I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Mid-August musings

Tomatoes at the market
My first garden tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Although the Sun Golds (little cherry tomatoes) ripen quickly, I am unwilling to let them stay long enough on the vine to get really sweet. They seem to pop off and into my mouth on their own while I'm out there watering or weeding. I am watching my own larger tomatoes beginning to turn, but the ones in the picture above must have come from a greenhouse, since they're already ripe. Beautiful, aren't they? I can't bring myself to buy any since it looks like I'll have a bumper crop one of these days.

Our weather has changed from hot with smoky skies from the fires north of us to cool, breezy and mild. For the next week, the temperature should not reach above the low 70s F (around 20C) and I'm thrilled. Instead of a strange alien yellow sky without clouds, pretty fluffy clouds grace our blue skies once again.

The change started on Thursday with our Senior Trailblazers hike. Because the air quality was so poor in many spots, we decided to head over to the coast where the onshore flow cleared the air much better than would have been the case going up into the mountains. It was almost cold by the time we arrived to start our leisurely hike up Goose Rock. Instead of sweltering in the heat, we were able to enjoy a lovely walk without bugs. Since our leader Al was unable to attend, I volunteered to lead the group.

The week before had been such an unpleasant hike, with biting black flies and oppressive heat as we climbed up Skyline Divide, I worried about how I would handle the scheduled Church Mountain, a challenging hike at any time of year. I laid in bed for two nights stressing over it, wondering why in the world I had agreed to be in charge. As it turned out, we couldn't go there anyway, because we didn't have enough people show up who have cars that could make the drive up the forest road. So we had to find an alternative, and Goose Rock is a favorite wintertime hike. It turned out to be perfect.

My point is that I spent all that time and energy losing sleep over something that didn't happen. It reminds me of an old quote about how living in the past makes one depressed and living in the future makes one anxious. To be at peace, one needs to live in the present. I felt the wisdom of that saying as I walked along at the front of the group on Thursday, smiling to myself and wondering why in the world I had to imagine the worst-case scenario. It was partly because the week before had been so awful, I guess, and without our leader I always feel a bit unmoored. To put myself in his place is uncomfortable. And he's going to be gone for awhile yet, he told me by email.

Yesterday I didn't walk with the ladies, and although I missed the camaraderie of visiting with them, I was with my friend Lily, who didn't want to go on the scheduled walk, a rather strenuous uphill one. Instead we walked from Bellingham into Fairhaven, stopping for breakfast before returning the way we had come. We were parked right by the Farmers' Market, but we were both full from our breakfast and didn't spend much time there before heading home. Lily lives here in the apartment complex and is starting a new job on Monday, so we wanted to celebrate what we hope will be the beginning of a fresh new start in her life.

I remember what it feels like to start a new job. There's anticipation and a little anxiety, but mostly it's exciting. Sometimes I forget that I'm done with my working life and consider what I might do if I wanted to return to work. And then I realize that nobody would hire me at my age! There would also be no reason for me to do that anyway, since my retirement annuities and Social Security are enough to keep me from having to continue to work. I was very fortunate to have worked in a place that doubled my own contributions to my retirement funds. Plus I was required to contribute at least 5% of my salary, meaning that over thirty years it added up to a tidy sum. Now I receive a monthly stipend, which makes all the difference between having to scrimp and having enough to get by. We are not wealthy, by any means, but I wonder how it will be for many millennials when they reach my age.

Tuesday is the anniversary of Chris' death. It will be fifteen years since he died, but if I allow myself to bring back all the memories, he is still present in my heart and will never leave. I just realized he hasn't visited me through a dream lately, so he must be busy up there in heaven. He almost always appears to me in a dream as a teenager or very young man, but he would almost be a senior citizen himself if he were alive. His widow sends me occasional Facebook posts, and I know she will not forget the date this year, either. It's difficult for me to think of him very often, because although it's been a long time, it can also seem like it happened not so long ago. I guess grief is like that; if I want to remember, all the pain and suffering return as well. I still remember his laugh, and smile when I hear it inside my head.

I've read that suffering is actually beneficial to the spirit. There seems to be plenty of suffering in the world right now, and I have to limit the amount of news I let in or I'll get really depressed. Fortunately for me, I have many distractions that I can indulge in to take me away from the reality of the woes of the world. These days between Netflix and Amazon, I can watch a movie or a series any time I choose. Today Judy and I will go to the movies together, though, to see Al Gore's latest movie about climate change. I'm pretty sure it won't be uplifting, but I feel the need to see it. I'll come home and peruse the books I've got on my shelf to read and will look for one that will make me feel better. I just re-read Mary Roach's book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. I bought the book a few years ago and kept it and was trying to remember something she said, and when I picked it up I couldn't help but read it again. It's that kind of book. If you want a treat, you might want to read one of her books. My favorite of hers is Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. I know, I know; it doesn't sound very uplifting, but believe me, it will make you think as well as laugh out loud.

Although suffering might be beneficial, it sure doesn't feel very good while one is deep in it. I've had plenty of suffering in my life and don't see any need to dwell on those memories. I keep trying to find ways to enjoy life, and mostly I am successful. One way I truly find joy is through friendships and community. It amazes me how much it matters to me that my family and friends are within reach, even if it's through electronics and not through physical presence. The world is a friendlier place when I concentrate on what really matters to me: my dear partner (still sleeping next to me), my friends and acquaintances, and of course, you. I hope that the coming week will bring you love and joy and a minimum of suffering. However, I'll leave you with this quote:
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”  --Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, August 6, 2017

August wildfires and more

Sunrise from my front porch
For the past several days, this is what the sunrise looks like from my front porch. When I have gone out to do my exercises, it feels like I'm on an alien planet, and the sunsets look just as strange. Orange skies are caused by the wildfires north of us in British Columbia, and they have made a huge impact on our projected heat wave. Yesterday we only reached a high of 68°F (20C) and although there were no clouds in the sky, the sun didn't have any warmth to it. It's really rather scary to think of what must have happened in the world when we had cataclysmic volcanic events that affected the weather for years on end.

I remember in the early 1990s when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. Although I was otherwise occupied at the time (I had just started my skydiving career), I remember learning about the global effects of the volcanic eruption.
This very large stratospheric injection resulted in a reduction in the normal amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface by roughly 10%. This led to a decrease in northern hemisphere average temperatures of 0.5–0.6 °C (0.9–1.1 °F) and a global fall of about 0.4 °C (0.7 °F). ... The stratospheric cloud from the eruption persisted in the atmosphere for three years after the eruption. 
Three years!  I guess I shouldn't be complaining about a week or so of diminished sunlight around here. The wildfires in B.C. are still burning, with more than 1.2 million acres lost already. This has occurred at just the beginning of the wildfire season, and it makes me fearful for the future. We've had a local fire right at one of my favorite wintertime hikes, Lost Lake, and although it's now contained, the area is still closed to recreation. And when I visit it next, it will look very different indeed.

Change. I'm not a fan of change for its own sake, but frankly it's the nature of living, isn't it? Every time I turn around, I'm reminded that one thing or another in my body is deteriorating and needs shoring up. Although my knees seem stable for the moment, it's just a matter of time before I'll be hauling out my knee braces again. My eyesight is deteriorating, too, and I am very happy for being in the care of a retina specialist and a good ophthalmologist, but they cannot do anything much for my eyes except delay the inevitable. I forget how bad my eyesight has become until somebody will point something out in the distance that I cannot make out, and that's with my glasses on. Without my glasses I feel practically blind; I'm so nearsighted that I cannot make out much more than colorful blurs.

I'm beginning to wonder if all those years of skydiving are partly responsible for my deteriorating eyesight. I did go up and down through 13,000-14,000 feet (4 meters) of atmosphere, in freefall for 68 hours in total, and it was after a particularly intense period of ten days and fifty skydives that I first began to notice some visual changes in my eyes. Although the visual disturbance cleared up after a few days, they were never quite the same. I'm now pretty sure that the activity affected my eyes permanently.

And all those injuries I experienced throughout my lifetime are beginning to come home to roost: I have aches and pains in all those places that were broken and healed up. I guess this is to be expected; if you use your body the way I did in previous years, it will continue to remind one that there is always a cost involved, even many years later. Oh, well, I wouldn't change any of it. I had a great time and am glad I was able to skydive for more than two decades, even after starting at almost fifty years of age.

It's all relative, isn't it? I am still active in my mid-seventies, and all the injuries are manageable. Most of the time I feel pretty lucky to be able to carry on the way I am still capable, but I also realize that I should be counting my lucky stars that I'm not in a wheelchair. That might come about one day, and I'll look back on the days when I could hike for ten miles and wonder why I didn't appreciate my mobility more. So here I am, busy appreciating what I have in my life right now. I've got a smile on my face thinking of our five-mile walk yesterday in the cool air, happy to be one of the dozen or so women who meet every Saturday morning for a brisk walk together. And it was cool, as I've mentioned, even if the air quality was not good. At least we were walking early, and it did get a little hazier in the afternoon. Today is supposed to be worse, but I don't mind since I consider Sundays to be my day off from exercise.

The gradual changes that I experience as I grow older sometimes rise up unbidden, wondering when it was that I could no longer run even short distances. I can walk briskly for short distances, but if I try to make my old body pick up the pace to a run, well, it just doesn't happen. It's a little bit like watching an ancient beloved pet forgetting for a moment that he's not a puppy any more and collapsing after a short distance. Yep, I'm past my prime and heading towards more time spent in my easy chair with a good book. It's not a bad thing, it's just that I sometimes forget that I'm not a young sprite any more.

Even though things change constantly, I think I might be able to enjoy a few more years of relative health and wellness. I'm sure doing everything I know to make that happen. And I look forward to seeing what might spring from my fingers on a Sunday morning when I sit down with the laptop and start typing. Everything is just the way I like it: I'm almost done, my partner is still sleeping next to me, the tea was lovely but it's now gone, and I've got a coffee shop with friends waiting for me to arrive about an hour from now. Just right!

I do hope that you might take some time today to look around at your life as it is right this moment and appreciate the good things that you are able to enjoy or look forward to. I've got friends who are recovering from intense surgeries, from all kinds of other difficulties, and they continue to inspire me to keep on keeping' on. I hope your week will be a good one, filled with reflection on the beauty that surrounds us all. And I'll leave you with this quote that speaks directly to me today:
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.  --Clarence Darrow

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A lifetime of memories

Seventy'-three years apart
My friend Melanie took this picture of me last Thursday, showing the septuagenarian hiker in her element. While I was perusing my photos yesterday, I found this other picture of me, the first studio sitting my parents must have had for their firstborn. Several things about that picture call out to me. First, these days a professional photographer would never have allowed me to be undressed but instead I'd be wearing a cute little outfit and a bow in my hair. I like this much better.

Look at how my mama had arranged my curls. I love the upswept back and the curls on top brushed into a mini-Mohawk. These days you don't see baby pictures with hair like that, do you? Must have been the style. These days I keep my white hair short enough that those curls don't bother me, but I still have them. And look at those chubby cheeks and rolls of baby fat! I was loved and pampered, and it all shows in that picture.

The years that separate those two images have been filled with so many events that it boggles my mind that I can even recall much of what has happened. When I was born, the world was at war. No difference there, but we had nothing to bring it into our living rooms, like we do today. In fact, because of cellphones, we carry the news around in our pockets, available to us and billions of others at a moment's notice. Is this a better way? I'm not convinced. That baby was completely insulated from the world and only knew her parents' complete love and devotion. Today she would be vying with the phone for her parents' attention. But in that picture, she's in her element and it shows.

The elderly woman in the other picture is also in her element. She is standing near the summit of a mountaintop, with abundant summer flowers surrounding her, and vistas stretching out in every direction of distant snow-covered peaks. She looks content, too, doesn't she? And what does she have in her backpack? Food and water and gear for all kinds of weather, because now she's on her own, with her parents long gone and many decades of living behind her. Not so many years ahead, but hopefully they will be good ones. She'll do what she can to help that along by eating right and exercising.

On that hike I slipped on the trail and fell, scraping my arm and causing it to bleed in spots. I didn't think anything of it, really, and figured I'd slap a bandaid on it once we got back to the cars. By then I had forgotten about it. Once home and cleaned up, I knew that it would heal by itself just fine, and it did. Except that for some reason a rash broke out in the area between the wrist and elbow and has kept me scratching it for a couple of days. It reminded me of poison ivy, which I had once long ago and had forgotten until the intense itching brought back the memory. I went down to the drugstore yesterday and got some calamine lotion and started slathering it on. Last night before bed I also wrapped the area in an Ace bandage so I wouldn't keep scratching it, and this morning it's much better.

But for the past couple of days, that background itch that just wouldn't let me forget it. That annoyance is what reminded me of the bout I had with poison ivy (or poison oak, I'm not sure which). A small spot on my arm grew into blisters, which broke and spread onto other places without me realizing what I had. Before long, I was covered with blisters, and I learned what one must do when you contract it. It was the sensation of itching that brought back the memory, and with the smell of calamine lotion applied with cotton balls, it all came back to me. I ended up at that time miserable with it for weeks, confined to home and wearing soft loose clothing until it cleared up. I know better these days not to ignore an itch.

Memory is a curious thing. Something will trigger a memory, which I could not have dredged up on my own, and I am able to be transported back to that time. Smell does that often for me, although my ability to smell has been diminished drastically by age and a medication I took for years. However, some odors are as strong as ever, and others are changed from what they were, but I can still smell calamine lotion. I was very distressed to discover a few years ago that the medication I was taking for high blood pressure (lisinopril) was altering my ability to smell. It's been at least a year since I stopped taking it and my sense of smell is beginning to return, although some smells are still not available to me. Oh, well; there are worse things that happen to people as they age. My blood pressure managed to stabilize and is now normal without medication. I have no idea why that might be, but I'm happy about it.

We are at the end of July already, with August beginning on Tuesday. That is the one month here in the Pacific Northwest when the temperature often becomes uncomfortably hot. This past month has been pretty perfect, but when I look at the projected temperatures ahead for the coming week, I am dismayed. When it gets close to 90°F around here, I wilt and must do what I can to stay cool, like exercising early and staying indoors with a fan and a cold drink the rest of the time.

Have you heard of Lammas? It marks the time between the first day of summer and the first day of fall in the annual calendar. The name comes from Anglo-Saxon "loaf-mass." August 1st is when it is usually celebrated, but sometimes a day later or a day earlier.
It is a festival to mark the annual wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop, which began to be harvested at Lammastide.
First harvest. I have already harvested some vegetables from my garden, and now I am happily looking forward to the ripening of tomatoes on three bushes: I planted the little golden cherry-type tomatoes which are just now beginning to ripen, and two bushes of larger tomatoes. All three plants are laden down with them, and the warm August weather should bring them to fruition. The large tomatoes are still green, with some of them just beginning to show a hint of color. It is a wonderful time of the year.

When I think of all the blessings I have received in this life, from the reminder of the happy baby to the happy old lady, I know that whatever I have done to receive this gift had nothing to do with me choosing it. All I get to do is live it in the best way I know how. I've grown a lot over the years, but I still carry that sweet baby somewhere inside. Oscar Wilde once said, "Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead."

And I strive to do just that: to keep love in my heart. It's not hard to do when you have such a wonderful environment as I do, with people I love surrounding me. Right at this moment, my dear partner is sleeping next to me, and I feel the call of the coffee shop and my friends there, and all of you, dear readers, who shower me with your support every single Sunday. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things and every happiness.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer is not endless

Bouquets for $5
Yesterday at the Farmers' Market, I saw these beautiful bouquets for sale, and I imagined the family going out into their flower gardens and gathering these lovely flowers. People everywhere were walking around with bouquets in hand, making for a very festive atmosphere. It was overcast but warm, so people were sitting on benches in the open, usually bare of people who prefer shade. Yesterday the shade was everywhere.

Today marks the first day since summer began that the sun will set before 9:00pm. I also notice that the sun is coming up later, as we are losing more than two minutes of daylight every day. We are almost to the halfway mark between summer and fall, August 1, and I don't mind a bit. This is my favorite time of the year, from now until mid-September, because everything is in full bloom and people everywhere seem far away from the dreary days of winter. In the High Country last Thursday I noticed a few of the maple leaves beginning to turn already. It was a reminder that nothing stays the same, life's progression continues from planting to harvest, never pausing to stop for a bit, always changing. Maybe that's one reason I like to take so many pictures, my attempt to capture the moment.

I never seem to go anywhere in town these days without seeing at least one person I know, either someone I attend yoga with, or perhaps someone whom I have helped write his or her Advance Directive. Some of you know that a couple of years ago I decided to get certified to become a facilitator for those who wish to write down their wishes for what they would like to happen if they become unable to speak for themselves. The process is to assign one or more people to become your Power of Attorney for Health Care and get it all written down. It means thinking about the possibilities and deciding what you want for yourself in case that ever happens to you.

The hardest part is deciding what's really important in the case of incapacitation and inability to communicate. Do you ever think about it? Some people have never given it any thought, and it's not until it happens to some family member or friend that it becomes something one ponders. It's a gift to your family, as well as yourself, to document your wishes and get it on file with the local hospital, as well as with your doctor.

There is one place in the document where you must decide what "to interact meaningfully" means to you. I remember for myself it was when I realized that if I am confined to bed and am never likely to regain my ability to care for myself, I would be ready to die. It's a natural process, but sometimes things happen to us where we cannot say what we'd like to happen next, and that's what thinking about it and writing it down is all about. If I can't feed myself and would be dependent on hydration and sustenance coming into my body through a tube, I think I'd rather just... stop. But I don't know that for sure, because I've never been in that situation. When I documented my own wishes, I wrote down what I think I would want, but who knows until we get there? We just have to make an educated guess.

The days when people took to their beds and were taken care of by family members until they died are pretty much gone. Nowadays people are taken into the hospital, installed in the Intensive Care Unit, and hooked up to machines to keep them alive long after they would have died naturally in the old days. I think my mom had the best kind of death: she had suffered a heart attack and knew for weeks prior to her death that she would not live much longer, and she was able to see her loved ones and tell us what she wanted to happen to her belongings after she died. Then she slipped into a coma and over the period of a few days she just drifted away. I was with her at the time, and it was a quiet and peaceful passing. She was in her own bed, surrounded by several of her children.

I have noticed when writing their Advance Directive, many people are adamant that they not spend their last days in an ICU, where their hard-earned savings are eaten up and nothing is accomplished. We've all seen or heard of it happening, and that's the best part of an Advance Directive: you can make sure that when the time comes, you can die naturally. Of course, if you fall over unconscious in a public place and someone calls 911, the emergency technicians who get to you will do everything they can to save your life. But once you get to the hospital, if you have a Power of Attorney for Health Care on file, your wishes will then be known and followed. But if you don't have one, it will fall to your family members to decide what to do next. Nobody wants to pull the plug if they don't know what you might want to have happen.

In my community, the ability to get all this done is free, performed by volunteers, including getting the document notarized and distributed to the appropriate agencies. I know that many people think you have to pay a lawyer big bucks to have it done, but I suspect that more and more communities are finding people like me to help you. It is provided in Bellingham by the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement (WAHA), which also provides services for people to get affordable health care. At the very least, you can write down your wishes in your own handwriting, sign and date it, and give it to your loved one just in case. It's much better than nothing, and it means you will be forced to have the conversation with a loved one and think about it.

Once a week I go to WAHA and spend three hours either helping people write their Advance Directive or notarizing one they have already filled out. We discuss it, and often their agent will be present, and I've had some really meaningful conversations that I won't soon forget. I've been doing this for almost two years now, and although it definitely requires effort from everyone involved, it's worth it. It took awhile before I found what I wanted to do as a volunteer, and I've not been sorry that I chose this path.

Whew! I didn't realize when I sat down to write this post that I'd take this direction. And I do hope it's not too uncomfortable for you, my reader, to think about this important task for yourself and your loved ones. Yes, summer is not endless, and neither are we. Once we face that fact and take steps to arrange for our final moments on this earth, it can be freeing. At least I've found it to be so.

I do hope that you will remember to give your loved ones a hug today, as I will be doing so myself. My partner is still sleeping, tea is gone, and the day beckons. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well until then.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Our changing world

Scarlet runner beans in garden
At the end of May, I planted some scarlet runner beans I received from my friend John into a seed-starting kit and covered it with plastic so that they would germinate. I've never done such a thing before, preferring to buy starts from nurseries already sprouted, but when John gave me the beans, I had to learn one more thing about gardening: how to turns the beans into plants. You can see them here from a month ago.

I planted them along my fence, and gave half of them to my gardening friend Hedi, who has a stretch of fence in full sun, and look at how they are doing! They are already beginning to flower, even though they haven't grown very large. The other half, along my fence, doesn't get full sun like these, so they are just barely beginning to flower, but hers are looking fantastic. I am so excited to see them flourishing, since I've once again learned a new gardening skill. Next year I might even start some tomatoes like this and keep them inside until the danger of frost is past.

Our community garden has given me so much pleasure in the five years since we began it here in my apartment complex. Although other gardeners have come and gone, I and one other person have been here the whole time, and the opportunity to be a gardener has been an unexpected delight. The person whose idea it was and who convinced the owners to erect a fence to keep the deer out is long gone, but he put it in motion and planted for a couple of seasons before moving on.

Nothing stays the same; it's the nature of life to have things evolve right in front of our eyes. And planting a garden is one way to see that metamorphosis from day to day. I'm pleased to see that my tomato plants are heavy with fruit and will be giving me delicious red tomatoes in another month or so. I might even branch out next year and plant something new. Why, I might even learn to can! The possibilities are endless.

But all that is just a lead-in to what I thought I'd write about today: how much our world has changed since we've entered the new century. It was only ten years ago that Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, and look at how much things have changed in that decade. There are places in the world where smartphones are the only communication devices available. Having a computer in your pocket has become commonplace. Who would ever have guessed in 2000 that we would take it for granted that we could have the entire history of the world in our pockets, available at a moment's notice to look up any fact? Certainly not me. I have become another addicted customer.

When I am in the mountains hiking, I don't have any connection, and I've found it's nice to have times when my phone is not available to me. I turn it onto airplane mode when I hit a certain spot on the highway as we make our way to our trailhead. It is still counting my steps, however. I look several times a day to see how I'm doing with my daily count, and being a competitive person I'm always hoping to up the number from day to day. Right now I average around 14,000-15,000 steps per day, but that's partly because when we hike I get almost 30,000 steps on a longish hike of ten or so miles.

I did notice that the hike up to Welcome Pass was so difficult for me that I might not be doing it again. Or, who knows, maybe I'll join some of the other septuagenarians for something a little bit easier. It's just another one of those milestones that come around in life, like stopping my skydiving habit at 72, or becoming a gardener at 68. We change as the days and weeks and months go by, and so does the world around us.

One of the biggest changes for me has been the social aspect of blogging. When my friend Ronni got sick and I wrote about it in here, many times I have realized our friendship has become as substantial as any I've had with "skin" friends. The people I follow (and who follow me) communicate with me more often than my family does, and as I've learned about the trials and tribulations of my virtual friends, they have become very important to me. The world shrank when I began to blog. I have friends in Canberra, Prince Edward Island and other places in Canada, Seattle, Hawaii, the boonies of Minnesota and North Dakota, Tennessee, the East Coast, and many, many more. I smile often when I'm reading what my friends are doing, or commiserating with them over illness or misfortune. Sometimes I don't even know where in the world some of my friends reside, because of their desire to keep it hidden. It doesn't matter in the least: when we write about our lives and share with one another, the location of our physical selves becomes unimportant.

In the car when returning from our hike last Thursday, I discussed Ronni's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with my three companions. One of the women is a medical doctor, and I wanted to know what she thought about the Whipple procedure, which Ronni endured. I learned quite a lot about it, and I never thought to differentiate my friendship with Ronni from those people I spend physical time with. One person asked if I went down to Portland (where Ronni lives) to be with her during the surgery, and I hesitated, wondering if I should mention that I've never actually MET Ronni. I decided to discuss the friendship as I would any other, and not go into details. That led to a sea change in my thinking, realizing that I no longer feel a separation between virtual and physical friendships.

Yes, I am attached to my smartphone for many reasons, not the least of which is that it gives me a whole universe of friends right there in my pocket. Unless I don't have coverage, I am connected to my virtual community at all times, even if I don't actually go visit anybody. And here I am, on a sunny Sunday morning, talking with my friends once again through my blog. What a world! How fortunate we are to have such blessings.

And another Sunday post comes to an end. Partner is still asleep, which comforts me, as I type away in my bed with the laptop on my knees. I've got dear friends waiting for me at the coffee shop, and when I check here later in the day, I'll find your comments and feel my invisible community surrounding me with care and love. I'll read your latest blog posts and who knows, maybe even make another new friend today. Until we meet again next Sunday, I wish you all good things and hope that it's a wonderful week. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Another routine Sunday post

Summer sky
After spending more time than I'd like to find a picture to put at the front of this post, I finally just gave up and put up a picture of the beautiful sky I can see from my back yard. I've been spending a fair amount of time watering and weeding my little garden patch, and it gives me such pleasure. Who would ever have guessed that I would get so much satisfaction from digging in the ground? Certainly not me: my gardening days only began five years ago. Before that, I was more than a neophyte: I simply didn't care. Anyone can change and grow, even me.

I've had illness on my mind for weeks now, ever since I learned that my blogging friend Ronni has pancreatic cancer and had to undergo a very long surgery, with only a small chance for recovery in any event. It makes me very glad for the relative health I enjoy. Of course, that's what she was thinking when she was my age (she's two years older than me) and now she's fighting for her life. There are so many things that can go wrong with these bodies of ours, and eventually something or other will fail. It's the way things work, but we forget that inconvenient fact, acting as though everything will continue as it is today. I've been learning from her as I imagine myself in her shoes.

It does make me wonder what I would have done in her place: if I were given a diagnosis of the possibility to recover after surgery and chemotherapy being only 25-30 percent, would I do it? Or would I opt to let the cancer take over and make the most of the few months I would have left? It's something I don't think anybody knows until one is faced with it. My friend Lily says her aunt died of pancreatic cancer and it was painful and horrifying. Nobody wants to suffer, but we don't always have a choice. In any event, Ronni is already suffering as she faces a long recovery, at best. The Whipple procedure they performed removes the cancerous part of the pancreas, her gallbladder, part of her stomach, and a few other body parts. They found two of the 17 lymph nodes they removed tested positive for cancer cells, which means that it has probably spread to other parts of her body. That means she must make a decision about whether to have chemotherapy and we all know how difficult that road will be. Take a look over at her blog if you want to learn more, at Time Goes By.

Last Thursday the Senior Trailblazers went up Welcome Pass, one of the harder hikes we do every summer, and it was really hard work to navigate the 67 steep switchbacks that take you to the pass, climbing 3,000 feet (900+ meters). Even today, three days later, my quads are sore from the hike. I don't know how many times I've made it to the top in the past, but this year I realized that there are not too many more of these difficult hikes in my future. My body is in good shape, and my knees seem to be holding out just fine, but the desire to push myself to the absolute limit is beginning to fade. Although I was really happy to be there, and it was a perfect day with great company, it was also a reminder that expending all that effort was not without a price.

One person in our group really struggled with the steep downhill and his legs began to cramp. Fortunately for him, we had four hikers who stayed with him and helped him down the trail. The rest of us would stop every once in awhile until they caught up with us, but it made for a very long day. Once you're in the wilderness, there's no way to get back to safety except deal with whatever happens and hope that you can manage. It made me realize that it could happen to any one of us. Once we were down the final switchback and we were all together again, I saw that he was not looking well and seemed on the verge of collapse. Fortunately, he made it back to the trailhead, and we drove to Grahams where we all treated ourselves to ice cream or cold drinks. It's enough to make one wonder about the wisdom of old folks doing such difficult hikes. That doesn't mean we'll stop, though, because one day we'll be forced to leave that part of our lives behind anyway. But not today.

Today the sun is shining, again, and I'll be heading out to the coffee shop once I finish this post, and I am continually grateful for the opportunity I have for enjoyment. I might even treat myself to another ice cream cone today, although it depends entirely on what the scale says when I step on it soon. My daily routine also includes a weigh-in, which helps me decide how to spend my calories for the day. If the number is good, I'll let myself enjoy a small treat or two, but if not, I'll spend them more carefully. It works for me. The other day I didn't want to step on the scales because I knew I had overeaten the day before, but I made myself do it anyway. It would have felt like cheating if I had skipped it.

Some people don't like routine, but I seem to slip into different routines without difficulty. In fact, I have the opposite problem: if I don't get to perform my usual regimen, I feel like the day has begun badly and then everything will be off track. Although it doesn't make the slightest difference to anybody but me, these routines become well-worn ruts that give me some sort of comfort. Am I just weird or do other people do this, too? I have no idea. You don't get to observe that part of another person's life, except for perhaps your mate. And I do know that my guy actively avoids routine, because it makes him feel constrained. For me, it helps to give my day structure. It's a good thing we are not all the same.

Speaking of routine, it's just about time for me to have finished my Sunday post. This was another of those posts that felt like I have been wrestling around for focus, because my mind is pretty much unfocused. I slept well last night, but when I woke, nothing emerged from either my dreams or my mental processes to help me find that focus. The only thing that has been constantly on my mind is illness, and I sure didn't want to have that become my post. It pretty much has, though. I guess I should just give up and start the rest of my day.

Tea is gone, partner is awake for a change and just laying quietly next to me as I write. The next part of my routine is to get out of bed, get dressed (after the weigh-in) and do my exercises on the front porch in the sunshine, then drive to the coffee shop to meet John and share a bagel with him as we drink coffee together. He's been there for awhile when I arrive, but he's ready with his garlic salt for his half of the bagel. He's another one of those people who must like routine as much as I do.

And I do hope that you have a wonderful week, free of encumbrances and filled with joy and love. That's what I want for myself, too! Be well until we meet again next Sunday, dear friend.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My Sunday action items

Early morning sky and tree
I saw this tree blocking the rising sun and let me see these beautiful clouds this past week. When I am walking to the bus, I often get a feeling of great joy because I live here, right in the middle of the Pacific Northwest, with incredible skies and perfect temperatures at this time of the year. We don't usually have the terrible heat that many of you deal with because of the moderating temperature of the Pacific Ocean, which gives us a built-in air conditioner most of the summer. The onshore breeze brings the cool air and the only time it gets hot is when that air flow is blocked and we experience offshore flow, bringing warm air from the interior. But it never lasts.

Then again, what does last? Even the mighty mountains and rocks wear down in time. I won't be around to see it, of course, because the span of a single lifetime reveals some change, but it's just a drop in the bucket in ecological time. We are here for such a short period, and sometimes that bothers me, but other times it makes me feel content that I don't have to be around to see the changes ahead.

When I went to bed last night, I pondered what I would write about today. The only thing I knew for sure is that I didn't want to write about getting old, about the weather (which I already have), or about illness. Thinking of the Five Buddhist Remembrances again, I'm realizing that I don't want to focus on all the changes going on around me, but concentrate on what does last. The Fifth Remembrance, "My actions are my only true belongings, the ground upon which I stand" gives me some idea of where I might take this post this lovely Sunday morning.

What is the definition of an action, exactly? (Thank you, Google.) "The fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim." Or: "Action applies especially to the doing, act to the result of the doing. An action usually lasts through some time and consists of more than one act: to take action on a petition. An act is single: an act of kindness."

Well, I am and have always been an active person, but what specific actions do I have in my own life that I can stand upon? When I think of my daily life, which is full and filled with activity, I'm wondering how much of it is actually action and how much is busy-ness? Or does it even matter? All those years I spent as an active skydiver are actions I'm quite proud of, but they don't have much relevance to my daily life today. The only thing that still lingers are the damaged bones I broke and their concomitant arthritic annoyances. I have lovely memories, but they are all in the past. Out of all the thousands of skydives I have made, only a few of them actually stand out in memory, usually because something untoward happened. Or because of some silliness, like skydiving naked. (Yes, I did, once.)

I had a career at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, working there for thirty years and retiring nine years ago. Does anything actually still exist because of my efforts? There are books on some bookshelves that I edited, scientific books with fewer errors because of me, and thoughtful indexes that I compiled. They exist as a result of my actions. But I find those years of effort and action don't give me much satisfaction today, when I think back. Perhaps they should.

In retirement, I find that most of my actions are related to physical activity or writing blogs. Every day I try to get at least 10,000 steps on my iPhone app, and sometimes I'm quite pleased to see that I've often managed to get more than twice that number. I'm a little addicted to seeing those numbers grow; the app shows daily, weekly, and yearly averages, and I spend some time every day looking at them. It's one place I've chosen to spend my energy: doing what I can to keep my aging body fit.

Blogging four times a week is sometimes a chore, but much more often it's a satisfying action that keeps me apprised of the daily and yearly passage of time, and when I'm getting ready to go on another Thursday hike with the Trailblazers, I can look back on my blog (not this one but my DJan-ity blog) to remind myself what it was like on past visits. This week we will be going on one that is, while not a favorite, quite a workout. I go not only for the exercise, but for the companionship with like-minded friends. And then I document the trip in a blog post when I get home and download some pictures to enliven the text. I've been doing this for several years and really don't like to miss because my sense of world order gets a little skewed when I'm not out hiking on a Thursday.

Another action is going to the coffee shop almost every morning. It's more than the coffee: my friends who have become as dear as family members are there, and I look forward to seeing them. In fact, I am totally amazed at how much I anticipate seeing some of them. John has become a good friend, and ever since I wrote the first post about the Five Buddhist Remembrances, John has insisted on receiving the hugging meditation I mentioned. Lately I've given and received many more hugs because of it. Just to remind you of what that meditation is:
Another way of practicing the Five Remembrances is through something Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh calls hugging meditation. When your partner or children leave for work or school, hug each other for three full breaths, and remind yourself of the Fourth Remembrance.
It works. Hugs are sure nice to give and receive. SG has received many more hugs than before, but then again we have always been huggers. Some people I don't hug, or offer hugs to, because it seems a little invasive if it's someone you don't know all that well. But I've learned that physical touch of any kind can be healing and reassuring. I know that the massage I receive every third week is an essential part of my wellness routine. When I'm done and getting ready to leave, we always have a very nice hug before parting.

Reading is an action item I would miss very much if I didn't have such an abundance of material to peruse. I am an active library patron, and friends give me books to read as well. Right now I have two books next to my easy chair that I'm making my way through. I also have plenty of books on my Kindle, which I usually read when I'm traveling somewhere. Reading is an activity I love. It is also an action upon which I stand, because every book I read becomes part of me. 

My Sunday post is an action that I have been doing for 400 Sundays. In fact, this will be the 400th (I just looked back to see how many I've written). That translates into 92 months and more than seven-and-a-half years of blogging every Sunday.  That's enough time to settle into a routine, wouldn't you say? It's become a sacred moment for me, this time every Sunday when I sit in my bed with my laptop on my knees, my dear partner sleeping next to me as I write. Usually I don't have much idea what's going to come out, and sometimes the magic doesn't work and I struggle. Today was easier.

And it's written, here for posterity. Or for as long as there is a World Wide Web and blog posts stay relevant. In the scheme of things, there's not much that lasts forever. I'd love to think that my actions make a difference in the world, but I'll leave that for others to figure out. I'll just stay here in my little corner of the world and enjoy myself for as long as I can. I do know that my little community of followers who comment on these words have become cherished friends. I'm glad I've lived long enough to see the advent of virtual communities.

Please take care of yourself between now and next Sunday, when we meet again. I am now going to go forth into the summer day to play. Be well and don't forget to hug your loved ones.