The Prettiest Thing

I don’t enjoy grocery shopping.  John, on the other hand, is actually quite fond of it.  To him, a stop at, say, Costco brings with it all sorts of possibilities.  I never know what he might bring home over and above the carefully thought-out list I send with him.  “Look at the deal I got on this cooler!” he’ll exclaim, or “We could use this [set of plastic picnic plates]  [value pack bundle of dish towels]  [sports team logo-emblazoned camping chair], don’t you think?”

I appreciate his zeal, if only because it means I don’t have to make the monthly trek to Costco myself.  However, I am the one who usually does the weekly grocery shopping since John is often busy in his gardens.  It’s not that I hate the chore; it’s just something I try to spend as little time doing as possible.  Fortunately, I know the local Kroger affiliate like the back of my hand.  My plan, always, is to walk my cart briskly through the store — head down to avoid the dreaded stop-and-chat with fellow shoppers — and not linger one single second longer than is necessary to get the job done.

Yesterday was no different, except for the smoke.  We’re surrounded on three sides by areas experiencing rampant wildfires:  British Columbia to our north, Oregon and California to our south and our own state of Washington east of the Cascades.  Over the past couple weeks, we’ve had only two clear-ish days and even those were slightly hazy.  Yesterday was the worst, with the wind blowing so much BC smoke down upon us, we could taste it.

While I’m grateful we’re not facing the flames firsthand like so many people have had to do, the smoke had me in a real funk when I arrived at the store.  I tossed groceries into my cart at record speed, eager to get back to our house where we were keeping the windows closed as barricades to the foul air.  Miraculously, I walked directly to a check-out lane with no line and was able to zip right through.  I was on my way, next stop home sweet home.

Until, just a few feet from the exit, I found myself stuck behind a man and his 20-something-year-old intellectually disabled son.  They were parking their cart at the carousel inside the store, and the man was letting his son decide which bag of groceries he’d like to carry to the car.  After some consideration, the son pointed to the bag his father should carry and then picked up the other one.

“Whoa, that’s HEAVY!” he declared with unbridled delight.

He glanced back at me, grinning, and I smiled in return.  After a bit of a double-take, he looked me in the eye and said, “Hello!”

“Hi,” I replied, and the three of us filed out the door, father and son in the lead.

Suddenly, the father stopped and told his son that I was his neighbor.  It kind of startled me.  I knew we didn’t live near one another — our house is in a private community and surely I would have recognized at least one of them.  The son looked at me shyly, no doubt thinking his father must be mistaken, when the man asked if I live in Port Townsend.

“Yes, I do.”

“So see?  She is our neighbor,” he said, eliciting yet another bashful grin from his boy before they sauntered on ahead of me.  I could hear the man beginning to explain how we live in a small town and could tell where he’d go from there — that we’re all neighbors, to some degree.

I had already stopped at my car and after loading my grocery bags into it, I caught one last glimpse of the duo just as the son put his hand on his dad’s back and gave it a tender little scratch.

Despite the smoke, I couldn’t help but smile all the way home.

 

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The Social Security Train

As it turns out, my boarding pass for the Social Security train has been waylaid, held hostage until I meet with a real, live Social Security Administration person to prove I am indeed who I claim to be.  According to Carlos in the Albuquerque office, who I spoke with after receiving a letter from the SSA, I need to take my photo ID to the appointment and then I can be on my merry way.

Why I’m one of the unlucky few (or many?) who are being required to do this is a mystery.  When John retired, we applied for his benefit online without a hitch.  I went through the same motions when my turn rolled around, but no.  I get a letter instead, instructing me to call Carlos for the annoying news.

To top it off, the closest regional SSA office is in Silverdale, an hour’s drive.  It’s a godforsaken city, to boot, a confusing concrete maze of strip shopping centers harboring every fast food joint, every big box store, every chain restaurant and chain retail store possibly on earth.  One of our friends refers to it as “Silverhell.”  Another dubs it “Consumerdale.”  Either name is spot on.

Long ago, I set up my account on the Social Security website and have faithfully updated my password when required.  Since then, the SSA has made sign-in more secure by using a two-step method:  Once you enter your user name and password, the site sends a temporary numerical code to either your mobile device or email.  You have ten minutes to plug in the number on the sign-in page.  I’ve obediently done so every time, naively believing the process proved who I am.

I was equally compliant in my online application for benefits.  Maybe that was my problem; I was being too meek.  Perhaps a different approach would have garnered a more satisfactory result.

Oh, you want me to type in this information?  This rule applies to me?  Okay, bucko, you asked for it — I’m headed straight to Uncle Donald, and I’m not talking about the duck, if you get my gist.  And believe you me, he doesn’t like to be interrupted while he’s tweeting.  Or in the tanning booth.  Or on the golf course.  Or tweeting again.  You don’t want to be the subject of one of his misspelled, nonsensical rants, correct?  No, of course you don’t, so start depositing that monthly “entitlement” into my bank account pronto or, as Uncle likes to say, YOU’RE FIRED.

Probably that wouldn’t work either.

I have another theory as to why I was singled out, a creepier, Orwellian one:  the iPad overheard something I said that put me under scrutiny.  It’s like when John and I started discussing buying a new mattress.  Ours was verging on ancient in mattress years, and during our procrastination period we often brought up the subject in passing.  As in,

“We really should look for a mattress.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  You want a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch or should we just reheat some leftovers?”

Not only had we not yet visited a single brick and mortar store, we hadn’t done the Google nor initiated an Amazon search when suddenly every website we viewed lit up with mattress ads.

It didn’t take long to figure out what had happened.  We live in a small house and during the day our iPad sits on the kitchen counter, almost always turned on, with that innocent look on its face.  Listening.

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I’m just crazy about the Social Security Administration, aren’t you?  They are without a doubt the finest people — in the finest administration! — bar none.  And you know who I especially respect and admire?  Carlos.  He’s a prince among men, he truly is.  Heck, I’d do anything for that guy.  In fact, I’m going to make a special trip to the Silverdale SSA office simply because I bet it’ll make him happy.

Plus, it will be such an honor to meet my local Social Security representative face-to-face!  There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be speaking with an outstanding individual, someone who’s highly intelligent but also kind and caring.  I can’t wait!

 

 

 

 

Retirement: Take Two

Hello.  Haven’t seen you in a while.  How’ve you been?  Good?  Nice to hear it.  I can’t believe more than three years have passed since we last spoke, can you?  Time goes by so fast.  What have you been up to?

Oh, me?  Well thanks for asking.  In a moment of weakness, the non-profit organization where I’d been volunteering hired me part-time in the housing group, meaning I was working with homeless folks — or people at risk of becoming homeless — helping them with rentals using various state grants.  It’s rewarding work.  Not so much monetarily, since non-profits by design don’t pay worth a damn, but when a formerly homeless family is able to move into an apartment due to the efforts you’ve made on their behalf, it’s a happy day.  The resulting hugs are nice, too.

But I’m done with that now.  Nearly two weeks ago, I retired.  When I posted a photo on Facebook of the cakes my co-workers brought in for my last day,

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some commenters called it my “second retirement.”  One even said so in such an accusatory way, he sounded downright pissed.

See, the thing is, I did indeed leave an extremely full-time job when John and I sold our farm and moved up here to Washington state.  Never once did we think of it as retirement, however, and in fact John snagged a part-time job only a few months after our relocation.  The fact that I lingered in unemployed limbo for two years wasn’t entirely my doing — I wanted a job, as well.  Yet in this small town, with a work history limited to either the legal field or farming (neither of which I had a desire to resume) local employers were less than enthusiastic about hiring me.  Thus the delay in gainful employment, yet during that time I never felt fully retired.

That has changed.  In spades.  This is the real, 100% bona fide it’s-time-to-jump-on-the-Social-Security-train thing.  I do plan to go back to my volunteer gig at the same non-profit but not until the glorious summer months have passed, and only then on an even more part-timey schedule than in my employed years.

Now, I do realize retirement comes with inherent risks, not the least of which is sudden onset irreversible brain atrophy, or as behavioral health professionals refer to it, The Use it or Lose It Syndrome.  After all, a person needs to keep the synapses firing for fear of them fizzling out altogether, right?  John has been retired over a year and hopes his online chess games will keep him sharp.  I’ve been addicted to New York Times crossword puzzles for quite a while already and vow to continue solving them daily, with gusto.

Still, something happened just last night that had me a little concerned about post-retirement mental acuity.  As we were getting ready for bed, I noticed the toilet paper in John’s bathroom had unrolled to the point of nearly touching the floor.  Being the patient, understanding and non-controlling spouse I pride myself to be, I mentioned it to him.  As in, Hey, roll that back up, would ya?

Maybe as a form of retaliation, or simply an honest attempt to right a wrong, John began to explain how I need to be more careful when I get a new roll started.  That if I don’t pull the initial sheets simultaneously — our toilet paper of choice is 2-ply — one of the sheets will likely go all akimbo.  Become misaligned.  Out of sync with the intended second ply, never again to be ripped off the roll in tandem with its twin.  I listened closely as the gravity of the situation sunk in.

Until it hit me what this most serious discussion was indeed about.  After falling into hysterical laughter that lasted long after my slightly perturbed husband turned off the light, I started to wonder whether online chess and NYT crosswords would be sufficient to stave off what was so quickly showing itself as the inevitable.

Yet is it really that dreadful an omen when toilet paper sheet calibration is considered highbrow commentary?  Perhaps not.  It’s like the old adage:  One man’s analysis of bathroom tissue alignment is another man’s dissertation on the theory of quantum mechanics.  Same/same.

I think we’re going to be fine.

 

 

 

 

Cataract Surgery: The Day of Reckoning

The time had come.  Like conjoined twins who share the same heart, on the day of separation surgery one of us would have to be sacrificed in order for the other to live a normal existence.  Since I’m the larger of the two, I got to make the decision as to who goes, who stays.  And because I’m writing this story, you already know which choice I made.

Yes, I’m still here.  My dear cataract, however, the one with whom I’d shared my life lo these many years, is no more.  Rest its weary, opaque soul.

It took maybe five minutes — enough time for one and one-half Christmas songs to be piped into the operating room — for the ophthalmologist to sound-wave my aged, cloudy, natural lens into a million pieces, vacuum it away like so many dust bunnies and cram in a clear, artificial lens in its stead.  It was almost a letdown, really, after the bizarre business of cataract removal pre-op.

And hoo boy, is it ever a business.  An assembly line, actually.  It started when the doctor’s assistant led me into a large room to join many other patients, all of them in progressively different stages of preparation.  I was instructed to put my personal belongings in one of the lockers lining the back wall, after which the assistant pinned the locker key onto my shirt as if I were a grade-schooler who can’t be trusted keeping track of her mittens.

She sat me down, slapped a name tag on my chest, and after confirming it was my left eye headed to surgery, took a black magic marker and drew an X above my left brow.  The cataract patient’s version of the scarlet letter.

X

Soon after, a nurse rolled her blood pressure machine over to me, wrapped my arm and once again, asked which eye was to be violated that day.

“The left one,” I answered reluctantly, knowing nothing good would come of it.  As I’d expected, out came her pen and with a dramatic whoosh whoosh, she slashed another X directly on top of my earlier branding.

Before I could ask whether they were using washable or indelible ink in those wretched pens, the surgeon walked up to introduce himself and shake my hand.  He asked (you guessed it) which eye he’d be massacring — wouldn’t you think it was fairly obvious by then? — and again, upon my reply, I was hit with yet one more X.  Tic Tac Toe, you win.

At this point, I had a little more time to take in what was happening around me.  The woman to my left (X marked the spot above her right eye) was offered a slurp of some sort of anti-anxiety liquid and turned it down.  Blasphemy!  When the offer was extended to me, I latched onto that elixir-filled dropper like a newborn suckling piglet to mama sow.  As I waited for the happy juice to carry me off to la la land, I observed the other patients who’d arrived ahead of me.

Each one was called individually into another room.  When they eventually reappeared, it was on the arm of one of the nurses — by necessity since whichever eye was underneath the dreaded triple X’s had been covered with a most frightful apparatus:  an orb slightly smaller than a racquetball positioned directly onto that eye by a strap wrapped around the patient’s head.

The nurse would then gently sit the patient down in one of two large lounge chairs, where they were hooked up to an EKG machine and yet another blood pressure monitor.

Ving & Bruce

All I could think about was Pulp Fiction — and the fact that I was yet to feel a damn thing from the supposed anti-anxiety drink they’d given me.  I started to seriously consider asking for a refill when…

“Jo?  Come with me, please.”

Oh no.

The mystery room was dimly lit, with a reclining exam chair in the center beside which sat a diminutive man with a metal tray stand at his side.  He lowered me into the chair and instructed me to stare at the photo on the ceiling (an idyllic country scene…as if that would be calming).  He started with small talk — “Do you go south for the winter?” — then instantly interrupted with a warning:  “This is going to pinch a little bit.”

He stuck a needle in the outer corner of my left eye.

And yes, it pinched.

“No,” I replied in a panic, every molecule of my being concentrating on the ceiling photo.  “We’re new here.”

“Where did you move from?”

“Austin.”

“Oh really!  What did you do there?”

“We were organic farmers.”

“Wow, my nephew is an organic farmer in Illinois!”

Yeah, buddy, that’s fascinating.  Now TAKE THAT FREAKING NEEDLE OUT OF MY EYE.

All right, I didn’t say that.  I wanted to, but I didn’t.  We continued with more inane chitchat until he abruptly pulled out the needle and just as abruptly ended the conversation.  He sat me upright, strapped on the torture ball and handed me over to the nurse to stumble out to one of the lounge chairs.

I have to admit, I enjoyed scaring the new patients in the waiting room.  Maybe the elixir was finally doing its thing.

After my cataract was ultimately obliterated and replaced I was sent on my way, a complimentary Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute gimme cap in hand.  By late that evening, I could see out of my left eye like I haven’t seen in years and years.  I was astounded and couldn’t stop telling John how clear everything looked, how vibrant the colors were.

I was eager to try out my new eye the next morning in the daylight.  Know what I saw?  Dust.  Lots of it.  The place looked like a haunted house.

Next, I made the mistake of looking closely into the bathroom mirror.  I had no idea I have so much gray hair.  Honestly, I was stunned.  Why hadn’t anyone told me?  I mean, John occasionally teased me about it but, you know, I thought he was just being silly.  Turns out, it was the truth.

I wonder if there’s an institute somewhere that puts cataracts back in.

Cataract Surgery: Part I

The optometrist didn’t bother to ask my permission.  As soon as he finished the exam, he went straight to the front desk and told his receptionist to make me an appointment with the cataract surgery center.

It would have been difficult for me to argue with him, even if he’d given me the chance.  After being unable to read line after increasingly larger line of letters shown to me by the optician — who had trouble stifling her gasps as she neared what she knew would be the final, humongous O filling the entire screen — it was pretty apparent the time had come to be separated from my longtime cloudy companion, my congenital cataract that had been slowly robbing the vision from my left eye since I was in my early 40’s.

eyeball

It was a miracle I’d been able to get my drivers license renewed last year.  Only by the grace of Port Townsend’s DMV clerk was I able to squeak by, despite my admission that I couldn’t read a single thing on the left side of the vision test screen.  I don’t know if she was feeling generous that day or merely too bored and disinterested to bother but whatever the case, I was grateful beyond words to be granted permission to drive half-blind on the streets of Washington state.

I doubt the vehicular travelers crossing my path would have been quite so tickled, had they known.  Pedestrians and bicyclists even less so.  Yet in my defense, at my pre-surgery ophthalmological consultation, the doctor explained that because my right eye has been so busy doing the heavy lifting these past 15 years or so, my overall vision really wasn’t that horrendous.

Granted, he mentioned this not to ease my mind about any potential peril I’d been inflicting upon all who traversed the roads alongside me.  I hadn’t confessed to the doctor my poor performance at the DMV.   He was simply warning me that once my cataract was gone, my resultant vision improvement might not feel so dramatic as it does to those folks who have cataracts removed from both eyes.  Still, I chose to take it as affirmation of my decision — and that of my dear DMV clerk — to continue driving.

Come to think of it, though, the ophthalmologist obviously didn’t give one hoot about endangering myself or surrounding drivers, considering he sent me on my way that late afternoon (more like early evening) with fully dilated eyes and no one to chauffeur me home.  In the dark.  From Silverdale to Port Townsend, a nearly 45 mile trek.

After the front desk ladies cheerily handed me the packaged strip of black plastic that looks more like a roll of camera film than a substitute for honest-to-goodness sunglasses, I walked out to the car, took my place in the driver’s seat…and began to panic.  Already the traffic had built up to a frenzy — Silverdale is nothing but a maze of strip malls squeezed between zigging and zagging thoroughfares (my friend has aptly nicknamed the town Silverhell) and to make matters worse, I was in that godforsaken place at the height of Christmas shopping season.

I’d gotten so turned around trying to find the surgery center in the first place, I had no clue how to get back to the highway.  Add to that a thousand glaring headlights.  I slipped the black film under my glasses, hit the “Home” button on my GPS and waited for Nuvi (John’s and my terribly clever name for our Garmin “nuvi” model GPS) to coo her directives at me.

As soon as I pulled into the street, I yanked off that black film.  It’s bad enough to have blurred vision in a sea of headlamps — even worse when the background to all the bobbing, weaving lights is pitch blackness.  Without the piece of film obscuring what little focus I still had, I could at least make out the stripes in the road.  Blurry stripes, indeed, but stripes all the same.

It was a long, teeth-clenching drive back to Port Townsend.  Only a small fraction of the journey is divided highway; primarily the roads are two-laned, meaning a continuous line of oncoming traffic, each car’s lights boring straight into my enormous pupils, made it feel as if I were staring directly at the sun.

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So I concentrated instead on those white road stripes (and held my breath at every intersection where the stripes disappeared) until finally — finally — Nuvi guided me through the entrance to our neighborhood.  When I turned at the stop sign on our street, Nuvi instructed, “Drive point three miles to Home, on left.”

Lovelier words have never been spoken.

To be continued….

In a Tent

A moment of weakness, that’s the only way to explain it.  Despite my heretofore utter, adamant (dare I say pig-headed?) refusal to participate in any way in the so-called recreational activity of camping — tent camping, no less — I caved to peer pressure.  I agreed to accompany John and two of our friends to a campsite in the woods and spend three nights, however insane the thought, in a tent.

Did I mention I was drinking wine at the time?  I was, and in a quantity sufficient, apparently, to throw me just enough off-kilter to almost convince myself it was a good idea.  I mean, I enjoy the outdoors.  Hiking is a lovely way to spend a crisp Pacific Northwest day.  Thing is, though, after the hike is finished I’m ready for civilization again.  A hot shower.  A restaurant.  A real bed in a real building with real walls.

You know, the opposite of this.

setting up the tents

When setting out for a three-day camping trip, not only are you forced to carry along your own shelter (and I use that word generously, considering the only things between you and the elements are a few sheets of stitched canvas and a zipper) but good heavens, it takes damn near as many days to pack everything else four people need — including what appeared to me to be a good half cord of logs to build fires (for warmth, of all the ridiculous things) — as it does to camp for that same amount of time.

camping stuff

Had we planned the exact trip — hiking, sightseeing and all — yet tweaked it just a little to include three nights in, say, a charming B&B, we would have instead packed:

suitcase

And we needn’t even discuss bathroom issues…but of course I will.

I give our camping friends the utmost credit for securing us a mighty nice site — or as nice as a site sans private bath can be — in that there was a perfectly respectable public restroom facility within reasonable walking distance.  In the daytime.  In the dark of night, however, it would have proven far too tricky a trek a la flashlight when half-asleep.

Thus, once (or twice, or thrice) per night when a certain business required attending, either John or I would shake the other awake and whisper the need to unzip the door and venture out into the blackness to find a tree at a (barely) polite enough distance from our friends’ tent.

As every woman in the universe knows, this is much easier for a man.  Much.  Granted, I’m a squatter from way back, beginning in the early ‘80s when we were building our second home on a couple acres hidden discreetly in the woods and minus the luxury of a portable facility.  Yet as accomplished as I became at answering nature’s call in full view of Mother Nature herself, my expertise is limited to the daylight hours.  With the cover of night comes the very real worry about the consequence of bad aim, namely — and specifically when sleeping outdoors — crawling back into the tent slightly, ahem, soggy.

I’m pleased to report, in spite of my fears, that never happened over the course of our three-day camping adventure.  At least not that I was aware of at the time.  Or would be willing to admit afterwards.

Fortunately for all of us — especially my three camping companions who would have otherwise been subjected to relentless whining — there were no serious mishaps of any kind during the trip.  The weather gods smiled upon us, granting us three clear, sunny days, and the one night we were awoken by sounds of something padding around our campsite, it turned out to be neither bear nor Sasquatch.  (As far as we know, anyway.  None of us unzipped our tents to find out).

And on the very last afternoon, while our friends chose to stay at the campsite to relax and nap, John and I headed into town — to civilization — for a little souvenir shopping and a visit to a waterfront adult beverage establishment to whet our whistles and reminisce.  We were in the charming village of Eastsound, after all, on Orcas Island.  The very spot where, just over two years ago, we decided quite off-the-cuff to sell our farm and move up here.  It’s a special place for us.

So all’s well that ends well, right?  Yes indeed.  Still, when next summer rolls around and we’re again partaking in a bit of the grape with our camping aficionado friends, should the topic of repeating this trip come up, I intend to take a drastic measure to ensure I keep my wits about me:

I’m switching to coffee.  Black.

The Massaaaahhhge

I love a massage.  I love everything about it.  The aroma of scented oils in the dimly lit massage room, the gentle new age-y music, the way the therapist speaks in hushed tones.  Even the padded face hole in the massage table pleases me.  If I could afford it, I’d have a regular spa appointment once a week.  Maybe more.

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And it wouldn’t matter what other treatments the spa offered — defoliating scrubs, body wraps, facials — I’m interested only in massage.  Twice John has given me a spa day as a birthday gift, and both times I eschewed any treatment that didn’t involve being rubbed.

Although I did make a fairly critical mistake on my first visit.  I signed up for the warm mud massage — it had the word “massage” in it, after all — and while the initial hands-on portion was sublime, once the therapist smeared on the mud and left the room for a while, all I could think about was how much time was being wasted; time that could have otherwise been filled with a whole lot more rubbing and a whole lot less lying there sweating.

I do have one very strict rule when it comes to receiving a massage:  other than the intermittent whispered instruction to roll over or to ask if the amount of pressure she’s using is adequate, the therapist must remain mute.  I’m not patient with chitchat during massage time.  I don’t need to know where the therapist grew up or what her children are studying in school.  Likewise, I feel no desire to report my life story to her.  I’m on that table for one reason and one reason alone, and that’s all I want to think about.  Massage me.  From head to toe.

Oh hang on, I almost forgot.  There is indeed one massage spot I’d prefer the therapist skip over.  Two spots, actually:  my ears.  When she starts kneading my ears it makes me feel silly.  I have no qualms about other extremities — each toe and finger thanks the therapist for the individual attention — but when she grabs for an ear, all I can think about is…big floppy ears.  And I have small ears, strangely enough, the right one even freakishly tiny.  Still, when someone touches them during a massage it’s like I’m Minnie Mouse.  Or Dumbo.

No matter.  Putting up with over-handled ears in order to be massaged everywhere else is a sacrifice I’ll make without qualms.  So when a friend offered me one of her pre-paid massage appointments, I jumped at the chance.  She had to give up the appointment because of a spinal problem that will likely require surgery, and I did suffer a pang of guilt for accepting her gift under such a circumstance.  Yet the feeling only lasted a second or two.  In my world, you see, the prospect of a free massage trumps all else.  I’m not proud of it but hey, I can live with it.

Especially when someone’s rubbing me.