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, December 26, 2010

Home again

After I learned a week ago today that Emily was gone, I purchased tickets to travel back to Boulder. Because it was Christmas week, the best fares I could find were to travel on the 21st and return on Christmas Day. Any other days would have ratcheted up the cost too much. Smart Guy got up with me at 4:30am on Tuesday and drove me to catch the airport shuttle taking me 100 miles south to the SeaTac Airport. My flight to Denver was uneventful, and I stayed with Sarah and Josh, two skydiving friends who were the bests hosts anybody could have asked for. They have a small menagerie of animals: three cats, a dog, three parrots, and numerous fish tanks. I wrote about their home on my other blog here.

On the day of the memorial service, we were all three of us in a pretty emotional state as we traveled to Mile-Hi Skydiving, where Emily died, and where almost six hundred people had gathered to honor her. If it had not been Christmas week, there would have been more, but although three hundred chairs were set up in the enormous airplane hangar, there were literally hundreds standing in the back, on the sides, trying to find a place to hear her huge extended family tell funny and poignant stories about their beloved cousin, sister, niece. The skydivers were given a chance at a later time to read or tell their own tributes to Emily.

One of our skydiving colleagues does lighting and sound for professional musicians, and he did an incredible job of setting up a fantastic enormous flat screen and creating rotating pictures of Emily's life. He also compiled and edited a beautiful video tribute to her. Much more happened that I documented on my other blog, but here I want to talk about how the experience impacted me, the whole five days out of my life that felt like being in another world.

So many of my old skydiving friends and students were there, all grown up in the sport, and as we hugged and cried together, I kept hearing how much I have been missed. It was gratifying to hear, but the truth of it is that I have changed: Boulder and that Drop Zone are no longer my home. As wonderful as it was to see everyone again, the circumstances made it almost unendurable. I felt every one of my 68 years. Emily's mother Terry is five years younger than me! I left that part of my life behind when I moved here and I never looked back. Now I am a retired senior who makes a few skydives a year, around 50, instead of 250-400 I made each year for fifteen years. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy it just as much, but I am no longer an instructor and like it that way. Emily many times told me she was going to take my place, take care of young skydivers and especially young women, like I did. She surpassed anything I had accomplished in everything except the length of time she taught.

The day after the memorial, Christmas Eve Day, Sarah drove me to my old boss' home in Boulder, where I stayed with them, Mickey and Karen, and got to see their beautiful grandchildren, Samal and Danesh, who have changed incredibly in the three years since I saw them last. Mica, their mother, married a man from Kazakhstan, Sayat, and the children are two of the smartest, most accomplished six- and four-year-olds on the planet. Really. Walking into their home where I had been many times felt very comfortable, and they went out of their way to accommodate me.

On Christmas Day, Mickey drove me to the airport in Denver and I had an uneventful flight home. Smart Guy was waiting for me when I got off the plane, and he drove me those 100 miles north to our home in Bellingham. I was too tired to do much other than eat dinner, sit in a chair and doze, and went to bed at 7:00pm. I slept like a log for the first time since Emily died.

And now I am home, with a week of traumatic and joyous memories behind me, and I can pick up my own life again and thank God for all my blessings, which are numerous. I had no idea how foreign Boulder would feel to me, after only three years away. I had lived there for almost forty years, after all! The brilliant sunshine was lovely, but I missed my home environment every day. My skin felt shriveled after only five days in the extremely low humidity, and although I loved the sunshine, I found myself moving away from so much direct sunlight. Everyone has their comfort zone, and I understand why it's hard for some people to have all the grey days and rain of this part of Washington, but for me at this time of my life it feels just right.

As we dropped down through the clouds and circled Seattle, I could see the Space Needle and downtown, snow-capped mountains in the distance, and I knew I had come home, to the place where I belong.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Goodbye Emily

This is not at all what I had in mind to write about today, but yesterday evening I got a call from a friend in Boulder, who wanted me to know that Emily, pictured above with me in 2004 on her graduation jump from student status, was in critical condition. Emily grew up in the years since this was taken, becoming proficient in every single aspect of the sport of skydiving. Thousands of jumps later, an instructor herself, she had far surpassed anything I had accomplished in skydiving.

It was in 2003 when she got a job in the office at Mile Hi Skydiving, a non-jumper herself, and quickly became fascinated with the sport and the people she met. She went through the First Jump Course with several other people and made her first jump with me and another instructor. She was very nervous and readily admitted that she was "high maintenance" and appreciated the extra attention that we gave her. In the plane on that first jump, she balked at climbing into the door, so we sat her down and talked with her as the pilot brought the plane around again. We figured if we gave her another chance and she didn't go, we wouldn't try again. She showed every indication of doing the same thing, but at the very last second, she got into position and we all three floated out the door. I can still see her face in my mind during that skydive.

I went to many parties and gatherings at Emily's home in Denver, which she shared with her husband Lee (a New Zealander usually called Kiwi) and her numerous rescue dogs. Other than the time she spent studying for the bar exam, every moment of every day became devoted to her passion for the sport. She and Kiwi planned and executed a wonderful going-away party for us when we left Colorado.

Emily became a beacon to many timid souls who wanted to skydive but had fears that she easily understood. She told me she wanted to be a caring instructor like me, which flattered me and made me realize how important it is to treat each person with compassion, rather than seeing them simply as generic students. When she received her instructor rating, she called me and cried tears of happiness as she told me of her determination to pass the course.

She already had received a "pro" rating for canopy control and was learning to make more and more aggressive maneuvers under her canopy. I had noticed on her Facebook page that she had traded her docile canopy for a more high-performance one. I learned yesterday that she was making a "swoop" into the landing area when she miscalculated her distance from the ground and hit very very hard. Apparently she had severe head and neck trauma, along with both femurs broken. She was taken to the hospital and flown to a trauma center in Denver.

I read in an email when I woke this morning that her family, Kiwi and her parents, have learned that she is brain dead. They are keeping her body alive until suitable donors for her 38-year-old organs can be found. She is gone and I find myself almost unable to comprehend the loss. She leaves a huge hole that can only be filled by the passage of time.
I snagged this picture of Kiwi and Emily, taken a few days ago at a holiday party, that she had posted along with a hundred others on her Facebook page. I had studied every picture, looking at my old friends and remembering when I was there with them too. This one shows what a beautiful spirit she had. I cannot imagine how Kiwi and her parents are holding up. I know from experience that it's just one breath at a time, one step at a time through the haze of pain and longing.

When I know the details, I will be heading back to Boulder for the first time since I left, to attend the funeral or memorial service or whatever is arranged to honor Emily. It will be bittersweet to be there under such circumstances, but I must go, since she is family in my heart.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The ghosts of Christmas Past

My first Christmas with Mama and Daddy
This picture was taken in 1943, and it's not really my very first Christmas but the first one where I wasn't just a few weeks old. One thing I love about this picture are my parents in the upper left. Mama is wearing a lacy apron and must be opening something from Daddy, who is leaning forward in anticipation. I sit in the middle of the picture, oblivious to everything but the shiny object in my hands.

I don't know who took the picture, but I suspect it was my aunt or grandmother, since I think we are in their home. It was such a long time ago, but it began my childhood appreciation of Christmastime. And here we are again, as the planet moves around the sun and completes the journey to the winter solstice once more. Four years since I retired and we moved to the Pacific Northwest; how time flies.

Last year at this time I got the news about my dear friend Emily, that she was severely injured from a parachuting accident gone bad. Then I learned that she died. A year ago today I was on the phone getting reservations to fly back to Colorado for the first time since I left. I spent less than a week there and came back home on Christmas Day. It was a terribly hard time, but I saw so many of my friends again and realized with amazement how much I had changed in just a few short years. I had transferred my affections for my previous home town, Boulder, to my new home seamlessly. There is nothing more for me in Colorado, except for the friends of my heart who will always be part of me.

If I were in Texas visiting my siblings and their incredibly huge families, I'd be enveloped in the flurry of visits, parties, Christmas trees, presents, shopping. But since I'm here in Bellingham with my partner who feels as I do, a quiet enjoyment of the season is enough. We don't have to be part of the craziness unless we want to, and we are happy to have a nice Christmas dinner together and buy ourselves anything we might desire. I ordered a new fluffy bathrobe for myself and am wearing it now, my Christmas present to myself. I will give gifts of food to my neighbors, and we have already attended the one party we wouldn't miss. It's enough.

But oh, how I remember the Christmas wishing of my childhood! I would sit and ponder what I wanted to receive from Santa, what desires might be fulfilled. I know I wanted a bride doll one year, and when I would look at her in the window of the store, I was filled with longing. Norma Jean and I actually crept into our parents' closet one year and found our Christmas presents. We stealthily opened them to see what we were getting before wrapping them back up. I think I was the instigator, being the older sister. Since I did that, I well remember the pretty dress I would receive. It's one of the few I recall.

I don't remember at all what I might have bought for other people. When I was young, it was all about the getting, not the giving of Christmas. Now that I am older, that has turned around completely. The enjoyment I receive these days is all from giving things to others, little things that show appreciation and love. Yesterday I finally sent off a pair of my earrings that Norma Jean admired one day on iChat. They just weren't "me" so I was happy to pass them on to her. She loves earrings.

My closet is filled with clothes that I don't wear any more, and I'd like to get those passed along to the right people. I had hoped to do it before Christmas, but it's only a week away now, and I'm not sure I'll get it done before then. I recently gave away some silk scarves I don't wear any more, and that was really fun, making me happy and bringing cheer to other people too.

At the party the other day, one of my friends told me she's got a tree in a pot that she brings in every year to decorate, but a chickadee has built a bird's nest in it that she doesn't want to disturb, so that it can be used again in the springtime. She always has live trees, she told me, because one of the things that bothers her about Christmas is the murder of so many trees. When I was a kid, though, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas time was to lie on my back with my head under the tree, looking up at the sparkling lights, the ornaments glinting, and let the incredible smell of the tree fill me with delight. That smell, along with the smell of gingerbread, takes me back to Christmases past.

Now that I am older, it seems that acquiring things has become more of a burden than a pleasure. Since I don't lack for much, and I seem to have plenty of food and warm clothes to wear, there's not much to wish for any more. My last big purchase was a raincoat that will hopefully keep me dry when hiking in the hills and mountains around town. Next Sunday will be Christmas Day, and until then, I'll reminisce about Christmases gone by while enjoying the present moment.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


At this moment, early in the morning before the sun, I am listening to the sound of the rain falling. It's been doing that all night, since we are in the middle of a Pineapple Express. The picture shows what is called an "atmospheric river" bringing warm rain from Hawaii, and as you can see in the picture, it's aimed right for the Pacific Northwest. Yesterday SeaTac had the all-time record rainfall for the date, and they expect the same to happen today. North of Seattle, it's supposed to be wet and warm, but most of the serious flooding problems will be south of us.

This kind of rain hits our part of the world every few years, and it inevitably causes flooding, which I suspect has already started. But that is not what I wanted to post about today.

Yesterday I went by myself to see the movie 127 Hours. If you haven't heard, it's an autobiographical movie about the guy who cut off his own arm after becoming trapped in a Utah desert. For five days. Last night as I began to slip into sleep, I thought about one part of the movie that keeps coming back to me: his hallucinations about the rock that pinned his arm, that the rock and he were intertwined from the beginning of time to meet at that moment.

The concept of destiny intrigues me, as I consider some of the accidents I've had in my life. In 1981 I was bicycling down Boulder Canyon on the first day of summer. It's a 17-mile-long descent and I was really enjoying myself as I sped down the canyon. I was sharing the road with cars, of course, so I moved as far to the right as I could as they made their way around me. Bicycles are common on this road and most of us know how to share.

There is a tunnel through the rock towards the end of the descent, and I would usually ride right through it, but the traffic seemed a little heavy and I worried about not being visible, so I slowed to a stop and waited for a break in the traffic. I got back up onto my bike and started through the tunnel, not moving very fast at the beginning. I was standing on my pedals trying to pick up speed when I was struck from behind by a truck.
Here is a picture of the tunnel. You can see it's not very long, but everything converged just right for me to be invisible to the driver, eyes not adjusted to the dark yet (when my accident happened, there were no lights at the top of the tunnel). I was thrown free of my bike up into the air and landed a few feet away. The driver saw me just before impact but was unable to stop before hitting me. He did, however, stop immediately when he realized what had happened.

I lay there unable to move and knew I was hurt, with no idea how bad it might be. I remember that my first instinct was to wiggle my toes, and I felt them all moving, so I knew that I was not paralyzed. The driver stopped traffic in both directions and somehow (they had cell phones back then, I guess) within fifteen minutes an ambulance arrived. The details are hazy now, but I remember a woman giving me a shot of morphine in the back of my hand, which seemed to calm things down quite a bit. When I was moved to the backboard, even with the shot I was in a lot of pain.

Next thing I knew, I was in a hospital bed, flat on my back, and x-rays showed a fracture of the last thoracic vertebrae. It was amazing to see shards of bone pushed into the tissue. I was very lucky, there was no damage to the spinal column and they left the bone fragments to be absorbed by the body. I remember the incredible pain a few days later when they tried to get me to sit on the side of the bed. I fainted. But they got me fitted for a back brace and within a few weeks I was back at work while wearing the brace. It kept me upright and out of pain; I was only in discomfort when I tried to wean myself away from it.

I had no permanent damage, other than a misshapen vertebrae. That particular place in your back, T-12, is not needed for carrying weight on your back and is not involved in the pelvic region, which would have meant quite a different story for walking. Since there was no permanent injury, I received a small settlement and many visits from the concerned driver of the truck. My bike was pulled completely under the truck and demolished. When I saw it, I was horrified to think how it would have crushed me! I would not be writing this, obviously.

So here I sit, listening still to the rain, and thinking about destiny. I was fortunate, but so many different elements had to align for this accident to happen. And more than that, for it to end up being a positive, rather than a negative, experience. I was able to buy camping equipment and take a six-week-long trip to Peru that fall, hiking in the Andes, having wonderful experiences that I could not have afforded before the accident.

When I was watching the movie yesterday, I remember actually feeling a huge sense of relief when Aron Ralston had finally freed himself from the rock, minus his arm. He wasn't home free yet; he had to rappel down a cliff face to reach possible rescue. With one arm! I was mesmerized by the fortitude of this young man and will head down to the bookstore today to get his book. I'm not quite ready to stop thinking and experiencing what he went through. His destiny changed completely with that experience. Since I was in Boulder when it happened in 2003, I remember well reading stories about him becoming an inspirational speaker and writing a book the next year. He had hallucinations about a son during his experience, or a premonition that he would have one, and this year his son Leo was born. He met his wife two years after the accident.

The convergence of circumstance changes lives every single day. Sometimes it is tragic and horrible, and sometimes it is sublime. And sometimes it's both.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The art of compromise

Last night I woke to the sound of a car alarm. I peeked at the clock and saw it was after 1:00am and I had been fast asleep. Once whoever's alarm had turned off, I lay awake for awhile, thinking about this post, wondering what to write about. I thought about my dear life partner lying asleep next to me and wondered if he woke from the alarm. No stirring, so I went back to my own thoughts.

We sleep with the bedroom window open a little to allow fresh air to circulate in the bedroom. We always do that, we even did it in Colorado when it was below zero degrees in the winter. The bedroom door is closed so that only one room cools way down. I have a nice down comforter that keeps me warm in all but the most extreme weather, and Smart Guy has his own setup. We sleep in the same bed but with different coverings. It works great for us, and it doesn't keep us from snuggling together if we feel like it. Usually we don't, however. I have never liked to be wrapped together with someone while sleeping; it makes me quite uncomfortable.

When we first got together twenty years ago, we slept in a double bed with covers like everyone else. I'd never experienced another sleeper who tugged as hard on the covers as I did, and one or the other of us was constantly being "outed" to the cold air. We came up with our solution because of the times we spent in a tent together, when we both noticed that we liked having our own sleeping bag because we could be in charge of the covers. It was many years ago that we decided to sleep together in the same bed but with our own coverings. The wonderfulness of having my own comforter that is not going to be disturbed by his nighttime tossing and turning has made our sleeping together a delight, rather than a battle.

When it is very cold, we have another cover that goes over both of our little burrows, but usually it's just two separate sets of coverings next to each other. It looks a little weird to the uninitiated eye, but it's certainly made us both very happy, and now it seems like it's always been that way.

Sometimes I think back to previous bed partners and remember some of the habits that would drive me crazy today. A lover way back in the eighties, Jamie, loved to snuggle, and I would tolerate it until he went to sleep and then creep away so I could also go to sleep. He was a small person and never hogged the covers, but I must say I would wake sometimes in the morning and find that I had taken them all away from him! We never thought of the obvious solution that Smart Guy and I came up with, because we never saw it done before.

Compromise and accommodation are the hallmarks of a good relationship. However, I had to learn to find out what I really wanted before I could compromise, because I thought if I just allowed the other person to have their way, I could live with it. This is a bad idea, because I always harbored thoughts that somehow he should have known something I never shared truthfully! One thing I have learned in this relationship is how powerful it is to talk with and share with another person. I was cursed with the Ozzy and Harriet idea of marriage: the wife is the helpmeet to the important husband and takes care of all his needs without thought of her own. Yeah, right!

Smart Guy wouldn't allow me to get away with it. The early part of our relationship was very stormy because we were so different, and we were both almost fifty with ingrained habits and expectations. But we managed to find common ground through talking, compromise and creative arrangements, with neither of us "giving in" to the other. Sometimes I look at him while he's busy steaming and preparing our vegetables in the kitchen and I'm amazed that we worked it all out. He's the main cook and prepares our food in bursts, rather than daily. The prepared veggies go into the fridge, mine in containers cooked a little more than his, and when it's dinnertime we both prepare ourselves a plate just the way we like it and put it into the microwave. Sometimes when I'm tired from a hike, he will fix a plate for me at my request, and he always makes it much more elegant and lovely than I make for myself. He mixes colors and textures just right.

We do get in the way of each other if we are both in the kitchen, but I'm extremely happy to cede that domain to him, as long as I get fed in the manner to which I've become accustomed. On my other blog I wrote a post showing a picture of my usual dinner. (I called it "Gratitude" for obvious reasons.) I also wrote another post last April showing what the inside of my fridge looks like, in response to another blogger's queries. I named that one "Our Food Choices" and talked a little about how our menu changed when we moved from Colorado to Washington.

The main reason for this post is to remark to myself at how much I've changed in response to my partnership. Neither of us is the same person we were before we met (or, as he said more than once, before we collided). I don't think I could ever have imagined the life we share. If we had done it the way I thought it should be done, we would have separated long ago. But today, I cannot imagine my life without him.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life stages

I am always struck when I come over to this blog, preparing to write, when I look at the pictures of me on the banner. Having absolutely no idea what to write about today, but with lots of possibilities stirring around in my head, I stared at those pictures for a long time, thinking. Last night I picked up a journal I wrote in early 1982, wondering who I was then. It's almost embarrassing when I see the naive, sweet person who wrote in there, not the me of today at all. Or is it?

At that time, I had recently experienced a strong religious conversion and was praying and meditating all the time. My wonderful cat Fopaw and I and lived in a basement apartment in Boulder. My half-time job at the National Center for Atmospheric Research was secure. Life was good. That conversion and the years I spent contemplating the possibility of entering a convent, spending Holy Week in prayer and contemplation during those years -- it all seems to have happened to another person. Those years are still inside me, though. Today I don't even attend a church of any kind, and so much has happened to me during those almost-thirty years.

It got me to wondering about the passage of time. Changes come into my life so imperceptibly, to my body, that I don't notice or comment on them, which I guess is natural. The stages of a woman's life are usually thought of as happening in three or four parts. The version I like best is Virgin, Mother, Warrior, Crone. It's empowering to think of those years after motherhood to be in a sense fighting to become an authentic person. The only one of these four that I would change is "Crone," since the sense of that word to me is not just an old woman, but a hag, a disagreeable old crone.

However, in looking up the meaning of the word, I found a reference to a book I read long ago, Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It reminded me that Campbell links the crone to the Fairy Godmother. What a different image comes into my mind with THAT change in wording. The actual meaning of the word is "old woman" and I certainly can identify with that. The young girl who wrote in my journal was in her mid- to late thirties, what I now think of is the prime of life.

Rather than thinking of myself as a different person, though, looking at the handwriting and reading the words I wrote thirty years ago, I see the stepping stone of sincere searching for meaning that I was reaching for in all those religious meditations. It culminates in the person writing here, in this blog, today. This morning, still dark outside and with my partner stirring next to me, I can give thanks for the earlier Me and know that her journey is filled with adventure, discovery, tragedy, and contentment.

This week I will have my 68th birthday. As the oldest sibling in a family of six, we are all still here on the planet, and we are all in relatively good health. My parents had the equivalent of two families: three girls were born within seven years and then they stopped having any children until I was sixteen, when they had three more in quick succession. The last two were born after I had married and left home. My very youngest sister, Fia, just had her 48th birthday and is a grandmother. Being twenty years older than she is, I can wear the mantle of "crone" or "fairy godmother" with pride and look forward to what life experiences still lie ahead.

Although I don't pray or meditate in the same formal sense that I did thirty years ago, the attempt to make contact with God paid off. Today it seems natural to hear the Voice in my heart that assures me the path to wholeness is firmly planted beneath my feet. When I stray off the path, I am very aware of it and quiet contemplation helps me to find my way back.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cold and snow

The cold and snow moved in overnight on Friday, canceling my usual Saturday morning walk and making it necessary for me to use my broom like a snow shovel. I broke up the ice in the birdbath and cleared enough of the porch to put some bird seed out for my birdies. Yes, I worried about them all night, thinking of them huddled in some branches trying to keep from being blown away by 45-mph winds and staying warm in below-freezing temperatures.

Sometimes I wonder about the propensity I have to worry about things I can't do anything about. It was a problem last year when I closely followed the web cam of the hatching of an eaglet and watching his parents care for him. I worried when they were gone for too long, hoping nothing had happened to them, and then I was heartbroken when the little eaglet (who was no so little by then) died of pneumonia just before he was ready to fledge the nest. I have been unable to appreciate web cams looking into wild nests since then.

My grandmother was a worrier, and my sister gave me a quote that has served me well: "Worry is a misuse of the imagination." I think of that and then come up with other imaginative ways to worry anyway. The abrupt change in the weather makes me fearful for all the wild creatures in our local woods, but they have been managing quite well without me or my worry since long before humans were even around.

Yesterday, Saturday, I took the bus to town because the roads were frozen and slippery. Since there is no bus service on Sundays any more, I will only venture out on my own two feet today. Our temperatures are not projected to get above freezing, even in the daytime, for the next three days, so the streets and sidewalks will remain treacherous. This part of the country doesn't seem to put much sand on the streets, and walking around town on sidewalks covered with several inches of ice wasn't much fun yesterday.

I remember so well being amused by my grandmother whenever she would come up with things in my life for her to worry about. I remember telling her not to worry, and she would respond, "Well, somebody has to; you don't!" As if there was a need to manufacture scenarios of possible calamity or something dire would occur. And now I have become just like her!

Last night, however, I went to bed feeling satisfied that I had done my part in keeping my birdies safe: they ate more birdseed than ever before in one day; they drank water from the birdbath since all the other water around was frozen solid, and I pictured them in roosting in the trees last night with full bellies, which allowed me to snuggle into my down comforter and sleep quite well, in spite of all the cold and snow.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our furry friends

I had a synchronicity of sorts this morning, when I started reading the posts my blogging friends have put on their sites since I last visited. One of the nice things about Google Reader is that I can choose to peruse them quickly or visit the site to leave a comment and see how the post is laid out on the page. My friend Star has a post this morning about a ginger cat of hers, Jasper, who has gone over the Rainbow Bridge. And then the very next post that came up in the Reader was from Judy titled "All Our Pawsome Friends" that informed me about a worldwide moment of silent meditation to remember our furry friends, those here and those who have gone before us. It is scheduled for 3:00pm (Pacific Time) today, and Judy's link gives more information if you want to learn more.

It was my sister and brother-in-law Pete who first introduced me to the concept of the Rainbow Bridge, which is a comforting myth about where our beloved animals go when they die, and how we will all be reunited when we ourselves pass over. Since the Christian Church, especially the Catholic Church, doesn't believe that animals have souls and therefore are gone forever when they die, I think this is a fine remedy to that cruel belief. If love is what life is all about, where is there more perfect love? How can it be gone forever?

Of course we won't ever know the answer to that in this lifetime, but the synchronicity got me to thinking about animals in my life who have been particularly special to me. When I was young, in my early teens, we had a dog I loved immoderately. He was a stray that adopted my parents on a golf course in Puerto Rico. A small terrier mix, we named him Mulligan and he was with our family for many years. One of my favorite memories of my time with him was blackberry picking in Georgia. The woods around our house had lots of wild berries, but also lots of snakes. Mulligan would run ahead looking to scare away any snakes that might threaten me.

He was also one of the smartest dogs I've ever known. Mulligan was as much a family member as any of us, and I can still picture him in my mind. I don't have any pictures of him, but if my sister reads this and sends me one, I'll put it in here. He lived with us in Puerto Rico, California, Texas, and Georgia. His selfless love for each one of us still feels present in my heart. He taught me that you don't have to hold onto grudges or see any family member with anything but love.
Mulligan with my leg on left (thanks, Pete!)
I don't have any pets at this time of my life. When I started skydiving, that passion consumed me completely, and gave me so many options to travel, that it wouldn't have been fair to anyone to have a pet. In my thirties and forties I almost always had a cat, and my dearest one was Fopaw, an all-black cat that was a talker (must have had some Siamese in her). She was long gone by the time I started skydiving. Then I married Smart Guy, who has never lived in a home with a pet, and my job at work changed so that I was traveling a great deal, so I haven't had a cat in twenty years. There is a feral cat who hangs out in our neighborhood here, but I discourage his visits, since I am now feeding the wild birds who come to my porch. It satisfies me a great deal, and we both appreciate watching the bird population who have found us.

Just now, thinking about the birds, I stopped writing while I checked the feeders on the front porch, as the sun is now just beginning to come up. With the time change, the sun arises around 7:15am and sets around 4:30pm, a nine-hour day on its way down to seven hours before we reach the solstice in late December. The birds find a place to roost about a half-hour before the sun goes down and come to breakfast just before sunrise. The juncos are the first to arrive, then the chickadees, sparrows, nuthatches and goldfinch. The woodpeckers and flickers have no schedule I've been able to figure out; they show up to delight me at various times of the day. And our juvenile hawk, who sees my front porch as part of his territory, comes around at least once a day. When he shows up, the porch grows suddenly quiet and empty of other birds. Sometimes he lands on the railing and usually before I can get my camera aimed at him, he's gone. A magnificent bird.

My life has been immensely enriched by all of the furry (and feathered) friends I have known over the years. I think of how many people all over the world who feel the same way, and I give thanks for the opportunity to have known them and to have shared my life with myriad incarnations of love.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Extra hour day

Today it will seem like I get to have an extra hour, since Daylight Saving Time ended this morning. It's funny how my mind works: there is no difference in the length of the day, but it seems like it. Now in the mornings it will be light out when I walk to the bus, and dark earlier. Here in Bellingham, the sun will set at 4:40pm, and by the end of December it will be dark before 4:00.

I have been asked by many of my friends here if the darkness bothers me. It seems that many people really suffer from the short days, long nights, and often-rainy winter weather. I'm not sure if I will one day feel that pain, but so far, I've enjoyed the warm cozy long evenings and have taken up knitting. Of course, my computer and the feeling of connectivity through my news blogs and the more than sixty-odd blogs I follow from all over the world certainly help. Through the internet, I read about the adventures of my virtual friends, most of whom are older, like me, with the occasional young mother whose children I love to read about and who fill another need. At the coffee shop four days a week, I visit with Leo, who I have watched grow from a baby to a toddler. He comes over to me with his latest book and plops it in my lap. He's beginning to talk now and knows my name. It means so much to me to see his beautiful, bright little face smile at me when he sees me.

The last few days I've woken from sleep with a positive attitude. I don't know what causes it exactly, because sometimes I wake with a pervasive sadness. It helps to remember that whatever feeling I have today is fleeting. It gets better, or it gets worse. I wonder if my age has anything to do with it. When I was a young woman, I couldn't ever feel that my situation would change; it felt permanent. Maybe this is one benefit of getting older: your perspective becomes larger, more expansive, and more forgiving of the human condition. It also becomes more precious, since I know that the length of my life is mostly behind me, and the years ahead are limited. That's okay.

I went to the endodontist this past week to get a root canal, since the crown I got in June has not settled down. My dentist had given me a referral, so I decided to have an expert assess the situation. His prognosis is that, for now, it's not necessary. He told me what to watch for, and said it may not ever stop sending me a twinge of shock now and then when eating or drinking. I also learned that 25-40% of all crowns will eventually need root canals, and as one ages, that percentage continues to increase. Things wear out, and our teeth are not immune. I remember when I was little, almost every person who was my present my age had dentures, and now it's not very common at all.

That reminds me of a woman I met when I was on a trek in the Peruvian Andes. My friend Marla and I were on a week-long trek into the mountains, and we followed a donkey trail to a little village named Colcabamba that our guidebook said was a good place to replenish our supplies. Well, nothing came into that village except by burro, so we were oddities indeed, two women arriving by foot. We were taken in by a wonderful Quechua matriarch, given a place to sleep and food for our journey. The woman and I had some common language: we both spoke some Spanish. I learned that we were the same age, 38. But she looked ancient, and when she smiled, she had only three or four teeth that showed, and all of them were dark and rotten. No endodontists here. No dentists, either. The Quechua chew coca leaves like we use coffee, and they also chew them with lime to release the active ingredients in the leaf. This wreaks havoc on their teeth. So even at a relatively young age, my friend in the Andes was not going to keep her teeth. But I will never forget her. I wonder if she is still alive, thirty years later.

I followed the mid-term elections closely this week, and I was so pleased that Senator Murray here in Washington won re-election. It was touch and go for awhile, and I had braced myself for the worst. Although the Democrats took it on the chin, I did my small part and voted for my local Dems. The health care bill was touted at the main reason we lost the House, but for my part, I am glad they passed it, even with all the political carnage it cost us. We only had a small window of opportunity, and what was passed was so weakened by compromise it hardly resembled the public option I hoped they would pass. But the foot is in the door, and I don't believe it is possible to repeal it. I hope it will be strengthened as the years go by, for the sake of my young friends, like little one-year-old Leo, who deserves to have affordable, accessible health care when he gets sick.

Well, that's the state of my world here on November 7, the day I get an extra hour. What's going on in your little place in the vast Universe?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day of the Dead

I saw a couple of women outside the Farmers' Market who had set up this table display for the Day of the Dead, November 1. They looked like mother and daughter to me, and the mother spoke no English and her daughter translated as I asked about the display. They are selling the sugar skulls for $5 each, to be set in your window to remember your loved ones. Mother told me that November 1 is to remember your lost children, and November 2 is to remember your lost adults. They had handouts telling more about the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos.

What I discovered in searching for the origins of the holiday is that in the Catholic Church, November 1 is All Saint's Day, and November 2 is All Soul's Day. Makes sense to me, and Wikipedia tells me the following:
Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skullsmarigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Due to occurring shortly after Halloween, the Day of the Dead is sometimes thought to be a similar holiday, although the two actually have little in common. The Day of the Dead is a time of celebration, where partying and eating is common.
So here it is Halloween and I'm thinking about my lost children. It's been such a long time ago that Stephen died, back in 1965, and he was only 13 months old. It was a life-changing event, because at the age of 22, I had no idea how to process the loss and became a lost soul myself. Chris was four years old at the time, and he basically lost his mother as well as his brother. It's a time that I rarely look back on. But for the Day of the Dead, I want to remember them. My strongest positive memory of that time is a day when Stephen and I played peekaboo on the bed, with him laughing in that strong baby way, his whole body convulsed with laughter, which of course made me laugh, too. We kept this up for hours, and it remains a strong visual and auditory memory.

I suppose it's normal that with the passage of time your memories begin to fade. I realized when thinking of writing this post that this has already begun to happen with Chris, too. He died in August 2002, now more than eight years ago, and the awful memories of those days of his sudden death have  begun to fade, too. I wrote about it here, and I don't want to think of those days right now, but instead the person he was to me.

Chris had a lot of characteristics of his father, whom I had divorced not long after the death of Stephen. Many people know that the death of a child can be a catalyst to force the parents either closer to each other or apart. We didn't have a great marriage, much of which I attribute to our youth and inexperience. I think we would have made it if Stephen hadn't died. Those characteristic mannerisms of his father and ways of looking at the world that Chris displayed are now precious memories. Funny how something that annoyed me has now become something to make me smile with fond recollection.

Chris was really smart. He liked to make up new words that were similar to familiar sounding words and would amaze me with them. I can't today think of any particular ones, but I attribute that to my fading ability to recall them. One day when he was a kid of ten or twelve, I got a call from the school that he had arrived without his shoes. This was in Michigan in February! (After Chris would walk to school, I left for work.) He had ditched his shoes because he read that Indians didn't need them, and he wanted to see what it was like!

He had a great sense of humor, and I can still remember his infectious laugh, which makes me smile just to think of it. He was also a ladies' man, always coming to visit me as an adult with a different woman, and almost all of them had a small child. Chris always adopted these kids in his heart, and I think it was the loss of the relationship with the kids that hurt him the most when they broke up. He never married until he was in the Army, in Germany, and he married a German woman who had a young boy from a previous marriage. They were all very close when he died. Chris never fathered a child himself, and I've always wondered why.

My two sons are still alive in my heart, and Chris comes to visit me frequently in my dreams. I find that being around infants and especially babies around the age that Stephen was when he died fill a need that I still have. I am constantly amazed that the old adage about time healing all wounds is so often shown to me. There is no pain involved in the memories of either of my sons. I am sure that if I allowed myself to grieve for them, it would return, but what's the point? I want to remember them both with the love and devotion they deserve.

So that's what I'll do.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thinking out loud

Today I am struggling to write in my usual Sunday morning fashion. Last week I was lamenting my folly about possibly hurting my ears by skydiving with a cold, and this week I have been tossing and turning at night thinking about Medicare and the lack of dental insurance. When I was employed, I had both health and dental coverage, and I never thought much about it. Today it's a whole different story. I waited until I was 65 to retire so that I could be covered by Medicare. And Medicare doesn't care anything about your teeth or your eyes, so you are left to cover that yourself.

If you aren't yet of Medicare age, hopefully by the time you get there the situation will be improved, or at least changed, from what it is today. The confusing number of options and how they affect you is astounding. I don't know how somebody whose mental faculties are diminished can cope. I consider myself smart and with all my faculties, and I am completely flummoxed.

It all started when I received a letter in the mail this week from my primary care doctor that he will no longer accept the Medicare Advantage plan I am currently on. If you only carry straight Medicare, only 80% of your costs are covered, and you have to find a prescription drug plan anyway. The Advantage plans cover both. Medicare has four parts: A covers your hospitalization; B covers medical insurance; C the Advantage plans, and D is drug coverage. Then there are private insurance companies who sell "Medigap" plans that cover the parts of A and B that Medicare doesn't cover. These costs together than be totally crippling. But, as many of us know, illnesses these days can bankrupt you forever, if you end up in a hospital for any length of time.

If you watch any doctor and hospital shows (like House or Grey's Anatomy), they never seem to consider the costs of all the tests and operations they perform at the drop of a hat. That's not the way it works in our country, for sure. You don't opt for expensive treatments, and if you have no insurance at all, you don't even get regular examinations. I cannot believe how much I took for granted in my employment: I was completely covered at no cost to myself in the early 1980s; at a very small cost to me in the late 1980s, but before I retired in 2008, the costs were horrendous. I was paying more than $400 every month out of my paycheck for MY portion of health insurance costs. My employer paid the rest and was busy trying to get everyone to move to something that required you to deposit $5,000 for each person into an account and draw from it.

I didn't worry; I was ready for Medicare, and I thought all my problems would be solved. NOT! At first, in Boulder, I enrolled in a Humana Advantage plan that only cost me $20 a month, and I would pay a co-pay at my doctor's office of $15 for each visit, $30 if I needed to see a specialist. It worked great, but then we moved to Washington state, where the same plan cost five times as much and was not accepted by most doctors around here. Humana is not very popular up here. You can only change your plan once a year, November 15 to December 31, but since I was in my initial enrollment period, I was able to change to something else. I spent countless hours on the phone trying to work all this out, but I finally decided to stay on regular Medicare with a Medigap plan, and a separate prescription drug plan. Even if you don't take any drugs, you are penalized for the rest of your life if you don't sign up right away with Part D.

It worked quite well for that first year, except that I was paying $200 a month (plus the $100 that Medicare deducts from your benefits for Part B), and I never saw the doctor except for a checkup. It seemed to be too much to me, so last year I moved to the Medicare Advantage plan that was accepted by my doctor and covered drugs, too. It worked so well... until now. Being forced to go back into the morass and figure out how to proceed has kept me awake so many nights. And the real problem is that there is nothing for couples, so if you figure that Smart Guy also needs coverage, and we have only our Social Security and annuities, you can see that the costs can spiral out of control very quickly.

Then there's the dentist. After checking into dental insurance, which is ridiculous in both its costs and coverage, I decided to just bite the bullet, pay all the costs myself. Of course not long after finding a new dentist, I needed to have orthodontic surgery and an old crown replaced. We are talking thousands of dollars here. I have also reluctantly concluded that the aforesaid crowned tooth is going to require a root canal, because in four months it still bothers me daily. Another thousand dollars into my mouth. All my savings are dwindling in order to keep myself from going into debt.

Now I know that there are so many people who have absolutely no recourse, no job and no insurance, so I should count my blessings. But the reality is that as I get older, my teeth will continue to cost me more; my health needs cannot be counted on to remain static; and I am approaching my 68th birthday. Not far from there to seventy.

Old age is not for sissies. It not only requires more determination to stay fit, but it also requires assistance from the health community. And the ability and income to access it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


This Sunday morning I am sitting up in bed (as usual) with my laptop warming my legs as I write, but without Smart Guy in bed next to me. He decided to get up, since my coughing fits kept him from being able to sleep much last night. Same for me.

I noticed a scratchy throat early last week but didn't think much about it, since I figured it was my time to get whatever is going around, and everyone gets a cold now and then. This one started gently and made me think it would gently leave. But no, that's not what has happened. Some sneezing and congestion, but nothing to keep me from my workouts. By the time I got to Thursday, though, night after night with a sore throat, I stayed home from my usual hike with the Seniors. I really wanted to go, but I figured that six hours on a hike with a sick person would not make me especially popular. I stayed home thinking I was being smart and would bounce back quickly, like I always do.

Yesterday, Saturday, I woke feeling well enough to head down to Snohomish and join my favorite people for a couple of skydives in the sunshine. I really thought I was well enough. The first jump went without incident, so I packed up to make another one. This time, however, upon opening the canopy my right ear didn't act right and simply hurt. I guess my sinuses had enough gunk in them to keep my ears from equalizing the pressure. I landed and realized that I shouldn't have been out there jumping anyway, but I did think I was well enough with most of the congestion being in my chest. I made a mistake and this morning the ear is sore and complaining.  I don't think I did any permanent damage, though, and I had a good time with my friends. It's amazing how much difficulty I have staying home from skydiving when the weather is fine and my friends might have too much fun without me. I've got more than 4,000 skydives but sometimes I act like a newbie.

Last night I got up in the middle of the night, unable to stop coughing and went to the all-night store for some cough suppressant. Not only was I unable to get much sleep, but Smart Guy, who never complained and offered to go to the store for me, couldn't have slept more than a few hours either. I would have let him go instead of me, had I known what I needed. I was the only person in the store other than the guy at the register. Music blared overhead anyway, I guess it never goes away. After reading the labels carefully, I got what seemed to be the most straightforward option. Went home, swallowed the liquid and went back to bed.

Now I sit here, thinking that this must be the least interesting post I've ever made here. But it's what is on my mind right now: my folly and my illness. It's hard to think of much else when you're not feeling well. If it were not for my ear, the congestion, my croaky voice, the cough -- why, I'd be just fine!

I am not a good patient. Between whining and complaining, I overextend myself because of a belief that I am indestructible, which is not true. There's a whole lot of denial in my mental makeup, but it's usually invisible because I can't see what I don't acknowledge. I remember my paternal grandmother who disowned her daughter. Until the day she died, when asked about her daughter, she would say, "I have no daughter." Even when she was dying and Edith (her daughter) wanted to see her to make amends, she said no, she had no daughter.

I wonder if traits like denial and lack of forgiveness are inherited. I never spent any length of time with my grandmother, but she lives inside me, and I wonder about it. If I told you who I think I am, it would not be accurate, because I don't think any of us can see who we are except through the lens of our family and friends.

Or is that true? Is it worthwhile to look inside for the answers? If so, how does one go about it? That is what this blog is supposed to help me with, but I am flailing here, wanting to discover something about myself that might be unknowable.

I'll feel entirely different when I'm well. So here you are with my October ruminations.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy birthday, John

Yesterday would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday. I saw many references to it, and I find it very interesting that thirty years after he was killed, he is still remembered and even revered by so many. He was the Beatle who meant the most to me, and I followed his career closely. I was among those who were devastated when he was shot and killed.

I found this picture of him on the Internet, and if you enlarge it, you can see it is made of myriad different images of him. I remember when he took several years off to raise his little son and be a stay-at-home dad. Not many men would do that in those days, although today it's much more common. He was such a creative and amazingly talented person, but I am still surprised that he is still in the hearts of so many of us. I still miss him, and I wonder what he would have done with those thirty years that were taken from him.

Today is a special day in other ways, too. It's October 10, 2010, or 10/10/10. Next year we'll have an 11/11/11, and the year after that, 12/12/12 which is supposed to be the End of the World. Or some believe it's 12/21/12, to be exact, right at the Solstice. I spent some time reading about it on Wikipedia and found that the ancient Mayan calendar ends at that time, and several other people and fringe groups project significance on the date. I suppose as we get closer we will have many more apocalyptic warnings. Reminds me of the Y2K hysteria.

Today, however, I can simply admire the symmetry of the alignment of all those tens lined up in a row. Exactly the same number of years that John had stolen from him by a madman's gun. I can still wonder what he might have accomplished in those years. When I look at Sir Paul McCartney's thirty-year journey, and compare what I think John would have accomplished, I speculate about where John's brilliant and unique mind would have traveled.

We were of a similar age. He was born in 1940, and I was born in 1942. I will be seventy in two years, and it's been an amazing thirty years, when I think back to the person I was in 1980 and travel backwards in time through my memories. One event stands out: a few days after John was killed, there was a worldwide solemn moment of silence planned at noon, I believe. I know it was in the middle of the day, and I was in sunny Boulder just leaving one of my favorite restaurants. Suddenly it grew quiet all around me, and I remembered the planned moment of silence and stopped where I was and allowed myself to feel the heaviness in my heart.

It grew very quiet, no cars whizzing by. The only sound at that moment was from a young man riding by on a motorcycle with a boom box on it, playing "Strawberry Fields Forever" at full volume. Everywhere around me I saw tears glinting on faces, loss and grief fresh for a man we only knew through his music. But what music it was.

Happy birthday, John. I still hear your music wafting through the airwaves, almost every day, thirty years later. Your songs have never lost their magic. I guess they never will.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I've been sickened by the story of Tyler Clementi, the young Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week. He did it because the other two young people in this picture spied on him through a web cam in the privacy of his room and watched him having sex with another male student. Then Ravi streamed the video to his 150 Twitter followers. It's all over the news, and I can't help but think about Tyler's death and the shattered lives of Ravi and Wei, who were arrested and then released.

Tyler was a gifted musician who didn't know he was being watched during those moments of intimacy. I've wondered how I would feel if I found out that I had been spied on while having sex and decided that the sense of betrayal and invasion would be huge. All three of them were Rutgers freshmen and only 18 years old. You don't learn much about the rules of college in three weeks, that's all the longer they had been away from home and away at school. But I think Ravi didn't realize how awful a crime he was committing by spying on his roommate. If he had thought about how he would feel if the tables were turned, maybe he wouldn't have done it. But when you're 18, you don't think about consequences the way you do when you're an adult.

Tyler was a sweet, shy, gifted musician who had asked his roommate for the dorm room for a few hours. He didn't know what had happened until rumors started to spread about what Ravi had done and who watched him having sex. The last thing he did before heading to the bridge was to practice with another musician (who said he didn't know anything was wrong) and then take his wallet and cellphone out of his pocket before jumping off the bridge. I can only imagine the turmoil going on in his head.

An article published today on NJ.com has shown that this suicide and the act itself, all happening during the run-up to National Coming Out Week, is causing ripples throughout the world. Already action has been introduced in the New Jersey legislature to stiffen the criminal penalties for cyber-harrassment. Ellen DeGeneres put a plea on her program to ask people to be kind to each other and help to keep something like this happening again. And this tragedy is only one of four similar suicides at schools around the country since school began, all because of young kids being unable to handle the cruelty that others showed toward them because of being gay.

I keep waking up at night thinking about things, and this suicide keeps coming into my thoughts. It's because the world of instant media and streaming videos has become so easy to access, and young people don't seem to know how to handle it. From that article:
"Intolerance is growing at the same time cyberspace has given every one of us an almost magical ability to invade other people’s lives," said Robert O’Brien, a Rutgers instructor who says he has, by default, become a spokesman for "overwhelmed" lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus.
 The juxtaposition of, as he says, an almost magical ability to invade other people's lives with thoughtless intolerance has caused this outcry. It's a sign of our times, and when you think of Facebook, Twitter, and web cams on every little device in our pockets, I guess this collision of values was inevitable. But I would have thought that this kind of invasion of privacy would only appeal to sick voyeurs.

Those two young voyeurs are probably very sorry about what they did, but it's too late for them, too. Their lives are irreparably changed because of this act, whether it was unthinking or premeditated. It doesn't matter: I'm sure they are in hiding somewhere, not going about their business at school as if nothing ever happened.

Our world is changing so fast, and technology is not only our friend (making it possible for me to write this and state my opinion) but also very much like a loaded gun in the hands of children.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mickey and Karen

Smart Guy, Mickey, Karen (click to enlarge)
Yesterday my ex-boss Mickey and his wife Karen came to Bellingham for a vacation and to visit us. That's our front porch where we had a little repast before taking them to their hotel (we don't have much room for guests to stay). As you can see, it was a sunny day, with a strong breeze blowing from the south. We were only one degree shy of the record temperature for the date.

I worked with Mickey for thirty years. Karen was a secretary in our department way back in the late seventies and early eighties at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. When they began to date, she transferred out of the department, and I attended their wedding 29 years ago. Karen went back to school and got a degree in social work, which she will be retiring from this December. Mickey, although he is going on 71, is still not slowing down. I think Karen wanted him to see how happy some people can be in retirement, but he's not having any of it. He's just not ready.

Mickey is a true "citizen of the world," comfortable in every corner of the most remote areas, or in the middle of a big city. He's curious about everything and absolutely loves used bookstores. I can remember many times I followed him, waiting in some foreign land while he perused books in the local language. Yesterday we walked around in the sunshine, and I showed him a couple of used bookstores that he will go back and delve into more deeply. They will be here all day and leave in mid-morning tomorrow (Monday). I hope to take Karen to join me in my favorite exercise class before they head out of town, back to Seattle to fly home to Boulder.

Because of Mickey, I have been to many parts of the world. I've been his assistant at meetings in Paris, Moscow, Hanoi, Saigon, Havana, Geneva, Bangkok, Urumqi (western China), Beijing, Shanghai, Macao, and Budapest. I'm sure I've missed a few, but you get the idea. He still travels all over the world to climate meetings but no longer arranges conferences like we did for so long.

We sat at the restaurant in their upscale hotel yesterday, reminiscing about many of those trips, since Karen was along on many of them, as was Smart Guy. The four of us went together on a side trip while in China to Xian to see the terracotta soldiers. We all agreed that it was one of the most amazing things we have ever seen. If you know little or nothing about the Terracotta Army, that link will take you to the Wikipedia page, but here's a little of what I know.

In 1974, some local farmers near Xian were drilling a well for water when they discovered some of the terracotta figures in a pit. Dating from 210 BC, these figurines are all different from each other and some historians think they are modeled after actual soldiers. From the Wikipedia link:
The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.
After we had gone into the large area where the majority of the unearthed soldiers are housed, we were able to buy a book telling what is known about them and giving us pictures of them all. We were able to get the farmer who found them to sign our books. I guess he's there most days and is paid by the Chinese government. I was not able to take a picture of him as it was forbidden. If you ever get a chance to see these soldiers, it is an experience not to be missed. What is known about their origin is that the ancient Chinese Emperor who founded the Qin Dynasty commissioned the Army to help rule another empire in the afterlife.

My memories of the years I worked with Mickey are filled with such amazing events. You would think that we might have stayed in fancy American-type hotels, but another thing Mickey insisted upon is that we accommodate our visitors and ourselves in local hotels. This was mostly a good thing, but I do remember in Moscow we stayed at a hotel that I could only describe as primitive. The room was only about 10-12 feet wide with a narrow wooden bed with a futon on top. The 14th-floor window opened, but there was no air conditioning (it was very hot) and no screens. I could have fallen out if I wasn't careful. The bathroom had no hot water and only one spigot that swiveled from the sink to the claw-footed tub. I just held the hose and wet myself down while standing in the tub, then dried with a towel about the size of a dishtowel. The hard brown soap didn't even make a lather. Since I was there for six nights, I did get a reasonable towel and soap for subsequent "baths."

Even though it sounds rough, Mickey was right: I didn't forget that trip, and there is no way it could fade into the mists of time. I can still remember those baths. Incredibly, I slept very well on the hard futon. That is just one of the amazing experiences I had while working for Mickey. We did a lot of good things during those years.

Seeing the two of them again has brought up many memories that I cherish. Today, hopefully, we will make more memories and have some new adventures together. They might not carry the same weight as those heady days of international travel, but we are all older now, more sedate, and happy with smaller pleasures. Except for Mickey, who is still going, and going, just like the Energizer Bunny.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


We spend about a third of our lives asleep, which seems to me an amazing statistic. Although when I get tired and want to go to sleep, nothing is as sweet as climbing into bed, snuggling under the covers, and drifting off to sleep.

Today, this Sunday morning, is another time when I couldn't decide what I wanted to write about here, my thoughts going here and there, wondering what is uppermost in my mind. I thought about old regrets that keep coming up to bother me, making me wonder why I keep beating myself up about things that nobody else remembers. They are real to me, though, which means they must still have some relevance in my daily life. Those journals from the 1990s still sit accusingly on my bookshelf, daring me to delve into them.

But lately my dreams have been so real, making me feel as though I'm living another life. I ran across an interesting article on the Huffington Post by one of my favorite authors Robert Lanza (the author of Biocentrism) entitled, "Are Dreams an Extension of Physical Reality?" It got me to wondering about these dreams of mine. I wrote a while back about my old friend Garl having died this summer in a parachuting accident. I was pretty devastated by the event, and many of my friends in Boulder held a celebration of Garl's life a few weeks ago. I felt bad that I wasn't able to be there. The thing is, if I had been willing to spend a lot of money I could have gone, and it made me feel guilty that I didn't go.

The other night I dreamed that I saw Garl walking towards me, his distinctive gait assuring me that it was indeed him, and he walked over and put his arms around me. He whispered in my ear that he forgave me for not coming to his celebration. He looked and felt like the old Garl I knew, except that when I looked at his neck while he was hugging me, it was broken. I don't remember any other part of the dream, but I remember when I woke up that I kept thinking about that dream. It felt like one of those memories I won't soon forget.

I remember when Chris died, many years ago now (in 2002), I would dream about him quite often. But one dream stands out in my memory, as if it happened. Chris always shows up in my dreams as a young teenager, or a young man. He was forty when he died, but somehow his essence to me is right around nineteen or twenty. In that dream, I was standing in a beautiful forest, with the sun shining and a light breeze blowing. There's a path in the forest that opens up to a glen. Walking towards me on the path is Chris, and another old friend who died years ago in an avalanche. They are both smiling widely, their arms around each other, and Chris says, "Hi Mom, we're having a great time. Please don't worry about me, I'm fine!" And Franz (the friend) says nothing but has his arm protectively around Chris as if to affirm the truth of it.

That's all I remember about the dream, but that scene is as real to me as if I'd lived it. Or did I? That's the thing that Lanza keeps pointing out: that we really don't know the truth of our physical existence, it's not what we think, so who's to say that dreams are not real, too? Of course, there are also nightmares, dreams that I can hardly wait to escape from. Those are often dreams of loss, losing people or things and being unable to locate them. I know some people's dreams are really scary, but thinking back I can't remember any like that myself. There have been dreams where I've been glad when I woke to find it was only a dream.

As I've gotten older, I notice that I fall asleep easily and usually have a dream or two, nothing special, and then I have a period of wakefulness, where I'm not very asleep, or I'm wide awake in the middle of the night. That's the time when unresolved issues in my daily life usually come up, and sometimes I need to use deep breathing to slip back down into sleep. I find that a dab or two of lavender oil on my wrists almost always helps me relax. I breathe it in and snuggle into my covers. That next period of the night, around 2:00 or 3:00, is when I have my most memorable dreams.

I don't know if it's wishful thinking, but I do hope that one day (or one night) I'll find out what is real. Most of my life's memories have already dissolved in the mists of time, with just a few of the many days and nights I've lived still holding any significant memories. I would feel bereft, however, if I didn't have those few dreams that stand like beacons on the signposts of my dream world.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nine eleven

Nine years later. Yesterday I woke and used the Reader to see what blogs had been posted since the night before, and every one of them had written something about the Nine Eleven's anniversary. Then I read the news of the day, and everything was focused on the event that happened nine years ago, and reminded me how unhealed and unsettled we in America are, nine years later. It made me reflective, wondering where I've come in those years. Nine years is a long time in the life of a person, but it's not so long in the life of a country, or a planet.

I remember waking up that day, getting ready for work the same way I always did: first a cup of tea and the paper in bed before starting the day. I put on the kettle and went back to wait for the whistle. Somehow I fell asleep and the whistle never came. When I woke, I walked toward the kitchen, and I felt the heat from the stove: the kettle had been destroyed by the electric heat and the whistle had fallen off. Once I had cleaned up the mess, I wondered how I could have been so careless.

The division where I worked was beginning a three-day evaluation of its scientific curriculum; it was mandatory that everyone be present. We had scientists on the panel coming from both coasts, staying in local hotels. Although we usually didn't dress up and men didn't wear ties or suits, I knew that we would all want to look our best, our usual jeans and T-shirts left at home. Choosing a nice pair of slacks and a silk shirt, I was ready to go to work.

Our director began his presentation to a room of about thirty people. I remember noticing the date on his slides, little knowing at that time how infamous the date of September 11, 2001, would become. About the time we took our first coffee break in mid-morning, news of a plane having hit one of the towers in the World Trade Center was buzzing through the conversation.

We were all called out of the session once the second plane hit. One of our administrators had a small black-and-white TV in her office, and we crowded around it and watched in horror as we saw the images on the screen. It was deadly quiet and then I heard a sob. My heart was breaking as I watched what seemed absolute impossibility as first one tower collapsed, then the other. We were sent home, nobody could concentrate on a presentation, everyone was horrified by what was happening to our country. Then the Pentagon.

Our scientific staff could not fly home. All airlines were grounded. After waiting a few days, most of our visitors rented cars and drove home. That night I went home and sat with Smart Guy, holding hands as we watched the destruction over and over on our own TV, listened to the commentary, and felt the impact. Even going to the store for supplies, I could see the shock and fear on every face.

And now nine years have passed. We have gone to war with the Taliban and Afghanistan where the hijackers trained with Bin Laden. That name and the name "Al Qaida" are now everywhere, but on that day nine years ago, only a few had heard them. Our country went to war with Iraq for reasons I still don't understand, and our country is hated by many around the world. I am filled with unease; I feel the sadness of today's hard economic times, as so many qualified and deserving people have lost their jobs, their homes, their hopes for the future.

Every country has its ups and downs, as every person does too. Events happen, time passes, and we move from where we are today to other circumstances. I am hoping that next year, the tenth anniversary, will hold some sense of the healing of these wounds.

If you feel so moved, I wonder what happened in your life on that day, and ask if you would be willing to share it. And your sense of the direction of our country: do you see any light at the end of this long tunnel?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

September song

Yesterday while walking in Fairhaven, I saw these beautiful late summer roses with the blue and white sky behind. It put me into a pensive mood. September is here already, and I'm wondering if I'm ready for  the change that is coming. Fall is my favorite season, and today I noticed the leaves are already beginning to show the first signs of color.

Some of my blogging buddies are mourning the loss of a person I never knew. Penny lived in Australia and was in a car accident and died soon after. She wasn't very old, had three teenaged kids and a full life. Donna wrote a wonderful post this morning about her (Celebrating the Temporary), and she somehow had saved a beautiful piece written by Penny about blogging which she shared. Penny's blog has been removed by her family. It got me to thinking.

Everything is temporary, although we just don't experience life that way. But it is; when you think about the food you ate yesterday that turned into energy that powered you through the day and night. It's gone and turned into something else. The wind I hear outside is bringing changes in the weather and some of the birds are starting their migration south. September is the month of transition from summer to fall.

I walked to the bookstore yesterday and browsed for a new book to read, having just finished the third book in the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy about Lisbeth Salander. These books were published posthumously, since Larsson died suddenly at the age of 50 of a heart attack. He never knew how amazingly popular his books would become. And how much that persona of Lisbeth he created would mean to a whole generation of aging feminists (like me). The books were immensely satisfying, and I don't usually read crime novels. They do, however, portray a very smart woman who learns to use her skills to overcome monumental obstacles.

The book I ended up with is one I read many years ago: To Kill a Mockingbird. From this Wikipedia link:
One critic explains the novel's impact by writing, "In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism."
Although I read that book a long time ago, and I remember how much I was impacted by the character of Atticus Finch, I remember very little about the book, the way it was written, or much about how events unfolded. It's a little scary, realizing that I also saw the movie long ago and can see Gregory Peck's face when I think of Atticus. (He was brilliant in the role and won an Academy Award for it.) Somehow, though, not much of it is remembered, and I want to see what I think of it today.

Today I'll settle into my recliner in the afternoon, listen with one ear to the birds and the wind, and celebrate the temporary. Since it's a Sunday, I did think about the possibility of heading down to Snohomish and getting my knees in the breeze, but the unsettled weather and the genuine lack of real desire will keep me from heading down. That also shows how much I've changed: although I truly enjoy the activity of skydiving, the fact that I banged my knee pretty hard on last Thursday's hike gives me pause when I consider flying and landing my parachute. I am in pretty good shape for being almost 68, but still...

No, a good book and a walk to the bay in the morning should be just right. I hope you will have a wonderful Sunday and will consider appreciating the moment.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Meeting a new relative

Waking up today, this Sunday, I know that I will be traveling back home from Alexandria, Virginia on the East Coast all the way to Bellingham, Washington on the West Coast. it will be long and hard, but every bit of this trip has been worth the effort. You see, I was introduced to my niece Allison's daughter Lexie, who is two months old, born June 18. My sister Norma Jean, Lexie's grandmother, and Pete, Lexie's grandfather, and I have all been together with Lexie for five days now. Totally different from my quiet and well-ordered life at home.

Lexie is an IVF baby, with a sperm donor father. Allison has a 25-page biography about this man, and when she is old enough Lexie will be given the opportunity to meet her biological father, if she chooses to. Allison paid extra for this feature because she felt it would have been hard to explain to Lexie later why she didn't give her that option. She will know about her heritage, all of it, from the time she's old enough to care.

Allison is now a Lt. Colonel in the Army, with a career in operations research. She is very good at her job, and for the past few months has been home on maternity leave. She goes back to work after Labor Day, but since Lexie was born Allison has devoted every moment of her life to nurturing her newborn. Allison is good at everything she does, and Lexie is no exception. I am totally and completely in love with this beautiful child.
When Allison decided to have a baby as an unmarried mother, I was at first unsure of the wisdom of the action, but now I cannot imagine a world without this child. She is perfect in every way and of course at this point in her life she spends it drinking breast milk, pooping said breast milk out, sleeping and even spending a bit of time awake, and I was gifted with three beautiful smiles yesterday as I held her, cooing to her. I am amazed at how fantastically beautiful a newborn is, I had forgotten.

This whole experience has also awakened feelings in me about the passage of time. I thought I had dealt with all of that during the period when I read Biocentrism and wrote about it here. I look at my sister, two years younger than me, and as I see her through my mental lens, she still looks the same to my eyes, but now she has gray in her hair (not as much as me). Pete is suffering from COPD (chronic pulmonary obstructive disease) from decades of smoking. He still sneaks a puff now and then, and gets grief from both Allison and Norma Jean when he walks back in from the back yard. I know it's because they love him but I also know he's never been able to completely break the cycle of addiction to nicotine, even though he's dying from the disease.

I don't know if I'll ever see Pete again, and I think that each time I see him, so my heart strings are pretty darn sore from these five days. He's much worse now and fights for each breath. Very limited in what he can do now, he is still totally engaged in life through the wonders of the Internet. I helped him fix up a blog and I hope, really hope, that he uses it to leave Lexie some of his writing, his thoughts, because he's a really good writer and Lexie will never know him any other way; he won't be around.

This made me realize that I won't either, and I don't suffer from COPD. I'm almost 68 now, and by the time she will be an adult, the chances of my being around are slim. I'm just not sure I'm interested in living to 90. Having mobility and a decent mental capacity are my whole life. I don't know very many sharp and energetic 90-year-olds. Or any, actually.

The interaction between the parents and Allison fills me with awe. It never changes, really, as most family dynamics don't, but there is an undercurrent of cherished shared time together and the realization that there won't be many more like this. And then there is Lexie. Everyone centers their love for each other around this new life, this new hope for the future. Me too.

Because of today's electronic wonders, and because Lexie already has videos and lots of pictures available on Allison's Facebook page, I will watch her development from afar and will try hard to keep myself from becoming that doting great-aunt who shows all her friends the new baby in her life. But then again, most of those friends and family are also on Facebook. It's a new era of virtual connectivity, so in many ways now that I have held her, smelled her precious babyness and fallen in love with her, I will hold her in my heart forever. I will cry over her trials, and I will celebrate her accomplishments.

There will never be this moment again, but I have captured it here and I am sharing it with you, and I too can come back and visit as I pore over the pictures and exclaim as she grows from an infant to a toddler. I wish I could keep her safe from all that she will endure in life, but it's a lament that everyone who has ever loved a child understands. Now that my heart is full to bursting, I'd better stop here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


In a comment on my friend Linda's blog where she wrote about her son's mountain climbing experience, I mentioned that I had climbed 26 of Colorado's fourteeners (peaks at least 14,000 feet high). She wrote back and suggested that I write an Eye blog about how that happened, so here it is.

Looking back, I have wondered just where it was that I began to exercise regularly, because I recall only hazy memories that included cigarettes and eating poorly. In thinking about how it came about, it happened with a group of friends I met when I first moved to Boulder. I was living in a rooming house with perhaps fifteen or so other residents. Although it was not an official communal living experience, it turned out to be so in many ways. We each had a smallish room but we shared the kitchen and bathrooms, which means you get to know each other pretty well. Among them were a bunch of guys who made trips into the Rockies to "bag" fourteeners. One day, they invited me to join them.

I was instructed to pack a lunch, take rain gear, water, and wear absolutely NO cotton anywhere. This seemed strange to me, as it was midsummer and hot without a cloud in the sky. I did as I was told and very early one morning we piled into Jim's big old van and headed up the road from Boulder to bag Quandary Peak.

What I remember most about that day is how early we started and how long the three miles to the top were, relentlessly heading up and up. I stopped often and cursed the heaviness of my pack and wished I had not agreed to come on the trip. Every time I thought I was close to the top, I would climb a little more and find that it was still in the distance. I will never ever forget the experience of reaching the top, however: it was glorious. I truly felt I was on top of the world, with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. The air at 14,000 feet is thin but exhilarating in a way I had never before experienced. We didn't have any rain that day, and I felt so good as I headed back down the trail, I wanted to do it again and again.

I went on to climb all the peaks near Boulder with these friends or others who I met through them. This was the beginning of my getting in shape. I also learned the reason for the rain gear and the early starts.
I don't remember which peak this was, but one of my friends had a camera and took this picture as he was amazed that my hair was standing on end. This, of course, was from the lightning that was just getting ready to strike! I had noticed a tingling feeling on my scalp but didn't know this was what it looked like. One friend who knew about this told us to hustle back down the trail because this was a dangerous sign. As we descended quickly, the storm moved in faster than I could have imagined possible, and above our heads we saw dark clouds forming and heard thunder. I didn't see any lightning but I did get quite wet and was grateful for my rain gear.

Over the years, I traveled around the state and ended up climbing some of the more difficult ones. Some are quite easy, actually, and one day I climbed three in one day, but they are all next to each other (Lincoln, Democrat and Bross). To be considered a distinct fourteener, a peak must rise at least 300 feet from the saddle that connects it to the nearby mountains. The most difficult one I ever climbed was Pyramid Peak. It was very steep and nothing but loose rocks in many places. I remember someone above me dislodged a huge rock that went barreling down fairly close to me. He yelled, "rock!" as it went whizzing by I realized that it would have killed me if I had been unable to avoid it. I also smelled ozone as it bounced from rock to rock. I quickly turned and yelled to the climbers below me.

This was much later in my years climbing fourteeners. I learned to be much safer in the mountains and sometimes spent as long as a week camping with my friends and climbing mountains, large and small. It was the beginning of my lifelong love of the outdoors. It's funny when I think of it, and wonder how different my life would have been had I not chosen to rent a room in that old house in Boulder.