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, March 19, 2017

Lenten ruminations

Norma Jean and me, long long ago
Do you know what Lent is? It's the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and was originally begun by Christians to fast and pray for those 40-odd days between, to purify the body and soul before the holiest day of the Liturgical Calendar, Easter. Those two little girls knew nothing about all this, but they were dressed in their Easter finery, on our way to an Easter egg hunt, where we would fill our Easter baskets with colored hard-boiled eggs and candy. Although we didn't go to any church, we followed the traditions of the season because, well, that's just what one did in those days.

Over the many years between today and when those little girls dressed up in their Easter finery, I joined several churches and actually learned the meaning of Lent. It's observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. (Information I learned from that link.) I first joined the Episcopal Church, which is Anglican, and that first year I gave up eating meat during Lent.

I think that was the first time in my life that I actually gave much thought to the ubiquitous presence of meat in my daily diet. We grew up in a family that always had some sort of meat, potatoes, and a vegetable on the dinner table. Usually a canned vegetable such as green beans or maybe corn. I remember when my mother discovered instant mashed potatoes, we endured them daily, because they were so much easier to prepare than peeling and preparing them from scratch.

But vegetables? They were nothing much, as I recall, and we ate them because we had to. Sometimes we had a salad, if you can call it that, just sliced or diced tomatoes and iceberg lettuce, along with maybe a bit of grated carrot. But when Mama really cooked, she made excellent dishes. It's just that in my memory, it was rare that we deviated from the usual fare. On Saturdays we had hamburgers, but when I try to recall any really excellent meals that we had, other than on holidays, my memory comes up blank.

However, that Lenten season so long ago when I gave up eating meat changed the way I thought about food. I never again ate meat every day, and many years ago I became a vegetarian. These days, however, I eat a bit of chicken every now and then, and fish more often. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and salmon is wonderful here, so we eat it a few times a month. For health reasons, I stopped eating red meat and now it's been decades since I had any at all. The smell of bacon is tantalizing, and it's the only one that even attracts me (although I don't eat it ever). For some reason, of all the meats I remember eating growing up, the only one that actually repels me these days is pork. I don't remember when it started, but it's been so long now that I wonder why I have such a strong aversion to it. Here's some information about pork:
Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, accounting for about 38% of meat production worldwide. Consumption varies widely from place to place. The meat is taboo to eat in the Middle East and most of the Muslim world because of Jewish kosher and Islamic Halal dietary restrictions. 
I remember when I was in western China and we had breakfast served in our hotel. There was a hot dish labeled "Bacon," but when I looked inside there were very thin slices of beef that had been fried in some kind of fat and seasoned. Definitely not bacon, but in that part of the world no pork was ever consumed, I learned. It was very easy to eat a balanced and healthy diet, though, because vegetables and legumes were plentiful. And during those visits to China, I learned to love congee. What is it? Congee is probably the most common mainstay of the Chinese breakfast, a mild-flavored rice porridge that has been cooked for a long time with plenty of water to soften the rice. To give the congee some flavor, it is usually served with different toppings, such as pickled vegetables, fermented tofu, peanuts, and eggs. I liked the pickled vegetables the most and piled plenty of them into the congee bowl.

How did I get off on that subject? I was thinking about how giving up meat for Lent that one time changed the way I approached my diet. And now I'm sitting here thinking about food, instead of my original thought about today's post. Frankly, when I first sat down to write, nothing came to mind, except that we are in the Lenten season, and that is the only reason you are reading about it. I was completely without any good ideas, so I decided to just wing it, and here I am getting hungry, thinking about that congee.

One year, I gave up chocolate for Lent. Interestingly, though, as soon as it was over, I went right back to enjoying and eating chocolate, in contrast to giving up meat. Have you ever thought of giving up something that you enjoy for any length of time? It's fascinating how we can get into ruts of thinking, or eating, or routine of any sort, that becomes a part of one's daily habits, and that we can continue those habits long after they serve any purpose. Sometimes becoming aware of them and making a change can alter one's life. It happened to me.

It's been a long time since I've observed Lent. And it's been a long time since I dressed up for Easter, like we did in that picture from long ago. Dressed in pretty pastel dresses with white shoes and socks, those little girls were the apples of their parents' eyes, and at that time it was just the two of us, Norma Jean and I, with our sister PJ not coming along until I was seven. I wonder if Mama made those dresses for us; I wouldn't be surprised, because she was an accomplished seamstress and made many of our special outfits. I am feeling a little nostalgic this morning, thinking about times past and beloved people long gone.

Soon it will be time to get up and start my day, going to the coffee shop to join my friends there. I'll be going to the movies this afternoon with my friend Judy, so the day has already got some shape to it. And we'll be expecting a little bit of sunshine for a change as well. I read that we have already had all the rain we usually have in an entire year, and it's only March. I usually don't have as much problem with the constant rain, but right now I'm sure ready for it to stop. Today would be lovely.

And with that, I find that I am at the end of my Lenten post. I hope that whatever you do this week, until we meet again, it will be fulfilling and satisfying. That's what I'm hoping for myself as well. Don't forget to appreciate those you love, be they family, friends, or furry companions. Be well, dear ones.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Family dynamics

Fia, PJ, me, Markee in 2008
After having written about my partner in last week's post, all week long I've pondered writing about my siblings, or my parents, or somehow tie together all that I am feeling about how fortunate I am to have my family. Mama and Daddy have been gone for a long time, but each of us carries within us so many traits that are part and parcel of our parents' personalities.

My sister Norma Jean did not come to Texas for Thanksgiving this particular year, so she's missing from this picture. I especially like it because it shows those sisters I know the least well. Fia and Markee are the youngest, and they are very close, like Norma Jean and I are. PJ was seven years younger than me, and she didn't have another sibling close to her in age, but she grew to be quite close to our brother Buz, who was nine years younger and lived nearby.

PJ died three years ago now, of heart disease, our family nemesis, and the reason for my parents' premature deaths. At least I consider them premature, since Daddy was only 62, and Mama was only 69. Both of them suffered for many years from the side effects of high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I feel very fortunate to have lived in a time when we have much better treatment for these ailments, such as statins. I believe every single one of my siblings takes them; I know Norma Jean and I have taken them for decades now. They make a huge difference when you have a familial tendency toward what is called hyperlipidemia, which we all have. My son Chris had it, too, not only from my side of the family, but from his father's side as well. He only lived to be 40.

So it was with much relief that I received the results of last week's blood tests, to find that my tendency towards heart disease seems to be in remission, as long as I continue with my healthy lifestyle and statins. The tendency is so strong in our family that it makes me wonder if there is some survival benefit to hyperlipidemia that has yet to be recognized by the medical profession. Maybe if we lived in a time when you had to be active from morning to night, it wouldn't have been so bad for you and had some beneficial effects. But these days we spend so much of our time sitting or lying around and not being active as we stare at some screen or other.

When I listen to stories of the family dynamics of others when they were growing up, I realize that our family was very fortunate to be as close as we were. Although I was not particularly close to any of the three sisters in the picture because of lack of proximity, I recognize them as my family because of the way they interact with me, and with each other. We are all outgoing and successful in our chosen professions, and each one of them reminds me in one way or another of our parents. I was thinking of writing about my mother this morning, but I went looking back in my archives here and realized that I already did it, and that there is no way I could much improve on what I wrote in "My Mama." I considered taking that post and reworking it for today, but once I read it along with the comments from back then, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead, I decided to give you the opportunity to read it as I wrote it seven years ago.

My sister Norma Jean and I talk to each other on FaceTime a couple of times a month, and I look forward to it with anticipation. It's so much more than a phone call, where we just talk to each other. Instead, we see each other in our own settings, and I can tell how she is much more than if she was only a voice. She also keeps me in touch with my grand nieces Lexie and Alicia, because she has become somewhat of a nanny to those two. Between Norma Jean and her son Peter, her daughter Allison has all the child care she needs. Alicia is now in her terrible two's and a handful, but Lexie has grown old enough now (she's seven) to be an actual person who can be reasoned with. I enjoy seeing them on FaceTime, but it reminds me how fortunate I am that they are so far away from me most of the time. You know that old saying about "absence makes the heart grow fonder"? It's sure true about small kids, for me at least.

This morning we go back to Pacific Daylight Time, and I'm losing an hour of sleep. I see it's later than I expected it to be by the time I've written this, but that's because we did our usual trick of taking an hour from the morning and tacking it to the end of the day. Tonight the sun won't set until after 7:00pm, but it also won't rise until almost 7:30am. So it will be dark for awhile in the morning as I set off for the bus, but since we are so far north it won't last long; our daylight hours are increasing by more than three-and-a-half minutes every day at this time of the year. We are not far from spring, but since we've been colder and wetter than normal for what seems like ages, our spring has been slow in coming. I read that last year by this time we had 17 days of 50°F or warmer, and this year only one. No wonder it seems colder: it really is.

And rain? I could grouse about the weather but I won't. It doesn't change anything, and I know for a fact that things will green up. All the rain in California has caused a Super Bloom in the deserts, something that happens now and then, and this year it's just started and is nowhere near its peak. I wish I could go there and see it in person, but I'll be busy here, starting my garden planting and visiting the tulips in the Skagit Valley before long. My favorite time of the year around here is springtime, and it's a-comin' faster than one can say "Yahoo"!

With that (hope it brought a smile to your face), I will wish you a wonderful Sunday and a blessed week between now and next week, which will only be a few days away from the Vernal Equinox. Be well until then, my dear reader.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A quarter century later

1992 --> 2015
Don't let anybody tell you that 25 years is not a long time. It might not seem like much, looking back, but it's almost a third of a normal life span. And frankly, I would be one of the last people to think that the two of us would have made a life together in such wonderful fashion. Me, a veteran of three failed marriages and he of one. And we were both fifty when we first met. Looking at that top picture, it amazes me that we looked so good for our ages. And the septuagenarians in the bottom picture look pretty darn good, too. It is a quarter century later, after all.

I wasn't looking for a mate when we first got together. I had started skydiving two years before and that was all I thought about, all that mattered to me at the time. Every waking moment that I wasn't working was spent thinking about when I would next be able to make a jump. I had state-of-the-art skydiving gear and had bought an old rust bucket of a car so that I could make the fifty-minute drive to the local Drop Zone every weekend. I left work early on Wednesday when the summertime weather was good to make some jumps in the afternoon with three like-minded friends.

There was a news group on the Internet (long before everybody had a website) about skydiving, and I spent some guilty work time on that group, learning all I could about the sport, and making friends who were also skydivers. There was one person who didn't post often, but when he did, I liked what he had to say about skydiving. I could relate when he explained how skydiving had taken over his life, and I decided to send him a private email. It couldn't be delivered, for some reason, so I tried again a week later. He sent back a short cryptic email that said he'd answer when he had some time. I had made contact!

Well, over the period of several months, we sent many emails back and forth, and I learned that he lived in San Francisco and was exactly my age and single. It also turned out that, although he had thousands of skydives, he was not currently jumping. But he answered every question I had about it, and I must say I fell in love with him before I ever heard his voice or saw his face. We made a decision to call each other (in the days when long distance phone calls weren't cheap) and before long we were talking to each other almost every night of the week.

Then it was time for us to send pictures to one another. He sent me some of his writings and a couple pictures of himself from twenty years before, saying he didn't have anything more current. I saw a wild-haired young man wearing a backpack in the wilderness smiling at the camera, and the other he was standing with some other skydivers at a Drop Zone sometime in the distant past. I sent him current pictures of me showing off my skydiving gear before making a skydive. I might have sent him some others, but I don't remember.

We made plans to meet. He would fly from San Francisco to Denver and I'd meet him at the airport and take him back to my apartment in Boulder. We felt like we knew each other well by this time, and the actual physical meeting seemed like an afterthought. I remember standing at the arrival gate at the airport, watching each person leaving the plane, impatiently waiting to see my love depart. Nobody caught my eye, nobody seemed like the man I was waiting for. After everyone had left, I looked around to see why I had missed him. And there he was: a balding slightly overweight man who appeared only faintly like the picture I had in my mind. He looked at me and I looked at him, realizing that reality was taking over my romantic vision.

As we walked through the airport and finally getting in my car, I had recovered enough to realize that this was still the man I loved, and I tried to kiss him once we were inside the car. He recoiled and I didn't understand why. The romantic reunion I imagined was not there, not at all. What I hadn't realized (and I know so well now) is that SG is not someone who rushes into situations without contemplation and caution. I learned much later that the person who approached him in the airport (me) reminded him uncomfortably of his mother, who he didn't much like.

So there we were in my apartment, learning about each other for the entire weekend, and although I wasn't exactly happy about how things had gone, we made some progress towards each other: almost enough for me and overwhelmingly enough for him. We made plans for me to come and visit him in San Francisco. The top picture was taken in his apartment when I first visited, and we walked around the city together and I met some of his friends. That time it was easier, because we knew what to expect from one another.

One thing led to another, and he decided to give notice at his job and move to Boulder. I was able to get him on my health insurance if we were willing to announce ourselves as a couple, and before too long he packed up his belongings, I flew to San Francisco and we made the several-day-long journey to Boulder. He stayed in my apartment for a short while before finding a place of his own to live. I went back to spending every weekend at the Drop Zone, and he accompanied me as I made skydives with other friends.

Before long he was back in the sky with some borrowed gear, and he and I made many skydives together, both with each other and sometimes with other friends. When my mother died in 1993 and I inherited my share of her estate, I used some of that money to buy him his own gear. And that was the beginning of many years together with skydiving at the core of our relationship. We were married in freefall in 1994 (yes, that is something you can do). I wrote about it here.

And now, neither one of us skydives any more, and we have found a place where we belong, here in the Pacific Northwest, enjoying our sunset years together. I have full, interesting days; as an extrovert married to an introvert we spend much of our time apart, doing what makes us happy, but we always spend some time together every day sharing with one another. He is asleep next to me as I write this as part of my Sunday morning routine. I'll soon get up and start my day and head off to the coffee shop to meet my friends there. When I come home, he'll be up and about, and we'll check in to see what the day has in store for each of us. It's a pretty perfect life for us, and we both cherish each day we have together.

I could never had guessed that life would have taken me here with this wonderful man. It's a good thing I wasn't in charge of making the big choices or I wouldn't be here. We seem to have some pretty active guardian angels who helped make it all happen! I hope that the coming week will be a good one for you, and that we will meet here again next Sunday. Be well until then.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

My wonderful siblings

Me, Norma Jean, PJ, Buz, Markee, Fia
I love this picture, taken in the early 1980s, in my parents' back yard. Daddy took it, I'm pretty sure, and although none of us look like this any more, we are all recognizable as the people we have become, except PJ who died of heart disease three years ago now. There are twenty years between me, the oldest sister, and Fia, the youngest. We are arranged by age. Fia is now in her mid-fifties and a grandmother three times over.

I didn't have any gray in my light brown hair, and I don't have that smooth neck any more, but otherwise I think I look pretty much the same. Age changes us all. It's been decades since I wore a skirt, and Norma Jean bore a strong resemblance to Farrah Fawcett in those days. Buz, our only brother, was a handsome young man sandwiched between his many sisters.

Although I love all my siblings, you can see how it turned out that the two on each end of the picture became closer to one another than to the others. When I visit Norma Jean in Florida these days, we talk about the old days and realize that none of our other siblings share our memories. It's the same with Markee and Fia; they are very close and visit each other often.

The last time we were all together was three years ago, for PJ's celebration of life. It was a hard time for all of us, but especially for her husband and those who live nearby and saw her often. Years ago I would visit Texas at Thanksgiving, getting together for the holiday. Norma Jean in Florida often wasn't there, and Markee who lives in Canada came more often, but all of us being together was rare. Now it isn't even possible, since PJ is no longer with us. These days I see her children and grandchildren growing up on Facebook, and it amazes me that times passes so very quickly.

Our names might seem unusual, but they aren't really. I was always called by my middle name, Jan, skipping over Dorothy, my paternal grandmother's name. Norma Jean grew up being known by her first and middle names, but she dropped the "Jean" part as she grew older. I have never known her by anything but Norma Jean, and when I would call her at work and ask for her, whoever answered the phone would call her to the phone with, "it's your sister." I didn't have to announce it.

PJ is short for Patricia June. As she grew up, she stopped being known by her initials and became Pat. PJ is all I've ever known for her, too, and when she finally got onto Facebook, she used "PJ" instead of Pat, which made me smile. She had four grandchildren who were the apple of her eye, and she would call them over to me when I visited so I could also see how delightful each one is. They are only known to me because of Facebook, and I marvel at how quickly they have grown from little people into young adults.

Buz is really Norman Francis, but I have never heard him called anything other than Buz. He was nicknamed after a family friend by the same nickname. You wonder how these things happen, when time has blurred the reasoning behind it. I was a teenager by the time Buz was born, and we all know how self-centered teens can be; I was no exception. I did notice that he was a beautiful, talented child. And my dad got the boy he had always wanted. Today Buz is married to a wonderful woman and has a daughter in her mid-thirties.

Somehow at this point in my parents' life, they decided to have more children. The family story is that they couldn't bear to put the high chair into the attic. but who knows? My mother carried a child almost to term, a little girl Tina Maria, who lived only a few hours, but we always think of her as being one of us. My father and I are the only ones who witnessed her tiny body put into the ground.

Markee's name is a contraction of Mary Katherine, and when she was little neither name seemed appropriate to such a little one, so I guess that's how it came about. I had left home by the time she was born and had a son a month younger than she was. At the time I lived in Puerto Rico with my Air Force husband, who was stationed there. My son Chris was born there as well. Markee is now called Mary by her family, and she has three beautiful grown children.

Fia is really Rita Sofia, named after my mother (Rita) and perhaps a distant aunt. I wish I knew more about the naming rationale behind each of us. Fia, the baby, was sometimes called FeeFee, and she was the only one of us who really looked different from the rest of us. She was born bald as an egg and very fair-skinned, and as she grew she developed the prettiest white-blond hair. She actually is the only one who resembles her maternal grandfather, who was Welch. She didn't ever have to do anything to keep that gorgeous blond hair, which she has to this day.

My siblings. Although twenty years separate the oldest from the youngest, we will always be connected by the bonds that we share. There's a little bit of each parent that shines through us in our daily lives, flavoring the present with echoes of the past. Perhaps it's inevitable that as I age I see more of our similarities emerge. Norma Jean and I talk to each other using FaceTime a couple of times a month, but I only see my other siblings on Facebook, and mostly it's their offspring who post on there. My nieces and nephews, and grand-nieces and grand-nephews are quickly growing into young adults. Beautiful people all. I am so blessed to have at least some way to keep in touch as time goes by. I never knew I would become so attached to a social media site, but I have.

I suppose it's inevitable that as I age and look back on the decades of life I've lived, that there are several versions of each of us. I was once a young mother with two beautiful children, and now the ghosts of my nonexistent grandchildren shine through each one of my relatives' progeny. Life is like that, I guess. I'll take it, happily.

I'm sure that I've written about my siblings before, but they are on my mind today, and I hope I've given you a little peek into why they are so special to me. I've got a life that I enjoy and cherish today, but I am also enriched by a long line of pretty exceptional people. Desmond Tutu once said, "You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them."

And with that, my post is finished. I've got to get up and start my day, and I'll be heading off to the coffee shop to join my family of the heart who love coffee as much as I do. I'll be watching the Oscars tonight, hoping that my favorites get honored. Plus I love to see the gowns. Until next week, I hope that you will stay safe and will find much to enjoy in your days. Be well, my dear friends.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The measure of treasure

Pine cones caught in lichen
I didn't take many pictures on our hike last Thursday, since it was grey and rather wet, but as we walked along I saw this little set of pine cones captured in some of the lichen that hangs everywhere from the trees. I believe this is old man's beard lichen, but after spending a bit of time researching it, I'm not at all sure if it is a lichen or a moss. It's everywhere around the Pacific Northwest, and since a recent windstorm had downed several trees, there was plenty of it littering the trail, along with branches and sometimes even very large trees that we had to navigate around.

Even though I now only carry my cellphone camera, I still cannot resist trying to capture pictures that catch my eye and awaken my artistic side. I never have more than a few seconds to decide whether to attempt to take the picture, and even less time to find the best angle. And with the iPhone 7, I still don't know the capabilities of its camera. It managed to focus on the pine cones and gave the background a nice blur, so it pleased me when I looked at the picture later. More often than not, as I sit in the car on the way home examining my pictures, I'm disappointed at what I see. But that's the beauty of digital photography: I simply delete it, no agonizing over it.

Do you remember when we had cameras that used film to capture images? My first camera was a Brownie, a little box camera that took 127 film pictures in black and white. I clearly remember loading the camera and making sure I didn't allow any light to get onto the film cartridge as I placed it into the back of the camera body. Snapping it shut and turning the knob on the top until it stopped, knowing that I was ready to take a picture! Oh, the anticipation of what I might have captured in that little box! In my mind I was always convinced that it would be wonderful. Of course, I had to wait until I used up the film and took the film cartridge to be developed at the local camera store. I looked forward to picking up the developed film and sitting down to see what treasures I might have in my little hands.

Obviously, not much has survived from those days, since my treasures never measured up to my dream of some magnificent shot that would make me gasp with delight. More often, they were blurry and out of focus, or unflattering pictures of my siblings or parents that gave us a few laughs and then went into the bottom of a drawer somewhere. If I could reach back in time to those moments, I'm sure I would cherish those pictures of long-gone people and places. But that was then, this is now and although I think there might actually be some of those pictures in the possession of my siblings somewhere in their own keepsakes, I myself have nothing but my memories.

Pondering those long-ago days, thinking of how something as simple as a snapshot taken in the moment could become a treasure in a future world, I wonder what around me in this moment might be treasured in twenty years that I don't even register as important. We live in such a different world today, and there is much that is ephemeral and would not be missed, but are there artifacts or paraphernalia around me that hide their future value? What around me would I cherish tomorrow if it were suddenly lost to me?

Well, certainly I would miss my electronic devices. I love my laptop, looking at it right now and thinking how essential it has become to my existence. My cellphone is always with me these days, and I use it to check the weather forecast or my email wherever I might be. They connect me to the larger world as well, thinking of this very blog I'm writing in, and how much I would miss it if it were taken from me. What I treasure about it, though, is not the thing itself, but the richness it brings to my daily life.

The other day at the coffee shop as I was reading the news on my iPad, a young man asked if he could take my picture, along with my friends John and Gene. Each of us was reading on our separate tablets at the community table, and the young man marveled at how much the world has changed, with nary a newspaper in sight as the old folks perused the daily news. That is one thing I treasure right now, today: the connection with my friends as we visit with each other at the coffee shop. Although we each have our own devices, we are constantly stopping to hold up a picture or a cartoon to share with the others, laughing or nodding our heads in solidarity. In fact, once I finish with this post and start my day, I'll be heading off to the coffee shop to get my daily dose of friendship.

And I know for certain that one day it will come to an end, because everything does. I'll look back and remember these days with affection, but at this moment right now I can appreciate them and treasure them. It occurs to me that it isn't the thing itself I would miss (sitting in the coffee shop), but the companionship and community we share. That is one of the reasons I would miss you, you who are part of my virtual community, and the moments we share with one another in the moment.

Ah. It happened again: i was thinking about writing about something entirely different today, but this came out of my head and waltzed onto the page without much volition on my part. Last night an old nursery rhyme kept going through my mind and I looked it up (of course) and was going to write about the meaning of Mother Goose. It could still happen another day, but sometimes I think I don't actually run this show but ride the universal waves of thought to wherever they take me.

It's time to get up and do that very thing: start my day. I've got a massage scheduled at noon, which is always something I look forward to and treasure. Partner is still asleep next to me, and I sense the day's events pulling me right out of bed. I hope you will take a moment or two to think about what and who you treasure right now and be thankful. Be well until next week, dear treasured reader.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Reading, writing, and more

I'm on the right
This picture is a piece of a school picture, taken in the early 1950s at Travis Air Force Base in California. My dad was stationed there for the longest period of time that we stayed anywhere, and I sort of felt that California was my home. We moved several times during this period, and I cannot even fathom how I ever got an education while being shuttled from one school to another during my formative years. But I did, partly because I loved to read and, although I wasn't ever a standout in any subject, I was always good at English and loved to diagram sentences, and spelling was a favorite activity.

Now that I am no longer involved in public school affairs, I have learned that the schools I attended no longer exist in any form whatsoever. Public schools no longer teach penmanship and handwriting, and however they teach reading is nothing like how I learned. I was taught using phonics, which teaches the student to sound out the words. I remember when I learned how to spell the word "orange," because it was totally different from what I imagined. I had puzzled over how the sound of the word might be translated into letters.  It's one of those memories that I remember to this day, because I ran home from school to share my excitement with my mother.

I still love to read and manage to devour several books a week, fiction and nonfiction. Recently I read a really good book that was recommended to me, Wild By Nature, by Sarah Marquis. "In 2010 Sarah travelled from Siberia to Australia, alone, on foot. From freezing cold to desert heat, from high mountains to jungles, 6 countries to cross, 6 different languages. More than an expedition, it’s constantly going further than you think you can." There are scenes she describes in the book that come up in my mind while I'm walking, thinking about her having accomplished something like that. Her experiences came alive in my mind because of my ability to translate her words into thought pictures. Reading and writing are essential parts of my life, and I cannot imagine who I would be if I never learned to read.

Today, many children are given iPads and other tablets and use them for entertainment and watch movies and videos instead of reading. What a different environment than the one I had growing up! I can still remember with incredible excitement the Dick and Jane book I first read all by myself. The words were short and primary, but I read them without any help at all. It was a wonderful feeling. Reading is associated with many cognitive benefits. I wonder if staring at a screen does the same thing. Somehow I don't think so. A Wikipedia page on Reading says this:
Reading books and writing are among brain-stimulating activities shown to slow down cognitive decline in old age, with people who participated in more mentally stimulating activities over their lifetimes having a slower rate of decline in memory and other mental capacities. Reading for pleasure has been linked to increased cognitive progress in vocabulary and mathematics during adolescence. Moreover, the cognitive benefits of reading continue into mid-life and old age.
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 There was another reason that I cropped that picture for the top of this blog. I was thinking about one of my fellow students, the girl on the left. I don't remember her name; she was shy and reticent, but I remember that she was the only girl who was allowed to dress in jeans, and I wondered why at the time. Back in those days I'm sure bullying occurred in schools, but it was nothing like today's intense problems. I've often wondered what happened to her. We called her a "tomboy," but I think she was one of those children who hated the gender she was born into. Maybe she is no longer a she, because these days it is acceptable to become transgender. I learned about what that means here. Although it may be possible to follow that path, most transgender people face discrimination at and in access to work, public accommodations, and healthcare. No one would choose to go through the process unless it was really important to them.

I am a little bit ashamed at how ignorant I have been about some of the difficulties that people who are different from me endure. It never occurred to me as a child to wonder about the young girl who still remains a mystery to me. Whatever happened to her, she is now in her mid-seventies (if she is still alive, that is), and I wish her all the best in the world. I wish I had been more curious back then. You know how when you think back about events in the past, they sometimes get fleshed out? Thinking about her, I believe she was a very good person and treated me with kindness, but that might only be my own projection. I hope I did the same to her.

A program I have enjoyed on Amazon is "Transparent," and I've watched all three seasons with varying degrees of appreciation. It's become a little bit more outrageous as time has gone on, but I will still watch the fourth season to see what happens to these people I've come to love. The story revolves around a Los Angeles family and their lives following the discovery that the person they knew as their father Mort is transgender. Hence, the name of the series. If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can get it free. The first season was the best, in my opinion.

Well, that was a little excursion away from the topic I chose this morning of reading and writing. However, the whole idea of being transgender has been in the news lately because of a young child who was born a girl, whose parents allow to live and function as a boy. He was thrown out of the Boy Scouts when his gender was discovered, and to my complete amazement, the Boy Scouts have changed their policy and allowed the child to join. Read about it here.

Yes, the world is changing right before my eyes, and I'm thrilled that I'm still around to learn about it all. I do hope that those children who aren't learning to read in the old fashioned way I learned will still become literate through methods I don't know anything about. It's important to be able to imagine and use those cognitive abilities that only reading gives us. Just my two cents.

And with that, another Sunday post has emerged, not the one I thought I would write, but another one entirely. I hope that you will give your loved ones some sweet Valentine on Tuesday, if you feel like it, that is. I know I can expect something chocolate will pass my lips on that day. Be well until next week. (And yes, SG is still snoring lightly next to me and my tea is gone.)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Potpourri of thoughts

Celestial triad
Last Tuesday night I was leaving a meeting of the Advance Care Planning facilitators, and I looked up to see something much like this picture. This one is displayed just because I didn't actually stop to take a picture, and this is not real, but it's amazingly similar to what I saw. A crescent moon, Venus and Mars shining brightly in a clear sky. The meeting was a gathering to decide how we might proceed going forward, after the funding for our program has been lost. Hopefully it is only temporary, but it's a blow to those of us who care about helping people make their wishes known, in case they are unable to speak for themselves at the end of life.

I've been an ACP facilitator for more than a year now, and I've seen many, many clients over that period. I also became a Notary Public so that I can notarize the completed documents and get them on file at our local hospital. It's been a very satisfying period in my life, and I don't want it to stop. We are all volunteers, so there's now a need to find another venue where we can counsel clients, since the offices where we were located before are now no longer available to us. We have lost the one paid position of administrator of the program, and that's why we were having the meeting, trying to figure out where to go next. We'll have another meeting in two weeks and I volunteered to create a web page for us.

That's all well and good, I can do that (I've gotten started), but then I ran into the problem of content on the site. I have realized that I actually need to be part of a committee so that I don't have to be the one to make all the decisions as well. We are struggling here, but this is a very important service, helping people make the tough decisions of who to appoint as a surrogate and what kinds of intervention is appropriate for each person. Here's some information about Advance Care Directives. Everyone should have this information at least written down, and the laws are different for each state.

Anyway, that's one thing on my mind, along with several others that just won't let go. I've got to make an appointment with my doctor for my annual wellness visit, where I'll also find out how my blood work compares with previous years. The hospital in my city, PeaceHealth, allows me to go online and take a look at every year they have gathered that information for me. It's a great resource, and I realize that it's very possible that health care will become even more difficult to obtain in the near future, what with all the changes on the horizon. I don't even want to think about my Medicare Advantage plan's prospects. I think I'm good for this year, but who knows about 2018?

I think I am pretty healthy, but nobody can really tell about those internal organs we don't see. My digestion and elimination are normal, and I get all the tests you're supposed to have on a regular basis, but I can't help but wonder what's going on inside my body. My mother was a bit of a hypochondriac and I think I could be one if I let myself, too. Sometimes my mind just looks for something to worry about. As long as I am able to enjoy my activities without difficulty, I just hope for the best. Wasn't it Reagan who once said, "trust, but verify"? That is pretty much how I approach my health.

I'm in the process of visiting the local theaters to see all the films that have been nominated for Academy Awards. Yesterday I saw 20th Century Women, which was only nominated for one Oscar, but Annette Bening was robbed, in my opinion; she should have been nominated for Best Actress, if you ask me. Today I'll see Fences, which is up for Best Picture and Best Actor for Denzel Washington. So far, my favorite movie has been Hidden Figures, about three amazing African-American women who worked at NASA in the early 1960s, before it was integrated. I went online to find out how much of the movie was real and how much just Hollywood hype. It turns out that it's mostly based on actual events. One of the women, Katherine Johnson, is still alive at 98 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama in 2015.

Now I've only got to see Hacksaw Ridge, a story about a Conscientious Objector during World War II who refused to carry a gun or kill anybody. It's gotten great reviews but I hear it's pretty violent, so I have hesitated about seeing it. I felt the same way about 12 Years a Slave a few years back, but I finally saw it and was glad I did. I wouldn't see it again, though. The main character was played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has quickly become one of my favorite actors. He has an amazing range; I've seen him in other movies lately where he becomes completely absorbed into the role. An amazing talent.

See? I told you this would be a "potpourri of thoughts," and sure enough that's what it has become. I'm sitting here in my bed, in my usual configuration with Partner next to me, stirring a bit but as always supine as I sit here with my tea and laptop. He goes to bed later than I do, so I am glad that he is getting a little more sleep. It's an important element of health, getting enough sleep. I'm glad I don't usually have much problem with it, unless there's something on my mind that won't let go. This post was bothering me last night as I had nothing at all to begin with, and even if it's not one of my best posts, it's done, and I'm feeling much better. My obligation to myself and to my readers has been met, and now I can get up and start the rest of my Sunday.

Until we meet again next week, I ask that you try yourself to get enough rest, and don't forget to treat your loved ones to a smile. Life is so much better with plenty of them, and they don't cost us a penny!