I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, August 28, 2016

MIlestones and me

A toast to summer
As usual, the first thing I did before I started to write this post is look for a picture to start it out. I found this one from a few weeks ago, where Lynn (who is smiling), my hand in the foreground, and Carol's fingers curled around her beer, are toasting our friendship. I'm a red-wine drinker; Lynn enjoys white, and Carol loves beer. There is another glass on the right, which belongs to Lily. (clink!) Four friends who all live here in the apartment complex with me.

What I really wanted to do is find a picture of Lynn, because I'd like to introduce you to her this morning. It was a year ago that she moved into the ground-floor apartment at the base of the stairs with her grown son. Although she is in her early fifties, I wondered if she was retired (not knowing her exact age) but learned that ten years ago she was in a horrific car accident, with her husband driving their motor home. She and her then-13-year-old son were in the back, traveling home from a vacation, with husband and his brother in the front seat. In the accident, both men were killed instantly, along with the driver of the pickup that struck them.

Her life changed completely from that moment on. Although her son was only slightly injured physically, Lynn suffered many broken bones, with one leg and ankle shattered, along with serious head injuries. She spent the next year in a convalescent hospital. At one point they almost amputated her leg below the knee, but instead she opted to keep it with all the metal and pain, learning to walk on it again. At first she was in a heavy boot (which she still occasionally needs to use), but when I met her last year, she was determinedly going on long walks with her cane. Not always, though: sometimes she went without it, and now if you were to see her on a good day, you'd never know about her disability.

A few months ago she joined our walking group on Saturday mornings, and she goes out for a long walk several times a week, at a fast pace and with friends she has made from the group. Lynn is one of those people who makes friends every single day with everyone she meets. She is the essential ingredient that was missing from our apartment complex. After she showed up, we began to have evening gatherings of the women in nearby apartments, all of us fellow gardeners, too.

Last month she moved from the downstairs apartment to the one right next to me. We all helped with the move, and she used the opportunity to shed some of her more cumbersome furniture. And now her front porch is the hub where we all gather. This past Friday night we enjoyed an evening visit with Kitty, who was the previous occupant of the apartment next door, along with the four of us mentioned at the beginning. They all knew I would be the first to leave, because I just don't like to stay up late, and after I left and snuggled into my bed (SG was out for the evening), I listened to the sound of their laughter until I fell asleep.

Yesterday as we were returning from the Saturday morning walk, I stopped at the local drugstore where I can pick up some wine (we drank it all the night before), and I bought a box of my favorite. While we were at the checkout counter, I pulled out my ID (it doesn't matter if you're ninety, they have to see it). The clerk announced it would cost $19.56. Lynn and I said together, "that was a good year." Lynn added, "if I had been around to see it, of course."

Nineteen fifty-six. "What do you mean," I said, "if you were around. Of course you were." She looked at me and said, "I was born in 1965." Shocked, I realized that I was only a teenager in 1956 and suddenly realized the difference in our ages. Although I know it intellectually, I don't ever feel it. I am more than old enough to be her mother. I grew up in the fifties and sixties, but that was more than half a century ago. Where did all that time go?

The incident got me to thinking of how I compartmentalize my life. When I first started skydiving (1991), my skydiving accident (2000), when my son Chris died (2002), and when I retired and moved away to Bellingham (2008) — these are milestones that give me a way to think of what happened when. The scary thing is that they all seem rather immediate when I pull them up out of my memory to ponder. Time does not follow a linear path in my mind, but has peaks and valleys. I guess that's normal. How could I already be a septuagenarian? Wasn't it just 1956 the other day?

*  *  * 

Part of the reason I forget, I guess, is that I am still able to live an active life. After I finish this post and start my day, I'll do my exercises and head off to the coffee shop before my morning yoga class. It will be the second week with a substitute who knocked my socks off last Sunday. She's harder than Laifong but I found that I was intrigued to see what I could and couldn't do. She had us in a full shoulder stand (which I didn't think I would be able to accomplish, but I did), and although I was sore the next day, I'm looking forward to what she will introduce me to today. This foray into yoga has been really good for me. I feel more balanced and confident as I move, and I'm totally convinced I'm getting taller. Last week I signed up for the fall semester, and when I sign up for the winter, I'll have been attending for a year. 

Two weeks ago as I was leaving the class, Laifong mentioned to me that she had been surprised at how well I have been doing and said that I had exceeded her expectations. That sure gave me a boost. Obviously, her expectations weren't very high, since I'd been attending the gentle yoga classes and had not been exposed to Level I, the next step up. I think I've found my current level, although it makes a huge difference who is teaching it, I'm discovering.

Fall is coming. After another three-day mini-heat wave, we had a day with the temperature in the sixties yesterday (20°C) and another to follow today. It's probably the last heat of the summer, and I won't miss it a bit. I've become a Pacific Northwesterner with little tolerance for the heat. Oh, wait: I've always been that way, which is part of the reason we moved here. Next week will also bring some chances for rain, which has also been absent during July and August. I miss the lush green we usually have, but it's coming back now that fall is righ around the corner.

And with that, I'll say farewell for today. My partner is still sleeping next to me, and the sun is finally over the horizon. Tea is gone and the day is calling. I look forward to my coffee shop friends (not to mention my daily latte) and the class that awaits me. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will stay safe and surrounded with love and light. Be well.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Remembering on a Sunday morning

Melanie took this of me at Lake Ann last Thursday
I didn't get this picture from my friend Melanie until Friday, so I couldn't put it into my post about the hike on my other blog. It's a favorite, though, so here you go, it shows how incredibly clear the sky was, and gives you a taste of the ordeal we had just accomplished to get here. A little more than four miles and much of it climbing up to this spot from the valley below, in blazing sunlight, punctuated with a hot breeze now and then.

That was three days ago, and I'm recovered from the hike, and even went on a very long walk yesterday morning with my Saturday group. This morning I'll attend my yoga class that will help me stretch out my well-worked muscles. I'm not complaining, mind you, because hardly a day goes by that I don't give thanks for the ability I still have to continue this level of activity. I do wonder sometimes how much longer this old body will last doing such strenuous hikes. Some of the Trailblazers that normally would have joined us considered the heat to be a deal breaker. It makes everything so much harder.

I've been reading a book for the last few days that has really got me thinking about life in general. I picked it up at the library after seeing an interview that told me of a young man who was given a lobotomy in 1953 to cure his epileptic seizures and lost the ability to form any long-term memories after that. The book, written by Suzanne Corkin, is titled Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient H.M. It's not the kind of book that you just can't put down, but I keep mulling over what I've learned about the workings of the brain and go back to read more.

The author is a scientist who studied Henry for many decades and became his friend, if you can call a friend someone who doesn't remember who you are. An excerpt from the above link:
Henry never remembered Corkin from one meeting to the next and had only a dim conception of the importance of the work they were doing together, yet he was consistently happy to see her and always willing to participate in her research. His case afforded untold advances in the study of memory, including the discovery that even profound amnesia spares some kinds of learning, and that different memory processes are localized to separate circuits in the human brain.
She describes the endless testing procedures that were performed on Henry to discover how the brain encodes memories, and I have been pondering the memory deficits that I experience in my everyday life. The forgetting of the names of things, an inability to recall many of the events I've lived through, that feeling of a memory almost within reach and my inability to retrieve it — all perfectly normal diminishment (hopefully) but unnerving nevertheless.

Once you reach a certain age, you begin to wonder if it's normal to forget so much, or whether it's the beginning of dementia. What I've learned from the book so far is that the brain has many pathways for memories, and they are all handled differently. Yesterday I learned that two different kinds of memories, semantic and episodic, are encoded in separate parts of the brain. Semantic memories are those that you cannot recall directly, such as when you first learned that Columbus discovered America in 1492. Episodic memories are autobiographical events that happen to us personally. In amnesia such as Henry's, he could remember semantic but not episodic memories.

The operation performed on Henry removed so much of his brain that it's amazing that he kept his intellect and, in fact, found ingenious ways to circumvent the fact that he only remembered things for thirty seconds or so. Corkin provides a fantastic account of how the research questions raised by his case developed, how the studies were designed, and how new lines of inquiry were suggested.

All this happened because of a lobotomy. Of course I had to read up about it, because I knew it was in vogue during the 1940s and 1950s, but in reading this book I've learned how many lives were destroyed because of this "psychosurgery" procedure. Read all about it here, if you're interested in delving deeper into its history. I was simply appalled when I read that Wikipedia link, because I had little idea of how many people it was performed on: in the United States alone, it was more than 40,000 people (mostly women).

If you were admitted to a mental institution during that time period, you were at risk of having it done to you, even if you were there because a disgruntled husband, for example, decided his wife was "hysterical" and had her committed. It gives me chills to think of the horrors that women endured during those times. And it makes me glad to realize that we have come as far as we have from those terrible procedures. It does make me consider what is being done to our bodies these days that will someday be looked back upon and seen as barbaric. I wonder.

The sun just came up. It's happening later and later these days, and we're losing more than three minutes of daylight every day at this latitude. We are quickly moving towards my favorite season of the year: autumn, when the leaves begin to change color and fall from the trees. I saw the first signs of it last Thursday, but it was so hot and dry that fall seemed very distant. Today is supposed to be the first day of normal temperatures since our mini-heat wave, and I'm looking forward to it.

I'm also looking forward to my yoga class, which is in two hours. Between now and then, I need to get up, do my morning routine, and head to the coffee shop for my latte before class. Hopefully wherever you are in the world, you'll have a chance to enjoy this day and will store the memory of it safely away in your incredible brain. Until we meet again next week, I'm wishing you a wonderful and memorial journey. Be well and don't forget to hug your loved ones, just because you can.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Halfway through the Summer Olympics

It sure was a good latte
I like to take pictures of some of the prettiest lattes that I am served, since once I've taken a sip, the art is lost forever. Whoever came up with espresso served with steamed milk deserves a medal. I rarely begin a morning without one at my local coffee shop. Speaking of medals, the Summer Olympics in Rio are half over today, since they began a week ago. I've been following them with interest.

Swimming and women's gymnastics are my favorite events, and they didn't disappoint this time. The USA dominated both. I haven't been much of a fan of Michael Phelps, but there is no doubt that he is a very talented athlete, having competed in four Olympics and earning 23 golds, more than any other person in history. At the age of 31! And then what about Katie Ledecky? The Washington post has a great article about her, with this excerpt (by David Sheinin):
She got there, at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, with a dominant performance — four golds, one silver, two world records, victories by unheard-of margins of 4.77 and 11.38 seconds — that left grizzled coaches, their fingers permanently curled in the shape of a stopwatch, unable to conjure a precedent. Because one doesn’t exist.
I never heard of her before the Olympics, but she will go down in history as one of the most amazing athletes ever, and since she's only 19, I wonder where she will go from here? She looks so average, standing there on the stage at Rio, but she is anything but. I wonder how much blood they took from her looking for performance-enhancing drugs.

And of course, my favorite of all time: Simone Biles! What an incredible athlete. I've been sitting at the coffee shop watching videos of her performances with my pals as we watch her in slow motion making the most incredible flips, twists and turns with her powerhouse of a body. She's only 4'8" and perfection in motion. She's already won several gold medals and will compete in the vault today. I can barely watch them as they take off running, it's so dramatic. I found this video on YouTube that explains the physics of what she does, with illustrations and even some video of what women's gymnastics looked like before 1952.

At any rate, I've been enjoying the spectacle of the Rio Olympics, and I hope you have been as well. Now that we are through the sports where the USA dominates, I'm hoping we will see some athletes shine from other countries. It's been exciting and amazing so far, hasn't it?

Summer is more than half over, too. It's been hot here, but compared to other parts of the country, we have only been "suffering" with temperatures in the low 80s (around 23C). Of course, if we lived in some of the hotter areas, we would have more air conditioning, which we don't. We have fans and our windows open, which allows the apartment to cool down to around 70 at night. Bearable, but I sure do sleep better when it's ten degrees cooler than that. As long as I have air moving around me, I can tolerate the heat.

And the days are definitely getting shorter. When I wake in the morning, the sun isn't already up with those annoying chirping birds. I love late summer and the entire season of fall, so I've got that to look forward to. My least favorite time of the year is the hot, dry summer. Last year we also had an extended drought and hotter temperatures than this year, so I really am not complaining. After all, I'm still able to enjoy the High Country every Thursday, and with hats and sunscreen, it's pretty darn wonderful. That same terrain we cover every week is buried in snow during the winter. No, I'm not complaining at all.

What else? As I sit here with my laptop and thinking how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful life, I must also remember that even as seasons change, so do my surroundings and my own health and wellness. It's important to take stock, something I have the opportunity to do every Sunday morning with this blog, and to be grateful for today and let tomorrow take care of itself. After all, I've been here on this planet for more than seven decades, and all those tomorrows have become todays without me worrying about them. Okay, maybe a little, but I'm trying to let go and just enjoy each day as it comes. I've had plenty of practice. Somehow or other, I got old while I wasn't paying attention.

I like this Francis Bacon quote about getting old: "Age appears to be best in four things: old wood for burning, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read." Age benefits some things, at least. One thing that I keep noticing as each day recedes into the past, each and every season brings its own joy and sorrow, and it does little good to try to hold on as it changes. I'll just watch the show and smile at my good fortune to be here now.

I don't have a yoga class this morning, so I can lounge in bed awhile longer before getting up and heading to the coffee shop. Even though it's only been six Sundays since I started that class, I really miss it when I don't have it. What a great way it's been to start the day. Instead, I'll go to the early movie with my friend Judy, who has had endless company and guests during the summer and finally has time for me again. We'll see that new Meryl Streep movie, which has gotten fairly good reviews.

And with that, I have written another Sunday post, and it's time to wrap things up. Right now I'm thinking about you, my reader, who will hopefully forgive me for being all over the map again this morning. When I opened my laptop, I really didn't know what would come out. Partner is still sleeping, it's quiet outside, and my tea is long gone. Please remember, as you read this, to take a look around and give thanks for all that is good and know that you are loved and cherished by at least one person: me. I'm sending you a virtual hug and giving thanks for you. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My life as a reader

View taken on last Thursday's hike
This picture has nothing to do with the theme of today's post, but I always like to start it out with some eye candy. I actually took this photograph to capture the pretty flowers in the foreground, but they are washed out, and the vistas in the background dominate the scene anyway. I didn't see the view when I took it, really I didn't, so it was a surprise when I examined my pictures later.

What got me thinking about how important reading has been to my life was a chance encounter with my neighbor yesterday. I had just picked up a book from the library that I'd been waiting for. When I first put it on hold there were more than twenty people in front of me in line, so it took months before it finally came up. I'm a fan of Mary Roach's books, having read all of her previous ones, and this latest one is called Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. When I walked out to show the book to three of my neighbors, who were chatting while one was watering her porch garden, they were all very interested in it, except for Carol. She said, "Oh, I don't read." Both Lynn and I are voracious readers, so it surprised me to learn that one of my dear friends isn't interested in reading for its own sake. She said she's an article kind of gal. And then it occurred to me that I had never seen any books in her apartment.

I remember learning to read as a child. Remember the Dick and Jane books? They were the very first books I ever read, and I still remember them with real fondness. I have an ancient memory of tracing the word on the page and sounding it out, and suddenly realizing I could read it! That link takes you to a Rare Book Exhibition description of the history of those books. To think that there are people who have never heard of them, while they are essential to me.
Sample pages of Dick and Jane reader
In this era of being able to pull up pictures and descriptions of almost anything, I found these pages from a Dick and Jane reader to share. It illustrates how I was taught me to read by using simple, repetitive phrases, and because I smiled at the wringer washing machine that Mother is using. Yes, it was a long time ago, all right.

My parents had bought a multi-volume set of books called Childcraft when I was little, and my sister and I would pore over them and once we could read them, we read stories and poems to each other. We share some wonderful memories of those books, and we can still recite some of the poems back to each other, to this day, more than half a century later. Do you remember who Dilliki Dolliki Dinah is? Not long ago, Norma Jean and I recited this one to each other. What memories surfaced from that one: A Ballad of China.

I wish I could say that I was a fan of the Nancy Drew mystery stories, which many of my compatriots read, but I didn't read them as a child. Instead, I loved comic books, especially Little Lulu. I remember the joy of getting a new book and reading it over and over. When I think back to identify the first real book I ever read on my own, nothing comes to mind. Apparently there was nothing special enough about it to capture the memory for easy retrieval. I'm sure I was assigned books to read in school, but they are lost to me today.

Daddy was a science fiction buff, and as a teenager I remember him giving me several classics to read, and I will never forget the excitement of learning about worlds beyond our own, and sagas of long journeys across empty space to new planets. Mama was always a voracious reader, but when I was young I don't remember her sharing any of her books with me. My memories of her were usually with knitting in her lap, rather than books. I know she read plenty of them, though, because when she went to the library she would bring back a heavy box of books and managed to read every one.

Once I graduated from high school, my very first paid employment was as an assistant to the librarian at the base library. It was my job to return books to their shelves when they were returned by patrons. This library used the Dewey Decimal System, and I had to become familiar with it so I could find the appropriate stacks. It's an interesting system and is still in use today. In fact, the library here in Bellingham uses it, and distant memories sometimes emerge when I'm roaming the library shelves.

And then in 1979 when I went to work for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, I was fortunate to become the assistant to Mickey Glantz, who mentored me from lowly secretary to a salaried writer/editor, over the course of thirty years. I helped him with every aspect of book publishing. Over the years we published more than a dozen books, mostly volumes of edited papers from scientists. It may seem curious to some people, but one of my favorite things to do was to create an index at the end, containing names and topics that would be of interest to the reader. Not only did it give me the opportunity for one more detailed read, giving me a chance to catch errors, I also enjoyed the task. A scientific book is immeasurably enhanced by a good index.

And now, here I am in my retirement years, and fortunately for me, the world has evolved enough so that it's possible for me to keep my hand in the publishing world through my blogs. Being a creature of habit, my Sunday morning always begins with this post, and I usually have a topic in mind before I start, but it's fun to just let whatever is on my mind come to the surface. Once I've got a first draft on the page, I'll read it over and make adjustments, usually additions and deletions as my mind goes off in another direction than where I originally intended to go.

Once I finish Mary Roach's book, I have four more standing by, waiting for me to give them my attention. Two are from the library, and two are ones I purchased at our local independent bookstore. Oh, and I have two more on my Kindle that I downloaded because they caught my eye for some reason or another. Recently I've gotten interested in reading memoirs and just finished one by Liz Murray, about her journey from being a homeless teenager to Harvard graduate. There is an entire universe to discover out there, through books. I cannot imagine my life as a non-reader.

It reminds me of the importance of taking care of my eyesight, which gives me the opportunity to read. When I spend too long in front of the computer, or staring at the written page, my eyes get blurry and need some time to recover. That is when something like an all-day-long hike comes in handy. I look out at the vistas, such as you see in that first picture, and gaze at the beauty all around me. And I'm in the company of other like-minded elders, who enrich my life with their adventures and memories, as well.

Yes, life is pretty good right now. And once I finish this post and publish it, I'll hop out of bed and make my way to the coffee shop. I've got a 9:00am yoga class, which I look forward to all week, and then I'll enjoy the rest of my day until I fall into bed. With a book, of course.

Until we meet again next week, I hope you find at least one good book to keep you company. Be well and don't forget to give yourself some appreciation. You deserve it; we all do.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Once upon a time

Mama and me long, long ago
That phrase, "once upon a time" reminds me of the beginning line of fairy tales. I just read that it's been used in English since the 16th century, so I guess I'm not alone in remembering it with such fondness. In this picture, taken so long ago, I can look at it and wonder about those two long-ago people: mama and me.

I thought about her yesterday, since it would have been her birthday. Mama was born on July 30, 1923, and became a mother when she was nineteen. That makes the picture more than seventy years old. I'm sure it was taken by Daddy with his camera and preserved on Kodachrome, which shows Mama's beautiful long red hair, and my own blond baby locks. She used henna to bring out the natural auburn highlights in her hair. I remember when she would put what looked like mud onto her hair and wrap it in a warm towel, not forgetting to smear her eyebrows, so she looked fearsome to me, not knowing why she was doing it.

I've noticed that I remember things from my past that caused me to feel either fear or excitement, which helped the memory form permanently in my brain. I think of all the moments that have passed into oblivion because nothing caused them to stand out. I'm grateful for those moments that I still remember to this day. I have many fond memories of my childhood.

Probably one of my earliest memories came from a time when we had just moved to Puerto Rico. Daddy was stationed at Ramey Air Force Base, and we lived just a few blocks from the Caribbean Ocean. My parents must have taken me down there for the first time, and I saw a rather large crab walking on the sand in front of me. I was terrified, watching it scuttle sideways with its claws out and eyes on stalks. I started to cry, and realized that I had paid so much attention to the creature that I lost sight of my mother, which made me cry even harder. That memory comes back to me in technicolor, and I still see that crab in my mind's eye. Of course Mama came to find me, but my terror caused that moment to become a strong memory that stayed with me.

Even though we moved a lot during my childhood, I felt safe and protected because of my parents. Norma Jean and I had a rather idyllic childhood, I realize now, and most of my memories are good ones. Of course, there must have been moments when things were not so wonderful, but they are gone into the past, unretrievable because they didn't make an impression. That's just fine with me.

Norma Jean and I were as close as sisters ever are, and most of my childhood memories are shared with her. Sometimes we will talk about those times together, since we are the only ones still alive who remember them. And it always amazes me how differently we remember the same event. It makes me realize that memories are unique and probably bear little resemblance to actuality. Does it matter? I don't think so: I cherish the memories of my childhood and am glad that they are infused with happiness and feelings of being loved and safe.

How different the world is today. It's been a long time since that idyllic picture was taken, and now we have instantaneous communication across the globe. When something happens in (for example) France, I know about it immediately. And the sense of safety that I had growing up is completely gone; now I am cautious and worried when I see anything out of the ordinary. It must be very hard these days to give a child the same sense of security that I took for granted when I was young. But it's still possible; I see how my young friend Leo's parents shelter him from the news of world disasters. I was standing in line at the coffee shop behind Leo's mom after the Orlando shootings and started to talk about it with her, but she stepped between me and Leo and shushed me. I realized that she didn't want him to know about it. I stopped immediately but also thought about how difficult it must be to protect him from knowing about these awful events.

But as a child, what is most important is that you feel safe in your world, and events far away mean little. What was happening in the world when that picture was taken meant nothing to me. The Second World War was going on, with all the horrors that brought, but I knew nothing about it. Of course, we didn't have the instant communication of today's world, which made it easy to think that what was happening in my little sphere was universal. Not today.

I just went over to check on the news, which I do these days with trepidation. What awful event has happened while I slept? I see that there have been more shootings and that a hot-air balloon caught fire and went down in Texas, killing everybody aboard. The media capitalizes on these events and ignores all the good things that happened yesterday, because it's not news. I wonder how in the world I would protect a child from upsetting world events if I were trying to do it today. It would become harder and harder, the older they get.

Then again, the world of today is probably normal for most children. They have grown up with tablets and iPads and smartphones surrounding them. What is probably more important is the attitude of the adults in their lives. It makes me happy to see young people enjoying life and learning all the things that each of us still must learn to become responsible adults. That's going on around me in such abundance that I should concentrate on the positive aspects of life, rather than worry and fret about that over which I have no control.

I suppose it's inevitable as I grow older that I long for times gone by, thinking about "once upon a time" rather than looking for ways to distract myself from the ills of the world, which inundate me every time I open the news. Maybe that's what people are doing when they are playing something like Pokémon Go, the latest craze that I know nothing about. It's all over the news. Here's an excerpt from that link:
It quickly became an overnight global phenomenon and one of the most used mobile apps, reportedly having been downloaded by more than 75 million people worldwide. It was credited with popularizing location-based and augmented reality gaming.
I kept hearing about it, and I've seen people walking in groups down the street, looking at their smartphones, and I learned from Wikipedia that they are playing the Pokémon Go game. No, I'm not even tempted. I'm much more likely to pick up a new book or watch a series on Netflix than I am to spend time staring at my phone. I am curious to know whether any of my readers knows anything more about this phenomenon than I do.

Whatever. Today's world is a scary place, and if some people enjoy the distraction of playing games on their phone, who am I to object? We all have our coping mechanisms, and I have mine. I am currently reading a memoir that I'm enjoying very much: Breaking Night by Liz Murray. She was living on the streets at the age of fifteen but turned her life around and made it into Harvard. She's a good writer, too.

I did also want to say something about another coping mechanism of mine: my yoga classes. After I finish this post and stop at the coffee shop to visit my friends and quaff my espresso, I'll head to my Sunday morning yoga class with Laifong. I leave there each Sunday morning feeling terrific, as well as a little bit sore. She's teaching us very slowly how to get into a shoulder stand, using props such as a chair and wooden blocks. Fortunately for me, I am neither the oldest nor the most inflexible student in her class. I'm also learning some balancing poses. There was a time when all the stuff we're doing was easy for me. But that was then, and this is now, and I'm thrilled to be doing as well as I am. It sure helps to have a caring teacher.

Well, that is going to wrap it up for me this morning. I keep looking at the time and thinking about where I will be in two hours, and all that needs to happen between now and then. I hope you will have a wonderful week until we meet again. That said, with John F. Kennedy's immortal words, I'll close this post:
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. 
I don't want to miss out on the future!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Growing old together

Mt. Baker from High Divide last week
I just spent a half hour looking for the right picture to put at the top of my post, and I should remember that it's dangerous to do that, since I can get lost in my memories as I peruse them all. That's exactly what happened, and these days I must remember that the yoga class at 9:00am restricts me from sitting around for too long before writing this.

We Senior Trailblazers had a wonderful time last Thursday, when I took that picture during our lunch stop. I'm still feeling the effects of all that effort in my legs; we old folks climbed more than a thousand meters (3,600 feet) to get to that spot. But we did it, every one of the fourteen of us. The youngest hiker is in her mid-sixties, and the oldest a decade older. Almost everybody is over seventy.

It's been eight years since I started hiking with this group, and we've covered an incredible amount of terrain. I've worn out at least five pairs of boots and have gone through several iterations of backpacks to carry my essentials with me. It's been awhile since I started using a hydration pack and now consider that one of my essentials. It gives me the ability to sip water continuously, rather than waiting for one of our infrequent stops. Between having snacks handy and the water, I can manage to keep going and hope that I have many more years to enjoy the outdoors with my friends.

But that is not guaranteed, is it? The people I hike with have changed over the years, with some people no longer hiking because of injury or illness. It's what happens when you are hiking with a group of elders. But we keep on going, and it gives me an incentive to stay in shape so that I can enjoy this activity for as long as possible. I had quite a scare in the springtime when one of my knees simply refused to work. Limping around, unable to climb or descend stairs, I was afraid that it was over, that my hiking days were behind me. But the knee gradually improved, and I am happy to say that my knees successfully carried me up and down all that distance this past week without complaint. They were both braced and the trekking poles were essential, but I did it.

Tomorrow my sister Norma Jean has another birthday. She and I have been growing old together, although mostly from a distance. We still spend some time on video chat together a couple times a month, but she's got her busy life and I've got mine. I cannot imagine my life without her in it, though; we are both now in our seventies and still doing everything we can to keep ourselves healthy. We are both obsessive exercisers and eat as well as we can for health. When we talk, it's rarely about our aches and pains (although there is that), but how we have been spending our days.

Yesterday I watched an interesting movie on my laptop. I've got Amazon Prime and it reminds me of new movies that come available. Last year I almost saw The Age of Adeline when it was in the theaters, but when I saw the premise I decided to skip it. The story is about a woman (Blake Lively) who has an accident that stops her from aging. She stays 29 years old and has to change her identity every decade to keep people from realizing that she's not changing. When she is over a hundred years old, another accident makes her normal again.

The movie isn't really memorable, but I found the premise interesting, and the acting was really good. I wasn't familiar with Blake Lively, but she plays the part very well, and I enjoyed it. What it also did was got me thinking about what it would be like if I were able to stay young while everyone around me continued to age. The movie did a good job of showing how miserable and lonely an existence it would be. Ellen Burstyn plays her daughter, one of the few who know her secret. To have an elderly woman (Ellen) calling this young-appearing woman mama was truly disconcerting.

When I realized that the one thing she would never be able to experience is growing old together with a loved one, it made me again thankful for the time I have with my friends and family, those moments that come for a brief instant and then move on. Sometimes the passage of time is imperceptible. Then I see a picture of myself as a young woman and remember that I was once very different from the person I am today. When did my hair turn white? It was a strand at a time, never noticing the process much, until one day it no longer had any brown in it at all. The imperceptible process of aging will continue in me and in my loved ones until something will remind me of how changed we are today from a decade ago.

There is no reason to try to hang onto youth. What that movie reminded me is that life must move on from the present moment in order to be worthwhile. It is dynamic and not static. To be unchanging in a changing world wouldn't be much fun, and yet we all think we are just the same today as we were yesterday. Perhaps the inevitable birthdays and pictures from years past are the keys to remaining aware of this precious moment, this one right here where I sit in my bed, creating a post in a time I've set aside for this task. I'm breathing in and out and will soon finish and will rise up out of bed to experience the summer day.

A season lasts three months, and we have four of them in each year of our lives. This summer season is almost to the halfway point, and then we will begin to move towards autumn, and the leaves on the trees will change color and fall to the ground. We are truly fortunate to be able to experience all the seasons to remind us of the many cycles we pass through during our journey through life.

My latest journey, the one where I get to be elderly, is so far pretty darn good. I'm growing older with my partner, who shares the journey with me, and my family and friends as well. As is true with most things in life, there are ups and downs: periods of calm reflection, along with periods of upsets. We always get to choose what we focus on, even if we aren't able to manage the particulars of our daily lives.

Oh, and there's one other partner with whom I share this ride: you, my dear reader. We've got each other's backs. I hope you will come again to share this time with me, but today, it's time already to move from this present moment into the day. I hope you will be well and spend some time thinking about the journey we share until we meet again.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Taking a larger view

From Astronomy Picture of the Day
Since I wrote here last Sunday, more awful events have transpired in the world: first the horrific attack in Nice and then the bloody failed coup in Turkey, where I walked the streets a year ago and interacted with the wonderful people of Istanbul. As is probably true with many of my readers, I had just begun to pick myself up from despair and sadness of the previous week. Then I was cast down once again because of what we just went through.

It's time for me to take a longer view,and expand my horizons. That picture at the beginning of my post thrilled me, when I saw the moon, and behind it Jupiter and four of its moons. In order, you are seeing Callisto, Ganymede, Jupiter, Io, and Europa, peeking out from behind the crescent of our  own moon. You can read more about it on the link from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Every morning, part of my routine is to read the blogs I follow that have popped up in my news reader, take a quick look at the news, visit Facebook if I have the time, read my emails, check the weather, and look at APOD. Only then do I close the laptop and get up to start my day. My friends smile at my need for routine, but they are all pretty used to it by now. As I sit here on Sunday morning, which is the only day that I actually write a post before I get up, my partner is sleeping soundly next to me, with a dim light on the end table next to me, which also holds my tea and the latest book I'm reading. It's very quiet, and it seems like I'm the only person stirring in the entire surrounding area. My fingers tapping the keys is the only sound I hear. This is my favorite time of the day, when I'm up and everybody else is still asleep.

For other people, like SG, his favorite time is at night when he's up and everybody else has gone to bed. Both of us enjoy these moments of solitude, because we also have each other and active lives the rest of the day. Sometimes I'm aware of when he comes to bed, but mostly I simply find him sleeping next to me when I get up to use the bathroom.

Yesterday morning when I met my lady friends for a couple of trips around Lake Padden, we were all feeling the need for companionship and sharing. I was relieved to find that I was not the only one in a fragile emotional state. Many of us came because we knew that exercise would help us get through our grief. And sure enough, when we were finished we all felt much better and were able to go into our day with a lighter heart. Our leader, Cindy, is traveling at the moment but she has still given us a schedule to follow on Saturday mornings while she is away. She's in Iceland right now, and when she returns from her travels she intends to get another spaniel puppy. It's been long enough since she lost her sweet Luna to old age and cancer that she's ready to begin again.

People who love animals always need to say goodbye to them long before they want to, even when they are long-lived, they don't have life spans that correspond to our own. My friend Gene still misses his parrot three years after it died. He had that parrot for 25 years. I remember watching Poopstain crawl inside his shirt and settle in for a nap on his chest, and I was amazed to watch how that parrot had trained Gene so well. We still gain so very much from our interaction with our pets, and I do occasionally miss having one these days. But the other side is the freedom from caring for them and not having to say goodbye way too soon. When I talk to my sister Norma Jean, she never fails to tell me of the latest antics of her dog Icarus. She got him as a puppy, and he's now five. How quickly that time passed!

Yesterday I decided to pick up a book that would be uplifting, and I was fortunate that several books had come from the library this week. After perusing them all, I started to read Bill Bryson's latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling. It's a sequel to "Notes from a Small Island," written in 1995, both about being an American in Britain. That link takes you to Goodreads, and several commenters seem to dislike the latest book because they are comparing it to the first one. Since I didn't read the first, I came to the book with little expectation. I've spent quite a lot of time laughing, sometimes out loud.

Bryson is 64 and has written several nonfiction book that have been very well received. I've only read A Walk in the Woods of his previous books, a story about his trek on the Appalachian Trail, and I enjoyed it very much. More than the movie, I must say. But in this current book, he comes across very much as a curmudgeon, a grumpy old man who finds fault with pretty much everything, but in a very humorous way. Here's an excerpt:
The worst part about aging is the realization that all your future is downhill. Bad as I am today, I am pretty much tiptop compared with what I am going to be next week or the week after. I recently realized with dismay that I am even too old now for early onset dementia. Any dementia I get will be right on time. The outlook generally is for infirmity, liver spots, baldness, senility, bladder dribble, purple blotches on the hands and head as if my wife had been beating me with a wooden spoon (always a possibility) and the conviction that no one in the world speaks loud enough.
I laughed out loud when I read that, because I can relate completely to what he's saying. And he's ten years younger than me. It's possible he is exaggerating, but then again, maybe not. His take on the world involves large doses of humor about things that are perhaps not to one's liking. It's a good way to approach the world today, in my opinion.

One of my blogging friends, Ronni of Time Goes By, posts on Saturday about things she calls "interesting stuff." Yesterday she posted a wonderful video about fireflies. I've never lived anywhere that has them, so I was really intrigued by this particular view of a rather magical creature. Not to mention that it's also very soothing and gives yet another view of this beautiful, wonderful world in which we live. It's just a little more than two minutes long. The music is lovely, too.

And with that, another post has been written. I hope that when you are finished, you will feel a little lighter in spirit than when you began. That was my intention, anyway. Please remember to look around at the beauty of the world and think of all that gives you pleasure. And when we meet again next week, I'm hopeful that many wonderful adventures will have taken place in our lives. Be well until then.