Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fall drops in

Here in the Pacific Northwest, summer usually fades. Not this year. Fall arrived almost overnight this week. Sun is gone, rain has arrived. We're told this may be the rainiest September since 1978.

On Friday Art and I went out to the garden and harvested about 200 green tomatoes. They're in grocery sacks, but this afternoon we'll transfer them to boxes, layered with newspaper, so they can ripen in the pantry. We were delighted that this year, for the first time, we ate several dozen vine-ripened tomatoes out of our garden. We were lucky for a warmer-than-usual summer.

Yesterday I went out to the garden and noted that most of the cornstalks in our small patch are leaning over or lying on the ground. We're not sure whether it was wind or an animal - coyote or dog, perhaps - but decided that next year we'll (1) plant the corn earlier than June 25 to take full advantage of our long summer days and (2) erect a chicken-wire fence around the patch. Looking out there, I see five stalks with an ear of corn growing in them. We planted 180 kernels. We figure it cost about $400 for the preparation of the soil and the compost as we converted the rest of our lawn to agriculture. So we figure this year's corn cost $80 an ear. Not too bad for a first-year crop!

The community pool didn't have classes yesterday so I knew I needed to take my two-mile walk around the neighborhood. But it was raining. Not just misting, but a mid-level rain. I couldn't find my rain pants or my poncho. Art was reading, but he got up and found both where he'd packed them in a closet in the spare room. He moves things as he needs extra space - packrats (collectors!) do that. Fortunately, this year he labeled the boxes. So I donned my black rain pants and my burgundy poncho and headed out. Even stopped at my espresso stand for my usual drink. By the time I got home I was still dry, but a little sweaty under my poncho. Instead of a t-shirt and fleece vest, on my next outing I'll wear a silk undershirt with the vest. Silk does a better job of wicking.

As an indoor activity yesterday, I went through our closets and pulled out six jackets - from heavy to windbreaker type - and put them in a Goodwill bag. And I went through two storage dressers and extracted odd sheets for various sizes of beds. They went in the Goodwill bag also. And an old jewelry box from my first marriage. It's a big bag and it's full now, so Goodwill will be a destination for us this week.

When I changed the sheets on our bed I put on the flannel ones for the first time this year. And took off the lightweight silk bedspread and replaced it with the heavier winter one. On the way home from the Goodwill run, we'll drop the summer bedspread off at the cleaners.

The gas fireplace, installed seven years ago, needs to be serviced before we'll be able to get it turned on. There's a three-week wait for a repair person to come out. I can live with that.

I look outside. It's gray, and the tree branches are communing with the wind. Tis the season.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gifts from my birthday week

My birthday week was full of gifts - some that make things better and some simple delights.

1. Summer has ended in the Pacific Northwest. I usually have trouble with the transition from summer to fall, as the days get shorter and the clouds begin to gather. My mind anticipates six months of discomfort. I want to eat bread and potatoes and butter. I want to sleep more.

I have a light box and I dug out the instructions. Turns out I've been using it in the wrong position for several years now. I stand at my computer when I'm working, and I had placed the box about nine inches below my eyes, so I wasn't getting all the benefit of the bright light. This week I've lowered the shelf on my computer and I sit down when the light box is on. Much brighter light! When I turn it off after 30 minutes I feel rejuvenated. Then I go for a two-mile walk or to my water aerobics class and I feel like myself again. I'm grateful for light and exercise, for Vitamin D and endorphins.

Tonight there's an autumnal equinox service at my church. I plan to go. I'd like to embrace the shorter days. Of all the things in the world I can't change, the turning of the earth is one of the biggies.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to change my approach to the shorter days.

2. My sister Alyx is a nurse and I tend toward hypochondria, especially when I don't have enough to do. When I think I have an ailment, I call her and she tells me what it is, kindly. I'm grateful for my own Nurse Ratched.

3. After much thought I decided my sight-reading is not strong enough to substitute at the Seattle handbell group. I decided to ask the Tucson director if I can substitute this winter in her "first string" group while I continue to play in her "second string". I'll get practice in moving from one set of bells to another as I am needed. I sent an email to the Seattle director. She was very gracious. I'm grateful for the opportunity to improve and try again.

4. We have been reworking our family trust. Art and I have a blended family of eight children. Last night at dinner he recommended a couple of changes. He has never suggested anything on this topic before. His suggestions were simple and practical and based around fairness and the fact that we probably can't control our grown children beyond the grave. I forget that sometimes. I'm grateful for the suggestions and for the fact that we have a patient lawyer.

5. I met with my niece and friend Colleen for coffee on Thursday. We worked out the next steps for marketing my Viet Nam book as well as an outline for a travel book I've had in my head for years. Both these projects are entirely engaging and will keep me busy during the indoor months. I'm grateful for friends and for my ability to string words together.

6. I got birthday wishes from over 50 online friends via this blog and Facebook. I'm grateful for the online community. Very grateful.

7. I got the perfect birthday card from my husband Art.

Outside of the card is three 70-something women, grinning.
First woman says, "Are you in the mood to Party?"
Second woman says, "Yeah, I need to use the Potty."
Third woman says, "Thanks! I guess I am a Hottie!"
Inside of the card says, "Isn't it nice to know we're always there to listen to each other. Happy birthday."

I laughed out loud. I'm grateful to have a husband who knows me!

8. I love weather - downpours and thunder and lightening and wind and snow. Actually, anything but heat and drizzle are good! It was cool and windy on my walk today.  I passed a grafted apple tree just loaded up with two kinds of apples. Some had fallen on the ground. I thought about going to the door and asking if I could bring a bucket over. I decided to keep walking instead. I need to take a bucket into my own yard and pick all the green tomatoes before the rain splits them. They'll ripen up in boxes in the basement.

9. I picked the last four bunches of grapes from our yard. They were wonderful.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Bag Lady comes of age

I'll be 65 this Friday. In some ways I'm finally coming of age.

The month started out on a cheery note. I'd gotten my Medicare card a couple of weeks earlier. Last week I signed up for Silver Sneakers - a wellness program provided by my insurance company - and I got into my water aerobics class for free. Before that it was $5.50. It will be the same when I go to the gym. They're not going to penalize me if I miss a day. Apparently any time I choose to exercise, the insurance company is happy to foot the bill.

My two children and Art's six are all grown and I have pretty much come to the conclusion that they are who they are, and they don't need advice from me. Even if I have an answer for them, they probably don't need it. When I was in my 30s I resented the heck out of any suggestions from my own mother. Most of our children are on Facebook, so I have a vague general idea of what they're up to. I know they'll call if they need anything and that I will hear from most of them on Mother's Day and I will see them occasionally. Even though part of me wishes they were all still around - like they were in the frantic, delightful, awful times of their childhood, adolescence and young adulthood - most of me doesn't have the energy for it all. So we relish the time we see them and wish them well the rest of the time.

I am beginning to accept that my body is never going to be as lithe and uncomplaining as it was for the first 45 years of my life, and that the aches and pains typical of people my age are, well, going to stay around. This has been a tough thing to accept. Used to be, if I broke or strained or otherwise injured a body part, it healed right up. Now it takes its sweet time - or heals but doesn't really. Blood pressure rises and joints develop arthritis. I'm not keen on this coming of age thing. Ten years ago we took a trip and hiked ten to twelve miles a day for a week - and all that hurt was my feet, in the evening. Now I'm looking at trips where the distance covered in a day is three to five miles, and wondering whether we're up to it - or whether we even want to try.

My wanderlust is calming down. We have a world map in our entryway, with pins marking the places we've been. They're in North, Central and South America, Europe and Asia and Africa. I think about trips to Spain, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and Scandinavia. I know they'd all be fascinating, but the energy required to plan and negotiate these trips can be pretty daunting. I see now why some people sign up for tours. All they have to do is send the money and pack their bags and show up. Maybe it's because we've already been so many places we wanted to see. Our financial planner says most retired people travel for five years and then come home. We're at the three-year mark. I hate, hate, hate to think I may turn out to be a typical retired person in that way.

The days are getting shorter here in the Pacific Northwest, and I have decided, very reluctantly, that I probably ought not to be driving at night in traffic or unfamiliar places. To that end, I've let the Dispute Resolution Center know I won't be taking evening mediation assignments until next spring. I'll miss that. But I can't ask Art to drive me there and then sit for the four hours I'd be mediating. I think it's very unfair that even though he's five years older than me, his vision doesn't limit him at night.

I live twelve miles from downtown Seattle. For years we had season tickets to two regional theaters. We went during the day. Then we decided we were too busy to commit to the dates on our tickets. Sometimes we missed a play due to a scheduling conflict. We said we'd buy individual tickets to plays we really wanted to see. But we didn't. It's too much of a hassle to drive downtown in traffic, maneuver the city streets, and pay $15 to park. The worst thing is that I don't miss the theatre, after decades of being a real enthusiast. Again, it's too much effort!

What I'm seeing is that I have less energy than before. Used to be I was limited by the number of hours in a day and I could fill my calendar for a day and enjoy every event. That's not the case any more. Now I'm careful to plan a day with spaces in it, or with one event that I could cancel if it didn't affect anyone else. If I swim or walk every day, and do my postural therapy exercises, and play brain-enhancing computer games (yes, really! See, and write or blog, sometimes the stamina I have left is less than what's needed for my day's plans. And I'm not sick. I'm just coming of age.

I am encouraged, though. When I talk to other people my age and older, or when I read what they write, I realize I'm not the only one. Most of us have aches and pains, less energy, and less of a drive to be constantly on the go. Fortunately.

I think coming of age means having a healthy awareness of who you are and where you are in your life. That you may be special but you're not unique. When I was younger I used to look at cars on the freeway and marvel at all those people with their own separate lives. It amazed me that there were lives out there other than my own. Now I feel comfortable on the road, looking out and realize that all of us, we're all in this together. I'm one of very many. And I like that.

Last Thursday I went to the first handbell practice of the year at a church in Seattle. I'd been told by email they didn't need any regulars - and I can't do it anyway since I'll be in Tucson all winter - but they sometimes needed a sub. And they did! I played a couple of different sets of bells. Not very well, though. I do read music but I'm not especially adept at sight reading - especially when the key signature changes every few measures. The old me would have quit after the first practice. Or called the director and told her I couldn't make it to practices because I have bad night vision. Instead, I brought a copy of the music home with me to mark up and asked Art if he'd be willing to drive me to practice once a week and wait for the hour and ten minutes the practices last. He said yes.

Now that I'm turning 65, I'm filing for my pension. I've finally come of age!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Things that surprised me this week

1.  A friend told me I have a calm temperament! The friend has only known me for four months, but still. I have always thought of myself as a Type-A personality, or at least lively, but maybe I'm morphing into something else. I followed up that statement with a question to my husband Art: "Do you think I have a calm temperament"? He paused, then said, "Yes". I said, "Did I always?" He said, without a pause, "No". I said, "When did it change?" He said, "I have no idea."

Neither do I. I don't even know if I believe either of them. I know I have a long fuse, but calm may be going too far.

2. I no longer breathe hard when I'm walking the uphill portion of my two-mile neighborhood walk. I walk this route most days when I don't do water aerobics. I've read that half an hour of vigorous exercise four or five times a week staves off all sorts of things. I specifically remember telling my sister a couple of months ago that I was breathing hard and wondering if it was my blood pressure meds. She's a nurse, and I ask her these things. She said no, to just keep walking, so I did.

3. When I'm sitting on a buoyant foam "noodle" in the pool - which is an exercise for balance - I'm completely comfortable, upright and relaxed rather than falling face first into the water. My balance is improving!

On these last two items, I'm realizing that it's not necessary to work hard all the time. It's just necessary to keep doing what I'm doing, and eventually these things will come to pass - improved aerobic fitness and improved balance.

4.  I can play in a drum circle, even if the last and only time I tried it before was 20 years ago at Bumbershoot, the end-of-summer blowout at Seattle Center. Yesterday's gathering was at my church. I used to sing, but my voice is older now and I don't want to expose it to the world. However, I have always had a decent sense of rhythm, so I thought I'd try the drum circle as an expression of unity and collaboration. I love it! I had the same feeling last winter when I still remembered how to play handbills after 25 years. Except the drum circle was something new, and the handbells were something old.

5. Here's a Facebook chat phrase that can result in one of my sons responding:

Me: When are you moving out of your place?
Son: (No response) (Son is online and the time stamp indicates he has read my message)
Me: Evan, I know you're there!
Son: Next week.

"Evan, I know you're there!" must be the magic words. And here I thought they were "please" and "thank you".

6. After a rainstorm, hundreds of spiders spin large webs to guard the ripe tomatoes in the garden - and I walk into a dozen of them. This is the first year since we planted our garden that we've had enough warm weather to ripen the tomatoes on the vine. Usually we have to pick them green and store them in grocery bags in a dark place for a few weeks.

7.  Being 65 can be a good thing. If you're 65 and your insurance covers it, you can swim for free at my rec center instead of paying $5.50 each time for the water aerobics class. Actually, I knew this, but I wasn't able to do it until this week. I'll be 65 this month and my Medicare coverage took effect on September 1. It was fun, swimming for free!

8. When Art sits on the couch reading for three days, it's because he is sick with a cold. He is very quiet then. For some reason I thought he would be cranky. It has been a while since he's had a cold. Usually he's just in pain because he worked outside for four hours. Then he's cranky.

9. When I caught Art's cold I thought he would be sympathetic. But he wasn't. He kind of laughed, but not in a mean way.

10. If your iPhone begins to die, the Apple Store people have really excellent customer service and they treat you like you're a real person and not their grandmother.