Saturday, December 29, 2012

Downtime slog

Ever feel like you're running out of gas?

It's not that I've been too busy. On the contrary. I've had no mediations for two weeks - normal for this time of year. Christmas is done. My husband Art broke a rib last week so his activities have been limited and he has been cranky with the pain. It has rained for three weeks, and the days are just now starting to get longer. I am so, so ready for some sun. I sleep eight or nine hours a night, run an errand or two, and am left to my own devices otherwise. I don't have the energy or interest to do much more than that. I'm not sick or depressed. Just all December'd out. I'm even caught up with my filing. How embarrassing!

My 12-year-old granddaughters Mary and Malayne are visiting this week. They flew by themselves this time, from Eugene to Seattle. Mostly what they want to do is sleep until 11, read, play with the tablets their other grandparents gave them for Christmas, not do laundry, not do dishes, and stay up until 1 or 2. Very normal, and they're still nice girls just barely entering puberty. I told them I would really like it if they would spend their time - between the time they get up and the time the grandpa and I go to bed - upstairs with us, so we can keep each other company while they read or play on their tablets. I can hear them chattering in the living room, and it's a nice sound. This is the fourth year they've been with us between the day after Christmas and New Year's Day.

Mary and Malayne

We try to have some kind of outing each day. Wednesday it was the library, where each of them checked out about eight books. On Thursday we went to the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, which they pronounced "boring" and then to an Imax showing of "The Mummies of the Pharaohs" (or something like that). Not so boring, especially with the apple snacks that came out of Grandma's purse. Another trip to the library yesterday. And today one twin got her hair "layered and thinned, but not cut shorter". Tomorrow they get picked up by their Uncle James for an overnight while the grandpa and I attend an evening event.

While they're gone, we'll take down the holiday decorations and start packing for our departure on New Year's Day. Two months in Tucson means more than suitcases; we also need the kitchen essentials and folders we need for taking care of business while we're gone. I've installed Go2mypc on my desktop at home and on my laptop so I'll be able to take care of whatever comes up. We've been on 24 trips since we stopped working in June of 2010, but this is the first time travel has spanned the start of a month, when most of our paperwork activity occurs. I also have Dropbox on both computers so I can easily access the common documents. Once we're in Arizona, I want to be able to live life day to day - and that includes the daily things I do online.

I'm pretty sure this week feels like a slog partly because I haven't gotten any exercise. We didn't get to our morning classes (broken rib and my own laziness) and we haven't been able to walk outdoors (rain and my disinterest) and we haven't gone to the gym (same excuse). See, even when I know exercise is an upper, and I'll feel sloggy if I don't do it.... I don't do it anyway.

Oh, well. A week from today, weather and the gods permitting, we'll be settled into our park model in Tucson. Let the sunshine begin!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Passing along the memories

For years, I acquired a new Christmas ornament sometime during the year. A box of plain old-fashioned balls for my newlywed year, a special edition for each of my two infant boys, a little gold church from a boyfriend when I first moved to Seattle, a teddy bear from another relationship, a Gumby treetop ornament from who knows where, a set of eight tiny brass musical instruments, a Nutcracker-style wooden soldier. The box grew fuller each year until we needed two boxes to store them all. When Art and I got together 20 years ago, some of his ornaments got added to the bunch. Each ornament was laden with memories: when I got it, the circumstances of my life at the time, all the trees in all the houses I've lived in.

Three years ago we bought a live tree in a pot. I put on my beloved Christmas CDs and decorated the tree by myself. When it was done, I looked at it and started to cry. For all the memories, for the sadness of all the kids grown and gone. Then I took all the ornaments off the tree, boxed them, and asked Art to please put the tree outside in the yard. Which he did without even rolling his eyes. Not in front of me, anyway.

This year I asked for another live tree and Art said no, he didn't think so, since we're leaving for Arizona on January 1, and didn't I remember what happened when we put up the tree the last time?

It was time, I thought, to pass the memories along. We saw six of our eight children in the weeks before Christmas. I asked them to look through the ornaments and take the ones that had special memories for them. Art's older daughter Melissa took several - one was from her first year of life. My son James took his special edition ball, the little gold church, the teddy bear and the Gumby. He told me his memories of each of them. They were nothing like my memories. They were about how he remembered seeing them nearly all his life, for all those years of trees. He and his girlfriend have a larger tree this year, and need more ornaments. Art's youngest son Greg took several also. He remembered the year we went to the Puyallup Victorian Christmas celebration when he was little and he picked the Nutcracker soldier to put on our tree.

Now most of my memory-laden ornaments have gone to other trees. And that is a good thing.

On another topic, I am profoundly grateful that the solstice has arrived and the days are now getting longer. I wish they were getting less rainy so that I could go for my daily walk without having to dash out during the sun break that may or may not happen during a day.  I actually wish they we were getting some snow, but it's not cold enough around here for snow very often. My sister Alyx, in Alaska, is grateful for the solstice as well. She had a bad day today with temperatures way below zero. You can read about it on her blog here.

I love the quiet days just before Christmas. Especially when daylight lasts a few minutes longer today than it did yesterday. I light the candles and put on the music, and I have my good, good memories, and we maybe make some new ones.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Picking up the torch

It began in October, at Art's daughter Laura's wedding in Akumal, Mexico. All but one of his six kids were there. And his ex-wife Nancy and her husband Clete were there. And Art and me. We spent six days there - some of it as a group, some in smaller groups, some in couples or singles. Everyone got along. Effortlessly. It seems that, 20 years after their divorce, the bride's parents were amicable and glad to be there. Laura had both her parents, and both her stepparents, sitting in the front row at the ceremony. And, before the vows, she gave each of us - all four of us - a long-stemmed red rose and a hug.

It continued last Saturday, when Nancy and Clete and Art and I cohosted a family gathering at a local venue. Laura and her husband Brian flew out from New Jersey, and Laura's sister Melissa and her husband Scott flew up from San Diego, and Laura's three local brothers drove over. And 46 people - Laura's aunts and uncles and cousins from both sides of her family - celebrated the season, with a toast from Laura's brother Jason welcoming his new brother-in-law.

And in conversations with some of these grown offspring over the weekend, topics included what Art and I would like as we grow older and what our expectations are - or are not - from our kids; suggestions from people further along in their careers as to financial strategies for the younger ones that might lead to a values-driven life and/or a comfortable retirement; who might be able to help someone get a job in a company they work in; possible destinations for future all-family gatherings (Sand Point, Idaho or Yosemite or maybe Lake Tahoe).

The "torch" part is that most of these conversations were initiated by the offspring rather than us, the parents. No one is passing the torch yet - it may be another decade before Art and I are ready to give up our driver's licenses or downsize to a single-level house or move to a drier climate - but we can see the next generation is ready to pick up the torch as it's needed. To give their younger siblings - or us - a hand. I told Melissa if she had any questions about our plans for our later years, she could ask. And she did. I told her where the "executor stuff" is and she didn't say, "Oh, we don't need to talk about that yet."

I've been in Art's kids' lives for 20 years. I've been an involved stepmother. Two of the six have lived with us at some point. Now I see that they have been raised well by their parents. They are taking care of each other, and they're willing to give us a hand if we need it.

They're picking up the torch. And that is a good thing.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Season of darkness and light

Twelve more days until the winter solstice. Then it starts getting lighter again. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, it's dark when we get up unless we sleep in, and it's dark before the 5:00 o'clock news. And, west of the Cascades, it's rainy, or shrouded with low clouds with no snow on the ground to reflect available light. Every few days the sun comes out for a time. Then we go for a walk and squint gratefully into the sky.

Some people like this time of year. They say it's cozy. Others, like me, feel heavy and dark inside. I double up on my vitamin D, take a homeopathic supplement, and turn on a lightbox for half an hour every morning. Even then, it's a long slog through this time of year in the darkness. Even though I know it's coming, it's a shroud on my spirit.

And yet, here we are in the holiday season. We have lights and little ornaments on our artificial ficus and a small LED-lit tree in our bay window. Last year's live tree spent the season in a pot in our living room; it's now planted along our walkway and festive with lights.  We have 22 stockings hung on the banister - including one for our potbellied pig, Bud, who passed away over a year ago at the age of 18. This week I have family visiting, with a small, laughter-filled gathering last night over a lovely shrimp pasta dish, and another larger one this afternoon. 

We are honoring Art's daughter Laura and her new husband Brian with a holiday gathering attended by both sides of her family. Laura's mother Nancy and I have collaborated on the planning. It will be a festive, fun day. Next weekend we'll host several of our children and grandchildren at a family dinner and generic gift exchange. And then our holiday season home events will be finished until we welcome our 12-year-old granddaughters on December 26 for their annual holiday visit. 

Yesterday, Art and I went to the funeral of an elderly neighbor. Once again we were sitting in a church - a place we rarely go these days except for weddings and funerals. Years ago I was a liturgical musician, and this Advent season was a busy one for us as we prepared for the coming of the Light. Those songs still reside in my spirit, and yesterday I sang one of them at the funeral. I noted I can still read music after all these years.

"The music of the spheres" is a phrase from a hymn I remember from my childhood. It seems to me that this season of darkness and light is all a part of it. The music, that is. 

On January 1 we leave for Tucson and the sun. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

They always come in threes

The answers always come in threes for me.

Usually I'm fairly competent at getting through my life. Sometimes, though, I get stuck on a problem. I don't realize I'm stuck for a while, though. I keep on examining the issue, from various angles and "what ifs", and my feelings get exhausting, and I lie awake at night.  Then I find myself in a willpower-induced corner, surrounded by ugly barking dogs - pretty much trapped. That's when I realize I'm stuck. And, as a last resort, I say, "Okay, Universe, I'm stuck. Please give me the insight on what I should do, and give me the willingness to do it."

You know what? I ALWAYS get the answer. It comes within just a few days, and from three separate places I wouldn't have expected. That's how I know it's the answer.

Here's a very recent example.

Back in May of 2011, I was on vacation and sat in a chair that was a couple of inches lower than its companions in the room. Immediately I felt the nerves in my back objecting in my legs, and within two hours both of my feet were tingling.  Within three days the accompanying balance issues had resolved, but not the tingling. Apparently there had been a major nerve root insult, and nerves take lots of time to heal. They have been healing for a year and a half now, and while improved, they're still annoying.

Over the next six months I saw two doctors and had three MRIs. The doctors assure me these things take time, or sometimes they never heal and I should live with the sensations in my feet, and the MRIs look normal. Still, I worried this issue in my head nearly every day, and lay awake at night with my feelings.

Finally, about three weeks ago I said to the Universe, "Okay. I've been asking for over a year now to be a good sport about this, but now I'm changing my request. I want this issue to be healed." And then I said the magic words: "Please give me the insight on what I should do, and the willingness to do it."

Then I flew to Alaska to spend Thanksgiving with my sister. She is about three quarters through nursing school. In my dozenth, at least, conversation with her about this back issue, I commented that the tingling in my feet is somewhat positional. When I'm in my car, for example, with its lumbar support, it's much less annoying than when I'm lying on the couch.  And she said, "Then at least part of the problem is postural." Had I never told her about the positional issue? It had honestly never occurred to me. That's ONE. 

Last year, when I whined about my feet in a blog, a blogging friend named Murr suggested an exercise followed by a "get back to me". I did.  She recommended a book called Pain Free. I bought the book immediately, did the back exercises for three days. Nothing changed. I put the book away. Last week I was going through books I'd planned to donate to the library and came upon the book. I decided to read it! By the time I'd finished the first three chapters, I knew my back issue was at least partly postural. The book suggested ways - not just back exercises, but others - to help. I started doing the exercises. That's TWO.

I got a massage last week. I talked to my therapist about my back. He said, "That postural thing makes a lot of sense. The muscles that need to be supporting your lumbar spine are weak, and the right exercises can strengthen them." That's THREE.

So I made an appointment for next week with a practitioner specializing in the techniques recommended in Pain Free.  I am hopeful.  

It could be that my foot discomfort is here to stay. But maybe not. The point is that, when I pay attention, I get answers. If I rely upon my willpower and then sink into victimhood, I may not.

Here's to the Universe! And thank you again, Murr.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Running out of propane

We're in Kenai, Alaska for Thanksgiving week. We stay in my sister and brother-in-law's motorhome, in their driveway.  They have four cats and my husband Art is allergic to every one of them. The motorhome is quite comfortable. Except it's heated with propane, and the temperature outside last night got down to -4, and the propane tank emptied during the night, and when we woke up this morning it was 32 degrees in the RV.

We're glad we're here anyway, though. I laugh a lot with my sister, and Art loves making Thanksgiving dinner all by himself, no matter whose kitchen he's working in. We brought four suitcases with us on the airplane yesterday, plus a carryon, and two and a half of them held fresh fruits and vegetables not available in Alaska. Art took them out and laid them on the table and my sister Alyx took a picture and posted it on her Facebook page.

We're having Thanksgiving today, Wednesday, because my brother-in-law Virgil works at WalMart and his hours tomorrow are 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. That will be our leftover day, plus we've been invited over to my cousin's house for dessert. Once Art finishes with the turkey, he'll start in on his famous biscotti to take to the dessert.

My sister and I are seven years apart in age. We haven't always been close. That's happened since our mother passed away four years ago. We're now both doing things we love - she's in her second year of nursing school and I've taken up mediation. We were talking today of the family we came from and what we've accomplished. We're grateful to all the people who came before us, no matter how dysfunctional or difficult they were!

Thanksgiving blessings to you and yours!

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I've just been certified as a Mediator Practitioner by the Dispute Resolution Center of my county after 140 hours of training and practice. I started this program in June of 2011 with a 40-hour basic mediation class. I took a 24-hour family mediation class. I observed eight four-hour mediations, then did a mock mediation for my Professional Standards Evaluation. Then I co-mediated twelve three- or four-hour sessions. I observed five mornings in small claims court, one morning in family court, spent the day in a women's prison, and took five workshops. As a certified mediator, I can now finish up the requirements to join the Washington Mediation Association, which is my personal goal.

Why did I do this and what am I getting from it?

1. I wanted to be useful after I left the workforce, but

  • I found out I don't have the stamina to build all day for Habitat for Humanity. 
  • I found out I don't want to teach English as a second language. 
  • I already knew I don't want to be a volunteer who crochets baby blankets for the hospital or reads stories to kids at the elementary school - I'm not crafty and reading stories to my grandchildren is sufficient.
  • Neither did I want to work with computers as a volunteer when I already did that for 20 years as a professional.

2. I am a good listener, and mediation requires it.

3. I've wanted to be less judgmental and critical and more open minded. In mediation I've learned that everyone has a valid perspective, and that understanding has carried over into my life. What a gift!

4. We travel and have other activities, and I need a volunteer interest that can accommodate that. I get an email a couple of times a week listing upcoming mediations, and I can choose which ones I want to volunteer for. I don't have to skip my morning exercise or meetings of my writers group or classes I sign up for, and I don't have to drive at night unless I feel like it.

5. I am greatly appreciated for the mediations I sign up for, and greatly valued for the outcomes achieved at those mediations.

6. When clients walk into the room they don't know what is going to happen, and neither do I. When they walk out, usually they've made agreements they can live with - whether it's for a marriage dissolution, a parenting plan, a workplace dispute, neighbor disagreement or something else. They almost always give credit to the mediators. But always, always, the accomplishments belong to the clients. All we've done is facilitate their work.

7. I am learning to be flexible. Most mediations at the Dispute Resolution Center are done by a team of two mediators. Sometimes when I walk in I have never met the person I'm going to be working with for the next few hours. It's a give-and-take process throughout the mediation. By the end, we mediators appreciate each other and have learned something new.

8. I use my mediation skills outside of the Dispute Resolution Center. I've been helpful to family members and friends - usually in unplanned situations that just come up in the course of a conversation. It amazes me how much can happen when a person is listened to.

9. I'm grateful for the aptitude for mediation, for the woman who first told me about this field five years ago when I was still working, for the excellent training provided to me. And, especially, for the continuing support of the mediation community - they are good people.

10. Someday, sometime, someone may pay me to do this work, but I would do it for free. And I do. I'm grateful that I can.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Welcoming our soldiers home

To publicize our book Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of 
Healing, I sent emails to most of the newspapers in the Pacific Northwest.
I told them our book would be appropriate to include in features about
Veterans Day.

One of the responses was from Elizabeth Griffin, editor of the Journal
Magazine, which serves communities just north of Seattle. She
interviewed Art and me a couple of weeks ago. In addition to our book,
we talked about others engaged in service to veterans. This week,
Ms. Griffin's article appeared online. We're honored to be included
in her discussion. You can read the article here.

Tonight there's a swing dance at the local high school.  There will be
music, food, a silent auction, and a magician. Veterans are admitted
free.  Ms. Griffin invited us to attend, to perhaps say a few words about
our book, and to donate a copy to the silent auction.

We will attend, for sure, and will provide a copy of our book. We might
even dance! I hope lots of veterans will attend so that I can thank them
for their service.

I watched this video for the first time yesterday. I cry every time.

A sincere thank you to those now serving our country, and to all the

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Bag Lady thinks about Africa

Back in August we were excited to be planning a trip to East Africa for next summer. We'd had houseguests, Ed and Jeri, who said it was the trip of a lifetime and referred us to a friend, Tom, with a direct connection to an outfitter in Nairobi. We were fascinated by the stories and started corresponding with George, the outfitter.

The price quotes came back disappointingly high. The amount of that one three-week trip would exceed our yearly travel budget. We'd need to dip into spare money. And what if we needed it later on? After a lot of thought and a couple of months we decided to forego the custom trip to Africa and take a group tour. I sent an email to Ed, Tom and George last week and thanked them for their help.  Then we decided maybe we should wait a bit before signing up to go to Africa at all. I was disappointed, but felt comfortable taking my usual play-it-safe position.

Then I read a recent blog post by Bob Lowry at Satisfying Retirement. I've been following Bob for a couple of years now. I like his informative style and his attitude about retirement and his ideas about finances. He's sensible about money and he has the same kind of curiosity about things that I do. He was a careful saver and he and his wife are now benefitting from that.

Bob and his wife Betty recently rented an RV for a few weeks to see how they liked it. They loved it. They loved staying a few days and getting to know a place, and discovering new places. Now they are considering taking a risk. Should they buy an RV and travel for several months a year?

I read Bob's post with fascination. My Bag Lady read along with me. It was very clear to both of us that Bob's well planned retirement makes a lot of sense, and we could completely understand his hesitation about buying the RV.

But there was not a doubt in my mind that he and his wife should buy it and go. Not a single doubt. I commented, "A ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are built for."

Then I thought about our Africa trip. I wondered how it differed in the least bit from Bob's pending RV purchase. I couldn't come up with a single difference. Both are somewhat of a splurge in a carefully planned retirement.  Both will undoubtedly yield pleasure and personal growth. And, most likely, neither will turn out to be the boondoggle that transforms us from retirees in a decent space to Bag People.

I said I'd told Ed and Tom and George we'd changed our minds about the personalized safari.  Both Ed and Tom responded immediately. They talked about the difference between a customized safari and a "group grope" one. They talked about the quality of the trip that the outfitter would create for us. They said that, for this once-in-a-lifetime trip, we should do it exactly the way we want it rather than going along with the more generic group itinerary. They told me we could shorten the trip or economize in other ways. They both said, "Don't give up on this dream. Go to Africa."

I ran it by the Bag Lady. She reminded me that, after all, we don't live on a shoestring budget, and there are other ways to pay for the trip than by holding a cardboard sign at the freeway offramp. She actually was a little curious about all those animals.

So yesterday I sent another email to Ed and Tom and George. I said "yes". Tom made a few suggestions for changing the original itinerary: forego three days at an orphanage in Nairobi, consider dropping Tanzania. Ed added an idea: visit the British ex-pat working farm. I told the men we'd like some Kenya culture included, and I'll be calling Tom later today to talk about possibilities.

We're personalizing this trip.  It will still be expensive. But I think the Bag Lady will enjoy going along. She likes animals - especially giraffes and elephants and the creatures who move outside a tented camp at night.

The risk may not be a trip to East Africa or an RV. It might, instead, be a flight across the country to visit grandkids, or dinner out and a movie, or a pair of comfortable shoes.  It's good to be reminded that we're all in this together.

Thanks, Bob.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

After the Wedding: Family Thoughts

The family of the bride - Art's daughter Laura - turned up, for the most part, at the beautiful wedding in Akumal, Mexico last week. Five of her siblings, a sister-in-law, her mom and stepdad, her dad and me. We spent a good part of four days together, in various configurations. One day we all piled into a van to explore Chichen Itza. On another, we joined Brian the groom's family on a snorkeling trip.

Of the 28 people who attended the wedding, about half were from Brian's side - his parents, sister, aunt and uncle and cousins. The other half were Laura's immediate family only. Not present at the wedding were Laura's numerous aunts and uncles and even more numerous cousins. She has a large family; her mom Nancy has seven siblings and her dad Art has seven, and most of these people have children as well. They will be seeing Laura and Brian at a holiday family gathering in December here in Seattle.

I sat in the front row on the bride's side at the ceremony, between my husband Art and his ex-wife Nancy. We were all happy to be there together. Art and I have been together for 20 years; Nancy and her husband Clete for nearly that long. We don't see each other often, but we're cordial. And on this day we were also proud.

When Art and I got together his youngest son Greg was five years old and his older daughter Melissa was eighteen. My son James was twelve and my son Russ was fourteen. I was mom or stepmom to eight children.  Two of Art's children - including Laura - lived with us for several years. Two others of them visited us on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend for nearly ten years.  As I looked around at Laura's wedding, I remembered when all of Art's children were younger. I played a part in the raising of most of them, and today I have a relationship with every one. I felt comfortable sitting in the front row at the wedding. During the ceremony, Laura gave a red rose to all four of her parents - to her stepdad Clete and her mom Nancy, to her Wicked Stepmother Linda and to Art, her Pops. 

Last spring, when we asked Laura how we could help with the wedding, she asked us to make sure her siblings could be at the wedding in Mexico. That meant airfare for a few, plus frequent reminders about getting passports. Mission accomplished.

Three of our sons - one of Art's and both of mine - could not attend the wedding. If I ruled the world all of them would have accepted our offer of airfare and cleared their calendars, but that's not always possible. As it turned out, the people who arrived in Akumal were the ones who were supposed to be there after all.

When I was a young woman, I visualized being married and having children and living my whole life with that family. Instead, I married and had children, then divorced and remarried and acquired stepchildren. They are all my family, this configuration. I'm a lucky woman.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What I'm learning in Akumal, Mexico

Our daughter Laura is getting married today - she and her bridal party and the other mothers are in the villa next door, getting their hair and makeup done (for $125 a person!) in preparation for the 5:30 wedding. I have curly hair so I opted out. We'll be spending the day in the "penthouse" of our own villa, reading and blogging and sunning, plus hosting anyone from the villa next door who might stop by for a quiet break.

Here's what I've learned so far this week.

1. I love sunshine, but I could never live in a place where it's hot and humid year round. I can be a sweaty mess for a week, but that's about it. Tucson in the winter looks better and better as the time draws near.

2.  A week in a villa with an ocean view is a great place to catch up on reading all the New Yorker, Atlantic and Time magazines I brought with me.

3.  Taking an exercise class for seniors three mornings a week at home means that we have the stamina for all-day outings in Mexico. We are the oldest of the 28 people here, and no one had to slow down for us. That makes it easier to get up in the morning for the class even when it's raining and not really light out yet.

4. I remember most of my very bad Spanish from our trip to Ecuador last February.

5.  Chichen Itza is worth a three-hour van ride.

6.  It is totally awesome to snorkel in the midst of a large school of fish.

7. It is even more awesome to wake up the morning after snorkeling and feel no sore muscles.

8. Sunscreen is my very good friend. Numerous family members are quite sunburned. Playing on the beach for three hours in the heat of the day will do that. Especially in places nearer the equator than Washington State, where most of us live.

9. It doesn't matter what I wear as long as it's cool. Today I am wearing a ten-year-old tank top and the shorts from even older convertible hiking pants. Who cares? 

10. If there is an enormous supply of beer and wine and liquor in stock, it will all be consumed. There's no such thing as too much. I remember this myself from years ago, but I see it big time this week. My goodness!

My stepdaughter Laura lived with us from the time she was 14 until she joined the Navy at 19. She has become a beautiful, self-possessed, independent young woman. I'm very proud of her and am grateful for the part I've been able to play in her life.  She has chosen a young man who is her equal. I'm delighted with that. Last summer, Laura and Brian flew from their home in New Jersey to Seattle for the wedding of one of Laura's friends. On the day of the wedding, during the "getting ready" time, Brian spent two hours sitting at our table, explaining their work to us (they're both engineers working in the nuclear power industry). He was patient and an excellent teacher. Then he asked Art for permission to marry Laura! He's a great mix of the modern and the traditional, and we're pleased as we can be that he'll be part of our family.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Bag Lady ponders

I've been thinking about recent trips I've taken and what they've meant to me.
  • One in August to Rockland, Maine, for our fifth six-day sail on the Schooner Heritage. 
  • Two weeks later, to rural New York and a retreat for women who love a veteran. 
  • Two weeks after that, to nearby Vashon Island, Washington for a first-time weekend with five other bloggers. 
  • And next Monday, a six-day vacation in Akumal, Mexico, to snorkel and sun and explore ruins and celebrate the wedding of Art's daughter Laura.
When I think about the trips, I think about my life these days. I started this blog in January 2010 because I was six months away from quitting my job of 20 years. I was excited and terrified. I worried about the money - in spite of a reassuring spreadsheet - and wondered if I'd find enough to do. Nearly three years later, life looks quite different.

The Schooner Heritage is a favorite trip for us, even though it's not easy to get to Maine from Seattle - and nearly impossible on a budget. The sail is a source of deep relaxation for us, but for my husband Art it's a chance to help sail, and put on a costume to be a pirate one morning at breakfast (very embarrassing!!!), and eat comfort food and wonderful lobster. I think if we could only take one trip a year Art would choose this one. He's a very good sport about taking all my other travel suggestions, but this one's for him.

The New York retreat came up just a couple of months before, held by the wife of the psychotherapist who took Art and me to Viet Nam back in 2005, as a way to help Art heal from PTSD. That was a life-changing journey. We even wrote a book about it. A retreat just for the women, though - "they also serve who also stand and wait." The trip reminded me how grateful I am for the financial resources to take this trip, and of the opportunities that can happen for me if I'm willing to say "yes".

The Vashon retreat - with five bloggers I met through the written word before we saw each other face to fact - full of laughter and easy conversation. This virtual community has become a real place for me, where friends are found. We found that our written words reflected the people we really are. We six bloggers already knew each other by the time we arrived at our lodging.

And the trip to Mexico. We are so proud of daughter Laura's accomplishments and are delighted with Brian, the man she's chosen to share her life with. Five of Art's six children will be there next week, plus Laura's mom and stepdad and half brother, and Brian's family.  I'm grateful for this blended family I'm a part of - including the experience of planning a gathering with Laura's mom Nancy for when Laura and Brian come to visit in December! It reminds me that we really are all in this together. 

For me, travel isn't just about going places. It's about learning and growing, meeting people from other places, using my ordinary eyes and ears to experience the other-ordinary. When I worked, travel was about relaxation. Now it's about living. For some reason I hadn't thought about that until recently - in spite of the 22 trips we've taken since my last day of work in June of 2010.

When I'm home I'm learning and growing as well. Two weeks ago we hosted a Swiss family - a mother and three of her children - for four days at our home. We all talked and laughed and learned. I'm almost ready to be certified as a mediator - I brought my own talents to a new field and love how I can be useful in the community. We were interviewed last week by a journalist from a local paper. While we talked about our book, we found mutual interests. I've even agreed to speak briefly at a local event honoring veterans, and to donate a copy of the book to a silent auction. Again, it's about being willing to say "yes".

In January 2010, the Bag Lady saw only the money. She didn't see the life. And I look at the spreadsheet now. It's still pretty encouraging. Probably wouldn't be if we'd bought a new car, or an RV,  or seen the world from a first-class place instead of a sensible one. Fortunately, I'm fine with sensible.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Weekend of the Bloggers Six

It was actually Deb's idea that we get together - she writes the blog Catbird Scout.  We met at a Starbucks in Vancouver a couple of months ago. We compared the blogs we followed and developed a short list of ladies we might invite to a weekend gathering. I sent out an email, and within a couple of weeks we had six "yes" responses, a date - the weekend of October 5 - and a place - Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island, across the water from Seattle.

We arrived in two cars. DJan - of the blogs D-Janity and Eye on the Edge - and Jann of Benchmark 60 came to my house, and we carpooled to Seattle.  Deb and Sandi - who writes Flying Into the Light - drove north from Vancouver together.  Both groups got thoroughly lost between their points of origin and the Fauntleroy-Vashon Island ferry, arriving two hours later than expected.

I was one of the hapless drivers. I've lived in the Seattle area for 25 years but was unable to navigate the 20-minute route between the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where we picked up Sally - who writes Retired English Teacher and flew in from Colorado Springs - and the ferry. As a former type-A personality and perpetual achiever, it was a humbling experience. In our car we had two iPhones, a GPS and a MapQuest printout. We trusted the electronic devices; we should have relied upon the printout.

So here we are. Three of us prepared a Friday night meal of butternut ravioli, veggies and salad and a berry dessert. We had a great Saturday breakfast at The Hardware Store in Vashon, explored the Saturday Farmer's Market, drove to Robinson Point Light Station to walk on the driftwood-strewn beach. All along we're talking - as a group or in pairs or trios. Back at Lavender Hill, we visited an estate sale or sat on the porch. And a long afternoon with the six of us on the porch until the afternoon chill chased us indoors again.

About each other before this weekend, we knew only what each of us had blogged; what we knew we had in common was professional women at or near retirement. We'd followed each other's blogs for the most part. More than half of us have lost a child.  All but one of us live in the Pacific Northwest. Four of us are educators.

Now we know more. We've had conversations about things not in our blogs. We have more in common than we knew. We feel more connected now than we did before this weekend.

Next year we want to meet again. Maybe in Colorado. Maybe we'll make a longer list and send an email to a few more women.

Monday, October 1, 2012

My happy place

Sometimes, in my life, I look at what's happening and how I'm feeling, and I know I'm in my happy place.  My life is balanced, my health is good, my activities interesting, and my relationships rewarding. I used to think I had to work really hard to find such a state, or find the magic formula. As I've gotten older, it's not so hard - it's almost like a gift from the universe to those of us further on in life.

A blogging friend, Galen Pearl, has written a book called 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There). It's also the name of her blog, where much of her book originated. I got a copy of the book recently, with a request that I write a review. I read it in a couple of days. In her introduction, Galen says, "Happiness is not a destination, not something to be pursued. It is the way we live." The 10 Steps in her book, and the multiple two-page sections in each Step, are descriptions, ideas, experiences, wisdoms, and commentary. Galen includes short quotes from various sources; one example in her introduction is "A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it." (George Moore)

As I read the book, I thought it would be lovely to read one short piece each morning as part of my quiet time, as a useful reminder of one way to be in the world, at times when I think all I am is a maker and executor of to-do lists.

My favorite chapters? Step 2 in Galen's list is "Decide if You Want to Be Right or Happy". I actually discovered the wisdom of putting "being right" way down on my list of ways to live when I was in my 50s. Life-long Achiever, you know. And Step 8 is "Forgive Everyone". I resisted that idea for many, many years. It wasn't until a visit to my great grandfather's grave a year ago that I finally got it. Reading the sections of Step 8 in Galen's book reminded me of the gifts I get when I take that Step. These two Steps, in particular, remind me of recent ways I've grown.

Galen includes pieces of her own life to illustrate the Steps. She remains an optimist even after facing many challenges. I couldn't say, "Well, of course she has Happy Steps. She hasn't had a lot of hardship in her life." But she's had her share.

10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There), by Galen Pearl. Optimistic and wise. Worth a read!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Loving a veteran

I flew to Albany, New York last Thursday, and spent the weekend at a retreat in the deep countryside with ten other women. The attendees were wives, mothers or daughters of veterans - from Vietnam to Afghanistan - or active duty military Afghanistan. I was the oldest by less than a year; the youngest was probably in her late 20s. It was an education for me.

My husband has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) from his time in Vietnam.   He has sought and received help for the PTSD, returned to Vietnam in 2005 as part of his psychological healing, and lives a busy life today - but neither of his diagnoses will ever go away. I can sometimes observe the impact of his war experience on him, but there's not much I can do about it except listen if he wants to talk - and leave him alone if he doesn't.

The other husbands have PTSD at least. They also have amputated limbs, scarred or mutilated body parts, and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI), which manifests in headaches, dizziness, memory loss or insomnia. And even though the men have injuries making them ineligible for deployment, most of them want to go back to the war zone - even though they may have been deployed half a dozen times or more in recent years.

The family members of these injured veterans carry much of the burden, both at home and as they do what they can do get help for their men.  For a veteran with TBI and its associated memory loss, the requirements of filling out a multitude of forms to quality for medical help are overwhelming; that duty may fall to the family member who is also keeping the family home together and may have a full-time job as well.

I felt honored to spend the weekend with these women. I wondered whether I could cope with the challenges they face. 

When I got the email describing the retreat I knew I was supposed to go, but I didn't know why. Now that I'm back home, I feel changed in some way, but I haven't identified what that change is about. Maybe it's knowing more and realizing how very lucky I am. Maybe it's a connection with other women who love veterans. Maybe it's the beginning of some new commitment on my part. I remember my commitment to say "yes" in my life and I wonder what the next "yes" will be.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

It's in the air

Fall, that is. And the crows. And maybe smoke.

The weather is still warm, but with a cool tinge, if that's possible. The afternoon shadows are longer. And the bunches of grapes - first time for these guys on our three-year-old plants - are turning from green to lavender and sweetening up, but the grape leaves are getting yellow. It's like the fruit is racing the fall to ripen.

Every evening at dusk, hundreds of crows take wing from their trees in these several suburbs, heading southeast. Apparently they're all heading for a convention or gathering of some sort.  This evening Art and I tried to follow them. Maybe to an open area on a golf course? Maybe to trees along a slough? The crows were so numerous we figured it would be easy to find where they landed. We were wrong, though. At a certain point they all just vanished. As we drove back, we saw another hundred or so still headed to the gathering place. It must just be their secret. We decided that next summer, when the days are very long, we'll take bicycles and see if we have better luck.

Fires are burning in Central Washington. Art told me the sun rose flaming red this morning. And his eyes are itching. I said the wind never blows from east to west where we live. He said it did this morning.

We have a dozen apples on our two-year-old tree. I thinned them early in the summer and dumped a hundred or so of the gumball-sized apples into our yard waste bin. They were growing too close to the healthiest apple on the branch, so they got removed. I think I should make some applesauce. But I'll need jars and lids and about a case of apples. Maybe I'll do that next year at about this time.

Today I sent emails to three radio stations, reminding them that Veterans Day is coming up in just a couple of months and telling them I've got the perfect book to remember the day. I feel exposed, sending my name and phone number and email out like that. But no more exposed than in the book.

Next Thursday I'm scheduled to fly to Albany, New York, to attend a retreat for women who have a veteran in their life. It's just for us, this time. I wonder if anyone will remember to pick me up at the airport when I get there. I wonder if I'll be the oldest woman. I wonder if I'll remember the weekend as a life-affirming experience or as four legs of a five thousand mile flight.

Lots of wondering. Maybe that's what's in the air.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Home from Maine

I love Maine! I love arriving by rental car, or regional bus, or nine-passenger Cessna. Especially in the late summer, when we sometimes go on a six-day schooner cruise. That happened last week.

We board on Sunday night. We set sail on Monday and arrive back at the dock the following Saturday. In between, we sail, and eat, and visit small towns, and have lobster on a "desert island". At night, we climb into narrow bunks in our tiny room.  We share a marine head with 10 other people, and we use the hand-held shower in another head. We sail under blue, blue skies and in summer storms. We get sunburned and then tanned. We relax, and we talk to new friends, and we relax some more. And then eat again. And maybe nap, or help sail, or read a book.

We had a 17-hour travel day on Monday: six hours on a bus from Searsport to the Boston airport, a four-hour wait for our flight, and nearly six hours in the sky. I love Maine! But it was great to see our beautiful Seattle out the window of our descending plane.

Here are a few pictures sent to us by a new friend. You can find out more about our sail on

Art helping to tack
Waiting for the picnic

The crew dances behind the cooked lobsters

Captain Doug Lee with Pirate Art

New friends

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Almost ready

Almost ready to go, that is. We leave early in the morning and by tomorrow at this time we'll be in our berth on the Schooner Heritage, which sails on Monday out of Rockland, Maine. This will be our fifth sail in the last ten years on the Heritage. Deeply familiar and relaxing, wonderful food, with old friends and probably new ones.

My book Return to Viet Nam is on the shelf at Third Place Books, a large independent bookstore in north Seattle. It's on consignment and I'll make no money having it there. But if people hear about the book - by media or by word of mouth - the bookstore will order more from their distributor. So it's up to me. The week when we get back I'll be contacting the local talk radio stations and the local newspapers. I'll say, "I've written a book about a Viet Nam veteran and his journey of healing. In the weeks before Veterans Day, it would be good for veterans and their families to hear about it." We'll see what happens.  I've been told radio stations and local newspapers look for timely fill pieces. That same week I'll talk to three other bookstores and see if they'll carry it. The library will carry it if they get hold requests. I figure, if it's supposed to happen, it will.

I made the final payment on the Vashon Island house where I'll be spending an October weekend with five other bloggers. My virtual friends, soon to be face-to-face ones.

I'm now working directly with a Kenyan travel arranger for a summer visit to Kenya and Tanzania. I've found a way to cut the costs - either by shortening the trip a bit, or by having two or three other people sign up to go. I've got a friend interested. We'll see!

A couple from Knoxville - we met them on our road trip this spring - will be staying at our house, watering various plants and keeping company with our Designer Cat, Larisa. Ruth and Dave are delighted to be spending time in my part of the world, especially in August when we almost always have glorious weather. It's 60 degrees outside now, and I'm still a little warm. Ruth, however, has on socks and a sweater. Something must happen to the blood of Pacific Northwesterners over time.

I'm taking my iPad but not my laptop. I wonder how I'll do being partially disconnected!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Bag Lady puts herself out there

It's been nine days since my last post. It's not because there's nothing going on. It's because I'm putting myself out there on multiple fronts. One of them is fun and three of them are scary.

First, the fun one. Last week my 13-year-old grandson Kyle was looking at the world map in our entryway. It's full of pins showing where Art and I have traveled. I said to him, "If you had all the money you wanted, and all the time, where in the world would you want to go?" He said, "New York City". Really? The next time he came over I said, "Kyle, by your 15th birthday I will take you to New York City." This time it was his turn. "Really, Grandma?" Really!

So yesterday I spent a couple of hours on the websites of the two home exchange clubs we belong to. I sent out about 40 requests. So far, I have six who said "no, thank you" and one who said "let me talk to my wife about this". We'll use companion fares and miles and we'll get Kyle and Grandma and Grandpa to New York City. Probably next year.

Now, the scary ones, in order of the fear intensity.

1. At the suggestion of a blogging friend, I'm coordinating a weekend gathering in October for half a dozen women. I've only met two of them in person, but I've read the blogs of the rest of them. Everyone sounds interesting and I am really looking forward to the weekend. But I am only just barely an extrovert on the personality tests. I'm much better in writing than I am in person. What if I don't have anything to say after the first ten minutes? Too late, though. I'm committed.

2. I've created a media sheet for my Viet Nam book and it's time for me to go to the library and three independent booksellers to pitch it. I get a knot in my stomach just thinking about it. I want to memorize a pitch but I can't think of a good one except, "Please put copies of my self-published book on a table before Veterans Day, so people will buy it for their veterans." Actually, I want to assume the fetal position. I am not a marketer. But we're leaving town in a week and I committed to the writers group I belong to that I'd go to all four places before then. So I went to the library today, talked to the manager and dropped off my book. I was so nervous that when she opened the book to look through it, I kept talking instead of shutting up and letting her look. I learned from that experience, anyway. I'd like to think I'll go to the first bookstore tomorrow, but I'll probably put it off because it's so scary.

3. I talked to a houseguest/friend last month about a memorable trip he and his wife took to Africa last year with a friend who coordinates travel with a private outfitter in Kenya. It sounded so interesting that my husband Art - who has always maintained he has no interest in going to Africa - agreed to go. This week I called the houseguest/friend, got the name of his friend, and called him. We spent three hours on the phone and I am now working on an itinerary for two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania - probably next August.

This is the scariest of my projects. Why? Because the cost is nearly double what we budget for travel in a year. The Bag Lady woke up from her long slumber and muttered about how we're going to run out of money if we do this.

Here's the deal. Africa is going to be a costly trip no matter when we go. Even a carefully budgeted one. But we're never going to have more money than we do now, and we're never going to be any younger than we are now. If not now, probably never. Am I willing to forego a trip to Africa to observe the Great Migration just because the Bag Lady is muttering that someday we'll wish we had that money back to put food on the table?

I'm working on the itinerary even though I'm not absolutely certain yet about this trip. I'm thinking about asking friends if they'd like to go along. Six people can travel more economically than two, and the shared experience would be wonderful. Especially the three days in an orphanage, where Art fixes electrical and plumbing stuff and I read to kids while they cluster around me. Or the night in a village where we are the only foreigners, and where we buy a goat from a woman in the village and then give it to the villagers so we can share a meal. See, it's details like that I can't, can't pass up. If I have the courage to put those things on the itinerary, and to tell the Bag Lady to be quiet.

Weeks like this remind me that my Bag Lady still watches.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Are you sleeping?

Recently I've been having trouble getting to sleep. Once I do, it's fitful until about 2 a.m. After that, I'm a rock until 7:30. It hasn't always been this way. I attributed it to an older bladder that kept me waking up.

I shared a motel room with my sister on a trip back in May. One morning I woke up and she said, "Man, did you snore! And I was watching you. I think you have sleep apnea."

I was surprised, because no one had ever told me that. I figured she was being ultra sensitive since she's a first-year nursing student. Besides, my husband has sleep apnea and I was nothing like him! Art fell asleep at friends' houses after dinner, at intersections waiting for the light to change, in meetings, and his snoring kept me awake many nights. Three years ago I badgered him into being tested for sleep apnea. He did it only at my insistence, and not very gracefully. Sure enough, he was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea and fitted with a CPAP machine. He now sleeps like a rock, with no snoring.

When I got home from my trip I sent an email to my doc asking whether I could be referred to the sleep center. The first reader of my email in the doc's office sent a referral to the sleep center. The second reader was my doc, who directed me to take the Epworth test for daytime sleepiness. I scored a six; sleep apnea can be diagnosed with a score of ten. Doc said he couldn't make a strong case for referring me to the sleep center.

The next week, I got a call from the sleep center. I told them what the doc had said and they said I could come in anyway, for an evaluation. I did.

Based on several factors (weight, circumference of neck, configuration of open-mouthed throat), I was set up for a home test. I took it the night before last. I took the machine back yesterday morning. By 2:00 the results were in: I have moderate sleep apnea. I'll be fitted in the next couple of weeks with an APAP machine - it's the generation after CPAP and it delivers air at a varying pressure depending on what's needed, rather than Continuously.

As I look back, I shouldn't have been surprised. My sleep habits had changed, but it happened so gradually I hadn't noticed. I'm looking forward to my sleep aid. I expect I'll have much improved sleep.

Are you sleeping?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Time for planning

I didn't do much planning for this summer. My husband Art's knee surgery was June 8 and I knew, for the two months after, I'd be fairly indisposed, as I was his primary caregiver and his ride. I knew it would be tough. It was tougher than I'd expected, though. He was kind of cranky and I was kind of isolated and let's just say I'm very glad that's over with! After a short introspective transition I'm feeling like myself again and ready for what's next. If I claim to be saying "yes" to life, I need to get back to that.

What's coming up first is our fifth six-day cruise on the schooner Heritage, a windjammer sailing out of Rockland, Maine. We leave three weeks from today and I have nothing to wear. Sigh. I hate to shop and I've recently lost 10 pounds. I have older stuff I can drag out but nothing matches. Maybe I'll go as Raggedy Ann or maybe I'll race through Penneys this week and see what's on sale. I shouldn't be complaining, but I am.

Art's daughter Laura is having a destination wedding in October - we're flying to Cancun and driving an hour to Akumel. We'll be there six days. Again, nothing to wear. The last time I bought a dress was five years ago for Art's son Jason's wedding. I've been tasked with shopping for Art's outfit at Tommy Bahama, and I logged in today and found some simple dresses that I hope will work. As I've said, shopping is nowhere near on my top ten list of things to do. For our gift to Laura we have bought plane tickets for three of her siblings and one sister-in-law. I heard today there's a wedding video being planned, so I'll be looking through old photos in the upcoming weeks. Last I heard it was going to be a very simple affair. Not so much, though, I guess.

I'm also beginning to plan for a fall weekend gathering of some women I met online. Most likely all I'll do is coordinate, and hopefully other people will be in charge of the food. At my house, Art does all the planning and shopping and cooking, so my abilities in that area have gone pretty much dormant.

Then, in early December, we'll be having a holiday celebration for daughter Laura and her husband Brian. I thought she wanted something simple for her west coast gathering, but her mother Nancy and I talked today and I believe the event has expanded a bit to include "a few friends" as well as relatives, so now there are too many people being invited to fit in either of our houses. Nancy is checking out the venues at nearby wineries, says we don't need to cater because there are several good food people available, and wonders if we need a DJ. I'll talk to Laura this week and then it will be up to her and Nancy to hash out the details. This one isn't mine to plan, fortunately.

In January we are driving to Tucson for two months of snowbirding. Our first time. One of the weekends in January we drive to Las Vegas for the wedding of a college roommate of mine. I got a timeshare for one of the weekends and we'll be hosting another of our roommates and her husband. We roommates now live in Washington, Massachusetts and Toronto, but we still get together every couple of years. I think I'll be able to wear the dress from Tommy Bahama. That will be a relief!

Good things happening, fun things to plan. Yes!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Putting Things Off

I'm not usually a procrastinator. My to-do list keeps me on task most days, and I can't think of anything that needs to be done that's clearly important.

Then there are the other things. They are important, but not in the short term. So it's easy for me to put them off.

For example, I want to get our book into the independent bookstores for the weeks preceding Veterans Day in November. That means I need to develop a media sheet and a 30-second pitch, then go around to the bookstores (four, so far, in the Seattle area) and talk to the managers. I have been thinking about these activities for over a month, but just yesterday finally put together the first draft of the media sheet. It took me a couple of hours. I know my book, and I'm pretty sure I know my audience, but I'm not a marketer. When I think about this phase of publishing, I want to curl up in the fetal position. That's why I've put it off for so long.

Here's another one. I'm reading a book called Master Class. The author interviewed older people who are leading vital, active lives - his group consisted of people who have participated in Road Scholar travel and learning activities - and "reverse engineered" what they told him, to develop a strategy for the rest of us. How do we stay active, enthusiastic and fulfilled in our retirement years? He came up with a combination of four factors: socialization, moving, creating, and thinking. There's a grid in the book where you can list the things you do, assign them values for each of the four factors, assess where you're not involved, and find ways to become more active in those areas.

For me, surprisingly, my lowest score comes in "movement". Now, I do participate in exercise classes every weekday morning. At least that's what my calendar tells me. But I actually only went to the class three days last week. I was out of town on Monday and Tuesday and I was mediating on Thursday. I know I need to make up for those days - either in the afternoon, if I'm home, or on the weekend. That's when I procrastinate. I've only made up one of those days. And I absolutely know that exercise is vital for my continued health. It's almost like scheduling the exercise makes it so. Not!

My second lowest score is in creativity, which is no surprise at all. Other than writing, I do nothing in that area. I used to sing in choral groups, play handbells, and crochet. That was years ago, though. I gave them all up in the 80s when I divorced, became a single mom and moved to a new city. I tell myself I can get back to them all, but I don't. And I absolutely know, again, that creativity is important. When I think about taking up something new - watercolors or sketching or flower arranging or quilting, for example, come to mind - I either roll my eyes in boredom or prepare to take the fetal position.

The socializing and thinking are fine on my grid. Socializing usually comes along as it needs to, and thinking is my retreat.

So what is this procrastination thing? I've been very active and involved for the last two years. Is it because I've done the easy stuff already?

Today I'd really like to lie on the couch and read magazines - I have about 30 in the basket. But I'm going to walk a couple of miles in the sunshine instead. And develop the design for the book's business cards and bookmarks.

The fetal position looks awfully good, though.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Week of the Granddaughters

They're 12. They're twins. They've been here since camp ended last Saturday. We drive 380 miles tomorrow to take them home - from Seattle to southern Oregon.

We've been to the community pool twice. The library three times. To Fred Meyer for flip-flops. To the pizza place and the pho place and the grocery store. They've read six books apiece and spent two hours a day each on the computer. We've done laundry twice. Picked raspberries and strawberries and blueberries and peas every day. Had ice cream three times and corn four times. They learned to make smoothies and quesadillas. They went to the optometrist where one found out she needs different lenses for the glasses she got last year, and the other found out she doesn't need glasses at all (she's disappointed). They found out they like pita bread for sandwiches. Yesterday we took a field trip to a hedge maze.

We listened a lot. They have an annoying little brother and parents who want them to do chores "all the time". Sounds like a normal family to me!

The grandparents are sleeping very, very well at night. The girls get up at around 9:30, so grandparents have a little time in the morning before they get up, and again after they're in bed at 10. I tell them they can read all night if they want to. I have no idea what time they actually turn off the light and go to sleep, and that's okay with me.

Ah, summer!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thoughts from a former minion

Five weeks after my husband Art's total knee replacement, we are almost back to our normal lives. He can't drive yet - probably will be given that permission when he sees his surgeon on Friday - but he is getting rides to most of his regular places, especially the early-morning ones. I watch him overdoing it and then paying the consequences, but I leave it alone. It's his recovery, after all. He has reduced his need for pain meds - only a couple of low-dosage pills a day now - and returned to our senior exercise class on Monday.

We've had house guests for the last two weeks. We have a daylight basement with a bedroom, living area and bath, and three sets of people have stayed there since July 5. We go about our lives, they go about theirs, sometimes sharing the kitchen or an occasional meal. The first couple, Ed and Jeri, live in North Carolina and spent a week with us, visiting their grown children in Seattle each day. The second set of visitors, Jamie and Dyan and girls, are family of our next door neighbors, whose smaller house couldn't accommodate everyone for sleeping. The third visitor, Joost, was a couch surfing teacher, originally from the Netherlands and currently working in Oman. Our house works out well for summer visitors to Seattle, and it returns the hospitality we experience when we travel at other times of the year - even though our guests are different people from our hosts. Check out Homelink and couchsurfing for these interesting arrangements. The last houseguest left on Thursday, we had one night of "just us", and now our 12-year-old granddaughters Mary and Malayne, just returned from a week of camp, will be with us for a week.

I am learning to pace myself.

As part of my "what's next" inquiry, I bought a book put out by Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel). It's called Master Class; the author is Peter Spiers. You can order it on Amazon here. The idea is that, for "living longer, stronger, and happier", the interviews they've done have revealed that people are most likely to achieve that state through a combination of socializing, moving, thinking, and creating. I'm thinking back to my first two post-retirement years - our group and individual travel, our exercise classes, our book. I guess I stumbled into the possibility of living longer, stronger, and happier, and I want to continue on that path.

What about the aches and pains? For some reason, I thought I'd be just fine, thanks, as I got older. And I am - except for the aches and pains. An old SI joint injury that acts up from time to time; twinges from an ankle I sprained badly a few years ago; annoyed feet from compressed nerves in my back from a bad sit last year. This year, part of me thought, well, I'll just wait until all these issues clear up. Then I'll get going again. It has now, finally, dawned on me that this is who I am now, with my particular aches and pains. It's time to move along, accepting them - maybe even embracing them - as part of the 63-year-old me.

It feels better, somehow, to have arrived at a place of near acceptance. And, as I said, I am learning to pace myself!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Beginning Year Three

I left my job two years ago last week.

In the first year I had multiple goals: to learn to teach English as a second language; to participate in a build for Habitat for Humanity; and to take a course in basic mediation. I did all those things. In the second year I clarified my values and made a list of of my priorities for each day: spirituality, health, community, curiosity, and purpose. On most days, I honored those priorities.

So far, so good. I've published a book, experienced my 15 minutes of fame as a representative of sorts for Road Scholar and Habitat for Humanity, and am well past midway to becoming a certified mediator. And we've taken 23 trips in the last 24 months.

That all sounds exhausting!

So what's on the horizon for Year Three?

Mostly I have no idea. I am still sure that my values-based priorities are valid for me. But I am aware that my body isn't getting any younger. Many activities advertised in the Seattle paper don't sound worth the effort to get in the car, brave the traffic and find a parking place. I'm thinking about logging on to the three senior centers nearby and seeing what kinds of outings they're willing to drive us to. Maybe a play downtown, where all I have to do is hand over my ticket and walk into the theater? I'm considering hiring a grandchild to weed the garden. My younger neighbor already mows our side lawn along with his own. Gads!

It could be, though, that I'm thinking and feeling this way because I'm entering Week 5 as the Minion to the Man with the New Knee. I'm doing most of the chores he usually takes care of which, of course, I've taken for granted for years. And I'm thinking that as we get older - and he is, after all, five years older than me - we'll be less and less inclined to take care of all this stuff ourselves. Or maybe less able. Or some combination of the two. A big yard with a garden is a thing of beauty and all that, but it's a lot of work. I'm not alone yet, but I may well be at some point in the future. I need to be thinking about what's next - not how many things can I cram into the time now, but how to gracefully handle the events of living when things aren't so good as they are right now. How I'd manage on my own, if it came to that. I do want to live in the moment, but keeping an eye out for the future is also a good idea.

In the meantime, I keep up with my exercise. I'm eating well. I read. Yesterday I made a reservation for a park model at a resort in Tucson for next January and February. I never ever thought we would be snowbirds, but we seem to be drifting in that direction. Sun is a good thing in the winter, I've decided.

And the sun is finally out in Washington State!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My 15 minutes of fame? - Part 3

Back in April, a film crew was at my house for two days. I'd been selected by Road Scholar and Participant Media to be interviewed and filmed as an example of a person in retirement who wanted to make a difference. I had no idea how the video would turn out. Now I know!

Here's the video, created by Participant Media from the two days of filming.

You can read about the filming experience in two of my blog posts.


This is very cool - not bad at all for my 15 minutes of fame. I'm about 12 pounds thinner than I was then, but oh, well!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Man with the knee and the Minion

My husband Art is a hard worker, a helpful man, the person who shops and cooks and fixes and gardens and drives. I am also a hard worker, the person who takes care of the money and plans the trips and coordinates the housekeeper and communicates with the eight grown children.

Art is now 17 days post-surgery on a new knee. He has worked mightily in physical therapy and achieved impressive results. He has graduated from walker to cane. He has elevated and iced and the swelling has come down. He has greatly reduced his daily intake of oxycodone.

However, he can't work hard right now. Can't shop or cook much or fix much or garden much or drive at all. Those things have fallen to me, the minion.

For the past four days we have had one short outing each day: out to breakfast on Saturday at a local diner; to a morning meeting on Sunday; to massages today. They say the stamina is the last to return. That means, after each outing, Art needs the rest of the day to rest.

But not me.

We never watch television, except for shows and movies on Netflix. TV is about all Art can manage right now. I have been listening to "kill and maim" TV shows and movies for nearly a week now. The TV is on six or seven hours a day. Not loud, but on.

I have cut the lettuce from the garden for salads. Pulled up the two remaining turnips in the garden and brought in 150 seeds to put in an envelope. Weeded the buttercups so our little yard crew (son and grandson) can spread the mulch next weekend. Driven to the pho place to pick up dinner. Driven to Safeway to pick up almond milk. Put the newspapers and the bottles into the recycle bin. Taken the recycle and trash bins to the curb. Loaded and unloaded the dishwasher. Cleared the table. Filled Art's ice pump with ice. Moved the ice pump from the bedroom to the living room to the bedroom. Filled Art's water bottle with water and ice. Done the laundry. Changed the sheets. Counseled with two grown children.

I am taking care of myself, though. I get seven hours of sleep each night, at least. I go to exercise class on weekdays. Today I got a massage for the first time in three weeks. I fell asleep on the massage table. I never do that. Tomorrow I get to mediate at the dispute resolution center. Tomorrow night I get to meet with my writers group.

Still. I am one tired minion. So, so grateful this is temporary.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Only seven days?

My husband Art had a total knee replacement on Friday, June 8. It has been a long, long week. I'm going to defer to my sister's blog for her excellent description of our experience.

Week two begins tomorrow. I hope I am ready.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Author's request

As you probably know, my husband Art and I published a book called "Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of Healing." It came out last December, and we have received two quarterly royalty checks - what a total thrill!

We self-published this book; that is, we paid a publishing company to produce our book in hardcopy, paperback and eBook format. Though we're happy with the product, there were more bumps in the road than I had expected. We are still smoothing out some of the bumps.

For example, if you look for the book on Amazon, you'll find the hardcopy and the paperback if you spell the country in the title with two words - Viet Nam. But the Kindle version spells it with one - Vietnam. So the three versions don't sort together unless you search for the author's name - Linda G Myers. And on Barnes & Noble it's just the opposite - the Nook version says Vietnam and the hardcopy and paperback say Viet Nam - but for some reason all three versions sort together. These errors originated someplace between the time I submitted the manuscript to the publisher and the time the online retailers received the information.

As soon as our publisher corrects the online title problem - they told me last week it was being "expedited" - we want to submit our book to places like the public library, independent booksellers, and retailers. The library, at least, looks at reviews as part of its process to decide whether to carry the book. So here's my request. If you have read our book, I'd be most grateful if you'd go to Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble and write a review, so the library can see what people think.

This book is not the Great American Novel. It's the story of one young Marine, his day of combat in 1968, and the influence that day had on his life for 35 years until he returned to Viet Nam in 2005 in a journey of reconciliation and healing. I've heard positive, moving comments from veterans who have read it, and from others who have bought extra copies for vets they know.

If you'd like to hear Art read the first chapter, called "One Day of Combat", you can click on that option on the right-hand side of this page.

So that's my request. If you've read the book, please consider reviewing it as a step to getting it out there for others to read.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Moving forward on four roads

Sometimes we just live from day to day, taking things as they come along. And sometimes we know we're moving forward. This is one of those times.

First, I'm excited to say that, on Tuesday, I passed my Professional Standards Evaluation in my mediation practicum. Now I move forward to co-mediate 12 sessions and attend several in-services, on the road to becoming a certified mediator in the state of Washington. This will be a volunteer activity, mostly, and I have both the skill and the passion to undertake it. I'm grateful to have found a meaningful way to be useful in my community. I have a feeling I'll use mediation in other areas of my life, too.

My husband Art is having knee replacement surgery a week from today. I've gone with him to the class at the hospital and the pre-surgical consultation with the surgeon. Art has done the dental checkup thing, the physical checkup thing, the order-the-walker thing. We've made arrangement for my sister Alyx to fly down from Anchorage and be Art's "coach" (no longer "caregiver") for the first week after surgery. She's a second-year nursing student with a great sense of humor and a solid, trusting relationship with both of us.  Art isn't a particularly compliant patient, and I'm not a particularly accepting wife around noncompliance, so having Alyx here for the first week will be easier on everyone - except maybe Alyx! Art isn't supposed to drive for six weeks after the surgery, so I'm keeping my summer schedule as open as possible. I can take an exercise class any three of four days a week, depending on what's going on. Art and I are fairly independent as a rule, but this summer it will shift. We've done this several times before, after a surgery, so I'm anticipating some bumps but an overall recovery afterwards - and a schooner cruise off the coast of Maine in late summer to reward us for our work.

While we walk this presurgical road, we're still on the eating plan, heading into our third week on mostly fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts. Art has lost 11 pounds. I haven't weighed myself since last weekend, but there's a looseness around my waistband and a bit less of a muffin above it. Today I had a treat for lunch - Chinese food at a local restaurant with broccoli (legitimate on the eating plan) and shrimp (not). An occasional treat makes the process easier. I'm encouraged. The toughest part of this road is behind us, I think.

The most fun road, though, is that I've finally gotten the publisher of our book to ask Amazon and Barnes&Noble to correct the title on their websites. Some places it's "Viet Nam" and others it's "Vietnam". Art says it only matters to me. I say, well, if you're looking for all the versions of the book so you can choose which one you want to buy, they don't all sort together if the titles are different. After a couple of months of fruitless emails to the publisher, I called yesterday and connected with Daisy in customer service. And she has expedited the issue. She also assured me that the updated version of the book is the one that's out there, including the ebook version. I downloaded it today onto my Kindle and she is right. Finally! Now I'll begin to contact the library, and bookstores, and local radio stations. I didn't want to do that until the latest version of the book was available. In the meantime, Art and I each carry a few copies of it around with us. And we'll be continuing our deliveries to the Vet Centers - it will be the ones in Washington and Oregon this summer.

These four roads - mediation, surgery, weight loss, and the book - are the ones I'm on for the summer. You know in the winter we'll be on the ones that take us to Arizona or some other sunny place!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I'm on the Bandwagon

This is day 10 of our current eating plan, based on Dr. Joel Fuhrman's book "Eat to Live". We're eating fruits (unlimited allowed), vegetables (also unlimited allowed), legumes, and nuts. Six weeks of this.  The eating plan is based on the most nutrient-rich foods per calorie.

It started with Art's upcoming knee replacement surgery. He wants to get his weight down about 20 pounds. Also, we both would like to get off our bp meds.

It hasn't been a fun experience so far. I really miss eggs, cheese and butter. But surprisingly, not sugar or meat. And this morning, eating a bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh blueberries, I think about our former Saturday morning ritual, breakfast at our local diner, where I'd order a three-egg omelet with hash browns and a buttered English muffin. We'll probably do that again, but not for the next 44 days. And, frankly, I'm not hungry enough to get even halfway through such a breakfast.

I have a couple of blogging friends who dropped ten pounds last year over a period of time. I remember their comments about increased energy and smaller clothing.  Except for right after my divorce,  there hasn't been a time in my life when I've lost weight effortlessly. And, though I am reasonably active as far as walking and exercise, when I pair it with unmonitored food consumption, I get muscles along with fat. It's not the weight loss I'm after this time for my appearance, though. It's the health benefits.

Anyway, I'm on the bandwagon. Not thrilled yet, but on it.

On Tuesday, I take my Professional Standards Evaluation (PSE) test for my mediation coursework. It's a mock mediation to demonstrate the skills I've acquired so far. If I pass the first time, I'll need to do 12 mediations as a co-mediator with a certified person, and then I'll be just about certified. I love this mediation work. It seems to suit my talents and my interest. I'm a complete believer in the importance of being useful in my life, and I think this will do it to a large extent. I'm a little nervous. I'm actually reluctant to even post this, because if I don't pass the first time I'll have to admit it to my blogging community. Achiever, you know, in my past life.

I'll focus on the present day for now, though. Finish my oatmeal and blueberries, go to the gym for time  on the elliptical trainer, return to my yard for some weeding in the sunshine. This afternoon I'll spend a couple of hours preparing for the PSE. Sounds like a good day to me!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Family time in California

My weeklong trip to California with my sister Alyx was so good! After three days visiting our old friend Elinor, we went to Inglewood (near Los Angeles) for a first-time-ever visit to the graves of our mother's parents, Ethel and Myron McNeal.

After a daylong computer search and two trips to the Los Angeles County archives in Norwalk, we discovered the location of the grave of our mother's grandmother Alma McNeal, and visited her in Monrovia (also near Los Angeles). For the Monrovia visit, we bought three roses: one for our mother and one for each of us.

Mom was very close to her grandmother Alma but never visited her grave. She said, "She isn't there." Mom was very afraid of topics around death, maybe because her dad, Myron, died when she was nine and her mother, Ethel, died when she was 18. I can't recall ever attending a funeral when I was a child. And as an adult, I didn't learn about the deaths of my grandmother, my uncle or my aunt until several weeks later. It just wasn't a topic for discussion in our family.

I've done enough genealogy to have an idea of some of the circumstances of my family. When we were standing by our grandparents' graves in Inglewood Park Cemetery, I told Alyx the story of how our grandmother's mother died when our grandmother was three weeks old, and how by the time she was four she was living with her older sister Irene and Irene's husband Ned. I hadn't realized until last week that she was buried, beside her husband, in the same plot as Irene and Ned. I wonder if my grandmother was dependent on her sister all her life.

And our great grandmother Alma, divorced from her husband, is buried next to her sister and brother-in-law, who had moved from Colorado to California in 1909. After her divorce in the 1920s, I suspect she moved to California as well, to be near family.

The best part of the trip, though, was the time I spent with Alyx. This was our first time traveling together without our mother or our husbands. We stayed with two sets of friends (in Santa Barbara and Lake Arrowhead) and in two hotels (in Whittier and Ontario). We had a grand time - from the splurge to upgrade our rental car from the midsize sedan I booked to the Cadillac SUV we ended up with, to the early morning airport dropoff on Wednesday, when I came home, we talked and laughed and ate and talked and pondered and ate and teased and talked and geocached and grave visited and watched TV and ate. We had a few mild squabbles but we talked through every single one of them.

Not bad for two women who never had much of a personal relationship until our mother died in 2008.

This is my sister Alyx. After half a lifetime in California working as a marketer in the healthcare industry, she moved to Alaska three years ago. At age 56, she's just finished her first year of nursing school at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.

Here's to you, Sister! And thanks for the California memories.