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 23, 2014

Thanksgiving week

Foxglove in midsummer
Yesterday I was looking for some pictures to send to a friend who is creating a blog and asked for some of my pictures of flowers. I came across this one and for some reason I really like it. The pink against the soft green just delights me. It was taken on one of our Thursday hikes a few years ago, and it sure doesn't look anything like that today. The flowers are all gone, and the green, while still there, is muted with lots of brown. But come spring, it will all pop back up again.

But it's not ever quite the same from year to year, I notice. I've looked for this spot and haven't been able to find it again. I'm not sure what the green plant is, and I'm sure it only looked like this for a short while before changing its appearance. In any event, this picture reminds me of one of the reasons I love to go into the High Country once a week during the summer months.

We have already begun our winter hikes around the Chuckanuts in town. Although we'll take a few trips south to Baker Lake and Whidbey Island, for the most part we'll get in cars and drive a very short distance to the trailhead. That is in contrast to more than an hour's drive up the Mt. Baker Highway in the summer, through the little towns of Maple Falls and Glacier. And then there is usually another half hour from Glacier to the actual trailhead. It's a good thing the days are long, because we spend three hours on average in the cars, getting there and coming back home. Plus five or six hours on the trails.

It might sound like I'm complaining here, but I'm not, not at all. It's time well spent, and even the time together in the cars is pleasant, as I find out what's going on in the lives of the others. I rarely drive myself, since my car is small and not happy about navigating rough logging roads. But the biggest reason is that after the long hike, I don't feel quite up to driving back with a full load of people. Fortunately, we have several regular hikers who don't mind driving and have SUVs made for the back country. And who can stay alert for the long drive home.

This week we will not be hiking, since it's Thanksgiving. And because Christmas and New Years fall on a Thursday this year, we are going to miss three regular hikes. Just thinking about that makes me sad, since it's part of my life to spend the day outdoors, rain or shine, on Thursdays. Plus, the buses won't be running and many stores will be closed to allow their employees to enjoy the holiday, too. I don't really mind that part; I'm glad that there are days when we lay down our usual activities and take the time to celebrate friends and family.

Unfortunately, in many homes it will be an excuse to overindulge with food and watch football games and whatnot on TV. It seems like these days many people are interacting with their devices and spend less and less time communicating with each other. When I'm on the bus, there are moments when I'm the only person not looking down at a screen. Or with earbuds listening to music; sometimes it's so loud coming from their earbuds that I can hear the raucous din. What must it be like inside at full volume, I can only imagine.

Our world has changed so much in just a few decades. I myself have lots of devices, and I enjoy reading books on them, getting caught up on the news, reading posts from my blogging friends, and streaming videos. In some ways, I realize that I'm no different from everybody else, but somehow it seems wrong to spend one's life connected to a little screen and not to notice what's happening in the world around you. It wasn't that long ago that we walked out of our homes and into the wider world, rather than bringing our micro-worlds along with us. There was a time, not so long ago, when our phones were connected to the wall!

Oh, dear. Now I'm sounding like my parents, who would often say, "what is the world coming to?" Yes, I am old enough to remember a time when we didn't even have a TV in the home, and we would gather around the big old radio and listen to Fibber McGee and Molly. And the telephone looked like this one. I had to laugh when I saw this cartoon, and I figured it might lighten up my mood. As I was writing this and thinking about what the world is coming to, I realized I was losing my sense of humor.

I will enjoy my Thanksgiving this year, with my partner, and we'll probably go for a nice walk together, nothing long and taxing, but something pleasant around town. We live in a place that has so many options for exercise, with lots of green parks and trails within walking distance. Or just a short ride to other parks, it won't be a problem enjoying the outdoors.

However, I'm also thankful that Christmas and New Years falling on a Thursday won't happen again for awhile. I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving week, celebrating it in whatever way gives you pleasure. If by some chance you are alone on Thanksgiving, thanks to technology, you can still call your loved ones, or even say hello by video chat. It's one of the best parts of the new world.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The state of my state

The bridge at Whatcom Falls
Here I am again, sitting in the dark in my bedroom, drinking tea and pondering what in the world I will write about this morning. I took that picture on one of my walks with the ladies on Saturday morning. It was miserably cold yesterday, but still more than a dozen of us showed up to walk together, since it's a wonderful way to begin the weekend and have coffee with friends afterwards. We only waited a few minutes for latecomers to arrive, because we knew that once we began to move in the cold we would warm up. It was in the mid-twenties (-4C) and my hands were frozen, even with heavy gloves. Yesterday's walk was on trails that would take us up some elevation quickly, and I knew that by the time I had gone a mile, I would be warm. But what a hard mile that was! My toes finally warmed, but my hands took quite awhile.

But then, suddenly, I realized that I was no longer cold anywhere and was toasty warm inside and out. My metabolism had been revved up by the walk, and for the rest of the outing I chatted with friends and enjoyed myself. We covered more than five miles before returning to our starting place. Cindy (the leader of the group) lives nearby and knows the trails intimately. Several of us commented that we had no idea where we were during much of the walk, although it's one of our usual ones. I've gone to the same area by myself and can never figure out the maze of trails and usually just stay on the ones I know so I won't get lost. My skill as a route finder is extremely low, which is one reason I like to have someone else lead me.

I feel very grateful that I am still able to walk briskly and hike every Thursday. My classes at the gym are simply habits to me now; they don't push me at all, but I need them to raise my spirits and give my day some structure. I'm sure that most of the people whom I see at the bus stop every day at 7:30am have no idea that I am actually going downtown for exercise and not going to work, as they are. I see the same people every day during the week, and I know those who go to the university by their absence when school is closed. It's a habit I cherish, and I will continue as long as my body holds up.

That's just it. After having read the book I mentioned last week, I realize that I need to appreciate every single day that I have the ability to continue my activities. Yesterday I woke with a pain in my back that defies by ability to ignore it. I get these every once in awhile, but this one, located between my shoulder blades, hurts like the dickens when I turn my head sharply to the right. Ouch! It's still there, today, a little better, but I never know when something will not get better. My knee that I hurt last year has gradually, a little at a time, gotten less painful, and now I don't need the brace all the time. It's returned to its pre-injury condition.

A couple of months ago I started getting a pain in the back of my right heel, with a hard lump right under the surface. It's worse after a hard Thursday hike, so I thought maybe it's my boots and got another pair to alternate them. I looked online and the symptoms fit something called "Haglund's Deformity," which is caused by irritation and will get better if you wear soft shoes. Well, there was no way I was going to be able to hike in those, so I just kept on treating it with ice afterwards and taking ibuprofen. It's gotten better, but it's still there and usually a bit on the sore side on Friday. It doesn't hurt at all in the soft running shoes I wear for the walks around town. It's progressing in the direction I want it to go: away.

All this is a prelude to my biggest dilemma of all: whether I have actually made my last skydive or not. Since October was a pretty wet and dismal month around here, I was only able to make it out to the Drop Zone once, and now the season is over. My gear will be out of date at the end of this month, and I have to make a decision about whether or not to get it inspected and repacked or not. I simply cannot reconcile myself to never ever having another chance to get under my wonderful canopy and fly it around in the sky. But now that my knee is better, should I take the chance of hurting it again on landing? Not to mention all the other parts of my body that are wearing out. You don't have to be an athlete to skydive, but it sure helps to be in good shape and able to recover from the inevitable bumps and bruises that one gets from the activity.

When I was in my fifties and sixties, I would make as many as a dozen skydives on the weekend, most of them teaching students and having someone else pack up my chute for me. But now I'm past that, no longer teaching, only jumping for the fun of it. And it's definitely true that it takes me much longer to recover from things these days. I'm almost positive I'll take my rig to the Drop Zone and get it ready to skydive, whether I use it or not. I've got to stop sometime, and it was so much easier to think of that last jump as being somewhere in the future, rather than having already done it. The whole activity occupied such a huge part of my life for so long, it's hard to consider myself finished.

Not to mention I have Facebook friends who are busy encouraging me to sign up for the SOS (Skydivers Over Sixty) women's record attempts in southern California that will be held in April. And I find myself considering it. That's where I hurt my knee in the first place, but I went back again and made another dozen skydives there, wearing a brace, and it didn't hurt it at all. Decisions, decisions! I know some of my followers are probably smiling right now, thinking "I told you so," and they were right. I will let you know what happens, but for now it's a moot point. I'm done for the season and will need to make that decision in the spring, not before.

Sitting here and writing on my laptop, I can feel various aches and pains reminding me that I am an elder, no longer a spring chicken but an old bird, probably not even fit for the soup pot. But even old birds like to feel the wind beneath their wings, lifting them up, up into the air. As long as they work, shouldn't one flex one's wings?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What matters to me today

Mt. Shuksan and cloud
I am very tired this morning, but I slept like a log and feel more rested than I thought I would. A creature of habit, I deviated quite a bit from my usual Saturday activity yesterday. I got up an hour early in order to make it to the meeting spot before dawn and start a trip up into the High Country. I took that picture yesterday. Because the weather has been so warm, the snow hasn't begun to cover the trails to make them inaccessible, so five of us decided to give one of our summer favorites a try. It was a wonderful day, but after the almost-nine miles we covered on Thursday, with only a day in between, I knew I would be pushing it if I went.

We piled into Fred's large SUV, and I sat in the middle seat in back, with Steve on one side, and Al's daughter Lisa on the other. Most people think it's no fun to sit in the middle, but I prefer it. I have a perfect view through the front window as well as nice warm bodies on either side. Whenever we must use that seat, I beg for it. But then again, I'm strange that way.

Hiking along in the alternating sunshine and clouds, I had plenty of time to think about the book I'm reading right now: Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. It's a book that lingers in my mind, thinking about life and loss. I have saved the last chapter for today. Not a long book, you could read it quickly and forget about all the issues he raises, or you could, as I have, take your time and consider what he has to say. It's a very personal book; as a physician he says he learned many things in medical school, but nowhere was he taught how to deal with death and the dying process with his patients. And, of course, we all have that to look forward to, not only with our parents and friends, but also with ourselves.

Since I have lost both of my children, people often use the phrase "no one should have to bury a child" or something similar when they learn of it. And then they will often retreat from the conversation because they don't want to consider how they might one day have to go through that same ordeal. "I don't think I could go on if that happened to me." I hear that one, too.

What does that mean? How does one NOT go on with life? I remember well when Stephen died I was a young mother of 22. I couldn't fathom how I would go on. Although I had another child, four-year-old Chris, my world had shattered around me and I fell into a deep depression. I can still remember weeping uncontrollably and Chris coming to put his arms around me. He said, "I'll go up to heaven and get Stephen so you will be okay again, all right Mom?" He couldn't think what to do to keep his own world together. That moment must have reached through my anguish, because I can still remember it after more than half a century. And it still hurts.

One doesn't really pass through such a fire without being permanently changed. Within a few short months, my then-husband Derald and I had divorced. We were both hurting and couldn't help the other. Even though I survived those awful years, I managed to add to the pain and suffering of those I loved, but I didn't care because I couldn't see past my own suffering. There are many, many things I would do differently today. There was no such thing as a bereavement group for me to attend back then, and I made many mistakes in my effort to cope. I know that if I had known anyone else who had gone through something similar, it would have helped. But although there were certainly others, we all endured our agonies alone, as if we were the only people who had ever gone through such situations.

But it happens all the time, you know. Not everybody lives to be old, like I am now. And now that I am old, I have my own decline to look forward to. We laugh about it, make jokes about it, but the truth of it is that, as Atul has pointed out in his book, it's going to happen to everyone, and making some rational decisions about our options, thinking about what's really important to us, is essential to having a good life and a good death.

As I read in his book about people who struggled between the decision to stop or continue treatment even though the outcome of their illness was certain, I realized that there are some upsides to having heart disease being the agent that took my parents from me. No long-drawn-out dying process for my dad: he was vigorous and active right up to the heart attack that caused him to die three days later. Long enough for us all to come home and say goodbye, to be surrounded by my other family members. But he was only 62 when he died, and my mother was angry at him for not having been willing to endure bypass surgery so he could have lived another decade or so.

My son Chris was jogging when he was felled by sudden cardiac arrest at the age of forty. He also lived a good life, was happily married and loved his job. He had hobbies that fulfilled him, and he was well respected by those who knew him. When I went to Germany for his funeral, I learned many positive things about my son that I didn't know. It made me very glad to learn more about him, but I still suffered plenty of pain and agony during that time, as well as the months and years that followed. But when I compare the two losses of my children, the first was much, much harder. It was my first loss and I was completely unprepared for it. When Chris died, I was sixty and had lost both parents by then.

And the truth of it is that the young woman who mourned the loss of her beautiful, healthy infant was not the same woman who lost her grown son. The loss of our loved ones changes everybody; it's part of life. It's like everything else that happens to us: we have choices to make all along the way. Becoming inured to it with drugs and attempt to escape is one option; the other is to let it have its way with us. Going through the pain and suffering means that you come out the other side with a renewed sense of the brevity and beauty of every day. That's what it means to me, anyway.

As I put one foot in front of the other on my journey to the pass yesterday, I felt the sun on my face and looked around at the incredible beauty I was privileged to see. I can still travel many miles with a pack on my back, go to places that fill my heart with joy, and enjoy it all in the company of others who share this journey with me. Although one day I will no longer be able to do what I did yesterday, I will still be able to decide what's important to me. And I know that as long as I can feel the sun on my face and experience the beautiful outdoors, I'll be fine. I won't always have to hike to the top of mountains to appreciate the beauty all around me, but for now, I'm enjoying it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Day of the Dead

Bayview Cemetery on All Saint's Day
I used this picture in my other blog yesterday, but it's just too perfect for the season not to share it in this post as well. It also gives me a chance to think about this strange holiday that marks the end of October and the first few days of November. Not just Halloween, but also the Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, and Samhain. They merge together to mark this particular time of the year.

Not to mention that the clocks also changed last night from Daylight Saving Time to Pacific Standard Time, giving me an extra hour of sleep. I tried so hard to stay up later last night in order to wake at my usual time, but it didn't work. It makes me wonder why we still even use this system: now we wait until November to change the clocks, and we will change them back (when we lose an hour) in early March. This means that the sun will set around here before 5:00pm tonight, and in another month, it will be dark at both ends of the day. We are so far north here, almost 49 degrees latitude, that the days get shorter and shorter, the sun lower and lower in the sky, until by the beginning of winter the days are only 7 hours long with little sunshine. Mostly rain and gloomy skies. Fortunately I don't suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but I learned a few years ago that those of us living so far north should take Vitamin D all year round. So it's been added to the numerous vitamins I take every day: those for my eyes, not to mention even a prescription drug (statins) for cholesterol.

I did see the retina specialist last week, and he found no change from my previous visit, which made both of us happy. My macular degeneration has slowed in its progression, and I credit much of it to good diet and all those vitamins. That doesn't mean it's stopped; when I asked the specialist if I could see him once a year, he did not agree. Some people see him every three months, and even a few must visit him once a month. When I found that out, I figured I'd better count my blessings and be glad I'm not needing eyeball injections or some of the other awful treatments he provides. But I'll do whatever it takes to keep my eyesight for as long as possible.

Back to the holiday. In some cultures, especially in Mexico and other Latin American countries, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a bank holiday and families celebrate it by creating altars and putting place settings at the table with foods enjoyed by the loved ones. I found this quote on that Wikipedia link:
On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children's altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.
And there you go: a full three-day-long holiday celebrating our loved ones who have gone before us. Instead of this wonderful holiday, here in the United States we get an orgy of candy, a chance for kids to dress up in costumes, and an excuse for a costume party for the adults.  I saw quite a few interesting costumes on Friday and enjoyed them all. Once upon a time, I never missed a chance to put on another  identity and looked forward to Halloween. When I left Colorado, I got rid of a fair number of wigs I'd accumulated over the years. These days I enjoy the excitement of others and the chance to use my camera to capture their creativity. Just another one of those things I seem to have outgrown.

Samhain (pronounced SAW-win) is an ancient Gaelic festival that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark days of the year. It's halfway between the autumnal equinox and the first day of winter, and it is seen as one of those times during the year when spirits can more easily enter the world of the living. It makes me wonder when so many cultures over such a long time find this particular date in our annual calendar to be when the doorway begins to shimmer with ghosts and goblins, when the demarcation between the worlds becomes thinner. Some people like to watch scary movies at this time; I'm not one of them. There's too much horror in the world already without trying to add to it. All I have to do to get really scared is watch the news of what is happening worldwide. Is it just me or is the world getting scarier in general? Or are the newscasters just concentrating on the frightening stuff?

Okay, I've wallowed around in the spookiness of the season long enough, and now it's time to think of happier things. Perhaps the trick to staying balanced and content in the world today is to concentrate on the positive side. I believe there are plenty of good things happening everywhere, but I sure don't see anybody telling me about them. I must go out of my way to find them, but they are there, if I will only look. This is one way that blogging has changed my life: there are myriad souls in this blogosphere who give me different perspectives, and many who are making a real difference in their own communities. Almost every day I will be inspired by some fellow blogger, and I realize that getting bogged down in negativity helps no one, especially not me. Those unwarranted fears take over only when I allow them to.

Today I'll pull out some old photographs I have of my loved ones who have gone over to the other side, and remember the good times we had together, honoring their lives and who they were to me. My sister PJ is also on the other side now, and the idea of them all having a feast together, remembering when they were down here in corporeal form, gives me a great deal of pleasure. PJ was a great cook, as was my mother in her younger days, so I can imagine PJ's fantastic apple pie and Mama's incredible turkey hash among the spread. If I listen carefully, I might be able to hear distant laughter and the clink of silverware.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The gift of time

My toy when I was two
When I was a little girl, it didn't take much to make me happy, and I got just as attached to those little stuffed animals or dolls to feel as though my life would end if they were lost. I can still remember the ache of longing for some long-forgotten item from the past. I may have forgotten what it was, but I can remember all too well the feeling of loss. That is something that goes right along with life: learning to let go of what I once owned, who I once was, and loved ones who will never return.

I saw a movie yesterday with my friend Judy. It hasn't gotten great reviews and was adapted from a play, and it has somewhat of that feeling. We enjoyed it nevertheless, and how could you not when the movie has Maggie Smith in it? The movie, "My Old Lady," also stars Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas. It's been a long time since I've seen Kline in a movie, maybe since 1988 when he was in "A Fish Called Wanda," and I was struck by how much he has aged. You go along in life thinking that those people you don't see often are still the same as they were, and then when you see them again, you can hardly believe how much they've changed. I'm sure it's the same for other people when they see me again after decades have passed.

In the movie, Maggie has a line that I thought of several times during the night and inspired this post: in talking about wealth and fortune, she said, "You have the greatest wealth of all: the gift of time." As an old woman of 92, she has only a short time left, and she is aware of it every moment of every day. Although I am twenty years younger than that old woman, I can feel what she meant, since so much time has passed since I was that young toddler with my stuffed animal. Even if I have the gift of twenty more years, that is just not very long at all in the scheme of things. It will pass in the blink of an eye.

But I've been given that gift, as I realize when I stride quickly past an old man who leans heavily on his cane, shuffling carefully down the sidewalk. I've had such a good life already, and I still have more to come, God willing. For the time being, I also have good health. My loved ones who left in their forties, fifties, and sixties did not have the gift of time. Whatever else comes to pass in my life, I will not die prematurely. Or have my hair turn prematurely white, for that matter. I've written before about that "three score and ten" span of a lifetime, and I've managed to achieve it and am skating along through my seventies. I'm not ready to retire from life just yet.

Today my toys are a lot more expensive than that stuffed animal, and I am now looking forward to a new iPad to take the place of my old one. In three years, although it is still very functional, the advances in screen quality and speed have convinced me to upgrade it. I use it every day and carry it with me to the coffee shop or wherever I might be wanting to connect to the outside world. I'm looking forward to showing off my pictures to my friends on my newest toy. It's so new that it has just appeared in the stores. I went yesterday to the local Best Buy to take a look at it, and I am glad I've got my very own iPad coming in the mail tomorrow. It was supposed to have arrived Friday, but the delay has simply spread out my anticipation to encapsulate the weekend.

It has also made me very aware that it's that feeling of anticipation and joy of ownership that I desire. Just like the little girl in the picture, she's got her toy and feels no lack. But long after the toy has worn out its usefulness, the feeling I had when I first held it in my hands, that will be easy to remember. Of course, this is just what the advertisers have in mind: to feed that ephemeral desire to have the latest and greatest. I fell into their trap and I'm not sorry. I can also convince myself that I'm helping bolster the economy. Plus I'll sell my old one to a friend who is anxious to have her own toy, which will be new to her. I can't think of a downside to my purchase. I've already gotten quite a bit of emotional mileage out of it.

The weather has been pretty rainy and blustery all week, and it's no different today. I was hoping that perhaps I might have gotten a chance to make another skydive before the Drop Zone closes for two months, but it isn't going to happen. It's possible I've made my last skydive already. But then again, I'm not selling my gear, and I will keep it in date. That means that if I decide next spring that I want to make another jump or two, it will be possible. Rather than closing the door with a slam, I'll close it gently, and keep my hand on the doorknob for awhile longer. I know that many of you are not surprised that I might want to keep skydiving, but that is a toy that is almost worn out. I would never have believed twenty years ago that I would find myself in this place, almost neutral about whether or not to continue leaping out of airplanes, but that's where I am. And then I'll have a flash of remembrance of being under my beautiful canopy, looking out at Puget Sound, the mountains rising up from the horizon, the wind in my face, and I think well, maybe...

I have been blessed with the gift of time. I'm still able to partake in outdoor activities to my heart's content. Although I know that all things pass, I'll never forget the wonderful feelings that I've experienced in my life. Long ago, I remember thinking that one day I would be an old woman and hoping I'd be glad that my life took the twists and turns that it has. And you know what? I am.

Now it's time to start my day. My partner still sleeps next to me, the rain is drumming on the roof, and my tea is gone. I missed all this last weekend when I was not here; it's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It's also true that taking stock of one's life and being grateful for the good things makes one happier. Because of this blog and my habit of writing here every Sunday morning, I have that gift, too. Until we meet again next weekend, I wish you nothing but good things, and the gift of time.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

On Vashon Island

Jann, Linda, me, Deb, Sandi: the Vashonistas
I am sitting in a bed at the old farmhouse on Vashon Island, where the five of us fellow bloggers have come for a retreat, This is the third time for this event, although Sally is missing this year. It's amazing to me that we all agreed so readily to get together once again, but now that I'm here, I'm already hoping that we'll do it next October as well. It's been wonderful to reconnect in person, although I keep track of all these ladies through their blogs, which is how we met in the first place.

I drove through the rain on Friday 80 miles south to Linda's home, and we took her car to the ferry across to the island. Jann drove by herself and Deb and Sandi traveled here together. Driving up to the farmhouse was like coming home. It's become such a familiar place, and we have now shared more than a week's memories here, combined from these last three years. I'm sad to think that today, Sunday, we will need to say goodbye both to this place and to each other for another year.

I am the oldest of the group and have been retired for longer than the others. Actually, Deb and Sandi are still teaching and have retirement to look forward to. They had to take a day off in order to come. I keep forgetting what it's like to be working until I listen to them and realize how much my life has changed since I was in that world. Deb, the baby of our group, needs to work at least two and probably three more years before reaching 65 (or 66) when she can access her Social Security and Medicare benefits. Sandi will work for the rest of this year and probably next as well, since she needs to find a way to live with a reduced income, and the longer she works, the easier it will be.

That's true of so many of us of a certain age: I know I had to wait until I was 65 and a half before I could retire and receive full benefits from Social Security. Medicare automatically kicks in at 65 in the United States. Although it doesn't offer what it once did, it's still something and very important to seniors, and is a big part of the planning we must do as we decide how we're going to live for the rest of our lives. It makes me grateful for having gotten into the system when I was young, since one's benefits are figured based on what was paid in during your working years. Although I couldn't possibly live on just my Social Security, it makes a huge difference.

We haven't had the wonderful weather we enjoyed during our first trip here, when we explored the beaches and some other parts of the island, but it hasn't mattered all that much, since we don't need to get out to have a great visit with each other. I have been in stitches listening to Jann tell some of her stories, and Linda has shared what it's been like for her to now live four months of the year (in the winter months) in Arizona. She suffers from seasonal affective disorder and this has made all the difference: getting away from the short rainy days that constitute the Pacific Northwest winter.

I think it helps me to get outdoors every week during the winter, when the Senior Trailblazers trade our High Country hikes for ones around town, which are just as challenging sometimes, and almost as beautiful, sometimes. The rain presents a challenge, but I do find that getting out into the weather makes it easier for me to appreciate having a nice warm, cozy place to return to. There have been times when I've wondered if I'd lost my mind, as I struggle to stay dry in the pouring rain, and trying to keep my hands from getting too cold when we stop for lunch. But I've got company, and that makes a huge difference.

Vashon Island is the only place off the mainland in this part of the country where I think I might be able to manage living on an island. It's got a very quaint and relaxed atmosphere, and there are plenty of things to do to keep one from boredom. But then again, as I look at the trees changing color and think ahead to the winter, I'm not so sure. I don't like being hooked to a ferry in order to travel places. As we waited to board the ferry on Friday, we saw what looked to be school children returning on foot, lots of them. It made me wonder if they attend school on Vashon and live in Seattle.

Because one of the women who arranges for visitors to come to the farmhouse also arranges tours to Italy, both Deb and Sandi have decided to join a small group of women in the coming spring. This two-week trip will take them to places in southern Italy off  the beaten path, before experiencing Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan. I'm envious, but because I'm retired, I just don't have the funds. Well, that's not entirely true: if I chose to use my savings, I could go, too. It's just a matter of choices. But as I listen to them and their excitement, I wish I could join them.

Today we will travel back to our respective homes and will probably all write about our adventure in our respective blogs. And next week I will have my partner next to me as I write. This morning it's been difficult, because I want to join the early risers and share more stories before we need to part. In fact, that's why I'm going to cut this short this morning. I don't want to miss out! See you next week, dear friends. Stay well and hug somebody for me, okay?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An attitude of gratitude

In the High Country in front of Larrabee Mountain
Al took this picture of me last Thursday. It was such a beautiful day that I think I will remember it as being one of the finest fall days I've ever had up in the Mt. Baker wilderness. I've just begun my eighth year with the Senior Trailblazers; I started hiking with them in late September 2008, and now the hikes and the way things change from season to season have become familiar and cherished.

Tomorrow, October 13, is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. They celebrate on the second Monday in October, while we in the US celebrate on the fourth Thursday in November. October seems reserved for Halloween on this side of the border. I see decorations everywhere for it, and I guess pumpkins and ghouls are appropriate displays for the season. I've got a blogging friend who decorates her entire house with spider webs and sparkly witches and posts pictures of them for the enjoyment of her followers. I'm glad she does it so I can enjoy it, since I'm not much for doing it myself.

Thanksgiving, however, is a favorite holiday, because I have the chance to contemplate all the things that I enjoy and am grateful for. First of all, I am grateful for my health and my ability to spend time in nature and then enjoy the feeling of being tired after a day in the wilderness. I am definitely hooked on it, and I look forward to my Thursdays, rain or shine, to play outside. The coming week, however, is bringing lots of rain to this part of the country, and in the High Country, the precipitation probably will be in the form of snow. That means the spot where I am standing will be covered with white and will become inaccessible in a few short weeks. Until next year, that is.

I am also grateful for the abundance and variety of foods I have available. Yesterday I harvested the last of the broccoli from my garden and began to prepare my plot for the winter. As I ate the steamed broccoli with my dinner yesterday, I marveled at the fact that it was grown right in my back yard and tasted better than anything I could have purchased at the store. It's taken awhile for me to appreciate vegetable gardening, since I was such a novice at it two years ago, but I've already got all kinds of plans for my little space next spring. I'll plant some garlic before I put it to bed, but otherwise I'm just about done for the year. I look around at my neighbor's plots to see what they've done to get ready for winter and I've learned quite a lot.

I am grateful for my community of friends. We just got a new neighbor in our downstairs apartment and will be learning more about the single woman who has moved in. I went down yesterday and introduced myself; she's just moving into Bellingham after living on a boat on Whidbey Island for the past several years. Her daughter lives here and is expecting; she'll be around to enjoy her grandchild. I already like her and am so grateful that I've got another "woman of a certain age" to get to know. That's a relief; I hope she stays for a long time.

Yesterday I enjoyed coffee after my walk with the Fairhaven walking group, and we laughed and carried on like a bunch of teenagers as we sat at the round table and talked about our lives. Two of the women are also gardeners, and they gave me some tips about how to prepare the garden for the winter. We discussed the pros and cons of planting a cover crop; I'll have to research that. When we arrived at the coffee shop, it was pouring rain outside, but when we left, all the clouds were gone and the sun felt strong and warmed us as we made our way to our individual cars. I love these women and know some of them from my hiking group, too. In fact, it was Peggy and Linda who kept encouraging me to join the Saturday walking group, but I resisted at first. I didn't think I could walk that fast and enjoy it, but now I look forward to it every Saturday. And I'm much faster than I was when I first started.

I'm also very grateful that I have the ability to write. Although the writing I do every Sunday morning is a bit "seat of the pants" stuff, I find that it gives me enormous pleasure to sit with my laptop in the early morning and pound the keys, with hopes that somebody will find what I write enjoyable. I never tried to gather followers for this blog, but more than a hundred people follow it, and I look forward to your comments very much. I learn something every week from you. What a fine community I share with my fellow bloggers! To think that a few short years ago I didn't even know that this community existed and now it's an essential part of my life. I am fortunate indeed.

I decided I'm going to write some short biographies of my friends here in Bellingham. It was an idea that came to me in the middle of the night, and I thought about how much I'd like to know the history of some of the people I only know in one context. I've already interviewed my fisherman friend Gene and my hiking friend Rita, and now I've got to spend some time distilling the information into just the right amount. Then I'll run it past them before publishing (probably on my other blog) to make sure they are happy with it. Just the week after I made the decision to do it, I got a call from the local newspaper to see if I would be willing to be interviewed about my skydiving career. It will be for their Prime Time bimonthly magazine that covers the activities of seniors in the area. Another one of those serendipitous happenings, don't you think? Anyway, I'm excited and looking forward to it. I wonder if they will give me a chance to see what they write before it goes public. It's the right way to do it, if you ask me.

Yep, I've got a lot to be grateful for, and I've only scratched the surface! There's my family and my partner, good books to read, my warm and cozy apartment, and much more that doesn't seem to be bubbling up to the surface right now. My tea is gone and I'm beginning to think about getting up and starting my Sunday, now that my self-imposed contemplation of life has been accomplished. I do hope you find yourself in an "attitude of gratitude" this week, as the fall season moves us ever closer to winter's dark days.

Remember we have each other, and on the other side of the planet, it's moving ever closer to summer! Another blogging friend has been posting pictures from Canberra of the daffodils sprouting in her garden. It's always wine o'clock in some part of the world, and spring and summer too. Be well until next Sunday when we'll chat again.