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, May 22, 2016

Connecting with my breath

Fresh strawberries at the Farmers' Market
Yesterday I made a quick stop at the Farmers' Market to have a treat from Sophie's (Raven Bread) and then head home to get ready for my two-and-a-half-hour seminar at the yoga studio. It was advertised to be about Pranayama and yoga philosophy, taught by Felicity Green, an Advanced Level Teacher who also happens to be 83 years old. I couldn't resist spending an afternoon with her, along with almost forty others in a fairly small room. You could either sit in a chair or sit cross-legged on bolsters and blankets. I chose the chair, which meant I was much more comfortable than I otherwise would have been, but at the back of the room.

Felicity is a tall regal woman with a slight accent that I associate with New Zealanders, but I never did find out where she is originally from. She taught yoga in Washington for years and retired about ten years ago. She moved to Lopez Island and is now coming out of retirement in order to write a book on yoga. It was interesting to see someone my age put herself in a cross-legged position where she actually looked comfortable, with both knees flat on the floor. I think she was the only person in the room with such flexibility. The seminar was open to every level, and we did no asanas (yoga postures) but instead concentrated on the breath.

Felicity described the Eight Limbs of the Patanjali yoga sutras: Yamas (relation to the world), Niyamas (relation to ourselves), Asanas (bodily postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (controlled use of the senses), Dharana (focus on a broad subject), Dhyana (complete focus), and Samadhi (loss of ego self).

Patanjali was an Indian sage who lived around 400 AD. He was the main inspiration for BKS Iyengar, who founded the yoga that I am studying today. From Wikipedia:
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali was the most translated ancient Indian text in the medieval era, having been translated into about forty Indian languages and two non-Indian languages: Old Javanese and Arabic. The text fell into obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda. It gained prominence again as a comeback classic in the 20th century.
How did I ever get by without Wikipedia? I find myself using that resource on a daily basis, and almost every time I sit down to write this post, I go there for one thing or another. Anyway: back to yesterday and how Felicity taught us about Pranayama.

After some discussion, we closed our eyes and made ourselves comfortable with our spines as straight as we could manage. Years ago I could sit for long periods cross-legged, but no more. At home I have a kneeling stool, which I sure could have used yesterday. We were then instructed to count our inhalations, from one to nine and then start over again. If we lost focus, we were to just start over again at one. I found it fairly easy to do and didn't lose track during the three minutes we did this exercise. Felicity timed us and ended the session by tapping a brass gong.

Then we did the same thing again, counting our exhalations. Now this was interesting to me, since it seemed completely different from counting my inhalations. I kept going off into another place, feeling sleepy but I still didn't lose count. Again we did this for three minutes. Afterwards, we discussed the differences and how we did. I was surprised to learn that if you feel relaxed while counting the exhalations, your mind is more quiet. If you are more comfortable counting the inhalations, you have a busier mind.

We then did the same exercise again for a longer period of time. It's incredibly relaxing to just count your breath. I was once long ago a regular meditator, and I realize that the discipline I learned then is still alive somewhere in my brain. Every once in awhile while I felt as though I had traveled back in time and was sitting in a room with old friends, almost as if all those decades and years had simply evaporated. It was somehow very comforting and lovely to sit silently with these new friends, with Felicity as our guide.

We then did one more exercise, where we simply watched our breath, imagining a light going from the base of the spine right up to the top of the head on the inhalation, and then going back down again on the exhalation. Interestingly, this one went on for ten minutes, but it felt like just a minute or two, I think because by this time I was so calm and relaxed after these exercises.

And then it was over, and I came home to relate my experiences to SG, and to think about what I had learned about breath and Pranayama. Felicity left us with something to ponder: you can live for three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without breath.

I have much to learn, but it's a good beginning into this next phase of my life, one where I will become less focused on external activity and more on developing my inner life. This blog is a good vehicle to allow me to see myself traveling along from one phase to another. And my yoga practice will only continue to grow. It's hard to imagine that it was only a few months ago that I took my first class at Yoga Northwest, and now I look forward so much to each hour I spend there, or in my own developing practice.

I'm sure other events have happened in my life since last Sunday, but at this moment I can't think of any of real significance, other than yesterday's seminar and Thursday's annual picnic to begin the summer season with the Trailblazers. It rained most of the time we were hiking, but it didn't dampen our spirits at all. And the following potluck was simply delightful.

I realize I am incredibly blessed with the life I have these days. Every day I give thanks for having discovered Bellingham for my retirement years and wish that everybody could have as supportive an environment as the one in which I've found myself. It's true that it's not just by chance, but when you make a big decision to move somewhere you've never been, leaving your career and friends behind, you really don't know what's ahead. Well, here I am: ahead, and it's really good at this moment in time.

So with that, I've managed to get my laundry done while writing this post, tea is long gone, and I've got a latte with my name on it at the coffee shop. (Partner is still gently snoring.) So with these words, I'll wish you not only all good things but a wonderful week ahead.
"Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

We're all in this together

The stream in the Church Mountain meadows
I was so thrilled to be able to join the Senior Trailblazers for our Thursday hike last Thursday and see this wonderful scene with all that snow still in the High Country. It had been over a month since I was able to go out with them because of my knee injury. On the hike on April 7th, I tore the medial meniscus and was hobbling around, unable to go up and down steps, unable to walk without a pronounced limp.

It improved quickly, once I accepted the situation and stopped going up and down hills and curtailed my walking somewhat. In fact, getting sick a few weeks ago was the first time it really improved, because I was off my feet for three days. It's such a hard thing to stay off my feet entirely, even without doing my regular routine. I found that bicycling on the stationary bicycle at the gym didn't hurt it at all and I ended up doing that most days, since I couldn't attend my usual aerobic class. Strangely enough, yoga didn't seem to hurt it, so I continued that too. I was not completely immobile after all, but it was such an annoyance.

One of my blogging friends, Linda, wrote a post a while ago that summed it all up for me. She called it "A Thousand Little Pestilences." She recounted several annoyances that kept her going to specialists for treatment, and I could relate to every one except for the hearing aid problem. I know I have lost hearing in my left ear, and probably my right one, too, but it's not a problem for me so I haven't had it checked. Maybe I should. My left ear has some tinnitus occasionally, a clicking that goes on for a short while and then stops. If it continued, I would have more of a problem with it, but it's intermittent and not really a problem. When I lay on my right side in bed, I can't hear the crickets outside my window and everything gets a little quieter.

Now that I am able to enjoy my usual aerobic activity, my mood has improved; there is no doubt in my mind that I am addicted to physical exercise. When I exercise hard enough to break into a sweat and then have a nice hot shower and step into clean clothes, I feel just great. Leaving the gym after a workout and walking around in the spring sunshine makes me happy and content. The whole rest of the day looks better after that, which is one reason I get up early and am finished and back home by noon.

The only day that doesn't have exercise built in is Sunday. The one thing I have on Sundays in my self-imposed schedule is this post, the one I am writing right now. I get up and make a cup of tea, and then I head back into bed and prop myself up with pillows as I create a post. Sometimes I have a hard time getting started, and other times it just flows out of my fingers. This morning I had a topic in mind, which is that ageing is a process that we are all in together. There is no way to stop the process except by dying, the final chapter of this adventure we call life.

In my yoga class, the teacher always starts the class with a reading from B.K.S. Iyengar, the founder of this particular type of yoga. Lately we have been talking about samskaras that we carry with us, unconscious habits of behavior. From that Wikipedia link:
In the philosophical theories of Hinduism, every karma (action, intent) leaves a samskara (impression, impact, imprint) in the deeper structure of human mind. This impression then awaits volitional fruition, in the form of hidden expectations, circumstances or unconscious sense of self-worth. It manifests as tendency, karmic impulse, subliminal impression, habitual potency or innate dispositions.
 I realized that in my own life, samskaras often manifest themselves as being in a rut, being unable to even see that rut, making it virtually impossible to change. My sense of self-worth is tied to exercise, obviously, and that makes me a little uncomfortable, as I know that as I get older I will find it harder and harder to continue my level of activity. Hopefully other activities will emerge if I am able to be nonjudgmental about it all. The thing is, I am not alone in my anxiety about this process called ageing. We are all in this together.

The image of being on a life raft, a rather large one, with people continually getting on and continually slipping off the edge seems rather appropriate. A life raft that holds a certain number of us cannot be sustained unless some of us are willing to leave. In a manner of speaking, this is the life raft we are all on. I find myself looking over the edge into the dark water below and wondering if one day it will invite me to dip my toes in. Well, of course it will, and I may not look forward to that day, but I know that it is in my future. What I get to choose is not whether or not I go, but how. Right now it seems far in the future, but who knows? Each day I live I realize is a gift. That each of us has here, together, is a gift that should be appreciated and lived to the fullest.

Joining my fellow Trailblazers was not without a price. Although my knee was fine, the rest of me felt the impact of that strenuous hike, and although three days have passed since then, my leg muscles are still very sore. It was just over a month of hiking that I missed, but it was long enough for me to get out of shape. And it wasn't like I was in my easy chair the whole time. Getting older means putting more and more effort into the constant upkeep of this body. I wrote a post not long ago about this being the year that I started to fall apart. But actually, it's just the time when I first began to notice. It gives the phrase "keep yourself together" a whole new meaning. I'm doing the best I can.

Every single day I am reminded that I am a septuagenarian. I think of this as being my last active decade, and once I reach eighty (if I am so fortunate), I'll take up basket weaving or something. But not unless I find out why I am so addicted to exercise and find a suitable replacement activity. All my life I have been giving up things, so you'd think I'd be an expert by now. But no, I have conveniently forgotten that I was ever able to run, to play hopscotch, to ski, to skydive and pack my parachute for days on end. Those activities are now out of reach.

I am extremely fortunate to be able to lead the life I do, even with all the limitations that are placed upon it. I've learned that it's possible to be happy with less, in fact it seems to be what I'm called upon to learn even better. I'm surrounded by like-minded friends, and I am continually pleased to realize that I've got a virtual community that is a new and wonderful addition to the world: the blogging community. Although it's only been around for a short while, it now is a lifeline for many to connect with others like ourselves. It's no coincidence that most of you are older and dealing with the same issues. As I said before, we're all in this together, but boy am I glad to have your company!

It's happened again: I've written a post from the brain froth that coalesced here on this page, with only a topic to guide me, and several stops and starts to get to this place right here. I'm hoping that this coming week will bring you peace and contentment, and I wish the same for myself. Until next week, when we meet again, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mired in Mother's Day memories

Chris and me 
Yesterday I gave some thought to today's post, and I wondered if it's time to remember my own years as a mother. Even though both of my sons have died, it doesn't negate my motherhood. Most of the time I've written about my own mom and how much I miss her, but I also realize that I've actively suppressed the memories I have about Chris, who has been gone for more than thirteen years.

This picture was taken one summer long ago when I was visiting my sister in Michigan; I recognize her back yard, but I've got no clue as to why we were both there. I suspect that Norma Jean's husband Pete took the picture. I scanned it with my phone, which is why the picture is not very high quality; however, I think it fits my mood for the day. I spent yesterday going through old pictures, and one batch I hadn't been ready to look at since I put them there in 2002: the ones I took to Germany to share with Chris' friends and family for his funeral.

I hadn't seen Chris for a couple of years when he died suddenly of cardiac arrest while jogging. He had just finished his daily PT when he was granted permission to try to run a little faster. He fell over and by the time his fellow soldiers reached him, they were unable to revive him. He was gone. Although I hadn't seen Chris for awhile, we wrote to each other in email regularly, and he had recently quit smoking and was struggling to keep his weight down. Yesterday I ran across the last email exchange we had, which was also in with that batch of pictures.

So yes, it's true that I am mired down in memories this morning. Every time I woke during the night, I would think about Chris and the times we spent together at various junctures in our lives. Chris lived in Boulder before he went off to join the Army in 1993. Although he was over thirty, the cutoff date when the Army would still accept him was fast approaching, so off he went to start a new life. He thrived in the Army, which made me realize that he really needed the discipline and structure it provided him.

While he was stationed in Germany, he met and married a young German woman with a son from a previous marriage. Chris always seemed to get involved with women who had children, but he never fathered any himself. I think he would have loved to be a father and would have been a good one, but for whatever reason it never happened.

Of course, that also means that I am not a grandmother and never will be. I'll never know that experience, but I really enjoy getting to know the grandchildren of my blogging friends, and of course there's my sister Norma Jean's two grandchildren, who are my grand-nieces. And there's Leo from the coffee shop, who is now seven but has been a constant joy to me for more than six years. Now that he is growing up, he doesn't spend as much time with me in the coffee shop, but I still see him several times a week, when his father brings him in for breakfast before taking him to school.

I remember when Chris started kindergarten. I prepared his lunch for him, and the school bus came down our street to gather up the children. So different from these days when parents take their kids to school, I had to let him wait for the school bus and catch it himself. I cried but tried to be brave for him. He was starting out into the unknown, without me. We had been through so much together, and I was divorced from his father at that time and had remarried. We lived in Don's house when he caught that first school bus. It's a traumatic memory for me, but I don't think it was for him. He enjoyed school but was not an outstanding student. He learned all that he needed to in school but never picked up a book and read it just for enjoyment. In fact, while he was growing up I would read to him when he was little, but he had little patience for it once he grew a little older. He was a typical boy who loved to be outdoors.

Over the years, we went through a lot together, but once he reached adulthood we were more like friends than family. He would not tolerate me telling him how to live his life, and in order to keep him around, I'd look the other way when he made choices I felt uncomfortable with. I would agonize over jobs he lost but would rarely be told the reason. I was always very glad when he was happy with his life, and I was pleased for him when we went off to join the Army.

I had never met his wife Silvia before I went to Germany for the funeral. She is a very nice person, but her English was not very good and she was always unwilling to talk with me on the phone when I spoke to Chris. She and I grew familiar with one another during that awful week I spent there. I never felt any real connection to her, other than through Chris, and he was now gone. We grieved over his loss together, cried together, and then I got on the plane and returned to my life in Boulder.

But it was never the same after that. For many months I couldn't sleep very well and would wake with nightmares, always seeing Chris' body in his dress uniform in the coffin. Silvia wanted him buried and my wishes were not taken into account. It was horrible watching the coffin placed into the ground. If it had been left to me, his body would have been cremated, but it was not my decision.

I think in many ways the fact that as his mother I was no longer considered to be his closest relative was hardest for me to bear. As I look back on those days, I again feel the pain I experienced then, and I realize it's one of the reasons I don't do it very often. But in honor of my son, I am doing it today.

One night long ago, after Chris had been gone for awhile, I had a very vivid dream. So vivid that just thinking about it now it seems like a memory from an actual experience. Chris and a friend Franz, who died in an avalanche, were walking towards me on a garden path, with the sun shining brightly on them, birds singing, just a lovely scene. Chris was waving to me, smiling, and he told me not to worry, he is just fine and happy. Franz smiled at me too, and put his hand on Chris' shoulder and raised his other in companionship, much the way mine is raised in the picture above. I woke from that dream with tears on my face, tears of happiness as well as loss. It comforts me still to this day.

Now that I am in the winter of my own life, having outlived both of my sons, my parents, numerous friends and family, I realize that the pain of all that loss is simply no longer there. It's not that I don't still miss them, but I remember them with love. Although the imprint of the pain is still present and can be revived, I'm not sure what purpose it serves. All our lives we have the ability to make choices about how we proceed from one day to the next, but as time goes by, it seems easier for me to remember the love and the joy we shared, rather than the pain and suffering that goes along with living.

And now I have reached that place that happens every Sunday after I finished writing this post. Partner is still asleep, tea finished and the laptop warming my knees as I sit propped up in bed, and I am thinking of Mother's Day all over the world and thinking about the different ways we will celebrate it. I'll dress and head to the coffee shop and sit with my friends and we'll enjoy each other's company along with the coffee. And I take this moment to be grateful for all the people who have mothered me in various ways, and give thanks for them.

Be well until we meet again next week. I am feeling quite content now, after having relived my own mothering years, and feeling glad to be alive. If I could offer you anything, it would be to find some way to mother yourself today. Until next time.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Day 2016

Stairs at the beginning of the Rock Trail
Since I haven't been able to hike with the Trailblazers for the past few weeks, different people have sent me pictures to show me what I've been missing. Mike sent me this one of last Thursday's hike, including these steps on the Rock Trail. Going down the more than a hundred steep steps like this would probably have made my knee very unhappy, but with every day that passes, it's better than it was the day before. So I am probably going to be joining the group again soon, but not quite yet.

Carol (in blue in the middle of the picture) takes pictures and posts them on Facebook almost as soon as she gets home, so I anxiously await news of their time on the trail. The weather has been so wonderful, with cool sunny days interspersed with a little rain here and there, that I've been spending those unaccustomed days off doing other outdoor activities. And my knee has cooperated by getting better and better. I'm actually quite amazed that it's come along so quickly, although it has been a month now since I injured it. And here I was afraid I'd be out for the season, but I'll be back before we head up into the wilderness in June.

May Day. The fact that it's going to be a beautiful day and it falls on a Sunday this year means that people will be out protesting as well as celebrating Beltane, an ancient Celtic festival that traditionally marks the first day of summer. I remember the Maypoles that were danced around in grade school days, and even the little May baskets that would be surreptitously placed on the doorknobs of the neighbors, filled with flowers and treats. I even did that one year, and offered my blogging friends a May basket treat as well.

One of the best parts of writing a blog is being able to go back through the years and find a date or something I wrote about previously that I want to remember. I first began this blog in December 2009, about a year after I began my other one, both of which are still going strong. I write here on Sunday mornings and on the other blog three times a week, which is usually much shorter and with pictures. This blog usually has a lead-in picture simply out of habit. When I first began writing it I didn't bother, but now it would feel strange to have only text.

Sometimes I know exactly what I want to write about when I sit here on Sunday morning, but other times I don't have a clue, and it's only the tapping of the keys and the mulling around, casting this way and that, before something finally catches my interest. It's all right, I tell myself, not to have a masterpiece coming out of my fingers every Sunday morning, because I'm just writing for myself. Yeah, right: I can tell myself that, but I'm very aware of my readers, some of whom start their days with my post and are waiting right now for me to hit "publish." It will be awhile this morning, since I'm still casting my net for the elusive topic that has not yet taken shape.

One thing that has been on my mind lately is this pesky wearing out of body parts and having to modify my activities to fit. Many people were dismayed, as I was, when I was limping around and unable to navigate stairs or walk normally. As the days wore on and it was obvious that I was going to make things even worse if I didn't just stop, suddenly the universe arranged for me to get really sick and spend a couple of days flat on my back in bed. That really was when my knee began to heal, and my coffee shop friends, among others, couldn't help but say they told me so. I am not normally one to stay inside, in a chair, not moving. To me, that's a recipe for boredom and a perfect way to make me unhappy. Fortunately, I am not yet ready to slow down to a crawl. And every day I am more and more able to resume my normal activities.

Yesterday I walked with the ladies for the first time since I hurt my knee, and it was without pain or injury, so I was very pleased. This morning my legs are a little sore, reminding me that even a month without regular exercise requires an adjustment back to normal activities. That's another reason why I am being careful about when to return to hiking, because I don't want to start too soon and have a setback. Since I know all the hikes well, I will be skipping the next one because I fear it will be too much too soon. See? I am learning, out of necessity, to take it easier. Not easy, just easier.

For the past month, my sister Norma Jean and her son Peter have been staying in California at a friend's home. The couple who own the home were house-sitting elsewhere, so they had the entire use of the house for a month, but now they are on their way back to Florida. For the past few days they have been in Texas visiting my other siblings, my brother and another sister. I'm a bit envious because I would have loved to visit them, too, without it being the occasion of someone having died. The last time we were all together was in February 2014 when we had a Celebration of Life for my sister PJ.

I can see from my "Find My Friends" app on my iPhone that they are now on the road again on their way back to Florida. It's really nice for me to see where they are and be reassured that all is well. This Wednesday I'll be spending some time talking with Norma Jean and I'll find out how everybody is doing in Texas. I know Norma Jean will be glad to be back in her own home, even if it was a wonderful adventure for awhile. I suspect she misses her regular life and routine. I know I always do when I'm away; there is nothing quite as nice as snuggling down in my own bed after a trip.

Well, it never happened today. The magic doesn't always work, with something coming up out of the ether and finding its way to the blogosphere. This post has ended up being a smattering of a bit of this, a bit of that, and there's nothing to be done for it. The old brain just didn't percolate anything of substance today. Oh, well; I feel better for having carried out my usual Sunday morning rumination, and if nothing else turned up, it can't be helped. I've done my due diligence, everything looks the same but perhaps next week I'll be inspired and you will forgive me. In any event, I look forward to your visits, and I promise to do better next week.

Until then, I hope you will remember that life sometimes gives us inspiration, but even without it, we have each other. I'm sending you lots and lots of virtual hugs and smiles and wishing you the very best May Day ever.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Things are looking up

Spring flowers on my front porch
Whew! That was really a doozy of a bug I had last week. When I woke during the day (and night) last Saturday, I couldn't believe how awful I felt, and Sunday was not much better. You know I'm sick when I don't want to eat or drink and am too sick to read posts or even open up my laptop. I did, however, write those paragraphs because of a sense of duty to my readers. I couldn't just do nothing at all. But what really surprised me was how muddled my brain felt, as if it were wrapped in cotton and unwilling to function properly.

And here I am a week later, sitting in my usual spot in bed with my laptop and tea, and everything feels normal again. Almost, anyway: I still have residual nausea now and then, which is so unusual that I notice it with interest. Every day I am a little better. As I wrote on my other blog, Friday I visited my doctor about my knee after having had to wait a couple of weeks after the initial injury on April 7. It was a good thing I did, though, because in a little more than two weeks, the knee continued to improve until I no longer had to limp. I've learned a great deal about knees during this time, including finding out just what it is that hurts when you tear the meniscus (which is what I did).

Menisci have no nerve endings, but one's knee is encased in synovial fluid, and that's where you get all the pain and suffering from. And as explained by my doctor, an injection of cortisone into the knee would be an option if in another two weeks I'm still in pain. But to tell you the truth, I am amazed at how good it feels already. He also suggested an MRI, and I told him that I didn't think I would be a candidate because of a previous injury to my pelvis. When we moved here I pitched all my x-rays (but now I wish I still had them for comparison purposes). He ordered a pelvic x-ray so it can go into my records, and I learned some interesting information, including that I can indeed have an MRI with my hardware. At least, that's what the radiologist thought; I'm not going to rush into having one, and it seems it won't be necessary quite yet.

Yesterday after I went to the coffee shop to visit with my friends and quaffed my latte, I decided to go for a walk down to Boulevard Park along Bellingham Bay. Although the chance for rain was minimal, I took my raincoat just in case, but it only spit on me once or twice. I walked a couple of miles to the bay and back without pain, with no limp, and I was simply ecstatic thinking that perhaps next week I can join the ladies for my usual Saturday walk. (I have to admit that by the end of my excursion the knee said it was time to rest.) They were going on hills and covering more than five miles yesterday, so I knew it was too soon to attempt it then. I will also not join the Thursday Trailblazers quite yet, since the scheduled hike is rated moderate to hard, and nine miles. If I'm good and take it slow, I should be ready to join them by the time they head up to the High Country in June.

I have removed the phrase "push through the pain" from my vocabulary, now that I have accepted that my knees can continue to carry me around as long as I treat them well. Oh, and another wonderful thing happened when I went to my doctor's office: they always weigh and measure me whenever I come in for anything at all, and I was a FULL INCH taller than I was in February! Part of the difference, I believe, is the time of day: it was early in the morning before gravity had a chance to pull me down, but perhaps the yoga is also helping. In any event, it sure made me happy. I forgot to mention it to my yoga teacher; she had said at the beginning of the semester that she thinks yoga does help to make us carry ourselves more upright. When I am being measured I try everything I can think of to stand up straight!
~~~~~~~

I am now officially a part of the WAHA (Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement) team of volunteer facilitators who help people write their Advance Directives and have already notarized half a dozen documents. It's rewarding work (but it really is work) and I'm glad I waited until I found the right place for me to volunteer. I go in once a week, on Mondays, to either work with clients in their initial visit, or at the end when they are ready to finalize the documents, and then I copy and distribute them. One copy goes to the local hospital, where it is scanned and flagged on the medical records as being available in case somebody ends up unable to speak for him- or herself.  The other copies go back to the client to give to their agents and other family members.

The people are so different from one another in the ways they approach their end-of-life choices, and I've already learned a great deal from some of them. One person was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and she decided to get everything done herself since a family member might opt to put her body in space until a cure is found! Another has decided to prepare packets of memorabilia for each family member, complete with mementos and pictures of times past. I would never have thought of that myself, but it's a wonderful idea when you have time and energy to do such a considerate thing. 

There are difficult clients, too, but each one has been a lesson for me in how to approach that period of time between my last exercise class and hospice care. It's a strange thing for me to realize that I've got no family members to emulate for this period of time, since everybody went and died fairly young. No nursing homes, no lingering deaths for the Stewart family. At least not in the last generation, which was before statin drugs made such a huge difference in life expectancy for those of us with the tendency towards heart disease. That took Mama, Daddy, and my son Chris. And it's part of the reason that I exercise faithfully and watch my diet. That, and I really enjoy a good sweat.

So, as you can see, life is percolating along just as it should for me today. No sudden illness this week, injury to my knee continuing to improve quickly, and my garden mostly planted. I got several vegetable starts into the ground yesterday, since I was pretty sure it would rain last night, and it did. Today I'll go out and see if the plants look happy, and if they don't, I'll get down there next to them and have a conversation about what they expect. I'll be listening to see if they have anything to tell me about what they might need. What, you don't talk to your plants?

I've been enjoying reading the short stories of Alice Munro. Some blogging friend suggested her, and many years ago I read a couple of her collections but had moved away from short stories for some reason. I'm finding them just right for me these days: I can read a story and put the book down and do something else for awhile. Absorbing novels or memoirs tend to keep me rooted to the spot for way too long. I didn't realize that Alice won the Nobel Prize in 2013, but I can certainly see why. She's brilliant and I cannot recommend her books highly enough. One story that I read yesterday just wouldn't leave me alone, so I went back and read it again. Then I perused the final two pages of the story several times, marveling at how much she managed to say between the lines. I've got her daughter's memoir waiting for me to pick up at the library so I can read more about Alice's life.

Ah. It's that time again: I'm seeing daylight through the drawn curtains, and a couple of sighs and snorts from my partner make me realize he's coming up out of sleep soon. I've got posts to read and news to peruse, comics to enjoy, and breakfast waiting to be consumed. Life feels really good this morning, another beautiful April day, and my coffee shop friends must be gathering themselves up to make the trek for our upcoming Sunday morning meeting. It's usually pretty lively in there on Sunday mornings so I should get myself up and start my own meanderings towards joining them. I'm hoping that this is a good week and good day for you and yours. Be well until we meet again next week! 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

No post today

Yesterday I was flattened by the flu. Or something. In the morning I thought I had an upset stomach, but by the time I got home from the gym, I knew I was sick. I canceled my movie date with Judy and then went into the bathroom to toss my cookies. Over and over and over. Last night I was still unable to keep even light miso soup or water down. Fever of 101F, chills, body aches and just miserable. On the good side, no sore throat, no diarrhea, and by now I am beginning to recover. Temperature stayed elevated all night long, but now it's down to 99.5.

I will leave you with a post from fellow blogger Ronni Bennett that I wished I had written. It says everything I've been wrestling with in my recent posts, and once I've done that, I'm going to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep. I'm on the mend but weak as a kitten.

The Imperative to Live and to Die

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The year I started to fall apart

Pink blooms in the driveway
Sitting here in my bedroom, laptop and tea, everything seems pretty normal, but it's not. I really did a number on my right knee this past Thursday. The previous week we had done quite a bit of up and down, and my knee began to hurt on the downhill sections. Although I was in pain, it was bearable, and the next day I was back to normal. At least I thought so, but this past Thursday we did another hike that had a good deal of up and down, and I noticed that my knee had begun to hurt just like it did the previous week. But there I was, out in the middle of the hike, and I had to descend some very steep rocks. Using my trekking poles, I thought I was almost down when suddenly the pain in my knee became unbearable.

I sat down and considered my situation. I couldn't continue, and my friends were very solicitous. Right away one of the guys took my pack, and we discussed options. If I could make my way down to the road (Mt. Erie has  road up to the top, but we go on the trails, for obvious reasons), then Steve was willing to jog back to the parking lot and get his car, and we would then drive to the top to join the others. Although it wasn't quite as easy as all that, we did it, and with the help of so many of my dear friends, I was able to return home in time to make an after-hours appointment to see a doctor.

He took x-rays (normal) and considered that with the pain I have it is probably a meniscus or ligament tear. After I got home and began my own research, I came to the conclusion that it is most probably a meniscus tear, although it wouldn't make much difference because treatment is the same. I'm able to walk as long as I don't bend my knee with weight on it, so I'm walking stiff-legged and slow, and I'm able to do that without any pain. If I bend it even the slightest bit when walking, I feel the pain. When I'm sitting I can bend the knee fully without pain.

So now you have the background of my latest dilemma. I cannot walk fast (so that means no walks with the ladies on Saturday mornings) and I cannot hike (no Thursday hikes with the Trailblazers) until sometime later. Maybe. I have done all that I know how to do, such as ice and compression, although it's almost impossible to stop using one's knee completely. In my research I discovered that by the time you get to be my age, the degenerative changes in the meniscus could easily lead to a tear with overuse.  I'll just have to wait and see if it gets better with time. If it doesn't, I will then be referred to another doctor, but the medical profession is unwilling to do that until it has a chance to heal on its own.

But this latest wrinkle is on top of the distress I've recently felt in my back, which got me started taking yoga classes a few months ago. My back feels better and I've changed some of the ways that I move, but the changes are going in one direction only: toward becoming less mobile and learning how to live in an older body. I'm afraid I keep forgetting that I'm old; as long as things don't slow me down I just keep going at my old pace. That must change.

When I was young, I would think about all that I wanted to do before I lay on my death bed so that I wouldn't wish that I had made different choices while I still could. It never occurred to me that there would be a transition period between being robust and active and that bed. Now I'm realizing that as time goes by, wisdom requires taking stock of the condition of one's body and making adjustments. Small or large adjustments, they are part of what I must accomplish in order to age gracefully.

Looking back, I can see how much I've changed since I celebrated my seventieth birthday. Three years is a long time in the eighth decade of life. I've got so many blogging friends who are my age or older, and they have become beacons to guide my way through the shoals of illness and infirmity. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, once wrote, "A healthy human environment is one in which we try to make sense of our limits, of the accidents that can always befall us, and the passage of time which inexorably changes us." I will try to make sense of those limits as gracefully as I can, and try not to whine too much about them. At the end of the day, we're all in the same boat.

My latest endeavor, volunteering with the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement (WAHA) as an end-of-life choices facilitator, has already opened my eyes to many different ways to approach one's inevitable demise. Filling out one's Advance Directive is something that should be done by everyone, whether young or old. Writing the last chapter of my life has become a conscious act, rather than one that once seemed far in the future, so distant I could not see it. I remember when I would say, as a young person, the phrase "for the rest of my life," and that seemed impossibly long. Now I can see it clearly. I am being helped by friends near and far, ones I see every day and those whom I only know through their blogs. I am still making new friends during these times, and I am hopeful that I will continue to be able to give and receive assistance as I move through the coming days, months, and years.

I am grateful that I have this particular venue to examine my life and to receive your thoughts about this big old boat called life that we share. I'm confident that I'm on the right track, even if I have to walk that track slowly and carefully, conscious of every step. Maybe that's not such a bad thing; it might make the days slow down a little and give me even more time for contemplation.

Today I will get up and perform the Five Tibetan exercises (21 times, as always), with care as I feel what parts of my body I need to be aware of protecting. Then I'll have breakfast and head out to the coffee shop to join my friends there and quaff that latte I'm anticipating with pleasure. My partner is still sleeping next to me, and he might even still be asleep when I head out. When I return we will spend some time together, talking and laughing and enjoying our Sunday rituals. One of them is discussing this post, which he will read while I'm getting caffeinated.

As always, I will look forward to the wisdom you leave for me in your comments. Until we meet again next week, I wish you as always every good thing life has to offer. And don't forget to be grateful for your friends; I'm one of them and I will feel your virtual gratitude through the ether. Be well.