of cooking projects that began at 11 p.m.

2. When the tenant is leaving the house she will turn off her lights, her computer and her portable heater, to preserve electrical use and internet bandwidth.

3. The tenant will pay her rent on time (every four days or so) regardless of circumstances.

I'd like to impose some other rules, but they sound unreasonable. Like:

4. Don't chat with me when you come upstairs in the morning.

5. Don't tell me about your life, past and present.

6. Don't suggest that I buy silver and gold to protect against a falling dollar.

I'm having to look at myself during this time of having a tenant. It will actually only be three weeks or so when we're all in residence. We have the space, and we're glad we'll have her here when we're gone to watch out for Larisa. She is a nice woman, and I have nothing against her personally.

But I am not a good landlord. I'm glad I realized this before I signed a yearlong contract with anyone!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bud, part 5 of 5 - autumn leaves

It was a beautiful fall day, the kind where you want to get out and rake some leaves. So I did. The big sycamores in the back yard had lost most of their leaves. As I got the rake from the shed, I could hear Bud moving along on the lower property. I knew he'd been wakened from his nap by the sound of my activity and was heading up the hill to join me.

I worked for a few minutes, creating a satisfying pile of crisp yellow and orange leaves. I'd gathered them about six feet behind a parked vehicle so they'd be sheltered from wind gusts.

Bud appeared. As I worked on the leaves, he snouted the rake curiously. I chided him and continued working. He stood still - usually a sign that he's getting ready to take an unexpected action. And he did. He snouted around in the pile of leaves. Then, suddenly, he grabbed a mouthful and raced off. He tore around the yard and back, leaped into the pile of leaves, whirled around, and tore off again.

Alarmed at his frenzy, I reraked the pile, moving them away from the vehicle lest he hurl himself into it and injure himself. He raced back, leaped into the pile again, and fell over into it, rolling and snorting.

Several rerakings later, Bud lost interest in the proceedings and wandered off. I called a family member to come and watch, but Bud refused to repeat his performance. Naturally.

For the next couple of days, I raked that pile of leaves periodically. Bud displayed no interest. BUT each time, I noticed that when I returned to the area an hour later, the leaves were scattered on the ground. There was no wind, so I knew Bud's secret. He did his leaf jumping when no one else was around.

Bud's ashes arrived yesterday in a teak box. On Saturday morning we'll have our remembrance time, scattering him in the places he loved: near his house under the deck, in the garden where he rooted for potatoes, along the path to the neighbors' where he munched on dandelions, and, finally, under the big cedars in the side yard.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bud, part 4 of 5 - whistle stops

This is from 1996.

For Bud, our potbellied pig, the grass seems always to be greener on the
other side of the fence. Literally. He has already consumed everything edible in his area - not just the grass and other vegetation above the ground, but the roots, bulbs and insects under the ground as well. What was a grassy area last summer now resembles a newly backhoed lot.

So, in search of greener pastures, Bud has become an escape artist.

Household members are never home when Bud escapes. They return to find fencing that has been knocked down, dug under, wiggled under, or jumped over. The pig is found, sometimes with fence scratches on his back. The site of the escape is immediately blocked off, restaked, raised, or otherwise strengthened.

On his next escape Bud uses a different route.

Fortunately, he forgets immediately about the greener grass if there is something else interesting to eat instead. That means he can be lured back by the promise of food.

If Bud obeys the command "come here", he gets a treat - usually a piece of dog food or a bit of Oreo cookie. He's pretty good with that command. But there is another one that I didn't know about until recently. One of the kids had been whistling for Bud for months and rewarding him with a jelly bean or a piece of fruit when he appeared. It was done to establish a friendly relationship rather than to teach obedience.

One day, when the whistler arrived home for lunch, she looked around for Bud. He was nowhere in sight. She whistled. She heard a distant snort. She whistled again. Another snort, not so faint. One more whistle.

Then she saw him. Bud was sprinting up the street of our residential neighborhood, toward her. At her final whistle, he arrived at her feet, his 100-pound body heaving from exertion.

He got an apple that day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bud, part 3 of 5 - the camping adventure

I wrote this one in 1995.

We traditionally go camping with a large group over the Labor Day weekend. This year, I had another commitment, but Art decided to go anyway, and to take our potbellied pig, Bud, along with him. When I heard about his plan, I was skeptical. I said, "What are you going to do with him when you're sitting around the campfire?" Art replied, "He'll sleep at my feet." I said, "I doubt it. He'll want to explore outside. And where will he sleep?" Art answered, "In the tent with me." I said, "I doubt it. He'll want to explore inside." "Besides," I continued, "what about all the dogs
that will be roaming around?" After a few more questions, we decided to buy a large dog kennel so that Bud could be restrained when necessary.

As I pulled into the driveway at the end of the weekend, I could see that Art had gotten home before me. He'd pitched the tent in the front yard to dry it out, as it had rained on the last day. I was pretty impressed with his efficiency. As I headed for the house, I noticed a tear in
the netting at the front of the tent. It looked like it had been cut with scissors, and I was concerned that vandalism had been a part of the camping weekend.

Inside, I asked Art about the tear in the tent. He recounted the following story.

While Art was putting up the tent and organizing the campsite, he had tied the pig to a tree with a long line. In the space of 15 minutes, Bud rooted up all the grass and ground cover within ten feet of the tree. Since he'd already destroyed all the vegetation in his area on our property, fresh vegetation was a treat.

When the campsite was set up, Art untied the pig and let him explore the area while he went to get water nearby. He was gone less than a minute.

Finished with his initial rooting, Bud explored the campsite. There was a grocery sack inside the tent, full of food, but the tent opening was zippered. A loaf of bread stuck of the top of the grocery sack. Bud bit through the netting close to the sack, poked his head through the hole, and grabbed the loaf of bread by the wrapper. Just then Art, returning with the water, saw the pig doing his dastardly deed and shouted at him to get away from the food. A fruitless shout. Bud pulled the loaf of bread through the hole in the netting and started running. By the time Art chased him down, the bread was half gone.

Bud had an excellent time on the camping trip. Art has decided that next year he will get a pigsitter.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bud, part 2 - the lad and the motorhome

Bud must have been about six months old, because he was pretty small. We took a day trip in our motorhome and had decided to take him along so he'd become a good traveler. Anyway, we took his bed and his litterbox - a catbox filled with pig litter. There is a difference, but I'm not sure what it is exactly. Bud rooted around in the RV and made himself at home, which included christening the fresh litter box.

At points north we stopped to visit a teenage son. The son came aboard the motorhome. This particular son was not familiar to Bud, and furthermore, he was a smoker. As we chatted with him, Bud whined and moved around the cramped space in an agitated way. We reprimanded him and he retreated to parts unknown.

He was back within a few minutes, quietly using the litterbox and doing his usual snouting around in the litter material. We continued to converse with the teenager. Suddenly, Bud made his move against our unwelcome guest. With his weight on his hind legs, he put his front hoofs on the teen's leg, barked, and rubbed his wet litter-laden snout on the boy's jeans.

The kid leaped to his feet and retreated down the steps of the motorhome. Since that time, when the boy comes to visit, he sits with his feet and legs tucked under him when Bud is around. The pig gets respect from the teenager.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A passing

Our 18-year-old potbellied pig, Bud, died in the wee morning hours of Thanksgiving. He was very, very old, and feeble. He enjoyed his food right up until almost the end. In half an hour the cremation guy will be by to pick him up. In a couple of weeks the ashes will be back and we'll have a little ceremony, burning sweet sage, and scatter Bud beneath the cedars in our side yard.

I wrote a few vignettes years ago about Bud. Here's the first:

My friend Nalyn got a pig first. She'd brought it to visit us and we were all enthralled by the little pig exploring the living room and rooting instinctively in our hands. The teenagers begged us to get one too. We laughed. We already had a cat that no one wanted to feed.

A week later, Nalyn stopped by again. This time she had an apple box in her arms. The box squeaked. She put it on the floor and opened the lid. Inside was a four-week-old black piglet with a pink nose. He must have weighed about six pounds. He immediately tipped over the box, clambered out, and set off on his own exploration. I found some cat food in the kitchen, then called the piglet. He came to me. The teenagers were thrilled. They begged to keep him.

I am pretty cautious about acquiring pets. We had NO idea what a pig ate or what its habits were. Nalyn assured us that a pig's care was easy. She told us about a vet in Woodinville who specializes in potbellied pigs. We were faintly encouraged. We agreed to keep him overnight and see how it went.

I set up a makeshift bed in the bathroom and found bowls for water and food, while the piglet entertained the kids in the living room. When I returned, the kids were lying on the rug on their stomachs and there was no sign of the piglet. I looked closer. The pig had found a warm, comfortable spot for a nap - between my son's legs, nuzzled up against his backside. The perfect "V" - just like a pile of piglets at home with their mother.

We were done for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More than I expected

My book has been proofed and corrected and is now in the hands of the printer. I didn't think it would look as good as it does. I got more than I expected.

On the other hand, my "marketing consultant" - not even listed as a feature of the package I ordered - has called me twice in the last two weeks. He wants me to spend $4,999 to have a UTube video made and then sold to a TV channel where, supposedly, many people in my target market will see it and order the book. For which I would receive a 25% commission and the publishing company would receive the rest. I said no thanks both times. These calls were more than I expected, and more than I wanted.

Thank goodness he wasn't trying to sell me a timeshare. I might have succumbed to that.

My time has opened up again now that I'm not writing and editing and correcting for hours a day. It feels like I wrote a very long term paper and the class has ended. On the other hand, I've had in mind to publish this book for six years. Now that I finally got around to it, I feel more satisfied than I had expected.

I will post information about the book when it's available online for sale. It's called "Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of Healing".

We got all our money back on the Norway cruise we canceled. We'll apply it directly to the oral surgeon's bill for Art's implant. In the meantime, we're in the planning stage for a two- or three-week exploration, in April or May, of Appalachia, western Virginia and the eastern shore of Maryland. That will be much more economical and probably just as interesting as Norway - without the Northern Lights. I'm more excited about these revised plans than I expected I would be.

I've learned in recent years that, to avoid being disappointed, I should keep my expectations low. That way, anything good is a pleasant surprise. If I expect that none of the eight kids in our blended family will show up for Thanksgiving, I'm very happy that three of them will actually be there, with several grandchildren. That's more than I expected.

I hope all of you have a most satisfactory Thanksgiving. I am thankful for every one of you. When I started writing this blog in January 2010, I had no idea how important the blogging community would become to me. Much more than I expected!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Bag Lady thinks about money

My fear of running out of money was the motivator for me to create this blog in January of 2010. I was getting ready to retire, and I was terrified that we'd made a mistake in our calculations and that we wouldn't have enough coming in to live out our lives.

It's been 16 months since we left the workplace. So far, so good. We keep our eye on our investments and on the news swirling around Medicare and Social Security. For the most part, though, we've lived without giving a lot of thought to scrimping. We're frugal, but we're not scrimpers.

In the last month I've been considering how we spend. And yesterday I made a material decision.

We'd planned to take a cruise in March along the fjords of western Norway. I want to see the Northern Lights, and the Hurtigruten cruise line was an attractive option. We made a 20 percent down payment back in September. As I thought about the remaining 80 percent, and the airfare, and incidentals before and after the cruise, I wavered. A lot of money for a weeklong trip.

And then Art broke a tooth.

We have dental insurance through my COBRA, but our share of the oral surgery and subsequent repair will be close to two thousand dollars. And the COBRA coverage ends on January 31. Then Art will have mediocre dental insurance through Medicare and I will go without. Looking at the current bill, which is a known, and future dental issues, which is an unknown, I considered whether the mental anguish of future unknown bills was worth a weeklong cruise. Particularly since we've got other more economical trips planned for December, January and February. And, more significantly, Norway is not on my bucket list. An undeniably beautiful place, but not one of my "must sees".

So I canceled the cruise. And felt relief rather than regret.

We will still travel. We have several timeshares, and we belong to two home exchange clubs and two hosted exchange clubs. And we can do the Norway cruise another year if it's still appealing. Or we can see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska, which is much closer and for which we can use our frequent flyer miles.

When I think about that, I feel relief rather than regret too.

I don't worry about being a bag lady any more. But I do need to be responsible.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Publisher, the Veteran, and the GPS

I've sent all the materials to the publisher: the manuscript, 16 images, a cover design, "about the authors", "about the book", and all my instructions to the people who will put it together.

We've been working hard for five weeks to get this book finished. I heard back from the publisher's check-in coordinator who's been working with me that my materials are complete and my communication very clear. I should get the proof within three weeks. Her grandfather is a vet and she's going to buy a copy of the book!

Here's the final, newest section of the book, written just this afternoon:

Me: "Art and I spent nearly a month working on the final revisions for this book. We talked often about his day of combat. I asked him what the impact had been of revisiting this experience."

Art: "It hasn’t been easy, not one bit. It’s going back there over and over and over. Remembering is not like it was at first, but it still has its trigger points, barbs, and head rushes.

I went on a retreat recently. It was one day dealing with Viet Nam, but I had a lot of backup, texting to friends at home and letting them know how it was going. And Ed Tick was on the retreat, and there were a lot of vets and other men who were very helpful. But this revision process was just a constant day after day going back there, and not debriefing, and it adds up. So I’ve been pretty wired. One night I was so agitated I punched the GPS in my Prius too hard and broke the glass! Then I talked to another vet, and he shared his experience with me, and it helped.

In spite of that, I’m glad we have written this story. The main purpose was to help other vets. I hope that talking about this journey of healing and how it has helped me – if even one person can get some good out of it and stop the nightmares and gain some peace, it will be worth it."

The rest of the story on the GPS incident is that I was busy making revisions so Art drove to a nearby community to pick up the beef we'd ordered from the butcher. When Art pushed the glass to get the GPS activated, the glass cracked. He pushed other options, and the glass cracked more. Now the glass over the electronic features looks pretty much shattered - like a frenzied spiderweb.

Art called our Toyota dealer. They said the part would be $4800!!!!! We had a quiet chat about how hard the last month has been on both of us as we refined the manuscript about our 2005 return to Viet Nam, where he saw combat back in 1968. We talked about what we could have done differently so he didn't get so stressed out over the process. We discussed canceling our planned trip to Norway in March so we can pay for the replacement part.

This morning Art confirmed that all the features no longer accessible under the dashboard glass -- except the GPS -- can be operated from the steering wheel. Since we're planning on driving the Prius into the ground over the next ten years or so (it's a 2005, so it's already six years old), and since he's the main driver, he may decide to just leave the shattered glass in there. Appearance doesn't matter a whit to him, as long as something is functional. We can take a hand-held GPS with us on trips.

So who knows about Norway?

At this point, I'm so thrilled not to be talking about Viet Nam every waking moment that I don't care.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Blogger in the Sky with Laptop

We're taking a day trip to Houston. We left Seattle at 11:30 this morning, will lay over in Houston for an hour, and arrive home in Seattle at about 10:00 t0night. We need these flight miles to renew our MVP status for Alaska Airlines for 2012. I never had MVP until this year - an unexpected happening because of our frequent trips last year - and I like it too much to let it expire. Thus this very quick trip. When we get back from our December trip to Hawaii, Art will have flown 20,008 paid miles - eight miles over the requirement. I have a couple thousand more. We thought about staying over a day, but when we were in Houston in March we got very, very lost. I'd rather not repeat that experience.

This day trip is good, though. It gives me about eight hours of computer time. I've been working on the manuscript, putting in the maps and the photos. Drafting the document for the publisher on how I want things laid out (they're inserting the images into the manuscript, so they need to know how I want it to look).

I called my publisher's rep on Monday and found out, much to my relief, that their design staff will do the headers. I just have to tell them what I want and they take care of it. What a relief! I had read, in the instructions, "have the manuscript completely ready". I should have asked what "the manuscript" meant. Not headers, apparently!

It is very exciting to see the final touches come in. Art roughed out a map of a day of combat he describes early in the book, and my sister Alyx polished it up. It's now on a page of its own and boy, what a great addition it is! My neighbor Jason, a graphic artist, took a photo we took on the trip and designed a book cover. It's amazing what the professional polish is doing. I got to write a Dedication page at the beginning and an Acknowledgements page near the end. As I look at this I think, "Oh, my goodness. Look what we have done!"

I've read the comments to my last post. If you're a writer and you have a story to tell, don't be discouraged by the publication process. I decided against an agent and query letters and decided to work with a self-publishing company. They're doing most of the work. I paid a fee to sign up, which was fine. I'm not a bestselling author in the making. I'm not interested in huge sales and fame of any kind. I just want this story to be out there. It's my way to honor Art and all the other vets. And to say, "Yes, I'm a writer."

Fun and scary.

I think I'll be ready to send in all my materials on Thursday, the day after tomorrow. It has been a long slog for the last couple of weeks, and I'm ready to be done with this step.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New Author's Rant

There's a difference between a writer and an author, and right now it's an aggravating difference.

I can write in my blog or my journal or my travel commentary. It's my choice what I say and how I say it. I can read it myself and offer it to others. That's kind of gratifying. It's all my call.

Here's what I've learned this week about being an author. I've written a book with my husband Art and found a publisher. They contact me every week to see how I'm coming along. Their goal is probably to keep me moving and maybe to provide encouragement, but what I'm feeling is guilt and frustration. For three weeks now I've said I'll have the materials to them "next week".

Issue One is format - my responsibility. So I spent several days selecting photos to be inserted into the manuscript - images with meaning to accompany the text. Then yesterday I realized none of the photos are 300 ppi (pixels per inch) which is required by the publisher. So I removed them all and am developing an accompanying webpage for people who want to see our experience in addition to reading about it.

When you remove something from a manuscript, all the text has to be revisited and any "widows and orphans" fixed. That's where you have the first or last line of a paragraph that turns up on a different page from the rest of the paragraph. The book has 190 pages, so the revisiting took a while.

If you've decided to have no ragged edges on the right, Word will set that up for you. But sometimes there are multiple spaces between words. Then you have the option of hyphenating words to fill in some of those blanks. I did that manually so I'd have more control over which words I hyphenated and which words I left alone. Sometimes, when I fixed the "widows and orphans" issue above, I had to remove hyphens I'd put in before or add new ones. Another revisit of 190 pages.

As a "final touch" you add headers - in this case, the book title on odd pages and the chapter title on even pages. There are four chapters. This requires inserting a "section break" -- which I have never done in Word -- and an advanced-user feature called a "field" so the correct chapter title will display. I will need to take an online tutorial to figure this out - probably this morning, since it's the only time I have available this week

Issue Two is finishing up the content. Art has drawn a map and I have given it to two graphic artist friends to clean up. One of them has a full-time job and a wife and two kids. The other is going to school full time. Both say they'll work on the map "when I have time, hopefully this weekend".

One friend read the manuscript and would like me to add a few pages at the end. It's an excellent idea but requires an interview with my husband, the subject of the book. She has the questions for me to ask, but hasn't had time to send them to me yet. She has a full-time job.

Then I have a niggling thought. What if the margins I set up aren't exactly what's needed for a 6 x 9 book? The publisher sent me the numbers, but I have a Mac version of Word and you never know what minor differences will turn up between the Mac and the PC version.

I tore myself away from the computer yesterday and went for a three-mile walk with Art, but almost everything else I normally do got set aside this week. This feels like working on a term paper with a deadline. I thought I was finished with that.

On Tuesday Art and I are flying to Houston and back. We need a few more frequent flyer miles to retain our MVP status on Alaska Airlines, and we've got a few trips next year where we can use the first-two-bags-fly-free perk and the first-class-waitlist status. We'll fly four hours, get off the plane for half an hour, and fly four hours home. I'd planned on taking a book, but I suspect I'll have the laptop instead. To work on the "section breaks".

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Busy, lucky me

I am working steadily on getting our book ready to send to the publisher. I've done due diligence on all the people mentioned in the book, making sure what we've said about them is okay. I've sent a draft of the manuscript to six people for their comments and have heard back from three of them. I've worked with my sister Alyx on a cover and have sent the materials to a friend for his input. I've written the "about the authors" and "about the book" sections. Tomorrow I will go through the pages and make changes suggested by my niece/friend Colleen. It reminds me of a major project for a class. Spending three hours a day on this project has been typical during the past week. I'm at the "I'm sick of working on this" phase. By Friday the first round should be out of my hands.

I also took a three-day mediation training class on family mediation, which will qualify me to help divorcing couples prepare a parenting plan. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 to 5:30. I'm about halfway through my certification program, hours-wise.

The mail is piling up, the magazine rack is acquiring a stack of reading. We need to fill out our ballots, select our medical plans for the upcoming year, and pay the bills for November. And take a walk, get to the gym, take an online Spanish session or two. Do the laundry, brush the cat, carve the Halloween pumpkins. Get a massage.

When my mother was my age, she was a widow and she spent her time playing bridge and shopping. Retirements sure can look different, can't they?

Actually, I'm so gratified by the things in my life. The idea that we live in a time when I can decide to get a book published and not have to send out query letters and get rejections and send out more letters and then wait. I can choose a publisher, sign a contract, pay some money and be guided through the process. That I can find a post-worklife passion and pursue it. That I can go to a neighborhood restaurant for an early-bird dinner and be greeted by the owner and the server because they know me. That I can have a cat even though my husband has allergies because there is a breed that's hypoallergenic, and that I have the money to buy such a cat. That there are supplements and light boxes and dawn simulators to give me a hand with the winter blues. That I can drive through my neighborhood and watch trees of all colors dropping their leaves.

I'm a lucky woman.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Taking my own advice

So this week I spent more time thinking about my five priorities: spirituality, community, curiosity, purpose, and exercise. They're actually pretty good guidelines for making decisions and spending time.

Spirituality is one where I can be a slacker. I do have spiritual beliefs that make a large difference in my life, but they can conflict with my Type-A personality. A core of my spirituality is acceptance of things I can't change and trust that things will work out as they're intended to. I often think I can change just about everything, which has gotten me into trouble many, many times in the past. It can look like I'm trying to control other people - which still happens from time to time, though not nearly as often these days. Also, it's my tendency to have a do-it-myself attitude toward challenges, which I sometimes pursue until I'm backed into a corner with angry barking dogs penning me in. I'm hoping that as I progress along my spiritual path I'll achieve acceptance before the dogs show up.

Community isn't too easy, either. I have a community of bloggers, a community of writers, a community of mediators, a community of 12-step program people, and a neighborhood. My family of origin is nearly gone now except for my sister and some cousins, and we have become a community of sorts in the past couple of years. But I can't say I have a community of girlfriends - you know, good friends you have known forever, and you hang out and take trips and celebrate birthdays and such. For some reason, I think I should have that too. But the fact is, I don't enjoy hanging out like that. I'm much better one on one, and most of my friends don't even know each other. It's always been like that for me. I'm wondering, in my times of future-tripping, how I would do as a widow. My husband and I do so much together. How would I be if I lived alone? I'm thinking maybe expanding my community now would be a hedge against that time. But I'm not sure I want to make the effort! Go figure.

Curiosity is easy. I actually ought to cut back on the pursuit of new stuff. Or maybe I should look at this one as a priority I have well in hand.

And purpose. I'm lucky to have multiple opportunities to be of service. Just yesterday I attended a mediation in-service with a county commissioner talking about parenting plans - how they always need to be child-centered. I'm so looking forward to volunteering at the dispute resolution center once I'm certified.

Exercise. Well, that's always an annoying one. I like to walk, but since I hurt my back my feet aren't comfortable in walking shoes. I actually have to put exercise on my daily to-do list. I am pretty good about the strengthening exercises I do, and the gym routine. But I must admit that one of the good things about the cold I've had all week is that I could justify not going to the gym! I can rationalize with the best of them.

On a different topic, I'm putting the finishing touches on my book. I told the publisher I'd have the materials to them by a week from this Friday. Reminds me of a project at work, and just as nerve wracking. My words, my experience out there in the world, instead of just on my computer. Scary and exciting at the same time.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Retirement, Year 2

I left my workplace in June 2010. My priorities for that first year were clear: get started on my bucket list and travel a bunch. It was like I was making up for all my time- and travel-starved years.

And I did that. We took 14 trips. I got to hear Warren Buffett speak, learned to ride a Segway, and helped build houses for Habitat for Humanity. I took a class in teaching English as a second language, found out it wasn't something I wanted to do - and took a class in mediation, finding out it was something I wanted to do very much.

Now I'm into year 2 of not working, and my priorities are different. I realized on a recent 10-day trip to Alberta and Idaho that I've got five priorities: spirituality, community, curiosity, purpose, and exercise.

By spirituality I mean developing the habit of connection to a higher power of my understanding. Listening to what the universe has to tell me, spending time with a quieted mind. That's hard for me - I have a hamster running in my head most of the time, and the hamster apparently sleeps only when I do. I've learned that if I don't listen to the universe, I get off track in what I'm about.

By community I mean nurturing the habit of connecting with people in my household, my neighborhood and my larger community. It's easy to spend most of my time at home, on the computer or reading. I'm sociable, but not an extrovert - I'm not usually energized by being around a bunch of people. That usually happens in one-on-one conversation or in a small group. When I follow my own instincts I tend to isolate - which the hamster in my head loves.

Curiosity means engaging my mind to learn. To read, explore, ask questions. In my mediation training I'm learning to keep an open mind and a spirit of curiosity, because everyone's story in a conflict makes sense if I'm able to hear it.

Purpose means looking for opportunities to be useful, to be of service, to make a contribution to the wider world. Becoming a certified mediator will qualify for that. So will taking the steps necessary to get my book published. I've got a good mind and a reasonable amount of energy and there's no reason why I shouldn't use them both for the greater good.

And exercise. I've been a walker for years, but when I hurt my back in May and developed tingling feet, I stopped walking for a couple of months. Now I'm back at it - plus core strengthening exercises and light aerobics.

What can happen to me if I don't pursue all five of my priorities is that I get depressed or anxious. I become self-absorbed. I obsess about every physical symptom. I make myself miserable. My doctor tells me I'm healthy, but I'm 63 now and it's my job to take the best care of myself that I can.

I have friends in the real world and in the blogging community who love to spend time knitting, or reading, or quilting, or taking pictures, or doing nothing. So far that's on my wish list, but it hasn't happened yet. Maybe it will, if I remember my priorities.

This morning Art and I took a two-hour drive in a rural area. We were looking for a patch of chanterelle mushrooms he remembered from 20 years ago. We must have driven every road in a five-mile radius. We didn't find them. But we saw morning fog, hunters out for the opening day of the season, huge abandoned houses, and trailers at the end of dirt roads. We had good conversation and the company of each other. I barely noticed my tingling feet. That's a good thing.

Time now to go exercise!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Time Away

We left home a week ago today for a short visit with old friends and a few days at a rural timeshare. It's been a good time away.

We spent three days in Lethbridge, Alberta with two college roommates of mine and their spouses. We visited Waterton National Park (Glacier National Park on the US side). My friend Sharon took this picture of the six of us.

I used to tell her she could only take five pictures of us per visit. We've been meeting up from time to time for over 20 years. She has become a better photographer, and I have finally found my "pose smile".

Sharon and Ann and I were roommates our senior year at UC Santa Barbara. We found each other through the want ads but we got along pretty well. We all married shortly after graduation, and we knew each other's husbands. Eventually we all got divorced. The three men in this picture are our second spouses. We think we all made pretty good choices the second time around. Sharon and Bob live in Massachusetts, Ann and Larry live in Toronto, and we live in Seattle. We've met up in half a dozen places over the years. We eat, watch TV, read, and go on outings. These days, we also talk a bit about our grandchildren.

Our timeshare for the second half of our trip is in Blanchard, Idaho. Art and I are having a quiet time here. We'd planned on putting the finishing touches on my soon-to-be-published book, and we have spent a few hours each day at the dining table with the computer. We've also gone mushroom hunting at Priest Lake (about 80 miles north of here) and, today, attended the Apple Festival at Green Bluff, Washington (about 40 miles southwest of here). The weather was in the 50s and cloudy both days, which is fine with us.

At the mushroom hunt we found four mushrooms which we left behind for another hunter. At the Apple Festival we bought two bottles of flavored balsamic vinegar from the woman who made it, an acorn squash and an apple for 66 cents from the farmer who grew them, two bunches of yellow beets for a dollar a bunch, a wood and metal bird feeder from the man who made it, two pulled pork sandwiches with potato salad, and a medium-sized bag of kettle corn which will probably be gone by bedtime. Art says he doesn't want any so I get a small bowl for myself, and then he assists in eating it.

We forgot to bring a road map of rural Washington and rural Idaho. We have a GPS in our Prius, and I have an iPad, but some of the roads were quite remote and the iPad frequently had no signal. So we ended up on some very rural back roads, and going the wrong direction. It was all fine, though. We knew we'd eventually come to the Canadian border or I-90, and we knew our way home from either place.

Tomorrow we'll be visiting one of Art's sisters and her husband who live down the road half an hour or so. And Tuesday we head home.

I've had thinking time on the long drives and in the quiet condo. From time to time I need to reevaluate what I'm doing. I clarified my priorities this week in the light dreams that happen just before final waking in the morning: spirituality, community, curiosity, purpose, and exercise. I get off track sometimes. When I got up, I deleted a game I'd been playing on the computer; it was stressful and serving no purpose other than wasting time. I felt better already.

I love traveling with Art. He can be quiet for long periods of time. He can pick up a book or two in a "take one, leave one" library and be content. But he's always up for a walk or an outing. And so am I. When we're home we're busier and more distracted.

Tonight we're having a simple meal: broccoli and cheese soup, baked acorn squash and a simple salad with beets on top. That sounds really good to me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Colors

I live in Western Washington, so I'm accustomed to green. Grass, trees, mountainsides. I love green. It makes me feel cozy.

This week we're in Lethbridge, Alberta. It's prairie country. Outside the city, the crops have been harvested and the fields are yellow with stubble. When it's cloudy, the yellow is pale; when the sun breaks through, for a moment or an hour, the yellow is bright, vivid. "Amber waves of grain". Like the song.

Where I live the sky is blue sometimes. The evergreens reach skyward and the the hills also. So the sky, whether blue or gray, is accented by green, and it's a small sky.

Here in Alberta the sky is blue or gray also, but there are few trees and few hills. The sky is enormous, reaching from horizon to horizon. I feel like I'm under a vast bowl.

I've read poems about these skies and these hills, but there's nothing like seeing them. Every time I'm in a place like this - Alberta, Iowa, Nebraska were this year's places - I wish I could live here longer.

I won't, though. I like cozy green too much.

I'd like to trade houses with a prairie person for a month or two sometime. To see that sky, those fields, every day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Return to Vietnam - journey of healing

My husband Art is a Vietnam vet with memories. In 2005 we traveled to Vietnam with a group of vets and a psychotherapist who specializes in working with vets with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was a life-changing journey.

When we got home I wrote a 100-page commentary about the trip. It took me 18 months. Then it sat on my computer for five years. This spring I decided I wanted to get it published, to honor Art and all the others who have served in the military. It took me six months to get around to doing the research on publication and possible publishing houses. I couldn't find any other books about vets who returned to Vietnam, or a traditional publishing house that looked like a likely representative for my book. On Monday I sent an email to AuthorHouse, a self-publishing company, explaining my subject and my publishing needs. Today I got a call back. Demond and I talked for an hour. I talked about what my goal is for the book. He told me what his company could provide that would help me achieve that goal. At the end of the conversation I signed up. I am very excited. I know this is the right thing to do.

It doesn't matter to me if I sell only 20 books. Or fewer. What does matter is that Art's story is out there.

It's not an unusual story. He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps stationed at Da Nang during the Tet offensive. He saw only one day of combat. It affected every aspect of his life for 35 years.

Many Vietnam vets live with their memories of that time. They may bury them, or deny them, or run from them, or act out in other areas of their lives. Art decided to go back, to overlay the memories of the young man during a terrible time with those of a man in late middle age. It was a good choice for him - and for me. I'm hoping that if this book is out there, other vets will see it. Or their wives, or their children. Maybe other vets will return for their own healing.

It feels really good to have made this decision. I'll keep you posted on this new journey.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sliding into fall

I can tell it's fall - not because of falling leaves but because of shortening days. Here in the Pacific Northwest the days get shorter quicker at this time of year. I get a little anxious and a little blue and then I realize it's because I need to shift to my fall and winter routine. So as of this week I'm sitting in front of my light box for 30 minutes each morning. I've started taking my amino acid supplement, plus 2000 mg of vitamin D3. I'm feeling better now, looking with more enthusiasm on the shorter days.

We're starting our travel season, too. We'll be in Idaho and Alberta for ten days next month, in Hawaii for ten days in December, in Sedona and Tucson for three weeks in January, in Ecuador for three weeks in February. All those places are mostly sunny. Except for an August week in Alaska, we've been home since mid-May, enjoying the long summer days and the garden.

It's been six weeks or so since I started back into an exercise program. I've been faithful to the core strengthening exercises I do at home and the routine I have at the gym. I notice I feel energized by the daily exercise even when I head into it reluctantly. And I can tell I'm stronger.

We had a "wind event" last night, with branches down all over, including one on the power line on our property. We lost our power for over six hours today - from early afternoon until about 9 p.m. I gathered all the little stubs of candles, hoping we'd use them up today. Our other plans had to be modified - couldn't make blackberry cobbler with the berries we picked today because the oven was off. Couldn't finish the laundry because the dryer was off. I did keep up with email thanks to an iPad that doesn't rely on our wireless internet. And my neighbor said we could charge it overnight at their house and do the permanent press dryer load in the morning if the power was still off then.

I had an intensive mediation workshop on Friday - two mock mediations, each lasting over two hours, plus debrief. I'll be doing two observations this week. After that I'll have three more before I have to take the Professional Standards Evaluation as the gateway to the rest of the requirements to become a certified mediator. I'd thought I'd do this program at a leisurely pace, but then I thought I might as well head full into it, since I'll be gone a lot in the next five months. After 15 months of not working, it's not enough to sleep in the morning, read whatever I want, and relax. I've learned I like to be busy, and it's important for me to keep learning and to be useful.

I have found a tempting cruise. It's up and down the coast of Norway, on a ship with less than 700 passengers. The ships run almost every day, stopping at numerous ports - some of them very small towns - to drop off locals and supplies. The vessel has a library and a lounge and a restaurant, but it's pretty much up to the passengers to entertain themselves. I'm thinking it would be a good trip for spring or fall when we could see the northern lights. Tomorrow I'll give the brochure to my husband to see what he things. I already know what he'll say. "Whatever you think." I love it when that happens!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Turning 63

Yesterday was my birthday. I wasn't much looking forward to it except for the opportunity to talk to my sister, who was born on the same day seven years after me. It turned out to be a pretty nice day.

I'm on Facebook, and I was super gratified to receive over 55 birthday messages from friends and relatives old and young, near and far. I know all they had to do was click in the upper right corner on my name and post a quick message, but it was still a very warm and fuzzy day that way. I felt surrounded by friendship. I even got a birthday card from my cat!

I got to spend most of the day with my sweetheart husband. We walked to the gym where the owner and the trainer both wished me a happy birthday. We walked to our favorite neighborhood restaurant where I got a free bowl of vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce. I went to meet with my writers group and they bought me a frosted brownie for the five of us to share. We had houseguests last night, and when I came upstairs from checking the laundry, everyone in the room sang to me. Nice!

Still, there's a downside. Though I was actually only one day older than the day before, I now have a number one digit higher for my age. I'm aware of my body getting older - I'm a little stiffer, a little less flexible, I have a little less stamina. I think back on the 14 trips we've taken in the last 15 months and I don't think doing it again this year sounds all that tempting! And, of course, my back is recovering more slowly than it would have 20 years ago.

But when I considered my life, yesterday, as I usually do on my birthday, I can't think of a thing I want that I don't have - besides a younger body. And I wouldn't trade the wisdom, or the experience, or the memories I have now for anything in the world - including a little more flexibility and stamina.

Still - how on earth did I ever get to be 63?

Oh, well. I got here, and that's better than the alternative.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A rooster crowed!

I've been feeding and watering my neighbor Jennie's chickens all week, and collecting the eggs each day.  In four days I collected 30 eggs.  So far I've dropped one, given three away to a passing neighbor, and eaten several each day for breakfast.

There are 16 hens in the coop.  When I went over on Tuesday, the first day, three were outside the coop.  I caught two of them, but the third - a large white one with a black tail - eluded me.  It had returned to the coop by the next morning.

Yesterday - Friday, the fourth day, I was picking green beans in my garden and I heard a rooster crow close by.  I thought it might have been a neighbor boy imitating a rooster, but it sounded very authentic to me.  It was repeated three more times in ten minutes.  I noticed my Jennie's husband Jason had come home and wondered if he'd stopped by someplace and bought a rooster to join the hens.

Today when I was walking home from the library I saw Jennie in the yard.  We chatted about her trip and then a rooster crowed!  Turns out the large white hen with a black tail who escaped the coop wasn't a hen after all.  Jennie and I discussed how eggs get fertilized - something I wasn't familiar with.  As we stood there, the rooster mounted a hen.  It was very fast - like maybe two seconds - and then it was over.  Jennie and I laughed about what a quick thing it was, and how easy for the hen.  Then she said the rooster might only be practicing.  Remembering its robust crowing, I wondered.

So, for you keepers of chickens out there, is it really that quick?  I told Jennie I'd post a blog entry and ask.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Talking me down

My sister Alyx can talk me down when I get rattled.  Thank goodness.

I'm on my own this week - my husband is at the Minnesota Men's Conference until Sunday.  I'm the waterer and animal feeder at my house until then - and at our neighbors' until Friday night.  I'm also up to my usual schedule.  So I have plenty to do.

But I've had positional vertigo for a couple of weeks, which I last had ten years ago but is still as disconcerting as it was then.  I saw my doc on Tuesday and he prescribed meclizine, an over-the-counter med that appears to be working.   Unfortunately, I've also got allergies that have hit my ears from time to time for the last 30 years, for which I take antihistamines - and they give me that "my head's too big" sensation.  Then I start worrying about the size of my head, and I don't want to get in the car and drive, or take a walk, so I don't get out and I don't get any exercise.  I've posted about the dark alleyway of my brain before, so it's a little embarrassing to bring it up again.  But it's on my mind, if you know what I mean.

My sister Alyx has talked me down for the last couple of days.  She's in nursing school, and she says her conversations with me help her practice her critical-thinking skills!  Plus, she has a dark place in her brain also, so she gets it.

She reminded me of a couple of things this morning.  First, that I shouldn't take a medication that was prescribed for me for something else.  So I shouldn't be using the nasal spray at night that was prescribed for post-nasal drip just because it's also an antihistamine, unless I have post-nasal drip - which I don't now that I've changed the blood pressure medication that was causing it.  And, if I am using the nasal spray because it's an antihistamine, I shouldn't also be taking Allegra, an over-the-counter allergy medication - because it's an antihistamine also, and I don't need to be taking two.

I should have thought of that myself.  I'm overmedicating.  Another embarrassing thing.

For the last few years I've taken amino-acid therapy (Zen) for winter blues.  I take it from October 1 to March 31, during the dark times in the Pacific Northwest, along with light therapy.  This summer I found an herbal remedy for mild anxiety, which I've been taking as a supplement for a couple of months.  On a visit to the naturopath last week (for an issue related not to allergies but to being postmenopausal), she read the contents of the herbal remedy, noted it contained amino acids, and said, "Don't take this if you're taking the Zen."  I figured, well, she wasn't familiar with the herbal remedy, and I take a very low dose of Zen, so maybe it will be okay.  My sister said, "Linda, the doctor told you not to take both.  Do what the doctor recommended."

I should have thought of that myself, too.

Fortunately, I heard my sister.  So I won't use the nasal spray, and I will use only the Zen - even if it's two weeks before October 1.

And then, with less medication of any kind in my system, I'll walk to the library this afternoon and then drive to the post office.  Oh, and get the strawberry bed ready for winter.

Know what Alyx says?  That I'm retired now, and I haven't got things going on constantly that require my mental energy, even though I've got a busy schedule.  So my head comes up with things.  She may be on to something.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where did the time go?

It's not just that it's been nine days since I last posted a blog.  It's that time has gone fast everywhere!

How did I get to have an 11-year-old granddaughter with her own Facebook page, where she posts my picture as her grandmother?

How did I go to the pharmacy to ease the seasonal allergies that swells my Eustachian tubes and tell the pharmacist I found a med that worked 30 years ago, and have her tell me they don't make that product any more?

How did I get to have hair so gray that my hairdresser says it looks better now that there's not so much of my natural dark brown left in it?

How did it happen that when I made zucchini bread this week I realized it had been 20 years since I last baked it?

On the other hand, current time can be very sweet.

We're having a September heat wave in the Pacific Northwest.  It will be close to 90 degrees today, with low humidity and over 12 hours of sunshine.  How fortunate for all the garden's tomatoes, striving mightily to ripen before the cool fall weather begins and the green ones get stored in paper bags to ripen in darkness instead of sunshine.

Now that my granddaughter has her own Facebook page, I can communicate with her directly.  Yesterday she requested a picture of our cat "so I can show my mom what Larisa looks like".  She's a twin, and the other granddaughter doesn't have a FB page yet, so I get to have an online relationship with this one girl apart from her twin.  Always a lovely opportunity!

I luxuriated in a three-day read of Ann Patchett's new book "State of Wonder" without concern for reading into the night because I don't have to get up to go to work in the morning.

I attended my first mediation observation this week - one of six I have to do before I take my first practical exam in the process of becoming a certified mediator - and was able to sign up for a session in the middle of the day because my days are my own now.

We had a couple staying with us via the Evergreen Club, and we'll be able to visit them in January, in their community south of Tucson, because we'll already be in Sedona for two weeks anyway, and we have no restrictions on when we need to get back.

I note with pleasure that, when doing plank exercises to strengthen my core and my back, I can now hold the position for 45 seconds rather than the 30 seconds I started out with.  The personal trainer says I don't have to come back until I'm at two minutes.  I think I may actually get there - and in the two weeks I've been doing this I haven't missed a day.

I figured out how to create multiple calendars, with different colors, on my online iCal calendar.  I see my days are busy, and that's a good thing.

We have almost enough miles on our credit card to buy two tickets to Quito, Ecuador for a February visit.  We may even be able to fly on Alaska Airlines and its affiliate LAN to enhance our chance as MVP flyers of getting a first class upgrade.

Most especially, when I started this blog in January of 2010, I called it "Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting" because, before I stopped working, I was scared I'd be a bag lady.  Somehow, in the 14 months since I quit my job, that fear has been removed.  Time does work wonders!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Doing our part

We're doing our part this week.

1. Our vacuum sealer broke just in time for the green beans.We found the model we wanted at Costco, but it was made in China and we'd like to support the economy of the United States. I checked out all the brands on the web and found that, unless we want a commercial grade sealer (80+ bags a week), they're all made in China or Taiwan. So we bought the Costco model. But we looked around. That's new for us, to do our part to buy domestic whenever possible.

2. I decided to help my body heal from its back injury. I've been following my exercise regimen for over a week now. On Wednesday I saw an acupuncturist. On Thursday I saw a massage therapist who does isolated stretching. My back is slowly healing. I worried for 14 weeks before I saw my doctor and got an MRI. I decided this week that, from now on, I'll do that much sooner, to relieve my mind. I'm doing my part to keep my body and my mind healthy.

3. I was accepted into the mediation practicum and will be observing my first family mediation on Wednesday. I'm doing my part to be a peacemaker in the world.

4. I've been spending half an hour a day learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone. We'll be spending most of February in Ecuador, and I'd like to be able to at least limp along in the local language. I'm doing my part to be a citizen of the world when I travel.

5. I spent two Saturdays at our business, filing and watching and listening to our staff and our clients. Our business partner shouldn't have to do it alone. I'm doing my part to be aware of what's going on there, to affirm successes and to contribute to solutions.

6. I talked to one of my grown sons this week about his upside-down mortgage dilemma. I'm doing my part to give wise counsel to my children and, at the same time, to stay out of their business most of the time.

7. I hosted an artist from Iowa for three days whom I hadn't known previously. We had long talks that included collaborating on a book. I'm doing my part to promote friendships with new people.

8. We talked to some friends about parking their trailer on our property, where they'll be living when they're not on their boat on the way to Mexico. We're doing our part to be helpful to friends.

9. I talked to my sister several times this week as she started nursing school at the University of Alaska. She had a typically frustrating transition in settling in to her housing and her routine. I'm doing my part to be a supportive sibling and friend.

10. I read the news about the current political turmoil. Then I set it aside and get about my life. I'm doing my part to be an informed but not an obsessed citizen.

It feels good to be busy and productive!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Three years

Three years ago yesterday my mother died in a nursing home in San Bernardino, California. I was with her when she took her last breath.

Though she had been mostly raised by a strict Southern Baptist grandmother, my mother was not a woman of faith. She didn't have the spiritual certainty that can provide peace of mind during life or confidence there's anything afterwards. Though her wishes were that no extraordinary measures be used to prolong her life, when the time actually came she changed her mind. At her request, she was treated for six bouts of pneumonia in the last seven months of her life and was oxygen dependent. Somehow, when the time was coming, she was resistant. I think she might have been very afraid.

My sister and my son and I kept watch in shifts for the last few days of her life, when she'd stopped eating and her eyes were mostly closed. It was on my shift, at 5:20 in the afternoon, that her blood oxygen levels started slipping. And rapidly. When they were at 57 percent, my eyes left the monitor and looked at her. For a couple of seconds, she looked like a little girl, eyes opened in wonder and surprise. And then she was gone.

Three years later I still see that little girl's face.

My mother was orphaned by the time she was 18. Her father died when she was nine of a ruptured appendix. Her mother died in bed of a "broken heart" nine years later. My mother had been valedictorian of a class of 400 and had just started junior college. After her mother's death she went to work, then joined the Marine Corps; she told me once she knew if she married someone in the service she would be taken care of. After her military service she continued to work as a buyer for the Post Exchange. In the officers club one night, she met my father, also a Marine. They were married six months later, and were married for 32 years until he died at age 57 of emphysema and cirrhosis of the liver - lifestyle diseases.

My father had taken good care of my mother. After his death, she lived comfortably in southern California in a condo with an ocean view. She traveled and entertained, played bridge and tutored English. She met a new man and they lived together in the condo for another 20 years.

In my younger years I didn't realize my mother was insecure and afraid. I just thought she was difficult, demanding, and critical. One of those mothers you could never please, no matter how hard you tried. It was only in the last few years, when she developed moderate dementia, that her opinion of me changed. She was always glad to see me on my quarterly trips from Seattle to San Bernardino. Dementia was a blessing that way, it seems. She'd forgotten, and I got to see an easier mother.

Here's my gratitude list:

1. The day before she died, I got to make amends to my mother for my lack of understanding and acceptance of her circumstances. I did this by lying next to her, breathing with her as she approached her own death.

2. I got to be with her when she took her last breath. It was the first time I'd ever seen anyone die, and it was a life-changing experience for me.

3. She raised me to be strong and independent and motivated.

4. As a beneficiary of her estate, I had the freedom to quit my job at 61, to travel, and to have the chance to discover what I want to do next.

5. I'm learning about the forces that shaped my mother's life and I'm developing compassion for her.

I am my mother's daughter in ways both advantageous and limiting. I'm trying to use the advantages and to grow beyond the other ones. I want to be a good steward of my mother's legacy.

So far, so good.

For my sister's perspective, see her blog post:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Getting going again

I've been distracted for three months by my back injury - the one causing tingling in my feet. I let my exercise routine go dormant, except for an hourlong class three mornings a week that's just for seniors. I cut down on my walking because wearing the walking shoes made the tingling worse.

Now that I've gotten the MRI results - older, aggravated back - I'm moving on. Getting going again.

I bought a couple pairs of "barefoot shoes". These are made by Merrill and I picked them up at REI. They're designed to imitate the stride used by people who run or walk barefooted. They've got a thin sole and a neutral/negative heel. They take a bit of getting used to - my calf muscles were sore at first - but I can wear them now to walk both inside and out. I'm using them.

I talked to my chiropractor about exercises that would help. He suggested I use a Roman chair exercise machine, available at my local gym - apparently it stretches parts of the spine in different directions - the top discs up, the lower ones down.

I made an appointment with Bob, a trainer I've used before. I told him about my SI joint, my tingling feet, my bp medication and my goals - to get stronger, improve my balance and assist my back/feet in their healing. He worked up a schedule for me. The exercises are primarily to strengthen my core and my legs and align my posture.

I've figured I can do the ones at home on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the ones at the gym on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. At the gym I'll also use the elliptical trainer, which is great for strengthening the SI joint.

In the past, when I've started out on an exercise program it's been out of guilt or because I wanted to get fit or lose weight. This time it's different. I want to get strong and well again. I'm not ready to say, "Oh, well, I'm getting older. I don't need to do this any more." I'm responsible for my own body. I plan to live several more decades, and I want my body to be my friend.

This morning I did the floor exercises at home. I felt awkward and weak and I did them downstairs where my husband wouldn't be watching. It was a private beginning again. Then, this afternoon, I went outside and pulled weeds for half an hour, in my barefoot shoes. Just half an hour for today.

I've got a ways to go, but I feel better already. I've made the decision to get going again.