A place for family and friends to see what I'm up to. Visitors welcome here.

Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Puttering, Again.

Second Post.

I just finished a long post on the events of the last few weeks.

At the end, I explain how I've come to make a change in my perception about where my life is at this point and where I'm going.

A few months ago, I happened to scroll down to the bottom of a post here.  Someone had added (and I still haven't figured out how they did this) "Blah, blah" to the bottom of the first page and "Blah, blah, blah" to the bottom of the second.  It was rude, intrusive and just downright mean.  It pissed me off because - and I'm very upfront about this - this blog is my journal.  A place "for family and friends" to check in and see what I'm up to.  I have some readers who have stumbled in and decided to stay and I value them, but the public is not my target audience.  This is a record of my life and a newsletter for the people I love.

That said, Mr. or Ms. Asshole did manage to make me self-conscious about what I write here, so I will preface this post with a little warning.  There is a previous post also called "Puttering"  below.  It is long and traces the lead-up to this post.  I went through a hard time.  I've come out on the other side and this post will be my record - for myself - of some happy times I've had lately.  You are welcome to go read the previous post, just as you are welcome to read this.  But I want you to know that both will be long as I record the details.

Blah, blah, blah.

So, where did I leave off?  Oh, yeah.

I spent my winter break taking care of my mom, contracting phlebitis from sitting in an ill-fitting chair too much.  On the day after New Year, I was concerned enough about the painful lump traveling up my inner thigh to spend three hours of my last day off in the emergency room.  They ordered an ultrasound, which found no clots, thank goodness, and told me to use ibuprofen and heat for comfort (which I had already been doing.)

My only concern about this was that in one week I was scheduled for a visit to Disneyland that I had been looking forward to for months.  Friends from the East Coast were coming for their annual visit, and I knew there was no way that I could stay more than a couple of hours hobbling with phlebitis in my right leg and my left knee still needing surgery.

So I did something impulsive.  Best impulse ever.  Maybe.

I know that when I take my mom to the park, I can put in 3-6 miles pushing her wheelchair without a problem, but when I go by myself, I'm constantly fighting my unstable knee, which then aggravates my back issues (I have arthritis in my spine.)  Thanks to good old Amazon, I was able to order this and take delivery in time for my January 9 visit.  I met them (oh, the joy of hugs all around) at California Adventure.  After some fun there we trekked over to Disneyland where I got to share their first visit to the Star Wars Launch Bay (my favorite part of the day) and got to snuggle with my littlest friend on Pirates of the Caribbean (where she gave me the running commentary.)  After Dole Whips in the Tiki Room, we headed back to DCA.  My friends treated me to dinner at the Trattoria, then, it turned out, my walker got us great seats for World of Color.  Our last ride of the day was the new Soarin' - which was fantastic - with a final stop for the traditional buying of the pins.  Truly, a delightful day all around.

Last Saturday I was included in the birthday dinner for my son's girlfriend at a local restaurant where he was accompanying a singer/piano player for the night.  It was the first time I had met her family, and they were lovely.  I spent the day doing one of my favorite things:  sewing a birthday passport purse individualized just for her.

I had an appointment the following Monday for a fine-tuning on my eye (should be the final little surgery after two years of work on it).  My ophthalmologist is in Santa Barbara, and I planned to leave directly after the surgery for my annual drive up the Central Coast to see the Elephant Seals have babies.  But, my appointment wasn't until noon, and I was afraid if I waited that long I might not make it up there in a relaxed trip.

So, I decided to make my trip on Sunday.

What a glorious day, filled with happy twists.

First, I discovered that I had a gift card for IHOP I had forgotten, so stopped on my way out for breakfast.  While I waited, one of these little guys entertained me by tapping on the window at my feet.

A common Yellowthroat warbler.  I'd never seen one before.  He brought the missus and they spent my breakfast scratching for nesting material (she was better at finding stuff for her nest; he just kept tapping at the window.)

It was a glorious, sunny day and I thoroughly enjoyed my drive up the coast.  As always, I took the first Cambria exit off Highway 1 to make a pit stop at one of my favorite nurseries near Cambria Pines.

Just three weeks before I had traveled two hours down the coast to Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar searching for sweet pea flower plants and Apricot Chiffon poppies.  Roger's had lots of sweet peas but no poppies, so I was thrilled to find lots of healthy plants here.

They had been delivered just two days before by Annie's Annuals, the very company that posted this picture online.  I was thrilled to be able to buy six pots of poppies and two varieties of passion vine I hadn't heard of.

As I left the nursery, I decided to leave Cambria through town.

Years ago - maybe decades ago - I had visited the gallery of a photographer named Bill La Brie.  His photographs were stunning, and I never forgot them. 

At least once a year, something would trigger these into my consciousness and I would promise myself that someday I would go back to that gallery and buy one.  I could never afford it, but over the years I would do what I was doing last Sunday.  Drive down the main street of Cambria and look for La Brie's gallery and reinforce my promise that someday...

So, anyway, here I was on this beautiful Sunday with time to drive, money in the bank and an old promise tickling my memory.  I drove out and checked again.  The gallery was still there. 

I headed out of town and up to a spot that has become one of my favorites along the coast.  Just a few miles past San Simeon.  A big Elephant Seal Rookery.

First, though, I had to stop for a picture of the zebra.  Last year on this trip the hillsides were bare dirt and the rancher had to put out piles of hay for the cows and zebra.  This year, they were happily grazing on new grass.  (This is what's left of William Randolph Hearst's zoo.)
Once at the rookery I was thrilled to find it was again pup season.  Lots of babies.
You know a newborn because they are kind of scrawny and wrinkled and the seagulls are fighting over the afterbirth.

See, wrinkled newborn.  They flip sand to protect themselves from the sun.

With a comfortable chair and a warm blanket (maybe a cup of cocoa) I could have stayed all afternoon enjoying this fine show, but it was getting crowded and once I had all the photos and videos I wanted I decided to give up my spot on the rail to someone else.
As I drove out, the idea that had been percolating took full root.
I was going to drive through Cambria again and see what the current prices on Bill La Brie photographs had gone up to.  And, if I could afford it, this might be the time to treat myself to one.
I turned into Cambria at the west entrance and drove slowly down the street.  It was full early afternoon and the town was packed; no parking places anywhere near the gallery.  I almost gave up, then decided to go back to the highway for a second try.  Maybe someone would have pulled out.
No such luck, but as I crawled by the gallery the second time I noticed something in the window I hadn't seen before.  A banner declaring "Retirement Sale."
It had to be that day.  He was retiring.  I would never have this chance again.  I didn't care if I had to walk the four blocks from the Veteran's parking lot, I had to get my print that day. 
I got back on the highway a third time and was thrilled when I saw a car backing out just a half dozen cars up from the gallery.  Once in the gallery, I recognized the photographer and began one of the most delightful purchases I've ever made.  He explained that if he had the print I wanted in the gallery, it would be 50% off (excluding the framed prints).  If he had to order it from the printer, it would only be 20% off.
"Well, then," I smiled.  "Let's start over here."  In the first rack I found the first of my dream pictures.
Zion.  Utah.  I remember driving through in 1974.  So beautiful.

The second of my dream pictures was at my feet as a poster of Yosemite and only $10, but the quality of the print wasn't what I wanted.  I was going to buy it if that was my only option, but walked past it to the next rack.  The second print of my dreams was at the front of the rack.

Within the hour I was the giddy owner of BOTH of my dream prints (already matted, signed and ready to frame) plus three 8x10s for under $400. 

I stopped for gas in Cayucos, then enjoyed an uneventful trip home.  Sunset arrived just as I emerged from the Gaviota pass, and I was back in my hometown just about dinnertime.  I treated myself to a steak dinner at Lure and was tucked in with my prints leaning on the counter across from my bed so that I would see them when I woke up the next morning.

Which found me again heading north on the 101 to get my eye zapped.  On the way home I decided to stop for a magazine at the Barnes & Noble.  While there it occurred to me to go up to the Michael's to check out the frame selection for my new prints.

60% OFF!!!  They didn't have anything big enough for the Zion print (20" x 24") but I was able to find the perfect frame for El Capitan.  The two frames I got for the 8x10 are too small (but will be fine for the 5x7 prints I had purchased from La Brie all those years ago).

On the way home, this happy experience reminded me of another photograph I had been obsessing on in recent years.  I had even written to the photographer and he had sent a price list, but between my email and his price list I had learned the hard way the difference between taxes as a married versus a single woman and couldn't afford it.  Flying high on my good fortune with the La Brie prints, I contacted photographer Antonio Busiello again.

"Anacapa Arch" will be on its way soon.

Eventually I will gut my family room to re-decorate and these prints will be the inspiration for whatever I do.  In the meantime, who will notice the ripped up carpet and worn out furniture when I have such glory on my walls?


It's been an interesting couple of months.

In the tradition of the old movie serials...

In September I was excited to announce that I would retire in June.  I saw the
STRS advisor, and confirmed it was a go.  I chose not to ignore the little niggle at the back of my neck, the little flutter in my gut, and eventually figured that I'd overlooked an expense that could not be overlooked.  Retirement was out, at least until I could sell the pretty lot in Utah that had been on the market for six years.

It was OK.  I don't hate what I do, and would be OK with another year or two.

I was disappointed, though, that I would not be FREE to experience my Masteryear as I'd hoped.

Meanwhile, the Christmas season was upon us.  I planned to host it, but not as usual.  Usual means that I cook a big traditional (in our family, anyway) turkey dinner.  Stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, side dishes after too many chips and dip and followed by too many dessert options.

Problem is, I hate to cook at the best of times, and had built a significant resentment at being in misery for my favorite day of the year because I had to spend it cooking.  Then cleaning up.  While everyone else kicked back and enjoyed the day.

So, this year I was going to pre-prep a sandwich bar.  I would stuff and bake a turkey, then bake a ham on Christmas Eve.  I would slice them all up and add several types of pre-sliced cheeses.  Side salads if guests wanted to contribute.  Queso and chips, onion dip and chips.

I was debating cinnamon rolls for early guests when all hell broke loose.

A few weeks after learning I would have to postpone my retirement I had concluded that I did not want to do so.  The contract with my real estate agent would be up in December, so I decided, when I re-signed, to drop the price of the lot.  Again.  Another eight thousand dollars.  I wrote to the agent with the news, and she revealed that they had shown the lot to a couple.  They weren't sure whether they wanted a lot to build on or a house that had already been built, but the agent was going to let them know of my willingness to reduce the price in hopes that it would inspire them to choose the lot.

They did not.

And so, on December 6, the agent changed the listing.

That very day another agent called mine.  A couple in another country was interested.  They were working through a relative who lived in the valley and who had been watching the market.  We spent the next week with offers and counter offers.  I accepted less than I'd hoped, but it was cash with closing in a week.  It was enough to pay off enough debt to not only make up the money I was short to retire plus some to have fun on. The money would be in the bank by Christmas.

I started making happy plans on how to tell my family.  I would treat my mom and son and his girlfriend to a happy dinner at my favorite restaurant.  I would buy myself a bouquet of balloons and give myself a drumroll to announce the happy news.

I accepted the offer on the 11th.  The week of closing would start when the papers were signed on the 13th.

In the wee hours of Monday, December 12 I checked my phone messages.  My sister had taken my mother to the hospital.  Mom hadn't been able to breathe.   A friend accepted my sub request at 4:30 in the morning, and I spent that day at the Kaiser hospital in Woodland Hills.  We were not terribly concerned. 

Mom has been in heart failure for a few years now.  Her heart is not pumping efficiently enough to prevent a build-up of fluids.  One of the symptoms is difficulty breathing.  She was hospitalized Mother's Day weekend, 2015, and they drained nearly three gallons of fluid.  It was like a miracle.  Once she was released she had much more energy, her thinking cleared and she was rarin' to go.

So, we figured this time they would drain fluid again and she would be ready to enjoy the holiday.  Sis and I even joked that we should set her up with bi-annual spa days at Kaiser.  I went back to work Tuesday and arranged a sub for Wednesday, as they were prepared to discharge her then.  When I arrived, though, they told me that although they had drained eight pounds of fluid, there had been no improvement in her breathing.  Fortunately, her attending was on the ball and ordered ultrasounds that showed she had a blood clot in her leg that had migrated to her lung and was causing the breathing difficulties.  They were still going to discharge her later that day, but she would need someone at home with her for at least a couple of weeks.

Just in time for my winter break.

I took her home, attached to oxygen and with a handful of instructions.  When you take someone home from the hospital these days, you bring the hospital with you.  We arrived to a house full of oxygen tanks, concentrator, refiller and the constant banging sound of oxygen production.  We had to set up a new system to track her meds, and another to coordinate visits from home nurses, physical therapist and phlebotomist (she is now on Coumadin and needs constant monitoring).

Meanwhile, I was still in that closing week on the property.  The hospital waiting room had no reception for phone calls, so I wandered the halls looking for spots where I could conduct business with agents, title agents and escrow officers (or are they title officers and escrow agents?)  My sister lives with Mom now, and so I would drive the thirty miles home each night to docu-sign what had come in email that day.  I had had plans for that winter break, some of which I had to cancel and some I moved into the weekend when I expected my sister and brother to cover my mom.

The sale closed on the 20th.  The check arrived by FedEx on the 21st.  I had just pulled the check out of the envelope and allowed myself the first real excitement over the possibilities opened by this sale when the phone rang.

Three weeks before I was born, my mother's sister gave birth to a baby girl.  Every three years or so, Dad would drive us all to northeastern Kansas to my uncle's farm so that my mom and her sister could have a long visit.  My dad would help with the harvest, and my cousin and I would hang out.  Two little girls, then two teens, then two women content to sit quietly and share a spiritual space that was profound for both of us.  We used to laugh over our ESP experiences.  One that I remember vividly was the day that I decided it had been too long since I'd written to her.  I wrote a long letter, put it in an envelope, added extra stamps and walked it out to my mailbox.  Later that day I went out to collect my incoming, and there was a letter from my cousin.

The phone call to my brother was from my cousin's daughter.  My cousin had died that morning.  Massive heart attack.  She had retired only a few weeks earlier.  One of my first trips in my retirement would be to visit her again.  My son held me.

"I don't think I can do this, " I sobbed, "it's too much."

I'll never forget what he said.

"You will do it, Mom.  You're strong.  The others, the weak ones, won't, but you will."

Gotta say.  It's been a rough few years, and I'm getting plenty tired of sucking it up.  But suck it up I did.

Fortunately, Christmas Eve and Christmas were on the weekend this year, so I was able to do the cooking as planned (sort of) and then pack the whole thing to Mom's for the day.  I had shopped and wrapped presents early, but Mom hadn't so I tried to squeeze in a little shopping so that she wouldn't fret too much about not having gifts for everyone.

My mom has a recliner that I always sit in when I visit.  After just a few hours my feet will start to cramp, so I know this chair doesn't fit me and isn't good for my circulation.  But it was where I sat for five days taking care of my mom.  By Christmas Eve I had a new pain in my leg, and by New Year's Eve I was pretty sure I was experiencing my first bout of phlebitis.


New Year's Day proved more eventful than I would have liked.  My sister, Mom and I were pretty exhausted by the end of the two weeks.  Mom wasn't needing the oxygen all the time and we expected the physical therapist to discharge her from home health services the Monday after New Year.  Sis and I were ready to cancel the traditional German New Year dinner and I was looking forward to at least New Year and the day after pretty much off.  But, ultimately, Mom decided she wanted the family to come over anyway and she would order delivery.  We hadn't been there more than ten minutes when she said some things that hit me pretty hard.  Not doing exercises, not taking meds on schedule.

I'm still not sure I'm done processing it, but got this far at least.  Mom has been my focus since my dad died in 2010.  In fact, I realized one day a few months ago that I felt married to my mother in some ways.   And here I was, having given up my winter break, even developing  a painful condition in the process, and there was Mom choosing to go right back to the very behaviors that got her into the hospital in the first place.

It was like being hit with the two-by-four.

My perception of our relationship has changed.  She will always be important to me, but it's time to let her make the decisions about her life while I switch my focus to myself.