Saturday, August 31, 2013

Grandma goes to the airport

My 13-year-old twin granddaughters Mary and Malayne went to YMCA camp again this year. Last week my ex-husband drove from his home in southern Oregon to Spokane, where the girls now live, to pick them up and bring them to Seattle. The back of his car was full of their camp gear. Mary brought a smallish suitcase, a largish backpack and a pillow. Malayne brought a large suitcase, a small backpack, a pillow, and a stuffed animal named Ravioli. There was plenty of room in the car.

However, the girls were flying home the day after camp ended. I picked them up from the camp bus. Their things were not so neatly packed by this time. Their stuff filled the back of my car and half of the back seat. We went to my house where Grandma did the laundry - it looked like each girl had packed nine outfits for the five days of camp -  and Grandpa fixed dinner. The two girls shucked corn and chattered about their experience at camp. Eventually the talk wound down, two girls grew cranky and tired, and the time came to repack suitcases for the next day's plane trip.

It turned out that Grandpa had to pack Mary's smallish suitcase inside a larger one of ours, then stuff her remaining gear into the spaces around the interior suitcase. Grandma sighed as she accepted the fact that each twin would need to check one bag at the airport. That would be $40.

The flight was scheduled to depart at 1 pm. We left for the airport at 10:30. With no traffic the trip takes 35 minutes. At midday it took about 50. Not too bad.

I decided to take my chances with public parking. I always decide this, and I nearly always regret it. We drove around on two floors of the structure, finding no empty spaces, and then I climbed to the sixth floor where I knew I'd have success. I should have done that in the first place.

Alaska Airlines requires children 12 or under traveling alone to have airline escorts for both boarding and deplaning. From ages 13 to 17 escorts are optional. It had been decided - at $25 a child - that they could travel alone. I confirmed I could get a gate pass to accompany them this first time, just to make sure they could navigate the Seattle airport, from checking in, to checking luggage, to getting through security, to finding their gate.  Mary and Malayne have flown several times with an airline escort. "Grandma, we know how to do this," they said. They rolled their eyes.

Not so much, as it turns out.

We stood in line at the "Other Business" counter behind parents handing over a child traveling alone, a couple traveling with a small dog, and a man who had missed his flight. The twins started arguing while in line. I kept my eyes on the prize of an open representative at the counter, got their tickets and my gate pass, and checked two largish suitcases.

No, the twins could not get their bags checked for free, even though I am an MVP with Alaska and get two bags free for each of my flights. "The MVP follows just you, ma'am." I handed the agent my credit card.

On to security. A longish line, but moving at a decent speed. The girls took off their shoes and put their bags on the conveyor belt. I did the same. We all made it through the metal detector. On the other side, Mary's bag needed to be checked by a TSA person. "It looks like a large tube of toothpaste." It was. "Toss it," said Grandma. Malayne's water bottle was full of Gatorade. "Toss it," said Grandma again. Then, to the twins, "Remember the rule about liquids and gels?" They had forgotten. Grandma said, "This is how we learn, isn't it?"

Malayne told me she was thirsty, and Mary said she was starving. I found this out before I'd put my shoes back on.

The girls did know how to read the flight board. "Look, Grandma. Our flight has been cancelled." They were right.

I still hadn't risen from the bench where I put on my shoes. I texted Dan, their stepdad. "Flight has been cancelled. Stay tuned."

Mary and Malayne both had to go to the restroom. I waited outside. They came out ten minutes later. My phone rang. Dan said, "I called the airlines. All the 1 pm passengers have been rebooked for the 9 pm flight..." My heart sank as I visualized seven more hours in this terminal. He continued. "I got them on the 2 pm." I sent a silent blessing his way.

"Okay, girls. Let's go get your new tickets."

"I'm starving, Grandma." Two girls were close to tears. We went to Wendy's. All the tables in the food court had someone sitting at them. A pleasant looking man sat alone at a table with four empty chairs. I asked if we could share and he smiled yes. In the meantime, the twins had found an empty table. I thanked the man and moved away. "Someone else got the table." We waited three more minutes until another table emptied. The girls ate their Wendy's nuggets and drank their enormous Dr. Peppers.

On the way to the gate to get the new tickets, both girls had to go to the restroom again. Malayne came out of her stall in about four minutes and spent the next five looking at her face in one of the mirrors. Mary was not out yet. I finally sent Malayne over to check on her progress. She came back. "She's reading in there. I told her to hurry up."

In all my travels, I have never read in a restroom stall - though I admit I once sent a text.

We found the gate. We got the new tickets. "When you get to Spokane, look for Dan at the gate. If he isn't there, follow the signs to the baggage place. He will be waiting for you." We waited in the boarding line. Malayne said, "I'm sorry I was cranky. I was just hungry and I'm tired." I thanked her for her apology. The girls gave me a hug. "Turn left at the second door. Get on the plane from the front stairs. Your seats are in row 8." They nodded and were gone.

When the plane left the gate I texted Dan and told him their status. I texted my husband to let him know I was on my way. I walked to the parking garage and put my parking ticket and credit card in the machine. "Your credit card is not valid," the voice told me. I had just used that credit card to pay for the checked luggage. I tried it again. "Your credit card is not valid," the voice told me. I took out another credit card. This one met with the machine's approval. I owed $9 for parking for two hours.

I found my car, wound down the exit ramp and headed for the gate. I put my validated ticket in the slot. "Your ticket is not valid," a voice told me. I backed up and drove up to a live person. She informed me my parking ticket had gotten unmagnetized. I didn't say anything. She opened the exit gate and I escaped from the airport.

My drive home took 45 minutes. I stopped for gas near my house. As I pulled into the driveway I got a text from Dan. "Met up with the girls at baggage claim." They had gotten to Spokane before I got home from the airport.

I haven't decided yet whether next time I'll just hand the twins over to a paid escort or whether we'll do another training session on "getting through the airport." I didn't need to decide that today. But I did need to take a nap.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My hometown barista

Jason opened his espresso stand 17 years ago, just after we moved to our little town. There are 6500 people here in Brier, Washington, and about five businesses. Besides the coffee stand, we have an excellent Greek-Italian restaurant, a real estate office, a mom-and-pop grocery store, and a hair salon. Plus a skate park, tennis courts, a horse arena, two churches and six small parks. We're a northern suburb of Seattle, so almost everyone leaves home for a commute each weekday, unless they're a kid, in which case they walk to school, or they're retired like me, in which case they walk to Jason's coffee stand.

When I was working I stopped for a coffee almost every day on my way to work. My drink is a quad mocha, one shot of caffeine, three shots of decaf, half the chocolate. While Jason makes my drink we chat about what's going on with us. He knew when each of my kids left home, when my granddaughters were born, when my mother died, when my sister moved to Alaska. And, of course, all about the little happenings on the home front.  In turn, I knew when Jason got married (twice), when his kids were born, when he bought his boat. He even recommended a real estate agent when my son bought a condo and told me about the local builder who redid my kitchen and is replacing our windows. Quite a lot can be said in a daily 90-second conversation!

Last Tuesday morning I pulled into Jason's place and there was a sign on the window. "Machine is down. The service guy has ordered the parts. Sorry for the inconvenience." That was disappointing because I was on my way to a mediation and wanted a cup of coffee. If I'd just been on my morning two-mile walk I could have fixed a pot myself when I got home. I hoped I wouldn't get a headache without the caffeine.

Wednesday, same sign. And Thursday.

On Friday Jason's shop was open. I remarked that 150 people probably had the twitches on their way to work for the three days he was closed. He said he'd had good conversations all day with people who said how much they'd missed not just their coffee, but him and his conversation. He's heard a lot of stuff, he said - some things he wishes he didn't know. But the biggest surprise for him, he told me, was how much he missed talking to his customers. He'd never really thought about those 150 daily chats and how much they meant to him in his own life.

Community is important to me - one of the values that guides my life. I belong to communities of mediators, writers, people in recovery, exercisers, snowbirds, and bloggers. And, especially, the actual physical community I live in. Where I walk, and meet people walking their dogs and carrying the little doggie bags, and chat with neighbors out gardening, and wave to people who drive by, and pick blackberries by the fence of the elementary school.

Jason's shop is closed on Sunday. I bought a coffee in the next town over on my way home from church today. I chatted with the young woman while she made my drink. But it wasn't the same as talking with Jason.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tired on Saturday!

I had a busy week. Busier than usual, even for me.

On Monday:
I went to water aerobics, then went to the place I used to work to talk to the CEO. He'd seen me at a retirement luncheon last month for my old manager and, when he realized I'd been gone for three years already, invited me in to talk about what I thought about the company after this length of time. I went because I was curious. It was an interesting conversation. I felt the old pull of a familiar place and familiar faces, but was very glad, as I drove away, that I'd parked in a visitor spot. 

While my husband Art went to his massage, I shopped in a nearby store, Sylvia's, for a new bathing suit. I've had my old suit for nearly ten years but rarely wore it until this year when I started taking water aerobics. Now it's stretched and faded. A young woman in the bathing suit store found me four chlorine resistant suits to try on, and I bought two of them. I hate shopping, especially for bathing suits, and I'd allowed an hour and a half, but I was in and out of that store in 35 minutes. What a relief!

I had a special two-hour massage in the evening with Scott, a therapist I hadn't seen in a couple of years. He spent a lot of time on my lower back, which I injured a couple of years ago, and gave me an exercise to try. I was really glad to see him.  

I mediated in small claims court - a very satisfying experience where two old friends were able to resolve a debt disagreement between them. I love it when that happens. In the afternoon I did a role play for the weeklong basic mediation training at the dispute resolution center. And in the evening Art and I went to a small group meeting at my church. I'd questioned whether I'd have the energy for this day, but I seemed to do all right.

I got up early to take Larisa, our Designer Cat, to the vet for a haircut. She gets shaved except for her head, her feet and the tip of her tail. It's called a lion cut, and it's good for longhaired cats in the summer. The tech's notes said, "She didn't hit me today, but she gave me a lot of verbal sass."

Then it was off to the airport to pick up David and Sharon, our houseguests. We had a good conversation, got them settled in, and went to our favorite little lunch place.

I had a three-hour mediation in the morning and another role play in the afternoon.

Water aerobics and a noon meeting.

And then, each day, all the little things: tending the garden, laundry and paperwork and finances and talking to our lawyer about our family trust and planning our October trip to Iowa. And my current computer game. And the ongoing contest between me and random ants in the bathroom. Hopefully, that will get resolved next week with the exterminator's second visit.

I have a new exercise from my postural therapist, using a slant board. He thinks once my pelvis and hips get aligned the pressure on my back will be relieved. The slant board addresses multiple oddities with my body structure, and the previously unused muscles are complaining today.

Recently I decided I want to take Sunday as a quiet day. Of course, I'm feeling some pressure to get everything done today, Saturday. And I'm tired and mostly what I want to do is take a nap.  But I'm not sleepy.

I know there are many people who relax easily. I'm not one of them. I do think I'd like to acquire that skill, though. Maybe I'll lie on the floor or in our hammock or sit in an Adirondack chair and read.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

In year four, the Bag Lady buys dancing shoes

I've started into my fourth year of not working. It's not really retirement until October 1, when I start drawing a pension. You could say I've had a three-year running start on it.

I've found I'm best off when I'm busy and engaged. I'm not a good day-to-day drifter, even on vacation. I like having a to-do list, even if some of the items are optional.

So, in the first year I had three goals: to learn to teach English as a second language; to work on a Habitat for Humanity build in an area affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and to take training to become a mediator. I did all those things. I found out I don't want to teach English as a second language. That I don't have the stamina for Habitat builds (plus, I'm afraid of heights so can't do roofs, scaffolding or even high ladders). And that I love mediation. I took the first training in the last week of my first year of not working, then put in the 140 hours required to be certified by the state to work as a volunteer mediator for the local dispute resolution center. I work sometimes at small claims court, try to do a mediation a week, and use what I've learned in my life every day.

In year two I shifted from setting goals to identifying the values most important to me. I came up with spirituality, community, exercise, curiosity and purpose. For the most part, my life aligned with those values - but I didn't seek out activities in those areas. I just recognized them, and that was good.

In year three I realized that my values needed another look. I had hurt my back and cut back on exercise and gotten out of shape, and other areas of my life were affected by my inactivity. I redefined my values as spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose - in that order.

We spent last winter in Tucson at a 55-plus RV resort. I took a water aerobics class three days a week and my husband and I took line dancing lessons on Wednesday mornings. By the time I got back to the Pacific Northwest I'd developed the exercise habit. Here at home, I still do water aerobics or walk two miles almost every day, and my husband and I are continuing our line dancing lessons at the local senior center. The "health" value is something I'm acting on now, rather than just listing.

This summer I started attending a church, for the first time in 30 years. I love the spirituality and the community. And the music. And the community garden. And the small group opportunities. And the drum circle and the book club I'll join in September.

I look at the values I identified last year and see they are still valid for me. Now, in year four, I'm seeking out opportunities that express my values. That feels good, like I'm still growing.

I now "get" why I love mediation; it is spiritually satisfying, engages me within a community of like-minded people, satisfies my curiosity and gives me a sense of purpose for part of my week. I'm grateful I found mediation early in my post-work life.

We've done a lot of traveling in the last three years; I think we've taken 30 trips - some as short as three days, one as long as three weeks. Travel isn't a value of mine, but it satisfies most of them. The connections we make with other people when we're away confirms my sense that, spiritually, "we're all in this together".  We've made friends in new places. We've explored on foot. We've learned. And we see our connectedness to others and the world. That's the best part.

This week, I bought a pair of dancing shoes. I'm moving forward into year four!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Scattered thoughts

First, a follow up on my "looking for my grandfather" post last week:  I didn't hear from Sydney about my grandfather, but I did find a genealogist in Colorado who tracked down the birth and marriage and divorce records I needed to conclude Sydney is not related to me. A newspaper article the genealogist sent me related that my grandfather Myron and his wife Edna were both high school students when they married secretly, but a church bulletin leaked the news. At that time (early 1900s), married students could not attend school, so they both had to drop out. Still, I wonder why Edna's mother signed for permission for her daughter to marry. Was there an unsuccessful pregnancy? I don't know. The dropping out of school piece was enough information for me to be able to move on to other genealogical curiosities.

Now, on to my scattered thoughts.

I used to be able to juggle nine balls in the air. Not actual balls, you know, but things I was thinking about or working on. I noticed as I got older that I'd drop a ball occasionally, until I only tried juggling eight. I can do it now with about five. But I still have a to-do list on the refrigerator and on my online calendar.

Still, I'm scattered this week. There are a lot of balls looking for a basket to rest in.

1. My husband Art is leading a weekend retreat later this month. It's not something he ordinarily does, so I'm spending time listening and reflecting and helping him prioritize. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours rekeying an application packet because the leader last year didn't save an electronic copy. Phone calls Art makes sometimes don't get returned, and, while he has many, many redeeming qualities, patience is not at the top of the list.

2. We filed an extension on our taxes this year. I have all the information I need now to complete them. I need a couple of hours of uninterrupted time to take care of them. "Finish taxes" has been at the top of my list for over a week and it is still sitting there, guilting me.

3. We were invaded by carpenter ants. The exterminator came on Sunday. I still see an ant every now and then, but I believe they have left the residence. They creep me out.

4. I have overscheduled us for hosting travelers.

One couple, David and Sharon, are friends we made in Tennessee on our road trip last year. They arrive on August 12 for a week. The other couple, Ray and Marianne, are home exchangers from Maryland on their way to Australia. They'll be here on August 22, also for a week.

Once those arrangements had been made,  our 13-year-old twin granddaughters' summer camp got rescheduled from July to August, so they'll be arriving and departing between sets of houseguests, with a one-day overlap at the beginning of Ray and Marianne's stay. There was nothing I could do about that one. The girls will just have to share a bed, or one of them will use an air mattress on the floor.

We also have a couchsurfer, a fourth-year veterinarian student doing her externship in our area. I thought she was coming in October, but I just noticed today it's September - with a two-day overlap at the end of Ray and Marianne's visit! That one I missed because I was juggling too many balls.

It will all work out. I'll have the housekeeper come over an extra time and I'll remind Art he needs to clean up the office/second guest room and he needs to be patient!

5. I filled out my application for retirement today. I quit my job three years ago but am just now old enough to get a full pension. I have many thoughts about this.

6. Every day I walk or swim or line dance. Most days, anyway. Fitting it in can mean juggling times.

7. We need 1600 more air miles to qualify for MVP on Alaska Airlines for next year. I'm thinking Colorado, Maryland, Iowa or San Diego. Maybe there and back in one day, but more likely a week, using a timeshare or Evergreen Club. I know this sounds like a frivolous ball to be juggling, but it takes time also. I ask Art where he wants to go and he said, "I don't care." He'll have a good time wherever we go. Right now he's focused on planning the retreat.

8. Our Designer Cat, Larisa, needs to have her nails trimmed. I have to catch her first, and then do one or two nails a day. In the meantime, she is snagging many fabrics.

9. Art got hearing aids last Saturday. They are quite state of the art, but they are not quite perfectly adjusted yet. I am hearing a lot about that.

10. Last but not least, I am on level 130 of Candy Crush on Facebook. It's a good few-minute filler. But I find myself thinking about it when I should be doing other things. An embarrassing number 10!