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 23, 2015

Sunday morning musings

Red arrow shows Puget Sound area
Yesterday morning that smoke plume from the eastern side of Washington state reached us in the Puget Sound area. Bellingham is right above the red arrow, almost at the border, so you can see that we were clear as a bell until around noon, when suddenly the sky turned hazy and blocked out quite a bit of sunlight. I have been watching the news and worrying about people caught in the wildfires that are burning our state right to the ground. Several towns have been evacuated, and places I've hiked in past years are simply charred wastelands today.

This is the worst year for wildfires in the history of Washington state, exacerbated by the incredibly dry spring and summer that has allowed our usually verdant landscapes to turn brown and easily catch fire. I keep hoping for rain, but even though the weather forecast shows a bit in the future, by the time we get there it's all gone, nothing. Last weekend it rained about an inch in Seattle, but we didn't get hardly any, and on the eastern side of the state, they only got lightning that sparked more fires. It's so depressing that I'm going to stop watching the news for awhile. After all, what can I do about it?

Yesterday morning I went walking with the ladies on the trail on the north shore of Lake Whatcom, the level of which is lower than usual because of the drought, and the trail is also very dry. It's a six-mile hike, three miles out and back, and because I wore my sneakers I ended up getting quite a few rather large pebbles in my shoes. I stopped before we turned around and shook them out. I was tying my shoes when they started back, and I had to run to catch up. Well, instead of catching up, I caught my shoe on a rock and fell, quite hard, on the trail. Ouch!

I hit with my left knee first, which took the brunt of the fall, then the other knee, my right elbow and left hand, and last of all, my chin. I laid there, stunned, for a minute, while several of the ladies turned around and hurried over to assist me. I was most worried about my left knee, which hurt so bad at first that I could hardly stand it, and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to walk the three miles out. I shakily stood after a few minutes, and one person washed the gravel out of the elbow, which is the only thing that ended up bleeding. Another fashioned a walking stick out of a branch, and I began the trek back to the cars, limping a little with the knee sending me little twinges of pain. The adrenaline helped, since I was still in a bit of shock, I guess, but I made it out, with several impressive wounds to display to the rest of the group when we saw them in the parking lot.

Once I got home I put an Ace bandage on the knee and realized that it was the only real injury, with the rest just scrapes. I even went to the movies in the afternoon with my friend Judy, able to drive my manual transmission car with little problem. It does help to be in shape, because I realized that the surrounding muscles helped me lift the knee with only a little pain.

My elbow and chin hurt this morning, but when I carefully put my feet by the side of the bed and went to stand up, I noticed that I'm better, that I'm going to be just fine once a few days pass. The left knee will also display some very impressive colors, since the hematoma that formed afterwards has already begun to dissipate. I can walk, I can even make my way down stairs with the help of a handrail. Going up isn't a problem, but going down I cannot manage without a handrail to help.

As you can imagine, yesterday's fall is pretty much on my mind along with the smoky atmosphere from the wildfires, but I sure don't want to spend this entire post in a state of lamentation. After all, in the scheme of things, I've got it pretty darn good. When I read on the news about the refugees on the border of Macedonia being turned back by tear gas, I was aghast at how terrible it has become in so many places in the world. And here I am moaning about a fall. No, I will turn my attention elsewhere.

Today I will visit my friend John's home for the first time. He's the one who had the double knee replacement back in December, and we became friends when he started hanging out at the coffee shop. I visited him several times in the nursing home while he was rehabilitating, and in return he's given me plenty of produce from his garden, starting with rhubarb this spring and this summer's sweet corn has been endless. He's going to have a barbecue with lots of his friends and is providing grilled salmon for me, since everyone else will be eating steak, I guess. I'll take pictures and we'll have a wonderful time, and I'll be able to display my injuries in order to receive plenty of sympathy.

And then there's my latest grand-niece, Alicia, who is growing up so fast! She was born the end of February, so she's about six months old now, and my sister Norma Jean is completely smitten. She sends me pictures and videos of her (not nearly enough), and I look and look at this beautiful life that has just begun.
Alicia at six months
Although I haven't met her yet, I can hardly wait! She's a beautiful child, and Norma Jean never fails to tell me how exceptional she is, how alert and perceptive. Look at those sparkly eyes: how could anybody not love this beautiful baby? And when I think of the improbability of her existence, being an IVF baby with donor sperm and donor egg, I am again thankful that I have lived to see the emergence of this technology. Although she is not related to me by blood, and for that matter is not even related to her mother by blood, what possible difference could that make in my ability to love her to pieces?

Now that she lives close to Norma Jean, I'll be able to see her plenty when I next visit. That should be sometime this fall. When Norma Jean and I talk next, I'll nail down the time of my visit and make the plane reservations. Then I'll have that visit to look forward to. In the meantime, I will simply enjoy knowing that Alicia is in my universe.

And today I'll make every effort not to eat and drink too much at the barbecue, so that when I hobble out of bed tomorrow morning, I won't have to wince when I step on the scales. I've been managing to keep my weight from going up by the simple habit of checking each morning. If the number ticks up, I eat less during the day and if it's down, I indulge and the process starts all over again! I'm feeling ever so much better now than I did when I started this post, so it's been successful in giving me a better start to the day.

Hopefully you will not be taking any spills yourself, and hoping that you will be able to have lots of laughter and fun during the next week. I'm a little later than usual getting this post done, since I slept in a bit after yesterday's adventure. I really do find that a little introspection can be a tonic for an unsettled mind, and that's just what this post has been. Be well, my dear friends, and I'm trusting that all of us will be healthy and happy until we meet again next week.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Time traveling

Mountains from Canyon Ridge last Thursday
I woke up in the middle of the night with this Bob Dylan phrase in my head:
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now
 And of course since we live in the internet age, I was able to find all the lyrics to the entire song, one called "My Back Pages" on an album I must have heard ages ago. I know I smiled when I heard that phrase, because it reminded me of how much I thought I knew once long ago, before it became obvious that the young pedantic girl who thought she knew everything would be learning life's hard lessons.

I remember sitting at the dinner table (before I left home at eighteen) and imparting to my parents some piece of knowledge that I thought they didn't already know, thinking it was my duty to enlighten them. Oh, I was definitely so much older then. Today I realize how very little I really know about life and about love. I know I loved my parents very much and when I let myself, I can miss them both terribly. It's been decades since we sat around that table and now I only have the remembrance of those long-ago days.

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the day my son Chris died. I thought of him often during the day, remembering him as a young boy and also as a grown man. He had left the country when he joined the Army and had married and settled down in Germany, so I hadn't seen him for a couple of years when he died of a heart attack. I traveled there for the funeral and saw him one last time in a glass-covered casket, dressed in his uniform. It took more than a year before any other images of Chris would surface when I thought of him, but today I only remember the good times we had together, and the images of him as a child stand out in memory. He was a beautiful person, and every once in awhile he still visits me in my dreams. He always appears as a boy around ten or so, just before puberty, and there are times when we spend what seems like hours together on some adventure or other. Those dreams make me feel as though he's close by, easy to reach across the veil.

Although the passage of time is so incremental that change doesn't often show itself on a daily basis, as I've grown older I see the wisdom in keeping photographs that allow me to mark the changes in my loved ones and in myself. Not that I need all that much reminding about my own personal aging process, since it's obvious that the young girl I once was is no longer present. There is something very different about having turned seventy; there is no longer even a little bit of that young girl hanging around. It's perfectly okay to have become invisible when I walk down the street, no longer an object of youth and beauty. I don't miss it, but sometimes my eye alights on a young beautiful creature and I remember that I was once like that too. I can delight in the youth and beauty of others and feel glad.

There is a sense of self-consciousness that has also left, along with my youth. When I was growing up, I suffered from stage fright and simply hated to be forced to stand in the front of the class and be singled out from the others. Just thinking about it makes my cheeks turn red and I can feel the sense of dread that I felt. But somehow or other, that changed as I grew older. As an instructor for several years, I remember wondering at the beginning if I would be able to teach without embarrassment, but I learned that if I had knowledge to impart that was necessary for the student to learn, there was no fear at all. I suppose that if I were not prepared for it, and for some reason I was singled out in a classroom setting today, it might return, but I wonder. I am still quite conscious of myself, but it's different now.

It's true that I expose my own personal self in ways I never thought I could, right here in this blog. I write about my innermost thoughts and feelings, my fears and joys, and there is no sense that someone might be able to hurt me with that knowledge. Of course, there are things I could write about that I choose not to, for the simple reason that I know that anybody in the world with this web address can read what I write here, and some people might be offended and choose to attack me because of my beliefs. I've seen it happen to others and I protect myself as well as I can from them by not writing about sex, politics, or religion. Although I don't at this time see a need to use it, I'm glad that Blogspot gives me the option to review comments before they are posted.

And about time traveling: when I think back just a decade or two ago about what I might have thought would become obsolete in today's world, I would have been completely wrong. The advent of the internet and the digital age has changed everything. I read recently that DVDs and CDs are soon to become a thing of the past, as we are moving towards streaming everything. Kodak and film cameras are gone, and encyclopedias and dictionaries are now on line. When I leave the house, I put a small computer called a smartphone in my pocket and have the entire digital world available to me as I walk around and carry out my daily life. What a world!

And back to the world around me. Now that I have traveled through time, I stop and look around: the laptop with its tapping keys as I write, the empty teacup beside me on the nightstand, and of course my dear partner still sleeping beside me. It's Sunday morning again, and here I am beginning my day with my only self-imposed task almost finished. I've returned to the present, and as I think of you, my dear readers, I am filled with a sense of joy and gratitude for the life I am able to live today, right here, right now. I know it will change, but for now, we are together. I give thanks every day for the chance to know you through this amazing exchange we are privileged to share. I send you my sincere wish for you to have a week filled with adventure and joy.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Random thoughts this morning

Mountain ash leaves loaded with moisture
I can't seem to get started on any sort of theme this morning, but I'm full of little random thoughts making their way from the dim corridors of my mind onto the printed page. Here's a smattering: I read a good book that I want to share; saw a movie yesterday that got me to thinking about the process of aging with its concomitant aches and pains and forgetfulness; enjoying some cooler weather and a bit of moisture; worrying over those three pounds that won't go away.

Now where to start? I have to remind myself that I'm not an accomplished writer trying to create the latest hit novel, but a blogger who set out to write down what's on her mind on Sunday mornings. I have to admit that sometimes I do hit a home run and I seem to resonate with lots of other like-minded people and it's tempting to try to do that every week, but I just can't. Today it will be more like a list, I fear. But at least it's real.

The book: Wesley the Owl. It's the story of a young biologist who adopted a barn owl who was a few days old and about the nineteen years they spent together. It's funny and sad and I earned a great deal about animal behavior when I read it. I was telling one of my friends about it while we drove to our trailhead last Thursday, and she told me about a presentation at the museum this coming Tuesday by Paul Bannick. He wrote a book in 2009 called The Owl and the Woodpecker, which is the basis for this talk, along with lots of his photographs. I decided to go and had to buy a ticket for it since it's expected to sell out.

The movie: yesterday I went by myself to our independent theater to see Mr. Holmes, a movie about Sherlock Holmes played by Ian McKellan in two time periods: when he is a very old man of 93, and earlier when he was in his sixties and had a case that causes him to retire from his profession. He wants to write it down to figure out what happened, but he cannot remember it. His memory comes and goes; he's in the later stages of senility. A quote from one of the reviews:
Mr. Holmes stands as yet another bravura performance on the actor’s lengthy resume, one that sees him digging into not only the Holmes mythology but also the inevitability of aging to find a keen intellect beginning to turn on itself, and what this would do to a man whose entire defining characteristic in life has been his mind. 
Yes, the inevitability of aging and a keen intellect beginning to turn on itself. I feel this myself, often not just when I've forgotten the name of something I should easily be able to recall, but when my mind doesn't behave properly. It's the little things that are the most disconcerting. In any event, the movie got me to thinking about this one-way street I'm traveling down, and how I can make the most of whatever time and cognizance I have left to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not thinking that I'll be moving into assisted living any time soon, but it's a definite direction and I'm taking notice.

And then there's the weather: I was so pleased to actually have cool damp weather to hike in on Thursday, and at this time of the year we are losing more than twenty minutes of daylight every single week. I can see the difference in the short week since I last wrote in here. The trees around us are already beginning to drop their leaves, which is a consequence of the extreme dryness of the past few months. We haven't had enough moisture to do much more than wet the ground, not enough to change our status of severe drought. People who have lived here their entire lives continue to remind me that they've seen nothing like this before. I can only hope it's an anomaly and not permanent.

And the final thing on the list: those three pounds I'd like to lose. I have gotten into the habit of weighing myself every morning, and I'm afraid to stop, since it does seem to keep the extra weight down at least a little. It makes me think about what I consume and gives me incentive to see the scales tip the right way. But it's certainly a battle that I'm not enjoying. I remember a few years ago when I lost fifteen pounds and found it easy to maintain the weight loss, but it's not so easy these days. If I didn't weigh myself daily, I fear that all those pounds would be right back on my hips. And I certainly don't want to diet but instead find a more reasonable way to keep myself on track. Diets just don't work for me; I lose the weight but then gain it back when I stop dieting. There must be a way!

I know I could say to myself, who cares about a few extra pounds around my middle except me? But I know that there is a healthy weight that makes me feel good when I dress in the morning, or there is that annoying muffin top creeping out above my waistband that makes me choose something else to wear, leaving me grumpy that my favorite pants don't fit. And in a few minutes I'll be facing those scales again, which will probably reflect that buttered popcorn I couldn't resist yesterday.

So these are the random thoughts that have plopped themselves out onto the laptop, but as I look around, nothing much has changed: my partner is still sleeping next to me, accustomed to the sound of the tapping of the keys; my tea is gone, and I'm feeling just the tiniest bit guilty for having indulged in this potpourri. I'm sure by next week I'll be more focused and hopefully this post won't cause my readers to desert me. Until we meet again next week, I do hope you have a wonderful, fulfilling week filled with love and laughter. That's what I'm hoping for myself, too.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lammas 2015

From this Wiccan website
When August begins, we reach the season of Lammas, or Lughnasadh (in Celtic), the festival of the first harvest. Traditionally, the first grain of the harvest is baked into loaves. Here in my little corner of Bellingham, we had a garden party yesterday, and some of the people who labored in our garden celebrated Lammas with a wonderful little gathering. One person brought a potato salad made with little red potatoes from her plot; another shared a fabulous blackberry cobbler made with blackberries picked from the bushes on the side of the back yard. I didn't cook but provided cold beer and rose lemonade all frosty cold from my new cooler. We feasted and laughed and made plans for next year's garden.

Keith provided two large tents for shade, which were perfect for the hot sunny day we had. The other thing that Lammas marks is the halfway point between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. That means the days are getting shorter and soon we'll have some respite from all this unaccustomed heat. Seattle has already had 12 days this summer at 90 or above, breaking the previous record of 9 days for the entire summer. Everything in my garden is pretty much done, except for the tomatoes, which are just beginning to turn! I've never been successful at growing tomatoes, other than small cherry tomatoes, but this year... I will have so many ripen all at once I'll have to figure out what to do with them all.

Lammas is also a time of reflection, when one realizes that everything changes and moves on. The days are perceptibly shorter, and I for one will be glad to see the endless sunshine and heat begin to moderate with fluffy clouds and some rain. I've definitely become a Pacific Northwesterner and feel irritable and uncomfortable with this hot, dry heat I associate with the desert. I keep looking at the forecast and every time there is a possibility of some precipitation, it dissipates as we get closer in time. But then again, heat is relative. We are not quite reaching 90 degrees here in Bellingham, and I read that in Iran this week the heat index reached an incredible 165! That is a temperature of 115 with a dew point of 90 -- off the charts. At least it cools off at night here to a tolerable level, which is not happening over there.

Okay, enough about the weather. It's on my mind a lot because I'm such a wimp about the heat. There are other things going on. Last week I went to Seattle to see the Broadway play Wicked with my friend Judy, and now I've started to read the book on which the play is based. So far I am enjoying it even more than the play, and I did enjoy that very much. It's based on a different view of the world of Oz and tells much more about how the Wicked Witch of the West got so, well, wicked. The book supposedly gives the reader some perspective on the nature of good and evil. I've only just begun.

I like to think of myself as being a good person, and I try to live my life that way. But I know that when I read about someone who is really evil, I can easily get into that headspace and understand why someone might be twisted by circumstances and is really no different from me at all. But I do believe that when confronted with a situation that gives me a choice to make, I'll choose the path of the least harm to me and those around me. Is that my nature or am I conditioned by my past experiences? I get angry sometimes, but I realize that I don't naturally take it out on others. Some people seem to need to externalize their anger onto those around them. I try to stay away from that sort of person, but sometimes we cross paths.

Is the world becoming more angry in general? I know that as an American, I  am dismayed by the bellicose stance we seem to have taken in much of the world these days. It wasn't always that way; I remember when we were coming out of World War II it seemed like Americans were the good guys in everybody's eyes. But that was more than half a century ago, and things change. We move on from who we once were into who we are now. Once upon a time I was a young woman with my whole life ahead of me; now I look at the world knowing that there are not many more years when I will be around. My mother used to say that she was glad she was old because she wouldn't have to experience the worst effects of our present trajectory. I'm beginning to understand what she meant.

Sometimes I am dismayed by the news of the day: climate change, water shortages and drought, floods and tornados wreaking havoc, and worst of all, shootings and bombings of innocents by extremist elements. But then I realize that our media considers all that stuff to be the only newsworthy information to be shared. Surely all over this planet there are good stories to balance all that negativity. But perhaps that's not considered interesting. Well, I certainly seek out stories that uplift me rather than bring me down. Sometimes I take a news fast, which seems to be the only way I've discovered to help me gain some perspective. For the next few days or so, I'll be lost in the world of Oz and contemplating the nature of good and evil, it seems. I'll check the weather, hoping for rain, but otherwise stay away from news shows. Do you have a technique for attitude adjustments?

At the beginning of this harvest season, I've got a smidgen of optimism that fall is not that far away, and that a change in the weather will bring a change in my outlook, knowing that I will move away from pessimism and once again enjoy the beauty of life, my surroundings, and especially my network of friends and family. There is so much to be thankful for, and all I need is to count my blessings, right? Let's see: I'll begin right here, with you, my dear readers, and I am looking forward to reading your comments and enjoying the company of the blogosphere.

I have never met most of you, but you have definitely taken residence in my heart. I look forward to your blogs, seeing what you're doing, what is on your mind, and taking a peek into your world through your writing and pictures. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found you, and I open my Reader wondering who I'll be visiting today. After I finish this post, I'll take a look. I wanted to get this written before I did anything else this morning. And what do you know? It's done! Be well and take care until we meet again next Sunday morning.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sleeping on the ground

My tent without the rain fly
Last Wednesday night I was reminded of an adventure I used to enjoy, before I started skydiving and everything else faded into the background. I was a backpacker and explored many Colorado trails, both with others and also by myself at times. I even had a five-day solo trip I took in the summer, packing in over a pass and making a loop, coming out over another pass. It was around forty miles in total. These days I wouldn't even think of doing something like that, but it was long ago.

It had been so long since I camped out I didn't even remember how to set up my old tent. Frankly, I have forgotten when or where I bought this tent, but it's a good one and has been used many times. With Carol's help, we figured out how to set it up, and as we worked, it all came back to me. I didn't put the rain fly on it (it's that blue plastic lying on the left), because I wanted to see the stars and let the air flow through as well. Since we were car camping, I could take whatever I wanted, so I brought along an extra blanket in case my sleeping bag wasn't enough. I didn't need it, but that teddy bear doubles as a pillow for me, and I put him in the front window to guard everything from intruders. Linda and Ward's dog Riley was a little wary of him.

The orange thing in the middle is my inflatable Therm-a-rest mattress. Back when I bought it, they came in long or short versions. This is the short one, since I was looking for the least weight to carry. It's only inflated a small amount, just enough so that when you lay down on it, it conforms to your body's contours and keeps you from feeling the ground. They don't even make these any more, but I find it to be the lightest and most comfy (that's a relative term) pad I've used over the years. I wasn't sure that it would be appropriate for a septuagenarian, but it was. If I were starting over and not needing to worry about backpacking it in, I'd buy one of their suspended ultralight cots like this one. But it makes little sense for me to spend a couple hundred dollars on something I will use so seldom.

But who knows? Now that I've stopped skydiving, maybe I'll take up car camping and explore the wonderful wilderness campgrounds in this part of the country. It was my first time in one of them last week, and I was very impressed with how well kept the campgrounds are, and I realize that there really is nothing to keep me from it. I was quite comfortable last Wednesday night, and I slept like a log, waking a couple of times during the night but once I turned over I went right back to sleep. One thing I noticed is how quiet it was. Although I am not conscious of all the sounds you hear inside a house, once I was disconnected from any electronics, it was incredibly quiet. At least until the birds began their morning songs at 4:00am. It was fun.

The routine of breaking down the camp the next morning, after breakfast but before our hike, brought back many memories of times and places where I'd performed those same rituals. Once I started skydiving, I would go to many week-long events (known as boogies) where skydivers from all over the world would gather to jump together, with lots of specialty aircraft as well as the two most popular ones, Twin Otters and Skyvans. The Skyvan has a rear exit, so that instead of climbing outside the door to exit, you just jump off the end, like you were jumping into a pile of leaves. But instead of leaves, you jump into the air and then you play around until it's time to separate from your friends and open your parachute.

I would set up my tent in the designated area for tent camping, and then I'd spend the entire day jumping with my friends. They would have organizers to get people together to make skydives, and I'd make five or six in one day. I paid for a professional packer so I didn't have to pack up my main parachute each time, or I would be limited to maybe three in one day before I'd be worn out. They have showers and places to eat right at the Drop Zone, so I'd spend a week without ever needing to leave. It was glorious, and just thinking about those days brings back such memories.

One day right at sunset, I was packing up my tent at the end of the day, feeling a little sad about the boogie being over, having made thirty or so skydives and now it was time to leave, when I heard a low rumble in the sky. Oh! It was the flyover! Far off in the distance low on the horizon, I could see them coming: five aircraft, with the largest (a DC-3) in the lead, Twin Otters and Skyvans in formation beside it. And they flew right over my head at a VERY low altitude, the Drop Zone's way of saying thank you for a wonderful boogie. With the sunset in the background, and the planes overhead, I could not have been happier. That memory flooded back when I folded up my little tent last week, reminding me of days gone by.

Today I will join my friend Judy for a bus trip to Seattle to see Wicked, a Broadway play that is making the rounds in some of the larger cities this summer. Today is the last matinee performance before they pack it all up and head elsewhere. I'm looking forward to it very much. It's not like my life has become any less full because I've left skydiving behind, but it's different now. Everything has a time and place, and I'm rather proud that I was able to make the decision to stop on my own without it having been made for me, through injury or worse. I'll always have those 4,239 skydives in my logbooks to peruse if I need to be reminded how lucky I am. And I've still got my tent for new adventures.

Now I'll get up and start my day before driving over to Judy's to enjoy her company for the day, and a marvelous play as well! I'll let you know what I thought of it, next Sunday when we meet again. Until then, I wish you every good thing and loads of your own adventures. Sometimes I need to be reminded of how really fortunate I am, and when I think of you, my dear friends who are reading this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Be well until next week.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My sister Norma Jean

Norma Jean Stewart
I recently sent my sister Norma Jean a birthday card to celebrate her upcoming seventieth birthday. Before I write here again, she will join me, her older sister, in the dubious honor of marking the beginning of her eighth decade of life. I had found the most perfect card for her, which said that there are worse things than having a birthday: your mom could still be cutting your bangs! I looked for this picture but couldn't find it, so I sent one with my own bangs cut similarly by our mom. When she received the card, she sent this picture to me, saying "is this the one you were looking for?"

Norma Jean has always been blond. I love the way her braids and bangs are multicolored from the sun. She is wearing a coat and hat that Mama had made, one for each of us, out of burgundy corduroy fabric. I can still see those coats clearly in my mind's eye. Back in the days when we were small, we were often dressed alike, and it has always made me curious about whether it was just the times we lived in or whether Mama actually enjoyed dressing up her little girls.
Norma Jean and me
I know we were always together, even though two-and-a-half years separated us in age. And we have always been very different people. Recently I read an article disputing the adage that birth order affects siblings in a predictable fashion. (I just tried to find it but was unsuccessful.) I've often wondered if being the older sister made me naturally protective, or whether it is the reason I seem to be naturally bossy. I know that I have always been a risk-taker, and Norma Jean is naturally risk averse. That comes from our very different personalities, I think, nothing to do with birth order.

Nobody, least of all me, could have predicted our lives as they unfolded. Norma Jean met and married her husband, had two children, a boy and a girl, and stayed married until Pete died in February 2011. I also married and had two children, two boys, but both of them have died and I had three turbulent and rather disastrous marriages, before marrying again successfully at the age of fifty. Norma Jean has two grandchildren and I have none, but I enjoy hearing about their exploits from her, and I love to be around small children when I can give them back after awhile. My coffee shop buddies includes little Leo, who is now six, and I see him several times a week. He's not a morning person, though, and sometimes these days he doesn't want to talk or visit with me, but other times he's very gregarious. When he was younger, we played together daily.

I have other siblings, but because we were so close, I consider Norma Jean to be the sister of my heart. When her husband Pete died, I flew to Florida and spent three weeks with her, and at that time I realized that if life had turned out differently, we could have been the kind of sisters that end up together after our children and husbands were gone. Instead, I have a wonderful relationship with Smart Guy, my partner and life companion for the past quarter century. I visit my sister and we use video chat for a few hours every month to keep in touch. Her son Peter lives with her now, and just in the past few weeks her daughter Allison has moved nearby. This means that Norma Jean will see her grandchildren often. I'm sure that when I visit I will also get to spend time with them. Her life is full and she no longer needs any sort of protection from her big sister.

It's interesting to see how the tables have turned: I now get very anxious when for some reason we don't get to have our usual two-hour video chat. That family connection I derive from her is very important to me, and it's a rare day that I don't spend some time thinking about her, whether it's a memory from the past, or wondering how she's doing with various projects she's got going. Our connection fills a very definite need in my life. I'm so glad to have my beautiful sister in my life, and now that she is also turning seventy, we have seven decades of shared memories together. She has never known a world without her big sister, and I don't remember my world without her in it.

We now have the opportunity, I sincerely hope, to be old women growing older and sharing the trials and tribulations of aging with one another. She is as active as I am, swimming a mile five days a week, vigorous walking if she doesn't swim. She also takes one day off from exercise, as I do, unless of course she ends up playing golf with some of her friends in the 55-and-older community where she lives.

She is an avid reader, taking after our mother in that respect. Mama would go to the library and check out a box of books (a BIG box) and read every single one. Norma Jean reserves books online from the library that she wants to read or she downloads them to her Kindle. One of the things we both do is watch for books that we think the other would enjoy. She reads mysteries, which I don't, and I read science fiction, which she doesn't. But there have been many books over the past few years that we have both enjoyed very much. Right now I seem to be into memoirs, a genre we both enjoy. Finding a book to recommend to her is a pleasure. I wanted to give her one for her birthday that I particularly liked, but she told me to keep it, since she doesn't like to have actual books cluttering up her home; these days everything is either electronic or borrowed and returned to the library.

I realized just now that I am pretty much the same these days. I ordered and downloaded a book to my Kindle and have five books checked out from the library sitting next to my favorite chair. The only reason I have so many right now is that I put a hold on them and for some reason many of them will arrive at the library at the same time. Even my favorite independent bookstore, which I make an effort to support, now offers books electronically. They are a little more expensive than getting them from Amazon, but it's worth spending a little more to keep that store around. I had to download their electronic reader but it works quite well on my Kindle or iPad. How times have changed!

I marvel at how different the world will be for today's young ones who have never known a world without electronic gadgets. I do hope that actual books and libraries will survive this period, because there is nothing quite like holding a book in your hands, turning pages and getting lost in another place. But our world will continue to evolve and change. I just hope that I get to share it with my sister Norma Jean for a long time to come. Happy birthday!

And for the rest of you, my dear readers, I wish you a very full and happy week until we meet here again next week.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Learning to deal with loss

A type of spiraea flower, taken last Thursday
Although right now our forests are abnormally dry, there are still many beautiful flowers for us to enjoy, like these spiraea blossoms on the Yellow Aster Butte trail. If I hadn't seen this same trail many times before, I don't think I would recognize the extreme dryness that shows in the flowers or the trees in the distance. This is the third day since our heat wave broke, and the temperatures here in the lowlands have stayed in the normal category, in the low 70s. It's such a relief. But it's not even the middle of July, which begins our hottest time of the year. I feel such a sense of sadness that so many different places are feeling the effects of extreme weather. We have just been officially declared to be in a severe drought. I wonder how wildlife manages to cope with it. They must travel long distances just to find water sources.

There are several reasons that I decided to start with this topic: loss. The first is that yesterday I got on Facebook and learned that my nephew Joseph (he's the son of my late sister PJ) went to his father's home because his dad wasn't answering the phone and he got worried. He found his father lying on the kitchen floor, dead. Ken and my sister PJ had been divorced for a very long time, but I saw him last at PJ's memorial service last year. He looked the same, only much older.

For Joey (as he will always be known to me), he has now lost both his mother and his father before he turns fifty himself. I'm glad he is surrounded by family and friends who care for him,  because he will get over this with their help, and time. It's pretty shocking to discover someone you love who has died unexpectedly, I'm sure. It's never happened to me and I hope it never does. But I sure know how to deal with loss, which comes in many shapes and sizes during our mortal lives. Just getting older means having to deal with the loss of our youth, our mental and physical faculties, and as we age we deal with the loss of our parents and other older relatives. That's just in a normal life, but sometimes we must find ways to recover from other, more unexpected loss.

Last week I wrote about the importance of our social circles, the people we love and who love us. The downside to that is caring about the welfare of so many people, because they will continue to grow old, sicken and die, just like we will. I suppose that one reason why some of us decide to limit our interaction with other people is to minimize our losses. Then as we try to insulate ourselves from loss, we close ourselves up and make our lives miserable. I've seen that happen more than once. No, it's better to just take the pain and suffering, which is part of living anyway. I wonder if that is where hypochondria has its roots: hoping to be vigilant enough to catch something going awry in our body before it goes too far. Or maybe it's simply a way to occupy one's mind.

Dealing with loss is never something one gets good at, even though we have so many chances to practice. I am learning to find other things to do on the weekends, when it occurs to me that I would normally have been driving down to the Drop Zone. I realize that it was definitely the right time by the contentment I feel with my daily life, in spite of having quit that activity. I'm learning to take care of myself in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, back when I was a youngster of 65. There are times when I catch my reflection in a glass and don't immediately know who that person is. Time goes by, and those little imperceptible changes accumulate in a single instant of recognition.

There are even harder losses to deal with than those that come with the passage of time: loss of reputation, for instance. When someone does something despicable and thinks he got away with it and then is discovered (I'm thinking of Bill Cosby here), he must deal with the aftermath for the rest of his life. I am amazed at how some powerful people believe that they are above it all and can do what they want to others. Well, his legacy is gone forever. How very sad, all of it. Every one of us must find ways to deal with the loss of loved ones, but not many of us will walk in his shoes, thank heavens.

I saw a movie yesterday that got me started on this track, I guess: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It's a movie about a high school senior (Greg), his best friend Earl, and Rachel, a girl who develops leukemia and how Greg's mother forces him to become friends with Rachel during her chemotherapy treatments. It's an excellent movie, and there are plenty of laughs and poignant moments to appreciate. I walked out of the theater with tears in my eyes but so very glad to have seen it. I may watch it again. It's based on a book, so my next step will be to read it; I've put a hold on it at the library, but I'm #15 in line so it will be awhile. Often I do this: put a book on hold and then when enough time passes, I cannot remember how I heard of it. It's kind of a nice way to be surprised when I get a notice from the library that I've got a book waiting for me. And I usually enjoy them and even if I don't, I can just return them to the library unread. I do that, too.

For whatever reason, I'm filled this morning with rather strong emotions, feelings of loss and the passage of time, of those I have loved who are gone. I realize that their memory still lives within me, and thinking of someone I haven't laid eyes on for decades does not diminish their importance to me. In some ways, they are even more present. Sitting with an old picture and remembering when Mama and Daddy were young and vibrant, when I was a child, can feel joyful, if I let it and don't try to hang on to what was.

Mercy! Another post got written while I wasn't looking. Another Sunday has begun, and I have fulfilled the first task of the day. All is quiet outside; for some reason I don't hear any birds singing (oh, there they are), and I notice that we once again have overcast skies instead of unrelenting sunshine. It's not quite 7:00am in the morning, and this habit I have of sitting in bed while my partner sleeps next to me is so familiar and reassuring. I am remembering to notice all this, because there will be a day, hopefully far in the future, when this will be a memory, too. Until next Sunday, I wish you all happiness and that you, too, will be smiling many times between now and then.