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, 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.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Beautiful sun days

Trillium at the end of their blooms
On Thursday, I saw this wonderful group of trillium that have gone from early white petals to ones that have turned purple and ready to curl up prior to falling off. Those are some big leaves, too. Sometimes things that have grown old are still beautiful, and these flowers remind me of the truth of this. Since it's been three days since I took the picture, there are probably now just big green leaves in that cluster.

I have continued to remind myself of the Five Buddhist Remembrances every day, and I find that I look at the world around me with different eyes. My coffee shop friend John also reminds me every time I see him that he wants a three-breath hug, and we share one together. I realize that, living alone with only his cat, he doesn't get many hugs, and it's enjoyable to share a hug with a good friend. John is 77 years old, and it's good to mark these days and give thanks for each other. Of course, I hug SG on a regular basis, but it's made me aware of how often other people seem to be starved for physical contact. The hour-long massage I receive every three weeks is an essential part of my health regimen.

My friend Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By had a 14-hour-long surgery on Thursday, removing part of her pancreas and the adjacent gall bladder and part of the stomach, called the Whipple procedure, and is the only treatment around for pancreatic cancer. Not everyone is a candidate; you must have no obvious metastatic lesions into the surrounding tissue, which she didn't, but I'm sure they sliced up what they removed to see how advanced the cancer was. Even going through this surgery, the doctors told her she only has a 25-30% chance of surviving the next five years. She watched her father die of it 35 years ago.

She has made good progress. She's got a friend who is blogging for her and as of Friday she had been moved from the ICU (intensive care unit) to a regular room, off the ventilator and the feeding tube and is sitting up and even going for short walks. Ever since I have been following her blog, she's put up a Saturday compilation of "Interesting Things," and I found myself missing it very much yesterday. She's got a whole posse of followers who are hanging on every word that Autumn (her friend) is posting, and I'm one. She might even put up a blog post herself from the hospital if all goes well. I cannot imagine how it must be for her right now.

The only thing I have to compare it to is the three-week stay I had in the hospital, starting with the ICU after they repaired my fractured hip and eventually being moved to a regular room. Then I was sent to a rehab hospital so I could learn to use a walker and get around by myself with an external fixator holding my pelvis together. There are moments that stand out during that period, but mostly that time is gone from my memory. I was on heavy narcotics, which obviously didn't help with my ability to recall those times. I made it through, however, and it's been eighteen years. I hope there will come a time when Ronni can look back and remember having survived this. She is 76 and probably won't be around in eighteen years, but you just never know.

All any of us can do is live our lives one day at a time. Getting up after a good night's sleep and rolling out of bed to stand on these well-worn legs (which take a moment or two to decide whether to work right) and going through my morning routine doesn't vary much from day to day. On Sunday mornings I write this blog post, and sometimes I'm very focused and know what I'm going to create, and others (like today) I only have a vague idea of a direction. The beautiful day we had on Thursday still lingers with me, and today's visit to the coffee shop to see John and enjoy a shared bagel and good coffee makes me smile to think of it. Gene is off in Alaska on his annual fishing expedition, which lasts around six weeks. He has declared this is his last year, but he said the same thing before and still continues to return to his boat and crew in Alaska for the salmon fishing he's done since he was sixteen.

Sunday is also the one day during the week when I don't have exercise built in. Everybody needs a day off now and then, right? Sometimes I'll walk from the coffee shop down to Bellingham Bay, a short mile, just to get a few steps on my iPhone. I'm addicted to seeing that number every day, and this past week I've been a little more active than usual, with 15,000 steps as my weekly average. Usually it's around 12-13,000. Yesterday we ladies walked around five miles, with our leader missing we just went on the walk and never regrouped, with the fast ones zipping off into the distance immediately, and the rest of us enjoying a more leisurely pace. We still went pretty fast, and it helped my legs get rid of some of Thursday's soreness. Today is a new beginning, and I feel great, looking forward to enjoying this summer day. There's work in the garden, and a couple of shows to watch on Netflix or Amazon, and keeping myself and my flowers well hydrated in the heat (it was in the high 80s here yesterday, which is about as hot as I can stand). I know some people are really baking in blistering temperatures, but there is a reason I don't live elsewhere: I can't function when it's so hot. I just read that Phoenix is getting some relief from the incredible highs they reached recently. This article states that 113 degrees is a relief, with 92 being the LOW temperature at night. Yikes!

And with that, I do hope that if you are experiencing temperatures that high, or even for my friends who are entering winter and colder temperatures, that you can stay comfortable and safe. My dear one is still sleeping next to me as I begin to enjoy the rest of my day. It's all good during these halcyon days of summer. As Joseph Campbell once said, "We must let go of the life we have planned, so we can accept the one that is waiting for us." I'll try to keep that in mind today, just in case there are some unforeseen events ahead. I wish you well and the recipient of all good things until we meet again next week.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day 2017

My front porch flowers today
Today is Father's Day. Since I've written about my own father in past years, I thought I'd move on from there to the more generic idea of fathers. Here's what I wrote about Daddy last year, if you want to know more about him. Anyway, looking online, I find that it's not only Father's Day, but it's also Go Fishing Day, Splurge Day, and Turkey Lover's Day.

June 18th is a big day for me, in many ways. I have three events that have occurred on that day, and when it rolls around I think about those things once again. First is the birth of my first great niece, born seven years ago today, to my niece Allison, Norma Jean's daughter. She (Allison) has two daughters, both born from sperm donation, essentially "phoning in" the father's role. Alexandra goes by the nickname Lexie and just graduated from first grade. I get to see her and her sister whenever I visit Norma Jean in Florida. I remember when I learned that Allison would become a mother and how she chose the sperm donor. I guess you actually get a catalog and learn essential information about the person whose sperm will be used before being impregnated.

Since Lexie doesn't have a father, she is close to her uncle Peter, Norma Jean's other offspring. They all live in close proximity since Allison moved to Tampa, and their lives are intertwined. When I talk to Norma Jean on FaceTime, I often get a chance to see the girls. I wonder whether they realize how different their lives are from their friends' lives, or maybe they're not so different after all. There are many families without both parents for whatever reason. In any event, I am so glad they are part of my family!

Twenty-three years ago today I became a skydiving instructor. I wrote about it here back in 2012. It was a long arduous journey from being a neophyte skydiver to become someone who could help other people learn the skill in relative safety. It's never going to be completely without risk, but what is? Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane into freefall with a parachute on your back is not something I ever thought I would do even once, much less thousands of times. And it's a wonderful memory; many mornings I'll wake up and realize I've been dreaming again about being an instructor. Over the years, I taught more than a thousand students and really enjoyed teaching the First Jump Course. Skydiving was such a huge part of my life for so many years that I couldn't imagine my life without that thrill. It's how I met Smart Guy, it changed my life for both good and ill in many ways.

That's because on this day seventeen years ago, I had a very bad landing under my parachute that caused me to fracture my pelvis in six places and lose an artery down my right leg. I won't put a link to it because there's one in the sidebar on the right side of this blog. I really don't need to dwell on that memory today; I live with the side effects every single day, so I don't forget it often. I have two pins that reside in the right sacral area, and fortunately for me, they don't give me much difficulty. However, I think maybe my hip pain of recent months might be related to the accident. Who knows? But every day that I get out of bed and work out the kinks, I need to get that hip moving in the right direction.

I've had a few other scrapes while skydiving, but that was by far the worst one, and the only one that caused me to miss an entire season of skydiving. Yes, I did return to the sport, and I made at least a thousand more skydives afterwards. I never thought a day would come when I wouldn't be an active skydiver, but I began to realize that I needed to find a time to stop before I injured myself again. I made my last jump in February 2015, at the age of 72. It was time to stop, since I seemed to throw my back out each time I tried to pack my chute. It was a warning sign, I told myself. But the amazing thing is how easy it was to let it go. Everything in its season, as they say.

Daddy was long gone when I made my first skydive in 1990. Sometimes I wonder what he would have thought about my avocation. It was a year-round endeavor in Colorado, but once I moved to the Pacific Northwest, it became seasonal, since the winters here are marked by low clouds and lots and lots of rain. I did jump in the rain once in Colorado, by accident, and I remember being afraid that my parachute would collapse under the weight of the water, but it flew just fine. I sure wished I could have had windshield wipers on my goggles, though. Since both of your hands are being used to steer the parachute, there's no way to wipe the water off them. You just gotta deal with it. I remember that I packed up the wet chute and made another jump right away to dry it out.

Yes, this day holds real meaning for me. Thinking about my own father always makes me realize how much I still miss him when I allow myself to. One thing I've learned about the loss of loved ones is that it doesn't do me any good to dwell on regretful memories. Once you get far enough away in time from a major loss, the regrets begin to recede and happy memories emerge. Daddy was a happy guy, most of the time. I have many memories of first beginning to enjoy the exploration of reading different sorts of books, when Daddy introduced me to science fiction. As a teenager, I would devour Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov stories and we would discuss them. He changed my idea of literature by introducing me to speculative fiction. That's one really good memory of my dad. I still to this day enjoy science fiction, thanks to him.

I realize now, when I think about it, that reading was always a huge part of our lives. Mama was the biggest reader of all; she would go to the library and bring back a box of books, which she would read in record time. She read everything (except science fiction), including lots of nonfiction books. I think she would enjoy the books I have on my bookshelf right now: one about the life of beavers and another about the secret life of trees. I'd be sharing them with her if I could. I do miss my parents, but then again, Daddy would have been 100 years old if he had lived until today. Somehow I just cannot picture how he would have gotten to that age. Do you want to be that old? I'm not sure I do.

I think I might celebrate Splurge Day today and have something to eat that I don't usually allow myself. Right next to the coffee shop is Mallards Ice Cream shop. It is simply the best ice cream anywhere, locally made and with flavors you've never heard of before, such as pepper ice cream (I tried it once and loved it, vanilla with black pepper spice) or even rhubarb ice cream (I haven't tried it yet). Yes, I'll use the day to splurge on something good to eat, and right now ice cream sure sounds like the ticket.

Whatever you decide to do with your June 18th, I hope it's a good day surrounded with love and laughter. Now that's something it would be great to splurge on: lots of giggles and belly laughs. Plus it wouldn't be nearly as fattening as the ice cream. (Nah! Ice cream wins out.) I hope you find someone to share those three hugs with that I mentioned a few weeks ago. I've found it to be a really wonderful meditation and reminder to cherish my dear ones. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dystopian future and Wonder Woman

Front porch petunias
I took this picture to show the nice lady at the Farmers' Market who makes these delightful displays how it has begun to bloom. I bought it just before Mother's Day and there were no blooms at all. She says she plants her boxes with seeds that will bloom all summer long. There are also some purple petunias beginning to open. I've seen the woman, Pat, every Saturday for a decade now; she also brings in plenty of eggs from her chickens, which people line up to buy from her. I should get a picture of her and introduce you one of these days.

Unfortunately, we didn't make it to the Saturday market yesterday because I had made arrangements to go to the movies early in the day with my friend Judy, and I couldn't linger long after our walk with the ladies, although Lily and I had a nice breakfast afterwards. I figured I'd better eat something because the movie started at 11:30, meaning I'd miss lunch otherwise.

It all worked out just fine, and I met Judy at the theater in plenty of time to watch the interminable run of trailers from other movies before we settled in to see Wonder Woman. This link takes you to a review written by Caroline Framke of Vox and reflects my own take on the movie. Yes, it's a superhero movie and could have been really bad, but it shows a woman who knows her own worth in a world set in the early 1900s (World War I, to be exact), and she is raised on an idyllic island by Amazons without any men. I loved seeing those Amazon warrior women portrayed so well (the movie's director is a woman, Patty Jenkins) and I flashed back on all those Wonder Woman comic books I devoured when I was a young girl myself. The movie is just a bit long for my taste, and the last part could have been dialed back a little (I tire of all those CGI-driven battle scenes). Otherwise, I enjoyed it very much.

Then I came home and, after puttering in the lovely garden, I settled down to watch the last episode of The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu. What a contrast! I don't know if you're familiar with the story, so I'll give you just a little background. Margaret Atwood, a favorite author, wrote a book by that name in 1985, which I read back then and was profoundly affected by it. It portrays a dystopian future of a United States that has become the Republic of Gilead. From that link above, written by Sister Rose, a Catholic nun:
What is "The Handmaid's Tale" about? It's about personhood, identity, freedom, abuse of power and oppression. It's about the meaning of the ever-present violence, human dignity, community, family, children, the body and leadership run amok. Democracy is a thing of the past but power for the powerful is in full force. The men have the guns but they don't really win in this brave new world; their dignity is denigrated as well. The difference is — they are in charge. Or they think they are.
The series is ten episodes long, and I've seen the first nine of them; next week will be the final episode of Season 1. Elizabeth Moss plays Offred ("Of Fred") and we get to see plenty of her backstory in flashbacks. The main difference between the book and the series is that it's been reimagined to be set in current time. That makes it even more scary, thinking of how horrible it would be to suddenly lose the privileges and freedom I've taken for granted my entire life. Of course, women growing up in Saudi Arabia, for example, have always been without power, making me wonder how they might interpret the series.

So those two very different views of female power and powerlessness just happened to be combined in one day's entertainment, and it has got me thinking. Remembering that idyllic island where Diana (Wonder Woman) was raised, and the world of Giliad where anyone who does not fit into the brutal power system is hanged and left for others to see as a warning, these are both possibilities of existence that are polar opposites of one another.

I believe in the power of love to overcome many obstacles in life, but our political surroundings also make a huge difference in how we are able to express that love. I have been scarred by eight decades of being alive, and although I live in a place where I can express myself in myriad avenues, I don't stand up and take public stands that might put me at risk of being ridiculed and even bullied by others who don't believe as I do. I don't talk about politics on my blogs (well, occasionally) and that is partly to honor those who see the world differently, but it's also because I know that some people troll the internet looking for people to harass. It's hard enough being as "out there" as I am with this personal blog, and I try very hard to be honest and relevant in my writings, but it's fraught with potential risk. There are people who delight in hurting others.

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My virtual friend Ronni Bennet, the woman who writes Time Goes By and has been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, has written about the constraints she deals with in her blog, which is mostly about what it's like to grow old, but she has allowed those of us who follow her to care very much about her well-being. I have been pleased to see how many of her followers (I'm one) who have let her know that we want to help, and the only way we can is to support her with our thoughts and prayers as she goes through this terrible time. She will undergo surgery on June 20th to remove the cancerous tumor in order to gain a possible 25 to 30 percent chance of survival. Without the surgery, her doctors have told her she would be dead within a year.

One of the things she has written about recently is how different the world appears to her since her diagnosis. Before, she would feel the passage of time as being incredibly rapid. A day, a week would pass in record time, and I know exactly what she means. But after the diagnosis, everything has slowed to a crawl. Days are much longer and filled with meaning. Now I realize it's because nothing is taken for granted, not even sitting down to read a book. Everything takes on a different hue, because she has been reminded of her mortality in a way she can't turn away from.

We are all in the same boat, we just don't realize it in the same sense. I know that my days are numbered, but so much of the time I'm on autopilot and forget to take in the moment. Maybe a cancer diagnosis has an upside. Well, maybe. In any event, I am very much attuned to her at the moment and think of her often during my day's activities. It's still strange to me how much I get attached to people I've never met. Many of you who read my blogs fall in that category. Remember when this whole idea of virtual community felt like science fiction? And here we are, connected and hopefully enjoying the whole thing.

I just looked at the clock: I guess I've spent longer writing this post than usual, because it's getting late and I need to finish and get on with my day. It's sunny and beautiful out there again, so I'll be hopefully enjoying myself in the garden, along with other activities like meeting my friend John for our shared Sunday bagel. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will be well and will not forget to hug your loved ones.