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, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving week is here

Last Thursday's waterfall
Do you think of your week as starting on Sunday or on Monday? I pondered that question as I thought of the title for this post. I myself think of Sundays as the day that can easily belong to either end of the seven-day cycle. This coming Thursday will be Thanksgiving in the United States, and people are on the move. I am always amazed when I read about the huge numbers of people who travel during the holidays: this year, almost 47 million Americans will drive, fly, or take trains to another part of the country.

For many years after my dad died, I would travel to Texas or Oklahoma to visit my mother for Thanksgiving. When she died in 1993, I would travel to be with other family members who live in the area. I always stay with my brother and his wife when I visit, but lately my choice of family to visit are my sister and her family who live in Florida, as you know. I purposely traveled before the holidays to avoid the crowds, and boy am I glad I went when I did. I'm sure airline travel will be much more stressful, not just with the crowds, but also because of current terrorist events such as Paris, the airline bombing, Beirut, and Mali. My dear friend Vagabonde has written a wonderful post that says it all so much better than I ever could. She is a Frenchwoman who came to this country many years ago with her American husband. I've followed her long enough that she feels like a true friend. She has taught me so much about the history of France and much, much more. In that post she introduced me to a Latin phrase that has been a motto of France since the 16th century: Fluctuat nec mergitur, which translates as "tossed but not sunk."

Last week I had my introductory interview to decide whether or not to pursue the training to help others fill out their Advance Care Directive forms for end-of-life choices. I've decided to go ahead and do it and have agreed to give a few hours every month to that effort, once I'm done with the training. As I've learned, it's time to begin thinking about these things now, today, no matter how old or vigorous you are. Check out this website and Begin the Conversation. Here's a wonderful quote from that website:
End of life care planning requires filling out appropriate advance care documents, but conversation about these documents is key. Those chosen to carry out your end of life care wishes must know what you want. Documenting your end of life care wishes and telling others is a gift.
I also attended a presentation that was held in a packed room about the realities of advanced medical interventions. Two critical care ICU nurses, Cathy and Koala, decided it was an important thing to let people know. A year ago they held what they thought would be a one-time presentation. But the demand was so huge that they have held 19 more this year, and will continue for as long as there is interest. Some people have attended their presentations more than once, and I will probably be one of them. It was enlightening to find out what exactly happens in the Intensive Care Unit if you are admitted there. Scary, too.

It brought back to me in vivid detail the difference between the deaths of my father and my mother. Daddy had a massive heart attack while walking into the hospital. He collapsed in the entrance after having been driven there by Mama. A few days later, all six of his adult children had traveled from wherever we lived to Fort Worth, Texas, where he lay in a hospital bed. As I remember, when I saw him he was propped up with pillows and not laying down, but I first noticed how the pupils of his eyes were just little pinpricks. That was caused by the morphine he was being given. Otherwise he seemed like himself, but he didn't mince words and let us know this was the end by using phrases like, "I'm glad you got here before I popped off." He knew. He lived three days after the attack.

But back then there were no advance directives, and he was placed on a respirator, even though there was little to no chance that he would survive. I still get chills when I remember that experience, and now I know why. If I could go back and do it all over again, I'd make sure Daddy knew he didn't need to do it. If I can save even one patient from useless end-of-life measures, it will be worth my time.

What Cathy and Koala showed us was what the equipment looks like, how it is used, and why, and what the chances are of someone actually recovering enough quality of life to even be sent home, whether or not they are able to return to a normal life. It's a very small percentage, and the older we get, the smaller it gets. I'm talking single digits here. We saw a film that showed a man who was actually having a heart attack, and how he was resuscitated with CPR and electric shocks. He recovered, because he had two professionals who knew what they were doing right there with him when it began. He was very lucky.

Mama, on the other hand, had a severe heart attack and was able to return home and go onto Hospice, where she had a doctor and a nurse who made daily visits. She was given palliative care, made comfortable and able to stay at home. My sister Markee is a registered nurse, and she was able to leave her job and come to stay with Mama for a few weeks. We were all able to visit her and be with her in a quality way before she finally died. She was never put on any machines. She went into a coma a week before she died. I was with her when she took her last breath, and it was a peaceful experience for all of us who were present.

Death is a part of life that we don't like to think about, but it comes to us all. And today we all have the opportunity to decide how much we want our medical professionals to do to us to give us a chance to keep on living. And what that living actually looks like from an ICU bed. I've got my advance directive forms on file at the hospital, my partner knows what I want and I know what he wants. My sister Norma Jean laughingly said, "you mean I get to pull the plug?" when I asked her to be my secondary person.

It's amazing how empowering it is to take a hard look at one's end-of-life choices and actually make them. I know this isn't a normal Thanksgiving post, but frankly, I cannot tell you how thankful I am that I and my loved ones have options. I won't be kept alive when all I want to do is slip away gently, like my mother did. It takes some courage to think about these things, but it's truly a gift to your loved ones.

So I give thanks this week for my current health and vitality, knowing that it won't always be this way, but until then, I'm going to enjoy myself. I'll happily prepare a Thanksgiving meal here at home and enjoy every morsel. And I am also wishing you, my dear readers, will enjoy your week until we meet again, and wishing that you stay healthy and happy, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It's been a very full week

Me, Norma Jean, Zen and Icarus, taken by Peter
I arrived home late Wednesday after 15 hours of travel. It's always much longer when you have to take two planes, and I flew from Tampa to Minneapolis and from there to Seattle. Then a two-hour wait to catch the two-and-a-half hour shuttle to Bellingham. I was tired, but it was so nice to be in my own home with Smart Guy. He enjoyed his alone time; I knew he would, and I loved being with my Florida family. When I would doze off during my travel home, any woman's voice I heard sounded like Norma Jean to me. I miss her already.

We grew up together and even though as adults we have had long decades apart, she's my soul mate. She and I share memories that nobody else who is still alive shares; even though I have my other sisters and my brother, they are all much younger and weren't around when we were little. It always amazes me, though, how different our memories can be of the same time in our lives. As an extrovert (me) and an introvert (her), we see the world through very different lenses. And I am more than two years older as well. Still, she complements me and I feel complete when I'm with her.

We are both active people and have been for many years. Decades ago, when I would visit her, we would go for a run together with her dog Freckles. She'd take me on her usual runs, and when we visited our parents, we'd go out for a run in the Texas countryside. As the years have passed, we have both been forced to give up running, but we still walk together whenever we're together. This past week we walked around her retirement community, but mostly we swam at her local YMCA early in the morning, as soon as the pool opened. Once we got ready to swim, we stood inside the locker room and waited for the lifeguard to open the door. There were usually a few other regulars there, too, waiting. All older women who swim for fitness.

I suffer from ear wax buildup and when I swim, I try everything I can to keep the water out of my ears, so I wear ear plugs and a bathing cap, and it takes me a little longer to get ready, but it still didn't work: I got water in my right ear on the second day of swimming, and suddenly sounds dimmed and no matter what I tried, I couldn't clear my ear. This happened last time I visited, too, and I intended to bring my arsenal of tricks from home, but I forgot. I called my doctor's office to make an appointment to get my ears cleaned out, but I didn't want to miss my Thursday hike, so it had to happen this past Friday. It did, but I was moderately successful in the shower using my Rhino ear washer to remove the wax well enough that I could hear out of that ear again. After my doctor's appointment where her assistant used the same exact tool, I was really astonished at how much better I could hear. In fact, loud sounds startled me until I got used to my restored hearing. What a relief!

Yesterday morning I joined my walking group at Lake Padden for two loops around the lake (5.25 miles) in the rain. What a hardy group we are: ten of us showed up in our rain gear and gamely set out in less-than-perfect weather. In this part of the country, you take what you get and keep on walking. I was pleased that my new rain jacket works well, and before we had finished the first loop, the rain had diminished to practically nothing and I was able to tie it around my waist.

One of the ladies who lives nearby invited us over after the walk for coffee and scones. She lives in a lovely home just a few minutes walk away, so we headed over there instead of a coffee shop for a visit. She has a "mud room" right inside her front door, so we removed our shoes and slipped on some warm furry slippers that she keeps right there. She raised her kids in this home and told us how much the lake figured into their lives throughout the years. It reminded me of my parents' home in Lake Worth, where my younger siblings grew up, right on the lake, and what a big part of their lives it was. I was already grown and gone but visited there and was a little envious. When I was growing up we moved often and never had a permanent home.

By the time I returned home yesterday, the rain had started up again, so I was happy that I had gotten my exercise in the period between storms. Our hiking group was all ready to hike in the rain on Thursday, but during the six hours we were out, we only experienced the fierce wind that preceded it. The rain came later and hasn't really stopped yet. I see that one of our local rivers has reached flood stage, but it appears to have crested and with the rain winding down for a couple of days at least, it shouldn't be much of a problem.

Along with the rest of the world, I was glued to the television set on Friday evening watching the horror that unfolded in Paris. It was so unbelievable and horrible that I couldn't take it in. It's only Sunday and I'm still in shock: 129 dead and 99 critically injured. Coordinated attacks that were obviously designed to do exactly that: shock and terrorize Paris and the rest of the world too. My eyes fill with tears and my heart constricts when I think of it. People from fifteen countries were killed, and most of them young people who were enjoying themselves on a warm November night. I am heartbroken, because I don't know how we will be able to do anything. Martin Luther King once said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." How does one find anything to love in this nightmare?

I'm afraid that I will simply turn my head away and distract myself from it, because I don't know anything else to do. I know my country's actions are not blameless: drone strikes that kill innocent people, money and weapons sent to God knows where. I vote for those I think can make a difference, but I don't know what else I can do. I give money to organizations that promote peace, and I selfishly hope that I and my loved ones will escape the wrath of the perpetrators. And I try, really try, not to allow hatred and revenge to enter my heart. That's all I know how to do.

Monday I have my first interview to become an EOL (End of Life) facilitator. If they decide I am a good fit, I'll begin the serious training to be able to help others make their own EOL choices. I was so impressed with the help we received when making these decisions ourselves with the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement End of Life choices. Death comes to all of us, and now that my own documents have been notarized and filed with the hospital, and those who will make decisions for me if I am unable to do so myself have been identified, I'm relieved. Now I'm hoping I can do the same for others.

Well, this post didn't end up being very uplifting, but times are dark and uncertain right now, so I guess it's appropriate. I know that war and strife are part of life, and that I won't be seeing peace and harmony across the world during my lifetime, but I am hopeful that each of us individually can make a difference in our own lives. I cherish my blogging family, my physical family and friends, and I wish every one of us will enjoy some love and harmony this week. I wish you peace.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Florida musings

Lexie playing in the rain
While visiting my Florida family, I've been really suffering from the intense (and abnormal) heat here. Another day yesterday in the mid-nineties changed, finally, with a lovely rain storm. I was in Tampa and not at my sister's house when it began to rain. Hard rain, and Lexie, my grand-niece, ran outside to play in it. She stayed out for the entire time it rained, and then her mother (my niece Allison) changed her clothes and off they went to do some shopping. Norma Jean and I had been there most of the day, not only visiting with the two of them, but also with the newest addition to Allison's family, Alicia.

By the time the storm had passed and they left to shop, Norma Jean and I headed back home to Zephyrhills, about a 45-minute drive away. The entire atmosphere had changed after the rain. Everything sparkled and the oppressive heat was just gone. Funny how quickly I forgot about the heat and humidity, once it cooled off a little. Of course, I m a bonafide Pacific Northwesterner now, and Florida heat is not easy for me to love in any event. The heat wave is supposed to have broken today, and we should have more "normal" temperatures in the eighties rather than the record-setting heat of the past week or so. I have three more days here before heading back home.

I'm not ready yet to leave, even with the heat. I've enjoyed every little drop of time with Norma Jean, although we use video to "see" each other twice a month, it's not the same as being with her. And I've been enjoying the solicitous attention to our meals that her son Peter lavishes on her daily. He loves to cook, and he makes wonderful salads for each of us, beautifully presented and never the same thing twice. Tonight he will cook for all of us at Allison's, and I'm looking forward to whatever it is he will be preparing. I think I heard something about tuna steaks. He knows I'm happy to eat fish but not red meat, so I figure it must have something to do with me being here. He's thoughtful that way.

Peter also spoils the dogs. He buys a pork tenderloin at Costco and makes pork jerky for them. Boy, do they love that! Peter has been living with Norma Jean for more than two years now, and they have settled into a good relationship. Peter's dog Zen is older (13), and when Peter goes off on extended trips to California or Michigan, Zen seems very happy to be settled in at Norma Jean's home. Everybody is very content, it seems to me.

Allison, Norma Jean's daughter, moved from Alexandria, Virginia, to Tampa this past June. She has been promoted to full Colonel in the Army and is stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. I asked Norma Jean why an Army colonel would be at an air force base, and she told me it's because Allison is a member of CENTCOM, US Central Command, responsible for tactical operations in the Middle East. (That link provides a very interesting explanation of what my accomplished niece is doing with her life.) So, for the first time in many years, Norma Jean has all of her family nearby. And I benefit from it, too, by seeing everybody all at once. I hadn't seen Lexie in person since she was an infant.

Allison is a very high-powered person, very different from Peter. It's interesting to see how much Peter is like Norma Jean was as she was growing up, and Allison's approach to life is similar to her father's. Family dynamics fascinate me. Of course, I have four other siblings, but I am closest to Norma Jean. My sister PJ died in 2014, the last time I was with the rest of my siblings. With such a large number of siblings, I'm glad I have Facebook to keep track of them all. Some are much more active than others on social media; it simply amazes me how quickly all their offspring grow and change, and I wouldn't know any of that without Facebook. Some have even grown from youngsters to full-fledged adults, and since I haven't seen them in years, I would otherwise continue to think of them as children.

I'm sitting here in the living room now, with Peter, Norma Jean, and the two dogs. The sun came up on a day I'm hoping will be much less hot, as promised by the forecast. Sunday is the one day Norma Jean doesn't swim, so we'll go for a nice walk in what I hope will be cooler temperatures. And then Peter prepares omelets on Sundays, and that will be our wonderful breakfast. Oh, I'm getting spoiled. Not really, I am just enjoying it all.

Until I see you again, back in my normal routine, I do hope that all my dear blogging friends will have a good and productive week. Until we meet again, be well.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

This time change business

Harvest moon from my front porch
While I was sitting in my favorite chair last Tuesday, I received a text from my neighbor to take a look at the rising full moon. She lives two doors down and so we spent some time together admiring the moon through the misty clouds. It's perfect for the season, the time of year when the days get short and the nights long. Although we are only halfway to the winter solstice, the sun will set tonight at 4:49pm here in Bellingham. We just went through our twice-yearly time change last night.
She found herself in a forest at night, with dark trees surrounding her. The light from the moon illuminated the path in front of her, and faintly in the distance she could see another light pulsating under a rock. As she made her way towards it in wonder, she recognized it as something vaguely familiar. Pulling it out to examine her find, a golden globe filled her hands. "There it is! My lost hour has come back to me!"
Just playing around with words here. I dreamt that little scene last night as I pondered this whole business of changing our clocks to "save time." Tacking an extra hour onto the morning in order to give us more light only robs it from the evening hours. Similar to taking a couple of inches from one end of the blanket and sewing it to the other end, don't you think? I'm all for leaving us in perpetual Daylight Saving Time instead of having four months on what is known as Standard Time. This idea of changing the clocks has been around since Germany first started it during World War I, in 1916. I found this fascinating page about the history of DST, if you want to know more about how different countries have come to use the time change. Apparently the idea has been around since Roman times. Who knew?

I have a harder time gaining that extra hour back than losing it in March. It throws my entire system off kilter, since I already get up early and go to bed early. Now my normal bedtime will occur ridiculously early (at 7:00 to 8:00pm), so I'll be forced to stay up past my bedtime and try really hard not to fall asleep in my chair. Of course this morning I awoke at my usual time of 5:00am, but it was suddenly only 4:00am! All of our radio-controlled clocks and computers, including my cellphone, had taken the change in stride, so after changing my wristwatch to the "correct" time, now everything is back in synch. Except my internal clock, that is.

This week I'll travel three hours ahead to East Coast time to visit my sister Norma Jean in Florida. We live on opposite ends of the United States, with her in the southeast corner, and me in the northwest corner. My travel day on Wednesday will have three fewer hours in it, which means I'll make up for one time change hour from today and only have to deal with two hours. But of course by then, three days from now, I'll just be getting used to the change. I noticed how much more easily my body is able to add hours to the day when traveling east to Europe, and how much harder it is to lose time when traveling west. Is it just me, or is everybody like that? I'm resisting the urge to research it on line so I can finish my post at a reasonable time. But then again, I have an extra hour to throw around before I get up. I'm smiling at the image of tossing that golden globe of an hour from hand to hand.

Let's see: what else is on my mind other than the time change? Well, there's the weather, of course. We've finally gone back to our normal weather pattern at this time of year, with fairly constant rain. Our hike on Thursday was cut short because of our inability to cross the swollen streams. Since we were hiking in rain most of the time, rather than try to find another place to continue our hike, we just decided to call it a day. Yesterday's walk with the ladies was wet, too, but we had a period of relatively dry weather in the middle of our walk and managed to walk more than four miles before we stopped. And now I can hear the rain drumming on the roof as I write this, so today will obviously be another wet one. I just checked to see what the weather will be like during my visit to Florida: I'll have to be content to have day after day in the sunshine. Sunny and warm!

And I will finally have a chance to meet my newest grand-niece Alicia, and get acquainted again with Lexie, who is now five and going to school. You know I will be taking plenty of pictures and will regale you with some of them in my post next Sunday. As much as I love them and look forward to my time in Florida, I am not looking forward to the travel. Two long days of it among the eight days I'll be gone from my usual routine. If all goes as planned, however, I'll be back to normal and able to join the Senior Trailblazers the following day, which is why I decided to return on Wednesday. I just need to stay healthy and not get a cold due to the close proximity to other travelers, many of whom are more than willing to share.

On that note, I would like to share with you with a video that I found on one of my regular blogs I follow. Other than the annoying (short) commercial at the beginning, this should make you smile. I've enjoyed it a couple of times and hope you will, too.

Until next Sunday, then, when I'll be in sunny Florida and writing from my sister's home, be well and safe and I'll try to do the same.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thinking of times gone by

Sun, clouds, and Ruth Mountain, taken last week
Last Thursday we had such a beautiful hike with the Trailblazers, a fine sunny day with a few clouds, after waking to heavy fog. I took quite a few pictures but many of them were spoiled by rays from the sun. For some reason, this picture shows the sun at the top, but it didn't mar the picture. I rather like the effect, and looking at that sun shining on the mountain and snow fields reminds me of the lovely day we had.

I was quite surprised that we climbed so far and covered more than nine miles and my knees didn't bother me one bit, either on the downhill or the next day. That's rather unusual, since I've been babying that left knee and expected more difficulty than I encountered. I'm not sure why, but I'm grateful. Once upon a time I could ski every week in the winter and run more than 30 miles a week, but that's in the past. In fact, as I've grown older I realize how much my activities have changed along with the years. It was so gradual that in many cases I didn't notice; as long as I had something to keep me going outdoors and working up a sweat, I've been going with the changes without experiencing a sense of loss.

Well, that's not quite true: I realize, now that I think about it, that I miss being able to strap on my running shoes and go for a five-mile run, and I miss being able to spend the entire day outdoors on a cross country ski trip. I compensate for it by having my classes at the gym, my Saturday walks with the ladies, and my sacrosanct Thursday hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. Exercise is a part of my life, and I realize it's been that way since the early 1970s. When I first moved to Boulder, I moved into a rooming house that had at least a dozen Boulderites living there, and as I gradually became friends with them, they invited me to join them on excursions into the mountains for climbs of the peaks. Some of them were trying to "bag" all the fourteeners (Colorado has 53 peaks higher than 14,000 feet (4,265 meters).

I remember my first fourteener. Although I'm not sure whether it was Quandary Peak, I think it was, and I remember the effort to get to the top. As the air gets thinner and one climbs higher, you need to stop often to catch your breath. It got to the point that I would count ten steps and then stop for a moment. But it wasn't just me; everybody was in the same situation. By the time I made it to the top, I was simply amazed at the 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains! It was incredible, and that moment still lives in my memory as if it were yesterday. I was hooked on that Rocky Mountain High, all right. I ended up climbing 26 of the Colorado fourteeners, some of them more than once. A few were scary and just enormous piles of loose rocks with little to no path to the top, just clambering upwards until you could climb no higher. But still. I loved it. Each fourteener has a canister at the top with a page inside for the summiteer to sign to show you got there. I'm not sure who keeps them supplied, but I don't think I ever climbed a fourteener without one.

And then my friend Donna and I decided to bicycle from Boulder to San Francisco, so we went on many long bike rides on the plains and in the mountains to get ready for it. In September and October 1974, we spent six weeks on the road on our bikes, with adventures galore. By the time we got to Oregon, we were sick of each other and split up to finish the rest of the ride solo. I was in the best shape of my life by then, with legs as hard as rocks from all that biking. I think I also had some calluses from that bike seat! I remember how much I disliked Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast to San Francisco. I would climb upwards and reach the top of a hill and then zoom downwards, again and again. I was glad my bike had a good low gear. It was a great adventure and I sure do enjoy thinking about it all these years later.

All through the 1970s and 1980s I was very active outdoors, with long overnight ski trips, hiking and biking, and having taken up running and training for a marathon (which I never did; I would get injured as I worked to increase my mileage). Then my world changed when I made that first skydive on September 3, 1990. Skydiving took over my entire life and I left everything else behind, other than my career which took off at about the same time. Everybody who wasn't a skydiver got tired of hearing about it from me, and every single weekend, every vacation I ever took after that was geared to skydiving. In the 1990s and 2000s that's all I pretty much cared about. I met Smart Guy through skydiving and we were married in 1994, in freefall of course. When I retired from my job in 2008 and we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I still continued to skydive but nowhere near as often.

This year I stopped skydiving and have sold my skydiving gear. Although I could still go out for a jump by renting gear, I probably won't. It was time to stop, and I know you have heard plenty about the long mental struggle I endured trying to give it up. But I finally did, and now that it's been six months since I last leaped out of an airplane, I know it was the right thing to do.

It's inevitable that as we age we take up activities that are more geared to our place in life. I've managed to stay fit and carefully manage the aches and pains of age in order to keep on going for as long as I can. There's no doubt that I am still wanting to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest extent possible, but one day that will come to an end, too. I'll be a gardener and walker for as long as I'm upright. In fact (dare I say it?), one day I'll be unable to do any of these things, but it won't be without looking back with much satisfaction on all that I have done.
My 70th birthday with the walking group
And now it's three years since that picture was taken, and I'll be heading to Florida in just over a week to spend time with my sister Norma Jean. I'll swim with her every morning outdoors at her Y. I won't swim a mile like she does, because I don't swim on a regular basis, but I'll give it my best shot. We'll be together, and that's the main thing. I'll get to see my new grand-niece Alicia, get reacquainted with her sister Lexie, their mother Allison (Norma Jean's daughter), and Peter, Norma Jean's son. I am looking forward to it with joy and love in my heart.

Yes, it's a good life, all right, and there's this other family that means so much to me, my blogging family. I am hoping that you will have a wonderful Sunday, that you will give yourself a hug for me, because I'm sending a virtual one, do you feel it? Until next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mid-October already

Gold and green on the trail
I am amazed at how little color there is in the High Country this autumn, compared to previous years. Usually in October there are plenty of brilliant red and orange leaves, but this year the leaves pretty much just turned brown and fell off the trees, due to the severe drought we experienced this past summer. I am hoping that next year we'll return to a more normal (for us) summer. But then again, with climate change, maybe this is the new normal.

After I wrote in here last Sunday, I had a rather interesting day. You might remember that I decided to go barefoot dancing again to the "sweat your prayers" gathering in a big ballroom for an hour and a half. Last time I went I couldn't manage the entire thing, but last Sunday I stayed for it all. I am by far the oldest person there, but I can move with the best of them. I wore a loose blouse and my normal stretchy pants, so I could move unencumbered by clothing. I admired some of the lovely flowing skirts and dresses and think I might just have to spend some time at the thrift store looking for something suitable for me. I sure had fun.

When I first walked into the room and removed my shoes, parking them and my glasses in a safe place, I noticed that maybe a dozen people had already arrived and were lying prone in the middle of the dance floor, stretching and moving slowly to the New Age-type music with little to no beat, just soft relaxing music. As I stood there wondering if I should be doing that, too, most people had already gotten up off the floor and started to move. Whew! I joined them, only a little intimidated by the sheer numbers of us. Little by little the tempo increased, and by the time I'd been dancing with the others for awhile, I was rather amazed at how we rarely touched each other by mistake. Some danced together for a brief moment, and some danced with me, too.

By the time another half-hour had passed, we were all dancing exuberantly alone or with one another. It truly felt as though we had entered an altered state. With the strong beat of the music and the uninhibited movements, I felt myself lifted and totally absorbed in the moment. This went on for awhile, until there was a barely noticeable change in the music; a quiet center began to emerge. We gradually slowed our dancing as the beat gently changed to a progressive swaying, and before long we were all standing or sitting on the floor, as the moderator (with a mic) suggested we breathe more slowly and send our breath out into the universe. She sent us off on our separate ways with a final prayer. It was really a lovely time, and I'll be back. There were at least sixty people in the room from all walks of life, and I was glad to be one of them.

As I walked out into the sunshine, I realized that I had gotten quite a LOT of exercise, and my legs and knees felt rather, well, used. Nothing bad, but I needed to find my car and drive off to the movie theater, where I was to meet my friend Judy. We watched The Martian, which I just loved and wrote about on my other blog here. In fact, several of my commenters also told me they loved the book the movie was based on, so I ordered it on my Kindle last week and just finished reading it yesterday. The movie changed some of the particulars, as they usually do, but basically it followed the story closely. Matt Damon brought the character of Mark Watney totally to life, and I don't know which one I preferred, the book or the movie, since they are both quite good.

Today Judy and I will go to an early showing of the new Tom Hanks movie, Bridge of Spies, so I'll miss the dancing today. But I will be going regularly to "sweat my prayers." Not only is it good exercise, but a different sort than I usually get either hiking or in my aerobics class. I learned about it while on my quest to find a yoga class (and I'm still looking for the right one), and I now have a very fun thing to look forward to on Sundays. It was the only day of the week when I didn't have some way to get some exercise, other than hopping on the treadmill at the gym (boring!) or going for a walk outside. I like the feeling I get after the uninhibited dancing, reveling in my ability to frolic and cavort and lose myself in the moment.

And in just a few short weeks I'll be traveling to Florida to visit my sister Norma Jean. I haven't seen her in almost two years now, since February 2014. Where did the time go? We still talk on video chat every two weeks, but it's just not the same as being with her. I'll hopefully get a chance to swim with her in the mornings, and have a chance to see my two grand-nieces Lexie and Alicia. Allison, Norma Jean's daughter, now lives nearby, after having been transferred from the Pentagon to the military base in Tampa. And Allison has been promoted to the rank of a full Colonel in the Army! Now there is a full life: raising two children alone with a military career like that. I'm looking forward to seeing them all. Norma Jean's son Peter lives with her, too, so it won't be the same as the last time I visited, with her family figuring prominently in her life these days. It will be a lot of family time, and you know I'll take lots of pictures and tell you all about it.

Until then, I'll be spending my time hiking and walking and dancing and just generally enjoying life here in the middle of autumn in the Pacific Northwest. The dog days of summer are far behind us, and the dark days of winter are ahead. Just about the time I get used to one season, the next one comes rolling around. I am so glad that I don't suffer from the long nights like some people do. Several of my friends head off to warmer and sunnier climes for the winter. I'll keep the home fires burning while they're gone.

And just like that, another post has been written and is almost ready to post. It's still dark outside here, as the sun won't come up for almost another hour, and as usual my tea is gone and my partner still sleeps beside me. I love this very special time of the day on Sundays, and the time I spend thinking about what's going on in my life right now. I do hope that wherever you are this fine mid-October day, it will be one you will remember with love and joy in your heart. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Home again home again, jiggity jig

Big old tree
Home again. It's so lovely to be in my own bed, my partner sleeping next to me, dark outside as I begin my Sunday morning meditation. And this morning, it's exactly how it feels. I've spent the past few days enjoying the rhythm of my usual routine, comforted by the walk to the bus, the coffee shop crowd, my friends at the gym and yesterday, our usual Saturday morning walk. It feels so good to leave, because then I get to come home again and enjoy the days filled with the dance I've created in my retirement.

This year at Vashon Island, we spent an incredible five long days together. There was only one day, last Sunday, when we doubted the wisdom of staying for such a long time. We worked hard that day, and at the end, we decided that we were done with work and would take the next day as an "adventure day" and explore the island. That's just what we did, and by the time we met Monday night to discuss what to do next year, we decided that five days and nights were perfect and will do the same again next year. Deb will facilitate again, and lead us in our writing prompts for a second writing retreat. Five of the six of us agreed to come back next year. Sadly, Sally (who travels from Colorado) has decided not to come back next year. She missed last year's gathering, too, because of illness, and struggled again this year with some physical problems. At the end of September 2016, the rest of us will be back together again at this wonderful place, for our fifth reunion.

And I've been given some incredible tools to improve my writing, starting with Stephen King's book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This is not one of those books to go roaring through, hardly finishing one page before rushing off to the next, but one to savor, and read again and again. It's broken into three parts, and the first is about his early life and the struggles he and his wife Tabitha had in those first years before he sold Carrie, his first novel. I didn't realize they were so broke that they couldn't even afford a phone. Or that he was an addict and struggled with alcohol and drugs for many years. He says he doesn't even remember writing Cujo, he was so drunk.

In 1999, King was almost killed when he was hit by a driver who veered off the road and struck him. He endured five operations and spent a month in the hospital. I remember when it happened; it seems amazing to me that it's been well more than a decade ago. King wrote On Writing the next year, and it was reissued again ten years later, in 2010. I love this book and will cherish it. Deb scoured the bookstores around her home and brought each of us a used copy for the retreat. All I can say is how grateful I am and how much I needed this book. I also found this wonderful link to Stephen King's Top 20 Rules for Writers that pretty much sums up his writing philosophy.

I could go on and on about the retreat, what I learned, and where I intend to go from here, but first I need to process it all and consider how I will rearrange my mornings so I can spend some time writing in my journal. Yes, I've started keeping a journal again, after so many years away from any sort of writing in longhand. I still laugh at how strange it felt to write that first prompt; it's been well more than a decade since I wrote anything more than a thank-you note. Everything else has gone the way of the keyboard or my smartphone. Or even, thanks to Siri, speaking my texts into the phone! In my work, it was rare that I wrote anything down, although Mickey, my boss, never stopped taking notes and writing by hand. Now it's eight years since I left that world, and time has only made it less likely that I would take pen in hand and write for the fun of it. That will all change now.

The day after I arrived home the weather changed. After a week of lovely sunny weather, the rain returned, along with lots of wind to blow the leaves around, and it's been just wonderful to experience the colors of the leaves on the trees changing, the wetness, knowing that I am now a true Pacific Northwesterner with a closet full of proper clothing. It makes all the difference in whether one enjoys the rain or not. I also remembered why we PNWs don't use umbrellas very often: they turn inside-out in the wind.

Even though I love the fall weather, I don't necessarily love walking for miles in a driving rain. Yesterday morning it looked like that would be what we'd have as I drove to the meeting place for our Saturday walk. Dark threatening skies, gusty wind and the forecast for rain almost kept me from going. I'm so glad I did, though, because other than a measly little mist now and then, we were rain free. My shoes didn't even get wet. I stayed for coffee afterwards with the ladies and then headed to the Farmers' Market. I've discovered a wonderful rye made by Sophie, a young woman who makes dense sourdough rye bread from organic ingredients. Check her out at her home page. I cannot get this bread anywhere else, it seems, so I'll enjoy it as long as the market is open. Ours doesn't close for the season until the Saturday before Christmas, and then reopens in April.

When we decided in 2008 to move to Bellingham, we thought it was a quaint little college town, but I've discovered it's so much more than that. Situated on Bellingham Bay, I knew we'd have access to the ocean and consequently the sea breezes that cool us during the summer, but I didn't know what a vibrant community of organic farmers and excellent food and restaurants we would also inherit by moving here. It's my home, a really lovely place to return to after being elsewhere. Next month I'll travel to Florida to be with my sister for a week, and I'll not only enjoy the visit, but I'll get to come home again, jiggity jig! (Did you remember that old Mother Goose poem from the title of this post?)

To market, to market to buy a fat pig
Home again, home again, jiggity jig

As you might be able to tell from the tone of this post, I'm really happy right now. My tea is now gone, my partner still sleeping lightly, no sunlight yet as there's another half hour before sunrise, but the day is begun, and my Sunday opens in front of me with myriad possibilities for enjoyment. I know that there will be other Sundays when I am not feeling this way, but that's for then, not for now. Today I give thanks for all that I have, and I wish the same for all of my dear blogging friends. Until next Sunday, I hope the week will bring you lots of love and light.