Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Testing the Waters

We are about to test the waters around here.

Frances and I APPEAR to be only the gay couple living in this 55 Plus Community; that is probably not true, but I sure haven't seen any evidence to the contrary.  And it is not like the people  we have met have rushed out to introduce us to other gay couples, or even mentioned any despite our clearly presenting ourselves as a couple.  Whatever the numbers really are, we are, without question,  in a marginal minority. 

That being said, folks have been kind and welcoming and all of that.  No problems there.  But we are definitely birds of a different feather compared to the established residents.  (Not sure yet what the "snow birds" bring to the mix.  I guess we'll find out this fall.)

It is also true that most of the folks who live here are Caucasian.  Not exclusively, of course.  And not militantly.  But we Caucasian folks definitely have the upper hand when it comes to numbers.  Minority families - and the few mixed race families that I have seen - definitely stand out simply because they are different.   

So.  About next week.  We have a 60 year old Caucasian lesbian couple visiting us.  For a week.  And their two adult children - who just happen to be black.  And I think this could be very interesting.   My neighbors, after all, did not grow up watching Modern Family and Will and Grace.

Anyone who wants to be concerned that we are going to bring folks who don't quite meet the standard profile in to this community will have plenty to chatter about. 

It is going to be fine.  And I can't tell you how much we are looking forward to the visit.  But for the first time in a long time I anticipate that we my turn a few heads.

Which feels old and a bit unsettling.  It has been a very long time since anyone has blinked an eye at any of us.  It really doesn't happen much in the northeast anymore.  

And given 10 years, I am sure it won't happen much here either.  Gotta start somewhere, I guess.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Gardening Arizona Style

We have never lived in the desert and have never been much in the way of gardeners.  

Even though we have a big yard (for us!) we have little intention of taking up gardening.  We have an irrigation system that is all electronic and sophisticated and a guy who checks up on it.  We have a lot of fancy plants that we know nothing about.  Our gardening boils down to writing checks and appreciating.

The irrigation system is underground, but it is also basically just fragile rubber hoses that are no match for the Phoenix heat in the summer. So, with some regularity, those hoses melt.  And when they do, they spring leaks, resulting in parabolas of water spraying all over the place - and with some force, I might add!  Over the weekend, we managed to spring FOUR leaks.  

Our yard was a fountain.  Water spraying in to the neighbor's yard.  Water spraying on to the common paths and the road.  You could see this lovely display from the front OR the back yard.  We should have sold tickets.

Thankfully, the yard guy came and fixed it all this morning.  We weren't totally helpless   We had figured out how to turn the irrigation system off in order to prevent the road outside our house from turning in to a canal, but that was a very short term solution.  

I am humbled by how much help it takes to keep us going on a daily basis.  Our furniture is covered by a warranty, so we can't clean that by ourselves.  Our house is under a bug contract, so we aren't supposed to try to kill bugs by ourselves for fear of messing with the mix of the professional chemicals.  We are WAY BEYOND a little watering can and a hose to water our plants.  And we still have a cleaning lady - which is the one thing we may consider letting go of and the one I usually appreciate the most.

Except today.  Today, I am really appreciating my yard guy.  A lot. Which is as close as I am likely to get to gardening in Arizona.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sweet Revenge

So, a few days ago I attempted to play pool volleyball which is marketed at my 55 Plus Community as "All abilities Welcome."   "Just show up and play."    And, most importantly, "Free."

All of the slogans are true, but the unspoken messaging might read: "We really want to win and expect that you will too."  "We made up the rules, but you need to follow them." And "We'll make room for you and coach you the entire time..."  There are a lot of dues to be paid in water volleyball.

I was mediocre at volleyball, and was coached - supportively, perhaps - by a woman who appears to own the sport.  Her confidence was intimidating and as necessary as it might be, I don't particularly enjoy coaching; so imagine my glee when I showed up at Zumba and the same woman was there.  She had the trademark outfit on - attractively customized to stand out. Her tennis shoes matched her outfit.   I was wearing my Goodwill workout clothes that have seen a few too many exercise classes.

Fear not.  Game on.   I am REALLY GOOD at Zumba. She was right in front of me.  We had to Charleston by each other several times.  We used the same mirror.  We made eye contact.  She was nice.  I was triumphant.  "YES.... I am an asset to this community.  I may suck at water volleyball, but girlfriend, I can Zumba...."

I am aware that this sounds like high school.  Maybe junior high.  In some ways, that is the level that we are operating on here.  Careers matter not at all.  No one is in the least bit interested in what anyone has been doing the last 30 years.  Far more important, and a regular topic of conversation, is "Where were you raised?"  "Where are you from?"  Roots are important - corporate affiliations are avoided as much as possible.  The unspoken priority is for who you are now.  

Who I am now, evidently, is a Zumba-loving, volleyball-aspiring, 52 year old woman with zero interest in being defined by my past and some renewed passion for building a future.   I am going to have to tolerate some volleyball coaching, and I am going to shake my booty shamelessly in Zumba - neither of which , to be clear, I would have been comfortable with in high school!


Monday, July 21, 2014

Pool Volleyball

Since we just moved to Arizona and school is out for the summer (so I am not subbing), my job has been meeting people.

There are several challenges to meeting people here:  First, the "snowbirds" are gone from this 55 Plus Community, resulting in a) fewer people to meet; b) fewer scheduled activities; and c) less open hours at the club house.  Second, it is hot, so folks are never outside.  The trick to survival in this climate is to pull the car in to an attached garage, bring the garage door down, go inside and huddle around the air conditioning vents. Not exactly the porch sitting with lemonade of days gone by.

Still, I persevere.  Yesterday, I presented myself for pool volleyball.  I had gone to the pool simply to be around people, so I hadn't PLANNED on pool volleyball, and wasn't attired correctly: pool shoes would have been good, and a pool shirt with long sleeves would have been better.  A cap with a full rim or back flap would have been excellent.  Supportive gear for my fingers and wrists would have fit right in.  I made do with sunscreen, sunglasses and a baseball cap.

I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that I have not played any form of volleyball since high school - which was over 30 years ago - and trust me, any volleyball played then was not particularly memorable.   So pool volleyball was a lark - something new to me.  I was attracted by the "groupiness" of it - the fact that folks were laughing and having fun and it looked like a better way to meet people than sitting on a lounge pretending to read a book.

The established players were welcoming - sort of.  They were clear that there were rules and that each team was in it to win it.  Their approach to the whole thing was fun - but serious.  Don't use a fist to hit the ball. Don't mess up.  Don't jump - let the person behind you handle any ball you can't reach.  Keep your hands in the air.  Don't mess up.  Did I already mention that one about not messing up?

They play for  2 HOURS.  I said from the get-go that I wasn't in for that long, and I made it an hour before pleading that my shoulders were starting to burn.  I enjoyed the game - I really did.  And I definitely hit the ball some.  But I did mess up.  And it was (surprisingly) difficult to maintain the necessary level of concentration.  Needless to say, by the time I left the pool, far from feeling fully engaged in a great group activity, I was mostly stressed out.  

I don't think that they missed me.

Almost inevitably, meeting new people means trying new things.  And as much as this culture and any number of self-help book encourage BRANCHING OUT and LEAVING YOUR COMFORT ZONE, there ARE complications to attempting something new.  Start with the fact that my bumbling in volleyball interferes with folks who take it seriously and are really good.  Then, there is the entire issue of humility: it is a little stressful to be publicly not very good at something.  And in this case,  there is the added complication that I LIVE with these people.  It's not like I won't see them again,and I don't want to be known as the wimpy player or the one who quits or the person who can't be counted on.  I think branching out is great.  Leave your comfort zone, for sure.  Embrace your active golden years!  And then give yourself a pat on the back and some extra credit - because it is not an easy thing to do.

This morning I went to Kettle Ball.  Had never heard of it.  The established participants were welcoming. The instructor was easy to follow.  And I stayed after class with some other participants for extra coaching where - get this -  I was the ONLY one to be able to align my back correctly.

AHA!  Felt good.  I might actually be good at this Kettle Ball thing.  Problem is, I'd rather be good at the volleyball.....  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

For the Birds

I fancy myself a birder.  

At some point along the line I secured a great (albeit heavy) set of binoculars and a comfortable outdoor chair from Lands' End and set myself up to watch the birds.  And to be fair, there has been great intention when it relates to both the chair and the binoculars.  The chair survived any number of pre-move purges and was relocated to Arizona.  And I have carried those binoculars around my neck while hiking, tucked them in my pack while bike riding and shoved them in my carry-on while travelling.  

But those binoculars never come out.  Or if they do, I can't focus them correctly.  Or by the time I have the binoculars unpacked and the focus all set, the birds are gone.  It would seem that my interest in birding - when tested -  ends at the retail level.

But wait. 

Our new house came with a hummingbird feeder -a little red strawberry hanger all approved by the Homeowners Association and everything.  So cool.

Before my kitchen was even installed, I looked up the recipe for hummingbird nectar (4 cups water, 1 cup sugar, boil for 2 minutes) and the timeline for hummingbird feeding in Arizona (year round) and got myself all situated. Boiled the nectar, hung the feeder, looked outside.


I have filled that darn strawberry twice.  Have not seen one hummingbird.  

It turns out that in order to actually SEE a hummingbird, I am going to have to take the time to wait and watch - two activities that up until this point in my life have felt synonymous with "wasting time."  But you know what?  If I can report that I actually saw the miracle of a hummingbird in my own backyard, I don't think that is time wasted.  That is time spent connecting with creatures and the love that sustains them.  Not wasted time at all.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fitting In

I took a yoga class this afternoon.  It was challenging of course.  They really don't take it easy on you here. And boy were some of these 55 plus ladies flexible.  I mean really....  I didn't know it was possible for the human body to contort in to some of the positions.  Let's just say that since I can barely touch my toes on a good day, it was a challenging class.

So, I thought I would take a quick swim afterword.  You know... 10 minutes paddling around in the pool.  20 minutes spacing out in a chair watching the sunset.  

And I DID do that.  But, first Jackie struck up a conversation with me.  She had been in the yoga class, but I hadn't really  noticed her (I hadn't noticed ANYONE; all of my attention was focused on approximating the positions well enough to avoid too much attention from the instructor!).  

Jackie is probably a few years older than I am  - but not many.  Jackie is tiny.  And she is struggling with cancer.  As we stood there in the locker room, her life story poured out.  A late in life marriage.  A daughter. A life blessed with health.  Until this.  She showed me the scar that was left after her stomach was removed. She talked about faith and death and miracles.

I liked her. And she put an exclamation point on something I am finding over and over again as I meet people in this community.  

EVERYBODY, by the time they hit their 50th birthday has a story to tell.   So no one is overly interested with my story.  I have done far more listening than talking since I moved here - which has surprised me, but suits me fine.  As we moved in to this fairly small and gated world, I was concerned that our personal life would get in the way of meeting people.  I felt like we were moving in with a flashing light over our heads: "Gay Irish Ladies with tragic back story."

The reality has been that no one cares.  These folks have their own complex lives.  As long as the landscapers show up regularly to maintain our yard and we don't put our trash out too early  we are going to fit in just fine.

I think I'll take yoga again next week.   I don't expect I'll be any better at it than I was today, but I want to know how Jackie is doing.   

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Calling it Home

Within the chaos,  there has been peace.

And given the amount of chaos,  even a few moments of peace amount to a miracle of sorts.

Chaos has been abundant.  Probably always is when you move.  Contractors who NEVER deliver on schedule.  Furniture on a truck stranded miles from where I think that truck should be.  Family members installing and breaking and helping.  Too many carbs.  More checks than I have written in the last ten years combined - most for lots and lots of money and others for nitpicky things like utility deposits and service initiation fees - what a racket.   New furniture that has a persistent moldy-like smell.  Figuring out how the light switches work.

New people.  A robust menstrual cycle that will not give up the ghost despite every biological certainty that I am beyond my child bearing years.  Several trips out of state coming up in the next six weeks.  Friends and family members going through some challenging things.  

But in the midst of it....   there are bunnies who play in my backyard.  There is quiet.  There are sunset swims and long bike rides.  There is yoga at 4 PM.  We have been welcomed.  Sometimes I look around and just pinch myself.  Do I really LIVE here?  

The laundry pile is getting higher and I have to go to the grocery store today, so I know that I am not on vacation from the nuts and bolts of life.  But even so,  I feel deeply at home in this landscape - both the planned and cultivated community and the rugged, untouched desert.  

I have felt at home in many landscapes.  But the quiet starkness of the desert describes who I am right now in a way that the meadows of the Midwest or the lush, green landscapes of the East coast no longer do.  The desert does not embrace - rather, it instructs.  "Look," the desert seems to say, "when all seems barren and lifeless and chaotically difficult, there is life.  Beautiful, abundant life."  

Sounds like home to me.