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, September 28, 2014

Falling into fall

Leaves are changing
Today I am most likely going out to the Drop Zone to make a few jumps with my friends. It's not certain, however, since the fog might not lift as early as it did yesterday. I saw pictures of Seattle from my friend Linda's blog, which showed beautiful clear skies for most of the day; here, we never did get full sunshine. I just looked at the satellite picture, and the fog in the Puget Sound area does look a little heavier than it did yesterday. We'll see.

I'd like to go, even if I only make one skydive. My season is fast coming to a close. The Drop Zone will only be open one more month, October, and there is never any assurance that the weather will cooperate. Most years I've been able to jump until mid-October, so there's hope. I know it sounds like I'm still waffling about whether or not to make this my last season, but I'm not, really. It's just been such a big part of my life for the past twenty-five years, and it's hard to think of not ever flinging myself out of an airplane and playing in freefall again. Plus there's that beautiful canopy I love to fly.

Last night I had a dream that I had a malfunction. I looked up at my deploying parachute and it was not fully inflating. I tried to wiggle it around and finally made the decision to cut it away and use my reserve parachute. Well, I successfully went back into freefall, but my reserve did not come out! I tried to punch it with my elbows, wanting it to come out of the bag, but I woke up before I figured out why it didn't work. And before I hit the ground. It was an unsettling dream. I lay in bed for awhile thinking about it, wondering if it was an omen, something I should pay attention to. I had done everything correctly and still it didn't look like I would survive.

What I think the dream was telling me is just that: no matter what I do, how carefully I make sure everything is done properly, I'm still going to die. My mortality has been on my mind lately, as I get closer to my next birthday, and as I continue to learn of dear friends who are very sick and not expected to survive, fighting that last battle. My friend Steve who has liver cancer is waiting for a transplant. He was only given six months to live without one, and it's getting close. The pictures I see of him make me very sad, but he has asked us to be positive, and I'm trying, I really am. But it's hard to imagine wishing for another person with his same blood type to meet an untimely death just so Steve can go through another type of misery. But he's strong and vigorous and wants to live, so I'm determined to stay positive, for his sake.

I've been enjoying the Ken Burns series on The Roosevelts. I've finished five of the seven two-hour-long episodes. I know the next one will take me through Franklin Roosevelt's four elections to the presidency. I was amazed to learn through this series that Teddy Roosevelt only lived to be sixty, and that Franklin only lived to be sixty-three. They both accomplished an incredible amount in what seems to me to be rather short lives, but then again, sixty years is a long time. It's only that I've gone past that number myself and now more than a decade has passed since that milestone. I've changed my idea of what defines a long life. I wonder if I'll feel the same way when I reach eighty.

I doubt it, for several reasons. It's incredible how quickly a year passes these days. Even a decade passes rapidly. When I was a young woman, it seemed like a decade took almost forever. Now, I look back ten years and feel it was just yesterday. This is, I'm convinced, an aspect of aging that we all come to realize, if we live long enough. Every year becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of my life, and every one of my paltry eight or nine decades of life finishes way too soon.

Okay, I've done enough with that bit, haven't I? What I would like to do with the rest of this post is count my blessings. It's way more fruitful and worthwhile than grousing about the brevity of life. First of all, I count the blessing of my environment, which includes the magnificent Pacific Northwest in general, and my little corner of the universe in particular. While this tiny apartment with little furniture wouldn't satisfy many people, it's quite enough for me. Sharing it with my partner, who loves me immoderately and who has taught me so very much during our quarter of a century together, that's on the top of my list.

My blogging universe is right up there towards the top of the list, too. It was only five years ago that I began to write a blog, and it satisfies some deep need in me to communicate my thoughts. Years ago I kept a journal, but it was a different time, and my journal had no audience. I still re-read parts of those volumes, but it was a complete surprise to me to find like-minded people who also write blogs. That universe of virtual friends has become a source of continuing delight. I look forward to reading about the daily life of many of my friends, most of whom I will never meet in person. Some, though, I have.

Next month I will travel south to join five other blogging women to have our annual retreat on Vashon Island, our third such gathering. We all followed each other's lives on line and when one suggested that we get together, I never realized how much I would enjoy getting to know them in person. Another friend lives in Seattle and we met at the garden show, quite by accident. Well, not quite: her husband recognized me from my pictures on line. But you know, I have many other virtual friends who live far away from me: Hawaii, Australia, London, Maine, Minnesota, and many other places I'm not likely to travel to. It doesn't matter: they are my virtual family and I cherish them all. If someone doesn't show up on line for awhile, I begin to worry and try to find out if all is well, or whether they just decided to stop blogging for awhile. It's a part of my universe that is new and exciting; it keeps me connected and engaged. I'm very grateful for it.

Next comes the rest of my family. Although PJ is no longer with us, I think of her often. I am very grateful for Facebook, which puts me in contact with members of my family that I would otherwise miss. My sister Norma Jean and I talk by video chat every other week, and I see pictures of my brother, sisters, nieces and nephews and their goings-on through our Facebook connection. Which brings me to the reason for all that: internet connection! It is so much a part of my life today that I almost forgot to mention it, but without that, I wouldn't blog or have joined the virtual world of today.

Last week I was missing my partner, but he's dozing next to me right now. I know the sounds of his breathing and realize that a few minutes ago he turned over and is probably listening to the sound of the keyboard and pondering his day. Yep, I'm sure of it now. I think I'll finish this so I can close the laptop and snuggle with him for a few minutes. He'll ask me what I wrote about, and I'll say I wrote about gratitude. Mostly.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cycles

Looking back: today and fifty years ago
I was looking at the picture of myself as a young woman the other day, and I wondered if I took  picture of myself today, now, and compared it to that old photo, would I be recognizable as being the same person? I put it on my iPad and took it to the coffee shop and showed it around. Nope. I might have been the grandmother of that younger self, but nobody recognized the person I have become today as that young woman.

That's the way of things, though, isn't it? We are all moving through our lives from birth to death, and everyone is dramatically different after half a century of life; it has changed us, aged us, as we traverse the many cycles of life. That young woman had already been married twice and divorced once, lost her younger son to spinal meningitis, and so was already acquainted with suffering. But little did she know who she would become, although she thought about it.

When we are in our twenties, thinking about ourselves growing old seems impossible. We look at our parents and grandparents and their friends and acquaintances, and we see what we think we will be like when we reach their age. But it's rarely like that, it seems. My mother never did become a septuagenarian; she died at 69. Both of my grandmothers died in their seventies, but they seemed much older in those days. In the 1960s and 1970s, by the time women reached the age of 70 they were certainly not expected to do much more than sit in a rocking chair and knit, read mystery novels, and perhaps cook. This is reflected in the films and television shows of the era.

Somehow it began to change, and by the time the new century rolled around, it wasn't unusual for older women to be given a different role: that of active, involved citizens who challenge themselves to strive for fitness. I don't think I ever heard of a seventy-something woman running a marathon in 1965. I suppose they did, but nothing like you see today. Times have definitely changed in fifty years, and the expectation that someone in their seventies and eighties could still be very active has become commonplace. I found this article on line, with some really inspiring stories: 10 People Over Seventy Who Are Fitter Than You. These ten people range in age from 70 to 102. I have difficulty reconciling the expectations of half a century ago with the reality of today.

As most of my readers know, I work at staying fit and exercise regularly at the gym, walk and hike with my friends, but even so, I have begun the process of trying to stay ahead of my infirmities. A bad knee (tore my ACL and had subsequent ACL replacement surgery in 1994), some Achilles tendon pain, and other aches and pains keep me from doing more. Most of my hiking pals, all of us seniors, have to deal with some chronic condition that needs to be managed. At the party we had on Friday, our dear friend Amy came to visit. She stopped hiking with us earlier this year because of a knee replacement and intractable back problems. She will probably be unable to join us on the trails any more. Ross had two knees replaced in the spring and is doing much better, and may even be able to hike with us again next year. He's working on it. But there's no guarantee.

Last night I awoke thinking about this post, what I would write about this morning, and the word "cycles" kept running through my mind. I realize that this coming spring will mark seven years since I retired and moved here. That got me to thinking about how many seven-year cycles I've marked in my lifetime: a full ten, and I'm working on the eleventh. By the time I reach the end of this cycle, I'll be 77 years old. A lot can happen in those five years, especially as we get into the higher reaches of our seventies. Perhaps I won't be able to continue my activities at that age, but maybe I will. It depends a lot on maintaining my fitness level and gradually advancing it, keeping myself at a good weight, eating right, and staying involved in my community.

I read an interesting article yesterday, written by E.J. Emanuel, entitled Why I Hope to Die at 75. Of course, he's only 57 right now, and that advanced age looks to be a long ways in the future. Well, he makes the case that it's only after we reach that age (75), that we begin to think we can prolong our lives by constant vigilance, working harder and harder to stay at the same place we were when we were younger. He thinks that bypass surgeries and other measures to stave off our inevitable decline are counterproductive. He might be right: I know my father was terrified of having to endure such a thing, and he died of a heart attack at the age of 62, even though there were options that might have allowed him to live much longer. He didn't want to go through it, and I don't blame him. But gosh, how much I would have loved to have him in my life for longer.

As Emanuel points out in the article, quality of life is crucial to continue the enjoyment of our later years. It's normal to want medical science to help out, but I've discovered that the more time I spend in the doctor's office, the less healthy I seem to be. Allopathic medicine looks to give one a prescription to help with sleep, constipation, chronic pain, and the other myriad ills that we all face at one time or another. And they all come with side effects. Well, another pill can help with that acid reflux that is caused by the other medicine, says the doctor.

I take a lot of vitamins and two prescription medications, one for high blood pressure and the other for high cholesterol. Sometimes it can be burdensome, but I think they have helped me to keep from having developed chronic heart disease. With my family history, I feel justified in trying to stay as heathy as possible. When I have my blood drawn, my numbers look pretty good, and I intend to keep it that way for as long I can. I will complete this cycle, my eleventh seven-year cycle, in 2019. I will strive for good health and do what I can to keep going. My philosophy is that if I take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

This is an unusual morning: my partner is out of town, and the spot next to me where I usually hear him stirring at this time is quiet. He will return today after being gone for four days, and I am looking forward to having him walk in the door and return to our daily routine. His absence for a few days has made me realize how much I need him around. It's like breathing: you take it for granted until you can't catch your breath. He's my fresh air, and once he's home I will breathe easy again.

I wish you all good things in your life until we meet again next week.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Living large and living small

The view of Mt. Baker from my living room
Yesterday I was looking out my front door when I saw this contrail cloud pointing almost directly to the tiny little view I have of Mt. Baker from my living room. After two years in this apartment, I've grown very accustomed to the variety of looks the mountain has. When I can see it, that is. It's much more likely that I look out my front door and see grey skies, maybe with a bit of moisture. In this part of the country, I've heard people say "the mountain is out" when referring to Mt. Rainier showing its face from Seattle. Well, for me it's Mt. Baker, and the mountain has been out much more this summer than I remember from years past.

I've been thinking about what it means to "live large," hence the title of this post. If you look up the definition, it refers to being wealthy and using that wealth in extravagant and ostentatious ways. But there are many ways to look at what it means to live large, in my opinion. Maybe it means using your wealth to buy multiple homes and houses and needing to have all that money to sustain your lifestyle. Those who let their needs mushroom along with their money never feel wealthy, but just stuck in the need to acquire more and more stuff.

For one thing, if you don't have your health, it doesn't matter at all how much money you have, since you don't enjoy it. That's one thing you can never buy, that and peace of mind. It seems to me that having too much money can be counterproductive to happiness. And after all, isn't that what all of us really want? To be happy? The consumer culture that permeates our lives here in the United States, perhaps everywhere, makes us want what someone else has. If I had that new car, the big house filled with the latest appliances, I would be happy then, right?

I don't think so. But then again, I'll never have to worry about having too much money. I've never had the acquisitive gene, and I was fortunate to marry someone who has even less of it than I do. I may not acquire expensive and fancy things, but I tend to hold onto things I don't need or use any more for way too long. Smart Guy, on the other hand, regularly purges his closet to rid himself of those items he doesn't wear or use any more. He also does the same thing with the food in the refrigerator. Before I met him, there would be little containers of leftovers in there that I would finally throw out. He doesn't allow that to happen, and if there is something I don't remember I left in there, he strategically places it in front so I can't help but see it. He's thrifty, and I guess you could call that living small.

Although I don't have much money, I feel as though I live large, since I always had enough of everything I ever wanted to have. I remember years ago when I first went to work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). It was in 1979, and I considered myself to be a hippie, back in the days when we were ubiquitous, and the only clothes I owned were jeans and t-shirts. Fortunately for me, there was no dress code at NCAR, so I didn't need to change my clothing habits to work there. The other secretaries dressed up much more than I did, but even they didn't seem to mind. In fact, I realized that the PhD scientists dressed just like me! It was only the female hourly wage earners who looked well put together.

When the weather turned cold, I went to Goodwill and got myself a down jacket, which didn't look all that good, and my boss decided I needed a better looking jacket and gave me a purple down coat he didn't wear because of the color. (It was perfect for me, though.) That began our relationship of him giving me things he no longer wanted. I was always happy to receive them, but that old habit I had of accumulating stuff required me to begin to give away things to others. It worked well, and I still get a great deal of enjoyment by giving away something I don't use any more to someone else who needs it.

I suppose if I were to win the lottery, I'd be forced to change my lifestyle. Or would I? Could I still be happy living the way I do if I had millions of dollars in the bank? I recently learned that Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest people on the planet, still lives in the same house he bought in 1957. He also once said that his children will not inherit great sums of money when he dies, because he wants them to have enough to believe they can do anything, but not so much that they believe they don't need to do anything at all.

When I am feeling good, the world looks bright and filled with promise. There's that same old problem of health being more important, at least to me, than any other kind of wealth. When I'm feeling sick, or start to worry about my health because of some new ache or pain, it wouldn't matter at all how much money I had in the bank: I'd be unhappy. So, therefore, it makes sense to me to concentrate first and foremost on doing everything I can to keep my physical and mental self as healthy and happy as possible. Of course, we all get sick, we all get older and more and more infirm. It's the way of things. And that doesn't change with money in the bank.

The most amazing thing has begun to happen as I get older and begin to feel my age: I'm beginning to accept it all, in ways I could never have even imagined when I was fifty, or even sixty. There is some kind of gentle tolerance that comes to me sometimes, and I think about how fortunate I am to be in my seventies and able to indulge in so many activities that give me pleasure. I can still skydive, although I choose not to do it for much longer. I go hiking with my senior buddies every week; I walk and read and have great conversations with my friends and family. There are many things that have fallen away because of age, it's the way of life. But I'm still living large, to me, and I've been blessed with relatively good health, a good mind, and people who love me and who I also love.

The brilliant sunshine just began to pour into the room as the sun rises, reminding me that it's getting to be time to get out of bed. My partner still sleeps beside me, although I see some stirring. My tea is gone, and my post is almost written. It's not what I thought I was going to write about, but it almost never is.

I'll pull out my skydiving gear and head to the Drop Zone today for another chance to jump out of perfectly good airplanes for no reason at all except that it's fun. And I will wish you, my dear reader, another satisfying week before we meet again.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Taking risks

Crossing a stream last Thursday
Last Thursday, I went on my usual hike with the Senior Trailblazers, and we knew that we would have to cross several fast-flowing streams to get to the great view of the glaciers on Mt. Baker. Once we got to this roaring stream, Al, our leader, tried to cross first. (There were ten of us.) He thought it was possible to get across without falling in or getting your feet very wet, and he did it. I did notice as I watched his crossing that his pants had gotten wet almost to his knees from the splashing water, but his waterproof high-top boots kept his feet dry as he picked his way from rock to rock. Then several of the others went across with varying levels of success, and I hesitated, unsure of whether or not to try it. The water is not only crashing over the rocks, but the current is also very strong and the chance of getting hurt high, if I slipped and fell in.

Al came back over to talk with those who were unwilling or reluctant to cross, and gave them a walkie-talkie; they backtracked a short distance to an alternate route to a nice view without having to cross the stream. While they were talking, I decided to see if I might be able to make it, and Mike snapped this picture of me as I carefully made my way across. My waterproof boots and gaiters kept me dry, and I was very pleased with myself for having done it. Actually, little Noriko, one of the hikers who is shorter and smaller than me, had gone across easily, and that was enough for me to give it a try. Nobody fell in, although not everyone's feet were exactly dry.

This has caused me to ponder the differences between people, with some being risk-takers and others being risk averse. I think we are born with tendencies one way or the other. My sister Norma Jean has never been a risk taker, while I have always been willing to try new and exciting adventures. Our entire childhood growing up together, we functioned as a team, with me charging on ahead and her offering reasons why we shouldn't rush in. There were times when I listened to her, and other times when I would convince her to give something new a try.

Since my father was in the Air Force and we moved frequently, I was often having to start attending a new school, most often in the middle of a school year, rather than at the beginning when many other children would be new. I remember having to stand and introduce myself more than once to a classroom filled with strangers. As an extrovert, I managed it much more easily than my shy and introverted sister. But it was still not an easy task.

As I became an adult, I went through some pretty harrowing experiences as I lost my little son and went through a terrible divorce, and then another. I found employment over the years, because I was a skilled secretary, a position that was ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970s. It stuns me to realize that there are fewer and fewer jobs like that these days. Times have definitely changed.

As the decades passed, I had many adventures with friends. My sister married, had two children and was living in another part of the country, and we lost touch for many years. I knew that she had settled down in Michigan and had no desire to move any more, happy to be stationary. At the same time I was still a wanderer, first living in California, then traveling for a couple of years before discovering Boulder, Colorado. It was the first time I had found a place that I wanted to make my own home town. I ended up living there for well over thirty years and had finally settled down.

But I still found ways to take risks. I met some people who loved to climb fourteeners (peaks in the Colorado mountains that are at least 14,000 feet high) and ended up climbing 26 of them, sometimes more than once, over the years. I fell in love with the mountains. There were many harrowing experiences, close calls, and chances of getting hurt, but I had learned a few things from my sister and often thought of what she would do. Other than a sprain or two, I never got injured.

And then 24 years ago last week, I made a tandem skydive that changed the trajectory of my life. Before a full year had passed, I had made more than 300 skydives and spent every waking moment lost in the thrill of becoming a proficient skydiver. That thrill lasted for thousands upon thousands of skydives. I became an instructor and over the next twelve years taught more than a thousand students. I met my husband in 1992 through skydiving, and we were married in freefall two years later.

And now I am living in the Pacific Northwest as an active senior, having become a septuagenarian almost two years ago, but still looking for ways to take risks and enjoy myself to the fullest. This year I've almost stopped skydiving, with the weekends more likely to take me outdoors in all kinds of weather than traveling 75 miles south to Skydive Snohomish. That Drop Zone has become home to me, the place where I like to play in the air with a few good friends. I suspect that by the time the new year rolls around, my skydiving years will be behind me.

But the risk-taking aspect of my personality is still intact. I guess it will always be that way. I realize that the thrill I get from accomplishing a stream crossing or traversing a sleep slope with lots of exposure is as familiar to me as breathing in and out. As I age, those challenges will still be there, but they will be pared down to be more in line with the ability of my body to take me from one adventure to another. And there are the challenges of aging, which some wag has said "ain't for sissies." Finding ways to deal with staying active in the face of old knees and other well-worn body parts is challenging in itself.

I found this quote by Hunter S. Thompson, who lived his life to the fullest. The sentiment is dear to my heart and he deserves to be credited for coming up with this philosophy.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!"
I'm working on it, Hunter. I hope that this week finds you, my dear readers, in a good place, surrounded with whatever joys in life give you happiness, whether it be outdoor activities, reading good books, or your children and grandchildren. I will never have that last particular joy, but I've found plenty of others in my life. Sending you blessings from the vantage point of a risk taker.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mulling over the long weekend

Coffee art
One of the baristas at the coffee shop made this lovely design in my coffee the other day, and I had to memorialize it before taking a sip. Tomorrow is Labor Day, the first day of September and the last day of the unofficial summer season. Although we have a few more weeks before we reach the equinox (September 22, to be exact), at this latitude we are losing almost three and a half minutes of daylight every single day. It doesn't take long for that to begin to be noticeable. The trees are turning color and leaves are beginning to fall.

I'm very sad about my downstairs neighbor having to move out, with her cat that has become my friend. She is being evicted because of lying about having a pet, and she must be out today. And she still doesn't have a place to move, so I am anxious for her, as well as for the cat. Although he's going to be okay, since he has me and another neighbor who will care for him, she won't be coming to get him and take him to his new home until she has one herself.

She had found a place that she thought would work for them, but yesterday she took me over to see it, and it's really awful: a room in an unfinished basement (there is a small room that is finished) with only a tiny little window. She wanted to know what I thought about the place, and I told her it's really not suitable, and she was relieved that I thought so too. There is another place that might be available in a week or so, and she's hoping that she will be able to move there, taking over a lease. But nothing is for sure right now, and all her stuff has to be put somewhere by the end of the day.

I know it will work out somehow, but I couldn't help but be upset for her and spent much of last night worrying. I know that doesn't help anybody, least of all me, but I really don't know how to stop. And who knows who our next downstairs apartment dwellers will be? We have lived in this apartment for two years and whoever they are, they will be the fourth tenants in the apartment during that short period of time. It's going to work out, and I of course will make sure that the cat is fed until he has a new home with Gretchen, but still I feel helpless.

Moving on to other matters that occupy my thoughts these days. When I think of the sheer numbers of displaced people everywhere on the planet these days, there are times when I simply cannot cope, turn off the news and try to bury myself in books or other escapist entertainment. Today I'm going to the movies with Judy to see a movie I didn't think I would ever consider: Guardians of the Galaxy, billed as Marvel's "action-packed epic space adventure." I doubt that I will be thinking of anything very weighty as I watch it; my sister saw it and enjoyed it very much, so I suspect I will, too.

And tomorrow? Well, my entire routine is disrupted by the holiday. The gym will be closed, there are no buses running, and I am not sure what I will do for exercise. The weather is supposed to be iffy, with a chance of rain. You know I don't allow weather to get in the way of going outside, but I am a social exerciser, and I don't usually just head off on my own. I might be forced to do that tomorrow, however. Fortunately by Tuesday my routine will be back to normal. I've got a pile of books to peruse, but nothing that entices me all that much. I finished a good book yesterday, and now I wish I had made it last a little longer. Do you ever re-read books? I've got a couple that I might do that with, since I know they are good and there they are, right on my bookshelf gathering dust.

My left eyelid problem is not solved, by any means, but it's much better than it was. If you don't remember what it was, about a month ago I began to notice that when I wake in the morning, that eyelid doesn't want to open. I went to the doctor and had a CT scan, and everything is "normal for my age," so I started using artificial tears before I go to bed, and then again in the middle of the night if there's a problem. Last night I woke to find it was sticking closed, but a dose of tears helped. There is no "gunk" in the eye that is causing it to stay closed, so the cause is a mystery to me. I was encouraged to find that several of my commenters have experienced something similar. I had never heard of it and now I put it down to another of those things that happen to us as we age. It was terrifying to read up about it on the internet; I read about people who have to pry open both eyes with their fingers before they can see! Being internet-savvy has its downsides.

That reminds me, a friend of Gene's has started coming to the coffee shop. John is a big old farmer who wears Bibb overalls every day and looks to be around our age, a little on the rough side. At first I had a hard time talking with him, but he bought himself a Samsung tablet and brought it into the shop. He asked me if I would be willing to help him learn how to use it. I helped him get connected to the wifi in the shop and how to check his email, which he already had but didn't have any way to read it. (Mail from his relatives and a few spam emails were the only things in there.) But he was very pleased to get that far. I thought I might enjoy teaching someone how to get connected, but actually it was hard to maintain my equanimity. After several tries, I was tempted to do it myself, but that wouldn't do. It would be easier if he knew how to type, or if he weren't so hard of hearing.

However, John has been grateful for my help and sent his daughter an email telling her he has a coach to help him through the rough spots. And he took a picture with his tablet and sent it to her. It worked, and you would have thought that he'd just written a successful novel, he was so pleased.

Gosh, where has the time gone? When I began this post, with no idea where it would go, it was dark outside, and the sun came up while I was composing. I knew I would be writing about my neighbor, but everything else was tenuous. I sometimes find this activity to be easy, and other times it's a chore. But when I'm done, I always feel better, more centered, with a clearer idea of the state of my internal life. I always hope that not only am I chronicling my week, but that I am reaching out to you, my reader, with hopes that we can connect. I look forward so much to the comments, as they help me to gain perspective.

With that final thought, I wish you a good holiday weekend, and a satisfying week ahead.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Summer is winding down

Heading back down after our hike to the top
There's something about this picture that I really like: maybe it's the angles and the bit of red color, the pink flowers in the sunlight while everything else is shaded. Makes for a very pleasant scene, and I find myself looking at it, remembering our time in the wilderness last Thursday. I put it on my desktop so I can see it more often. I really do enjoy taking pictures.

Here it is Sunday and I'm still a little sore from that hike. We went more than nine miles and up and down almost 4,000 feet of elevation, one of our more strenuous hikes of the season. The flowers were simply amazing, and I realized that this short season when the snow is gone and the flowers are out... it's almost over. Although we'll continue to spend time in the Mt. Baker wilderness for the next two months, the flowers will be gone and the fall colors will emerge. I enjoy all the seasons up here; in the winter months we sometimes come up to snowshoe, but this is my favorite time, late summer, so I'm going to enjoy every last little bit of it.

Both days this weekend are good for skydiving, so today I'm going to travel south to jump with my friends. That's another activity that is winding down for me, with two more months left in the season. It's been a perfect way for me to let go of it: going now and then and not trying to cram in as much as possible before stopping. And I also realized lately that if I choose to visit southern California and make another skydive or two in the spring, there's nothing stopping me. This is a choice I've made for myself, although as the moment gets closer it feels exactly right. I'm the only experienced skydiver at Snohomish still jumping in my seventies. At least in southern California I can spend time with my peers, but here I'm the oldest by far.

I remember a time when I wasn't the oldest: when I started school, my birthday was the cutoff date for first grade, so I was the very youngest child in the class. Since my dad was in the Air Force and I changed schools often, I remember that I was always feeling a little intimidated by the older kids in my classes. Back then, however, there was nothing like the bullying that I've learned takes place in schools today. I did get in a couple of scrapes with some other girls in my early teen years that I still remember vividly, and that was bad enough. Whew! I wonder where that memory came from; I haven't thought of that in years.

As I've said before, memory is a funny thing. Last night my dreams were filled with struggles: climbing hand over hand up steep hillsides and holding on to keep from falling, trying repeatedly to dial a number on the phone that wouldn't go through, and losing a favorite earring, searching for it without success. I also woke in the middle of the night (not an unusual occurrence) and spent some time thinking about that CT scan I had last week. Although the doctor sent me an email telling me that it was normal, I was able to see what the radiologist reported about his findings on my PeaceHealth website. All my test results are available almost immediately, which is great. No more waiting for the doctor to get back to me.

It was interesting that although my results were normal, it turns out that they are normal for my AGE. There were signs of white matter changes in my brain that are possible signs of cognitive decline. Yes, while the results were "normal," I don't have the brain of a young person any more. And because of the internet, you can bet that I researched everything mentioned in those test results. This can be a good thing, but it can also cause a person like me to second-guess those results and wonder if there is anything I can do to slow down the process. I found this page which was very helpful in putting it all into perspective. I am at a slightly higher risk for stroke.

This shouldn't surprise me, since my father had several strokes before his final heart attack. I remember him telling me that he couldn't differentiate between the sizes of coins in his pocket any more, and I found that strange. It was the result of a stroke, I know now. My mother was convinced that he had many that he never complained about and managed to hide from everybody. He carried nitroglycerine tablets in his pocket that he would use when he was in distress. Nobody realized how much he was using until after he died. He was only 62, and he had severe cardiac disease but, as I've observed in many men, he would rarely go to the doctor. If he had even considered bypass surgery, he would have lived much longer, but he wouldn't go check it out. He knew, however, that his days were numbered.

Now here I am ten years older than he was when he died, and I'm also aware that my days are numbered. You can eat right and exercise, do everything right, and still we all end up with a day that will end the dash in our life span (as in 1942—??). The older I get, the easier it is to think about that day with equanimity. But I'm nowhere near as laid back about the prospect of losing my mind, let me tell you! It seems terrible to think of being alive and not knowing who I am any more. I guess maybe it's time to start doing those brain exercises. You know I am a believer in the ability of exercise to keep the body fit, and I've considered that Lumosity app that is currently being pushed aggressively in the online world. Does anybody know if those things help? I'm curious now that I realize I might actually benefit.

Well, that's about it for this morning. I've got lots of getting ready for the day to do. I'm up to 15 repetitions of the Five Tibetan Rites. I think I will stick with 15 for awhile before moving up to 18 and then finally, 21. It only takes a few minutes in the morning and it's a nice way to start the day. It's almost 7:00am and I've been awake for two hours now. Time to get out of bed! I hope you have a great week and enjoy the last unofficial week of summer.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Thoughts on how we change over the years

From Mother Jones interview of Ellar Coltrane
My friend Judy and I went to see the new movie Boyhood yesterday, filmed over a twelve-year period and directed by Richard Linklater. The young man who grew up right in front of my eyes was played by Ellar Coltrane. You can see his evolution from a cute six-year-old to a young man  in that series of shots. The movie is long, almost three hours, but it flew by as I was engrossed in the film and all that it evoked in me.

The link under the picture is an interview with Ellar, and it's very interesting to learn how different the life of Mason (the boy in the movie) was from Ellar's. What got me, however, is how closely the story of Mason's mother followed my own: his mother divorced his dad and then got involved in a series of unfortunate liaisons, as I did. However, the movie ends on a high note, and the sold-out audience applauded as the credits rolled.

Twelve years is both a long time but in the span of an entire life, not all that long. Nonetheless, the period between being a cute kid of six and becoming an adult (if eighteen can be considered adult) is incredibly fraught with change. I have been fortunate to have met young Leo at the coffee shop when he was six months old, and in a few months he will turn six. He's at about the same age that Mason was at the beginning of the movie. I can't help but wonder what kind of an adult he will be, although I probably won't be around him at the time to find out. I might still be alive (and 84), but who knows where he or I will be in twelve years?

It was twelve years ago that my son Chris died in Germany. I could not have anticipated that, or the trajectory my life would take. Outwardly, not that much changed; I continued in the same job and lived in the same town during those years. I was already married to my life partner, and he helped me through that awful period where I would wake every night, crying, unable to believe Chris was gone. That seems a long time ago now, but I still think about him and wonder how he would have matured into a middle-aged man. It's startling to realize how old one's child is getting to be. My sister is going through that now with her son, who just turned 48.

But inside, I've changed a lot in those twelve years. I loved my job and felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to different places and arrange conferences all over the world. There were days when I'd arrive at the office before 7:00am and not leave until ten hours later, and I'd be totally engrossed in my work and not notice the passage of time. And then on the weekends I would dash off to the Drop Zone to teach a First Jump Course and spend that day and the next skydiving with students. I was really, really busy all the time. It was rare for me to take a day off, and I would realize I didn't know what to do with myself if my busy life changed for some reason.

But that frenetic pace began to wear on me as I grew older. It wasn't easy to decide what needed to change, but I was fortunate that my partner and I were able to communicate our wants and needs to each other, and a plan for retirement began to emerge. In 2006, two years before I retired from my job, we took a month-long road trip from Colorado to the west coast, to decide where we might want to live next. We had researched several places on the internet and were curious to see if Bellingham looked as good in real life as it did electronically. And yes, it did. We decided to use it as our "jumping-off place," and once we had actually moved away from Boulder, we could move again if we felt like it, and it wouldn't be nearly as wrenching as the first time.

We are still here, and my life has settled into a very satisfying routine. I have had the chance to slow down, read more, and spend quality time with my friends, much of that outdoors in the very different environment of the Pacific Northwest. I've grown familiar with all the different kinds of rain we have here: from a light mist to a downpour. We don't get a drenching rain often, but it does happen. Moving from the semi-arid landscape of Colorado to the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest has been a delightful learning experience. And it's changed me in some concrete ways, too: I have grown accustomed to milder temperatures, and when it climbs above the high 70s, I begin to feel too hot. I like the indoor temperature to be much cooler than I once did.

I no longer own any dress-up clothes, and the cargo pants look suits me just fine at this phase of my life. When I dress for the day, I realize I've grown fond of vests and wear them year round. Every pair of shoes I own are functional ones with low heels. There was a time when I loved to dress up and apply makeup, giving myself an entirely different look. These days makeup makes my face look a little strange (to me at least), although when I was working I never left the house without it. More habits changed without noticing, and suddenly I'm a different person than I was, much like those pictures of the boy morphing into a man. But it's so imperceptible, day to day, that one doesn't much notice the procession of years. It's usually a picture from the past that will remind me how much change has taken place.

As my outward pace has slowed down, my internal life has grown larger. The time I spend thinking about things, about life, about writing in this blog, for instance, takes more of my focus than it once did. The blogs I follow, with the lives of my virtual friends giving me a different perspective on life, are incredibly important to me. I learn how others are coping with change in their lives, and it gives me ideas and thoughts I would not have had access to otherwise. I am a very plugged-in senior, and I like it very much.

It's almost 7:00am and my tea is gone. Partner still sleeping next to me, and the sun would be up already if it weren't overcast. I hear blue jays scolding outside the window and the occasional call of a crow. All the songbirds I heard earlier in the spring and summer seem to have diminished to just a few now and then. I guess it's getting to be the time when they look towards the cooler weather and find other places to hang out. Today I'll take it slow and easy, and enjoy the book I picked up at the library yesterday. Maybe go out for a walk, or maybe not. I've exercised every day this week and could probably use a break. But I always feel better, more centered, when I've had at least a nice walk. Whatever I decide, it's really nice to know I've got the choice, and that everything in my body still works pretty well, for now at least.

Be well, my dear friends, and I hope you will enjoy your own life as it is right here, right now. For it will definitely change as time goes by. Until next Sunday, then.