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 28, 2014

The year in review

One of the very best parts of writing a blog, other than the fellowship with my followers, is having a way to recall the past. It's like an online journal in that respect. I have written 155 posts on my other blog so far in 2014, and just thinking back about the year, I'm sure much of what I don't remember can be brought back by reviewing the year through my posts. The ones I write here on Sunday mornings are usually much more contemplative, so I will skip them.

I just went through the posts I wrote in January 2014, and I found that much of what is going on today is the same as a year ago: hiking every Thursday with the Senior Trailblazers, walking every Saturday morning with the Fairhaven walking group, and attending the aerobics classes at the Y four days a week. January was not much different than this December, with a few changes. When I looked at the pictures of our hikes, Amy was with us and now she's unable to join us because of health problems. She held the Christmas party anyway, but she said she's not likely to be able to join us any more and won't be having the party next year. There were several other former hikers at the party, and it made me realize that I need to be thankful for every single day that I can continue to enjoy the beautiful outdoors with good friends.

In February I traveled to Florida to be with my sister Norma Jean in the sunshine, but it was cut short by the death of another sister, PJ, who lived in Texas. We both traveled there for the celebration of her life, and then I flew home, catching a bad cold in the process. I missed a hike and walk, instead staying home and being miserable. I'd forgotten it was in February that I caught that cold. If you had asked me, I would have said I hadn't had one all year. That just shows how unreliable my memory is.

By the time March rolled around, signs of spring were popping up all over the place, and I began to prepare my garden for the season. In April I traveled again, this time to southern California where I participated in a skydiving camp and was part of a new record, the largest number of women skydivers  over the age of sixty in a formation together (9). It was a great time, and for once I didn't catch a cold. I had traveled first class because of a $300 credit that Alaska Air gave me to compensate for delayed travel the previous fall, and I needed to use it within a year's time. I also got my first garden starts into the ground during April, and it turned out to be the best year yet for the garden.

May and June were wonderful months spent in the outdoors, with my garden coming along wonderfully. Our hikes into the High Country, my favorites, were attempted a time or two, finding ourselves turned back by snow, as we expected. So nice to go back and be reminded about the wonderful summer season we enjoyed together. July and August had little to remark upon, either, other than being able to skydive on the weekends and spending the weeks doing what I always do in the summer months. Nothing stands out in the next several months as well. My life just kept on cruising along right up to the present day.

The only glitches I see in the past year are ones that I well remember anyway: the trouble I started having with my right heel, which continues to this day. It started in mid-July as an annoyance and now I've grown used to it, but it's not gone and bothers me still. If it were something that kept me from my activities, I'd have gone to the doctor by now. I don't know about you, but I find that going to a doctor with a complaint like this usually ends up with me knowing little more than I did before. And it costs me a fair amount every time I visit him, so until it gets worse, I'll just keep icing it and paying attention. I did go to my doctor about a sticky eye problem, and all he did was send me off for a CT scan of my head. Nothing there, he said with a smile, and I take care of the eye with over-the-counter eye drops. Hummpfh! Why bother? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to have a doctor to see when I really need one.

So, in looking back over the past year, I can see that it's been a good one, other than having lost my sister. I spend every other Wednesday in a video chat with my sister Norma Jean, keeping our connection current. She's doing well, too, with her son living with her and doing a lot of the cooking, which she enjoys. He's got a full-time job now but still continues to prepare much of their meals. Norma Jean is really a lady of leisure! Golfing, swimming and walking in the Florida sunshine.

When my mother was in the same situation as we are now, she wasn't very happy. I realize from my own experience that it was caused by her isolation from close friends and not making a successful transition from married life to being a widow with grown children. Her days were spent reading and watching TV, with occasional visits from us. I've found a real community here in Bellingham, but it has come from joining exercise groups, mainly, and it's expanded from there. My coffee shop crowd has become like family to me, and I can honestly say I don't feel isolated or lonely at all. Of course, I'm also not a widow, as I have my partner to share my life, and that makes a huge difference. Although we live together, we each follow our own pursuits. No being joined at the hip for us!

He's sleeping quietly beside me now, as I finish the last of my tea and look forward to the day ahead. I'll go visit John in the nursing home where he's recovering from having received two bionic knees last Monday. He'll probably be there for a month or so until he can get around on his own. Right now, less than a week later, he can get himself out of bed and, using the walker, get to the bathroom on his own. That is simply amazing to me. I've got my fingers crossed that he'll have a full recovery.

Another non-contemplative post. I hope you'll hang in there until I again feel the need to dig down deep into my thought processes. These days, when I look there, nothing seems to pop up to be weeded, but I'm sure it'll come around again. Just like the garden, there's always something that needs tending, if I pay attention to it. Be well, my dear readers, until next Sunday. It will be a new year!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter solstice

Still lots to buy on the last day of the Farmers' Market yesterday
It was a little poignant to see the last Farmers' Market of the year close yesterday. I didn't have anything particular to buy, as I've finally finished all the small bits of shopping I do every year. Without any kids to buy for, and staying home from visiting family, I only buy a few things for Smart Guy and a few things for myself. I ended up with a pair of earrings from my favorite jewelry vendor yesterday. They feel festive, so I'll probably end up wearing them every day during the coming week. I do give gift certificates to the three children in the apartment complex, but that hardly qualifies as shopping.

Today marks the Winter Solstice (3:03pm PST) in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day of the year. The sun doesn't rise here until 8:00am and sets at 4:15pm. That's only eight hours and fifteen minutes of sunlight, that is IF it's not continuing to rain all day long. Yesterday we had a half-inch of rain on top of the half-inch we got the day before. It's soggy out there, not to mention warm. We've been having a really warm spell and all the snow that fell in the mountains has melted under the rain. The ski areas are not happy, since Christmas break is usually a big money maker for them. Mt. Baker usually has lots of snow by this time. It's an odd weather year over the entire country.

One nice thing about keeping a blog is being able to go back and look at the same time in previous years. We got just a small dusting of snow last year, but it wasn't until February, so it's not unusual for us to be deprived of a white Christmas. They'll have more of it than they want on the East Coast, it seems. I'll take this scenario, thank you very much. But rain? We've had plenty of it, it goes with the territory.

Have you ever heard the phrase "right as rain"? I was thinking about it the other day and wondered where it came from. I found this information on The Word Detective, which gives a humorous explanation for different idioms. I read the entire thing and learned that it's been around in print since the late 19th century, meaning "everything is great." I would think that unless you have too much of it all at once as they did in California last week, rain brings all kinds of good things, including rainbows. I am now the proud owner of four different raincoats and a rain poncho, rain pants, and a waterproof cover for my pack. The only time I find rain to be problematic these days is if it's cold and windy and blowing the rain sideways. Then it's definitely time to spend some time inside.

You may have noticed by now that I'm rambling a little, with nothing much on my mind to mull over and write about as I usually do on Sunday mornings. Of course, everything else is just as usual: partner asleep next to me, my tea within reach, and plenty of quiet time before the day begins. Last week was emotional and I needed to write about that, but this week is calm. And Christmas Day comes on a Thursday this year, meaning there will be no more Senior Trailblazer hikes until next year! We also won't go on New Years Day, but I'll have a nice celebration with the Fairhaven walkers that day, so I will get some exercise. The gym is also closed both days. Sigh.

I realize that I am very much a creature of habit, and that is only getting more pronounced during my years in retirement. Some of my readers have commented on it, usually with humor, but it's funny that I didn't realize that about myself. I always thought I was a spontaneous person, wanting little to do with routines and familiarity. Boy, how untrue that is! I realize now that I really really need things not to change too much every day, or it causes me to get stressed out. It's probably that as I've gotten older, I need to conserve my energy and spend it in ways that I prefer, since it's no longer boundless. By early evening after dinner, I'm ready to settle in and am almost embarrassed at how early I will sometimes go to bed. There are times when I'm in bed four or five hours before my Other Half! But he's a night owl and I'm an early bird: he gets much of his sleep while I'm writing (like right now). It works just fine for the two of us. I will sometimes wake in the middle of the night and reach over, realizing that I was so fast asleep when he came to bed that I didn't wake up at all. It's always reassuring to know that he's there.

On Christmas Day, we will have a really nice dinner together, with salmon from my fisherman friend Gene, some winter squash and a hearty salad. It's a change from the usual steamed veggies that we eat almost every day, but I've realized that my usual diet has kept me healthy. Last week I went to two parties in one day, and I ended up eating way more sugar than usual. I figured that since I had eaten a good deal of excellent foods, eating a couple of the desserts wouldn't hurt me much. Boy, was I wrong about that! By the time we left, I felt horrible, a stomach ache and felt downright ill. It didn't go away quickly, either. All the next day I felt like I had been on a bender, with no energy or appetite and just feeling miserable. Of course I went to the gym and worked out anyway, which made me feel somewhat better, but it wasn't until after a good dinner of steamed veggies and rice that I began to feel normal again.

Diabetes runs in my family, and that's basically why my sister PJ died last February at the age of 63. From the reaction I have to concentrated sugar, I have no doubt that if I ate a normal American diet of processed foods and little to no fresh veggies, I'd have it by now. Something about the pancreas and insulin uptake, I guess. Whatever it is, I'm once again reminded that staying on the straight and narrow food path is a much better idea for me. The cost is too great, and now even the thought of that pecan pie that tasted so good when I ate it is unpleasant. And fortunately for me, I have a husband who makes sure I always have good food to eat already prepared. Yes, I am definitely a lucky person, and I give thanks for him and my life every day.

I've got to finish this up and go answer a FaceTime chat with a friend, who wants to talk. I told him he could call me any time after 6:45 and he just rang. He lives alone and will be having double knee replacement surgery first thing tomorrow. I am anxious for him, and want to be there in whatever way I can. Listening to him is one thing I know how to do. So I'm going to get out of bed and start my day with my post written and virtually hold John's hand. Until next week, dear friends, have a wonderful Christmas holiday!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A different kind of volunteer

Bridge and reflection at Bagley Lake
It's taking me awhile to get started this morning, since the subject that's on my mind is not an easy one to write about. As I mentioned on my other blog yesterday, I attended the memorial for my friend Beth in the morning and have been thinking about it ever since. I learned some interesting facts about the dying process that have changed tremendously in the past few years, and it's really got me thinking.

We all have different ways of dealing with the fact that death comes to us all, some with religious beliefs, and others with just as firm a belief that there is nothing beyond this short life on Earth. The fact is, none of us will ever know with certainty, until we have passed through that veil. Either there will be life after death, or there won't. For some people, it makes a difference in the way they live their lives, thinking that a good life will be rewarded with heaven and an evil life will be punished with hell.

I listened to a podcast yesterday that was titled "Regrets," and two people were interviewed who talked about regrets they have had during their lives. One guy really amused me, and even though he was a bit rough around the edges, I could feel the person as being someone I'd like to know. He had made lots of mistakes in his early life and spent more than a decade in prison. He had had a tattoo of a question mark on his arm, and during his time in prison got it covered up with a swastika. He said the tattoo meant nothing to him, other than a sign of white supremacy. He knew nothing of the Holocaust, but after his release he happened to read an obituary of a Jewish man who had survived the extermination camps and described them. In horror, he realized that he was wearing the Nazi symbol and wanted to get it off, or covered up somehow.

He explained that now that he is getting older, he was worried that he might die with that tattoo intact. He said, "I don't want to die and have God see it." I smiled at the thought of what he might think about the afterlife. Whatever he might think, it's very different from my own ideas about how the universe works. The thought that somehow our bodies survive death seems very foreign to me, but I know that many people refuse to be cremated because of a belief that the body will be resurrected.

When my mother died, we (my siblings) were with her, and I remember being struck by how peaceful she looked right after she stopped breathing. We surrounded her head with flowers from the many bouquets she had received, and the memory of that scene will live forever inside my heart. But it wasn't more than an hour later that she no longer looked like my mom, but instead like an old shell that had been discarded. Shrunken and inert, the husk left behind, Mama was gone. I felt oddly comforted by all that, although I'm not sure exactly why. She was there, and then she wasn't, but that's just what I experienced from my own limited point of view. Today my memories of her are nothing like that, but of her being vibrant and beautiful.

Although it's always hard to lose a loved one, we almost always make it through, and time softens the edges of the grief so that looking back is no longer so painful. I've had plenty of chances to learn how that works, and I realize that even though the thought of my own demise isn't pleasant, it's no longer foreign to me. I figure that by the time I get there I'll be ready. For two years I volunteered in Boulder's Hospice program, and I learned so much and spent time with people whom I will never forget. And yesterday I found that yet another kind of program has come out of the Hospice movement: death doulas. Beth had one, and now that I know of them, I am amazed that it's taken so long for the idea to come to fruition.

The word "doula" comes from the Greek, meaning "woman who serves." I have always thought of one as a helper to a midwife, since birth doulas are common. It only makes sense that we have someone to help us through the end of life, as well as its beginning. A death doula helps the family members come to grips with the situation, as well as offer comfort and companionship to the dying person. I had thought that I might become a Hospice volunteer again, but now I'm thinking that I'm ready for the next step: to become a death doula. I'll let you know what I learn.

I found that right here in Bellingham we have a Death Café that gives people a chance to meet monthly and discuss whatever those who attend want to talk about regarding death and dying. The next meeting is on January 21st, and I will find out more then. From that link above:
Death Cafés are part of a global movement to challenge attitudes and raise awareness of how talking about death can enrich our lives. In the U.S., Lizzy Miles was the first person to offer Death Café in Columbus, Ohio, and the idea is spreading rapidly to other cities and towns across the country. 
I know it might seem a bit ghoulish to some of my readers to think about becoming a death doula, but for some reason I find myself drawn to it. I've been pondering for awhile what I might find to occupy my desire to take risks once I stop skydiving. This might be it.

It's taken so long for me to get this written that my partner has already left the bed and is making his own cup of tea in the kitchen. Mine is long gone, and although the nights are so long at this time of year that the sun is still a half hour away from rising, it's time to finish and get the day started. I hope that all this talk about death and dying hasn't been too depressing to my readers. I wish you all a wonderful week until we meet again.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A week of ups and downs

Snow and berries
It's almost impossible for me to get used to how quickly time is passing this fall. It was a week ago that I was getting ready to celebrate my birthday, last Saturday when I went for that hike in the cold and wind with a few friends. The blink of an eye and another week is gone into the past.

I'm struggling here to get started on this post, because although I know what I want to write about, it's not easy. First of all, on our hike last week I was walking along behind Al, and we were talking about how I celebrated my big day. As I've begun to explore other ways to celebrate than sitting down to a big meal, I decided to schedule a massage for my birthday, and it was wonderful. Al mentioned that his massage therapist had recently died, and I suddenly realized he was talking about Beth!

A couple of years ago when my regular massage therapist was temporarily unavailable, I asked for some recommendations from friends, and Al suggested I try Beth. She was not only a massage therapist, but also an accomplished Rolfer, so for three months I saw her regularly, and then afterwards I received three Rolfing sessions with her. We became friends, if only in a client/therapist sense, and two months ago she called me and asked me to have tea with her. She had recently been diagnosed with IBC (inflammatory breast cancer), and she remembered that I told her my mother had it, too.

She was in the midst of some aggressive chemo treatments and suggested that we wait until she was feeling a little better before our tea date. After two weeks had passed, I sent her a text and asked if she was ready for that tea, but she said she'd let me know, as she was pretty sick. Well, as things happen, I didn't hear from her again for the next few weeks, and then Al told me she had died. I was devastated, as I felt that I had let her down. I should have been more insistent, if only so that I could see her once again before the end. But she was relatively young and certainly healthy when I last saw her.

I learned that the cancer was well advanced when she learned of it, and that there was really no hope of recovery, and by the time we would have had our visit, she was already in Hospice care and knew she would not be leaving. Her memorial service will be next Saturday, and I will attend, as we know that these are for those of us left behind, and I need to have some closure. I spoke with her last on October 31st, and within a month she was gone. It was so quick!

When you don't see someone very often, you almost always picture them being the way they were when you saw them last, but as we all know, that's not always true. As I have thought of Beth this past week, I remember the feeling of her fingers pressing into my back. She helped me with some annoyingly persistent pain, and told me that she believed damaged nerves can regenerate. And my own pain was much relieved after a few sessions with her.

Last night I had an intense dream. In the dream, I saw little puffs of smoke coming from tiny holes in the wall of my apartment (although it was a different place than this one), and I called the manager to tell her I thought there might be a fire inside the wall. She ignored me, but I kept insisting she pay attention to my concerns. And then suddenly there was fire everywhere! I went to the bedroom to rouse my son Chris, who was still sleeping, and I pushed him out of the room. I remember throwing books and possessions from the window onto the ground below. And then there were the firemen, coming through the window with equipment to fight the fire. That's when I woke up, my heart hammering from the fear and excitement.

As I lay in my bed thinking about the dream, which seemed very real even after I woke up, I wondered if it was related to my anxiety about Beth having been unaware of the danger in her body as it was being destroyed by cancer. That if she had paid attention to the signs, maybe she would have been able to be saved. IBC is an insidious and aggressive cancer, because it doesn't form a lump and can travel through your entire system before it's detected, as happened to Beth. My mother was one of the lucky ones, since only a small percentage of people diagnosed with it survive more than a few years. The treatment, however, was what caused my mother to develop heart disease, which eventually did contribute to her early death.

Yesterday I attended a wonderful concert, the annual Christmas concert of the Bellingham Chamber Chorale singers. Al is one of the singers, and he had mentioned the concert in one of his emails. I really enjoy hearing the wonderful sound of voices raised in song, especially when they are so good. As I listened I felt a sense of peace and well-being in the room, with the audience as well as the singers engaged in a moment of grace. It's the season of dark days, but the wonderful twinkling lights everywhere, and the gathering of people together to share in such beauty for a little while, helps us to remember that the darkness is always followed by the dawn.

I don't know why I have been given the gift of long life, but I am reminded once again that it is not granted to everyone. Some of us live to a ripe old age, and others are taken early. But no matter whether it's a long or short life, it's important to cherish and appreciate every single moment. I do hope that you, my dear readers, will take some time to give thanks during this holiday season. I will be thinking of you while I am smiling into my teacup, thinking of that tea date that is waiting for me on the other side.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How I deal with difficulty

Cold and windy Samish Bay
I took this picture yesterday afternoon on a very cold and windy hike with three friends. If you enlarge it, you can see the whitecaps on the water, as the wind was blowing hard, dropping the already low temperature even lower. In no time at all, my formerly warm self (from climbing up to this spot) was so cold it was scary. We hustled back down into the trees as quickly as we could, but for the rest of the hike I was unable to get really warm again. After I came home, I drank warm tea and sat in my recliner with a blanket over me, until finally I felt the chill of the day leave me.

Last night I had a strange dream. I was in a familiar place which had gone through renovations since I last visited. Although I knew where everything was, it was slightly out of place from what I felt was normal. I kept trying to deal with it, and there was a man who took delight in tormenting me and trying to make me feel bad about my discomfiture. This morning I can still feel the uncomfortable feelings he raised in me. I remember in the dream having to make a decision about how to respond to him: to treat him the same way, fight back, or stand up for myself in some other way.

Although it was only a dream, it stays with me this morning. Partly I think it's because the way I decided to respond was to calmly ask my spirit guide to help me; in other words, I turned the predicament over to my higher self. And even though this morning I cannot remember what I said to him, I remember my feeling of serenity and a look that appeared in his eyes, almost of fear. What he had tried to do didn't work, and he didn't know how to act in response.

What this dream reminds me is that fighting conflict with more conflict is counterproductive in my life. It's always been that way, even though my initial response to someone trying to harm me is to retaliate in kind. But that is not the only way, as many of our sages have told us through millennia. And meekly turning one's belly to the sky like dogs do, as a way to placate a stronger foe, is not the way either.

I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of feeling bad about myself when someone makes fun of me, what happens when I feel ridiculed. When I was young, moving from place to place with my parents, I learned some coping mechanisms for being the "new girl" for much of my early life. It was easy to be enigmatic and mysterious when nobody knew who I was. But eventually there would be some bully who would try to make me lose my composure, and it almost always worked. I would make an effort to placate him or her, and that never turned out well. As an extrovert, I would usually make new friends and avoid the bully, but inside I always believed that I had been found out as being somehow defective.

As I grew older, I began to realize that the people that I surrounded myself with made more difference than anything else I could do. Knowing that I would never be one of the cool kids and hanging out with people more like me made all the difference. It also helped that we never stayed anywhere more than a few years, and I would have the chance to make new friends again. But always underlying my interaction with my peers was a vague sense that I had to hide my true self in order to fit in with them.

What is my true self? What is that part of myself that I call my Higher Self? Who is that spirit guide I call on in times of need? I'm not really sure I can put it into words, but I know it is there. When I have been at my lowest and most distraught, there is a presence that makes itself known to me, and I realize that I've learned to access it through calling that presence my spirit guide. The hardest part, for me, is realizing that I am not really in control, that I go astray when I think I myself, my ego, can figure out how to carry on. Surrounding myself with good counsel, whether external or internal, is how I've learned to cope with difficulty.

Being uncomfortable and in conflict with others, or our environment, is part of life. How one learns to cope with it makes us each unique and valuable. The main thing I've learned is that nothing stays the same, nothing and nobody is permanent in this world. Everything changes. Maybe that's one of the blessings of growing older: one's trajectory of life contains both magnificence and despair, and all those peaks and valleys begin to even out as the years pass.

Yesterday when I was coldest, with my fingers like blocks of ice, I knew that if I kept going, I would soon feel differently. And it was true; I've learned that nothing stays the same. When I was up there in the icy wind, I felt its incredible power and knew that if I had stayed there, it would take my life from me. But I didn't stay and moved back into the trees where we were sheltered from the wind. We kept on going until we were warm again. And I was not alone.

The sun is still not up, but my tea is gone, and my partner still sleeps next to me (that's for you, Friko). The day is filled with promise and the wind has died down. It will be sunny and cold here for the next few days, and I'll enjoy them to the fullest, no matter what they bring. I hope that you will do the same, and remember, you're not alone, either. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving week

Foxglove in midsummer
Yesterday I was looking for some pictures to send to a friend who is creating a blog and asked for some of my pictures of flowers. I came across this one and for some reason I really like it. The pink against the soft green just delights me. It was taken on one of our Thursday hikes a few years ago, and it sure doesn't look anything like that today. The flowers are all gone, and the green, while still there, is muted with lots of brown. But come spring, it will all pop back up again.

But it's not ever quite the same from year to year, I notice. I've looked for this spot and haven't been able to find it again. I'm not sure what the green plant is, and I'm sure it only looked like this for a short while before changing its appearance. In any event, this picture reminds me of one of the reasons I love to go into the High Country once a week during the summer months.

We have already begun our winter hikes around the Chuckanuts in town. Although we'll take a few trips south to Baker Lake and Whidbey Island, for the most part we'll get in cars and drive a very short distance to the trailhead. That is in contrast to more than an hour's drive up the Mt. Baker Highway in the summer, through the little towns of Maple Falls and Glacier. And then there is usually another half hour from Glacier to the actual trailhead. It's a good thing the days are long, because we spend three hours on average in the cars, getting there and coming back home. Plus five or six hours on the trails.

It might sound like I'm complaining here, but I'm not, not at all. It's time well spent, and even the time together in the cars is pleasant, as I find out what's going on in the lives of the others. I rarely drive myself, since my car is small and not happy about navigating rough logging roads. But the biggest reason is that after the long hike, I don't feel quite up to driving back with a full load of people. Fortunately, we have several regular hikers who don't mind driving and have SUVs designed for the back country. And who can stay alert for the long drive home.

This week we will not be hiking, since it's Thanksgiving. And because Christmas and New Years fall on a Thursday this year, we are going to miss three regular hikes. Just thinking about that makes me sad, since it's part of my life to spend the day outdoors, rain or shine, on Thursdays. Plus, the buses won't be running and many stores will be closed to allow their employees to enjoy the holiday, too. I don't really mind that part; I'm glad that there are days when we lay down our usual activities and take the time to celebrate friends and family.

Unfortunately, in many homes it will be an excuse to overindulge with food and watch football games and whatnot on TV. It seems like these days many people are interacting with their devices and spend less and less time communicating with each other. When I'm on the bus, there are moments when I'm the only person not looking down at a screen. Or with earbuds listening to music; sometimes it's so loud coming from their earbuds that I can hear the raucous din. What must it be like inside at full volume, I can only imagine.

Our world has changed so much in just a few decades. I myself have lots of devices, and I enjoy reading books on them, getting caught up on the news, reading posts from my blogging friends, and streaming videos. In some ways, I realize that I'm no different from everybody else, but somehow it seems wrong to spend one's life connected to a little screen and not to notice what's happening in the world around you. It wasn't that long ago that we walked out of our homes and into the wider world, rather than bringing our micro-worlds along with us. There was a time, not so long ago, when our phones were connected to the wall!

Oh, dear. Now I'm sounding like my parents, who would often say, "what is the world coming to?" Yes, I am old enough to remember a time when we didn't even have a TV in the home, and we would gather around the big old radio and listen to Fibber McGee and Molly. And the telephone looked like this one. I had to laugh when I saw this cartoon, and I figured it might lighten up my mood. As I was writing this and thinking about what the world is coming to, I realized I was losing my sense of humor.

I will enjoy my Thanksgiving this year, with my partner, and we'll probably go for a nice walk together, nothing long and taxing, but something pleasant around town. We live in a place that has so many options for exercise, with lots of green parks and trails within walking distance. Or just a short ride to other parks, it won't be a problem enjoying the outdoors.

However, I'm also thankful that Christmas and New Years falling on a Thursday won't happen again for awhile. I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving week, celebrating it in whatever way gives you pleasure. If by some chance you are alone on Thanksgiving, thanks to technology, you can still call your loved ones, or even say hello by video chat. It's one of the best parts of the new world.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The state of my state

The bridge at Whatcom Falls
Here I am again, sitting in the dark in my bedroom, drinking tea and pondering what in the world I will write about this morning. I took that picture on one of my walks with the ladies on Saturday morning. It was miserably cold yesterday, but still more than a dozen of us showed up to walk together, since it's a wonderful way to begin the weekend and have coffee with friends afterwards. We only waited a few minutes for latecomers to arrive, because we knew that once we began to move in the cold we would warm up. It was in the mid-twenties (-4C) and my hands were frozen, even with heavy gloves. Yesterday's walk was on trails that would take us up some elevation quickly, and I knew that by the time I had gone a mile, I would be warm. But what a hard mile that was! My toes finally warmed, but my hands took quite awhile.

But then, suddenly, I realized that I was no longer cold anywhere and was toasty warm inside and out. My metabolism had been revved up by the walk, and for the rest of the outing I chatted with friends and enjoyed myself. We covered more than five miles before returning to our starting place. Cindy (the leader of the group) lives nearby and knows the trails intimately. Several of us commented that we had no idea where we were during much of the walk, although it's one of our usual ones. I've gone to the same area by myself and can never figure out the maze of trails and usually just stay on the ones I know so I won't get lost. My skill as a route finder is extremely low, which is one reason I like to have someone else lead me.

I feel very grateful that I am still able to walk briskly and hike every Thursday. My classes at the gym are simply habits to me now; they don't push me at all, but I need them to raise my spirits and give my day some structure. I'm sure that most of the people whom I see at the bus stop every day at 7:30am have no idea that I am actually going downtown for exercise and not going to work, as they are. I see the same people every day during the week, and I know those who go to the university by their absence when school is closed. It's a habit I cherish, and I will continue as long as my body holds up.

That's just it. After having read the book I mentioned last week, I realize that I need to appreciate every single day that I have the ability to continue my activities. Yesterday I woke with a pain in my back that defies by ability to ignore it. I get these every once in awhile, but this one, located between my shoulder blades, hurts like the dickens when I turn my head sharply to the right. Ouch! It's still there, today, a little better, but I never know when something will not get better. My knee that I hurt last year has gradually, a little at a time, gotten less painful, and now I don't need the brace all the time. It's returned to its pre-injury condition.

A couple of months ago I started getting a pain in the back of my right heel, with a hard lump right under the surface. It's worse after a hard Thursday hike, so I thought maybe it's my boots and got another pair to alternate them. I looked online and the symptoms fit something called "Haglund's Deformity," which is caused by irritation and will get better if you wear soft shoes. Well, there was no way I was going to be able to hike in those, so I just kept on treating it with ice afterwards and taking ibuprofen. It's gotten better, but it's still there and usually a bit on the sore side on Friday. It doesn't hurt at all in the soft running shoes I wear for the walks around town. It's progressing in the direction I want it to go: away.

All this is a prelude to my biggest dilemma of all: whether I have actually made my last skydive or not. Since October was a pretty wet and dismal month around here, I was only able to make it out to the Drop Zone once, and now the season is over. My gear will be out of date at the end of this month, and I have to make a decision about whether or not to get it inspected and repacked or not. I simply cannot reconcile myself to never ever having another chance to get under my wonderful canopy and fly it around in the sky. But now that my knee is better, should I take the chance of hurting it again on landing? Not to mention all the other parts of my body that are wearing out. You don't have to be an athlete to skydive, but it sure helps to be in good shape and able to recover from the inevitable bumps and bruises that one gets from the activity.

When I was in my fifties and sixties, I would make as many as a dozen skydives on the weekend, most of them teaching students and having someone else pack up my chute for me. But now I'm past that, no longer teaching, only jumping for the fun of it. And it's definitely true that it takes me much longer to recover from things these days. I'm almost positive I'll take my rig to the Drop Zone and get it ready to skydive, whether I use it or not. I've got to stop sometime, and it was so much easier to think of that last jump as being somewhere in the future, rather than having already done it. The whole activity occupied such a huge part of my life for so long, it's hard to consider myself finished.

Not to mention I have Facebook friends who are busy encouraging me to sign up for the SOS (Skydivers Over Sixty) women's record attempts in southern California that will be held in April. And I find myself considering it. That's where I hurt my knee in the first place, but I went back again and made another dozen skydives there, wearing a brace, and it didn't hurt it at all. Decisions, decisions! I know some of my followers are probably smiling right now, thinking "I told you so," and they were right. I will let you know what happens, but for now it's a moot point. I'm done for the season and will need to make that decision in the spring, not before.

Sitting here and writing on my laptop, I can feel various aches and pains reminding me that I am an elder, no longer a spring chicken but an old bird, probably not even fit for the soup pot. But even old birds like to feel the wind beneath their wings, lifting them up, up into the air. As long as they work, shouldn't one flex one's wings?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What matters to me today

Mt. Shuksan and cloud
I am very tired this morning, but I slept like a log and feel more rested than I thought I would. A creature of habit, I deviated quite a bit from my usual Saturday activity yesterday. I got up an hour early in order to make it to the meeting spot before dawn and start a trip up into the High Country. I took that picture yesterday. Because the weather has been so warm, the snow hasn't begun to cover the trails to make them inaccessible, so five of us decided to give one of our summer favorites a try. It was a wonderful day, but after the almost-nine miles we covered on Thursday, with only a day in between, I knew I would be pushing it if I went.

We piled into Fred's large SUV, and I sat in the middle seat in back, with Steve on one side, and Al's daughter Lisa on the other. Most people think it's no fun to sit in the middle, but I prefer it. I have a perfect view through the front window as well as nice warm bodies on either side. Whenever we must use that seat, I beg for it. But then again, I'm strange that way.

Hiking along in the alternating sunshine and clouds, I had plenty of time to think about the book I'm reading right now: Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. It's a book that lingers in my mind, thinking about life and loss. I have saved the last chapter for today. Not a long book, you could read it quickly and forget about all the issues he raises, or you could, as I have, take your time and consider what he has to say. It's a very personal book; as a physician he says he learned many things in medical school, but nowhere was he taught how to deal with death and the dying process with his patients. And, of course, we all have that to look forward to, not only with our parents and friends, but also with ourselves.

Since I have lost both of my children, people often use the phrase "no one should have to bury a child" or something similar when they learn of it. And then they will often retreat from the conversation because they don't want to consider how they might one day have to go through that same ordeal. "I don't think I could go on if that happened to me." I hear that one, too.

What does that mean? How does one NOT go on with life? I remember well when Stephen died I was a young mother of 22. I couldn't fathom how I would go on. Although I had another child, four-year-old Chris, my world had shattered around me and I fell into a deep depression. I can still remember weeping uncontrollably and Chris coming to put his arms around me. He said, "I'll go up to heaven and get Stephen so you will be okay again, all right Mom?" He couldn't think what to do to keep his own world together. That moment must have reached through my anguish, because I can still remember it after more than half a century. And it still hurts.

One doesn't really pass through such a fire without being permanently changed. Within a few short months, my then-husband Derald and I had divorced. We were both hurting and couldn't help the other. Even though I survived those awful years, I managed to add to the pain and suffering of those I loved, but I didn't care because I couldn't see past my own suffering. There are many, many things I would do differently today. There was no such thing as a bereavement group for me to attend back then, and I made many mistakes in my effort to cope. I know that if I had known anyone else who had gone through something similar, it would have helped. But although there were certainly others, we all endured our agonies alone, as if we were the only people who had ever gone through such situations.

But it happens all the time, you know. Not everybody lives to be old, like I am now. And now that I am old, I have my own decline to look forward to. We laugh about it, make jokes about it, but the truth of it is that, as Atul has pointed out in his book, it's going to happen to everyone, and making some rational decisions about our options, thinking about what's really important to us, is essential to having a good life and a good death.

As I read in his book about people who struggled between the decision to stop or continue treatment even though the outcome of their illness was certain, I realized that there are some upsides to having heart disease being the agent that took my parents from me. No long-drawn-out dying process for my dad: he was vigorous and active right up to the heart attack that caused him to die three days later. Long enough for us all to come home and say goodbye, to be surrounded by my other family members. But he was only 62 when he died, and my mother was angry at him for not having been willing to endure bypass surgery so he could have lived another decade or so.

My son Chris was jogging when he was felled by sudden cardiac arrest at the age of forty. He also lived a good life, was happily married and loved his job. He had hobbies that fulfilled him, and he was well respected by those who knew him. When I went to Germany for his funeral, I learned many positive things about my son that I didn't know. It made me very glad to learn more about him, but I still suffered plenty of pain and agony during that time, as well as the months and years that followed. But when I compare the two losses of my children, the first was much, much harder. It was my first loss and I was completely unprepared for it. When Chris died, I was sixty and had lost both parents by then.

And the truth of it is that the young woman who mourned the loss of her beautiful, healthy infant was not the same woman who lost her grown son. The loss of our loved ones changes everybody; it's part of life. It's like everything else that happens to us: we have choices to make all along the way. Becoming inured to it with drugs and attempt to escape is one option; the other is to let it have its way with us. Going through the pain and suffering means that you come out the other side with a renewed sense of the brevity and beauty of every day. That's what it means to me, anyway.

As I put one foot in front of the other on my journey to the pass yesterday, I felt the sun on my face and looked around at the incredible beauty I was privileged to see. I can still travel many miles with a pack on my back, go to places that fill my heart with joy, and enjoy it all in the company of others who share this journey with me. Although one day I will no longer be able to do what I did yesterday, I will still be able to decide what's important to me. And I know that as long as I can feel the sun on my face and experience the beautiful outdoors, I'll be fine. I won't always have to hike to the top of mountains to appreciate the beauty all around me, but for now, I'm enjoying it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Day of the Dead

Bayview Cemetery on All Saint's Day
I used this picture in my other blog yesterday, but it's just too perfect for the season not to share it in this post as well. It also gives me a chance to think about this strange holiday that marks the end of October and the first few days of November. Not just Halloween, but also the Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, and Samhain. They merge together to mark this particular time of the year.

Not to mention that the clocks also changed last night from Daylight Saving Time to Pacific Standard Time, giving me an extra hour of sleep. I tried so hard to stay up later last night in order to wake at my usual time, but it didn't work. It makes me wonder why we still even use this system: now we wait until November to change the clocks, and we will change them back (when we lose an hour) in early March. This means that the sun will set around here before 5:00pm tonight, and in another month, it will be dark at both ends of the day. We are so far north here, almost 49 degrees latitude, that the days get shorter and shorter, the sun lower and lower in the sky, until by the beginning of winter the days are only 7 hours long with little sunshine. Mostly rain and gloomy skies. Fortunately I don't suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but I learned a few years ago that those of us living so far north should take Vitamin D all year round. So it's been added to the numerous vitamins I take every day: those for my eyes, not to mention even a prescription drug (statins) for cholesterol.

I did see the retina specialist last week, and he found no change from my previous visit, which made both of us happy. My macular degeneration has slowed in its progression, and I credit much of it to good diet and all those vitamins. That doesn't mean it's stopped; when I asked the specialist if I could see him once a year, he did not agree. Some people see him every three months, and even a few must visit him once a month. When I found that out, I figured I'd better count my blessings and be glad I'm not needing eyeball injections or some of the other awful treatments he provides. But I'll do whatever it takes to keep my eyesight for as long as possible.

Back to the holiday. In some cultures, especially in Mexico and other Latin American countries, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a bank holiday and families celebrate it by creating altars and putting place settings at the table with foods enjoyed by the loved ones. I found this quote on that Wikipedia link:
On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children's altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.
And there you go: a full three-day-long holiday celebrating our loved ones who have gone before us. Instead of this wonderful holiday, here in the United States we get an orgy of candy, a chance for kids to dress up in costumes, and an excuse for a costume party for the adults.  I saw quite a few interesting costumes on Friday and enjoyed them all. Once upon a time, I never missed a chance to put on another  identity and looked forward to Halloween. When I left Colorado, I got rid of a fair number of wigs I'd accumulated over the years. These days I enjoy the excitement of others and the chance to use my camera to capture their creativity. Just another one of those things I seem to have outgrown.

Samhain (pronounced SAW-win) is an ancient Gaelic festival that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark days of the year. It's halfway between the autumnal equinox and the first day of winter, and it is seen as one of those times during the year when spirits can more easily enter the world of the living. It makes me wonder when so many cultures over such a long time find this particular date in our annual calendar to be when the doorway begins to shimmer with ghosts and goblins, when the demarcation between the worlds becomes thinner. Some people like to watch scary movies at this time; I'm not one of them. There's too much horror in the world already without trying to add to it. All I have to do to get really scared is watch the news of what is happening worldwide. Is it just me or is the world getting scarier in general? Or are the newscasters just concentrating on the frightening stuff?

Okay, I've wallowed around in the spookiness of the season long enough, and now it's time to think of happier things. Perhaps the trick to staying balanced and content in the world today is to concentrate on the positive side. I believe there are plenty of good things happening everywhere, but I sure don't see anybody telling me about them. I must go out of my way to find them, but they are there, if I will only look. This is one way that blogging has changed my life: there are myriad souls in this blogosphere who give me different perspectives, and many who are making a real difference in their own communities. Almost every day I will be inspired by some fellow blogger, and I realize that getting bogged down in negativity helps no one, especially not me. Those unwarranted fears take over only when I allow them to.

Today I'll pull out some old photographs I have of my loved ones who have gone over to the other side, and remember the good times we had together, honoring their lives and who they were to me. My sister PJ is also on the other side now, and the idea of them all having a feast together, remembering when they were down here in corporeal form, gives me a great deal of pleasure. PJ was a great cook, as was my mother in her younger days, so I can imagine PJ's fantastic apple pie and Mama's incredible turkey hash among the spread. If I listen carefully, I might be able to hear distant laughter and the clink of silverware.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The gift of time

My toy when I was two
When I was a little girl, it didn't take much to make me happy, and I got just as attached to those little stuffed animals or dolls to feel as though my life would end if they were lost. I can still remember the ache of longing for some long-forgotten item from the past. I may have forgotten what it was, but I can remember all too well the feeling of loss. That is something that goes right along with life: learning to let go of what I once owned, who I once was, and loved ones who will never return.

I saw a movie yesterday with my friend Judy. It hasn't gotten great reviews and was adapted from a play, and it has somewhat of that feeling. We enjoyed it nevertheless, and how could you not when the movie has Maggie Smith in it? The movie, "My Old Lady," also stars Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas. It's been a long time since I've seen Kline in a movie, maybe since 1988 when he was in "A Fish Called Wanda," and I was struck by how much he has aged. You go along in life thinking that those people you don't see often are still the same as they were, and then when you see them again, you can hardly believe how much they've changed. I'm sure it's the same for other people when they see me again after decades have passed.

In the movie, Maggie has a line that I thought of several times during the night and inspired this post: in talking about wealth and fortune, she said, "You have the greatest wealth of all: the gift of time." As an old woman of 92, she has only a short time left, and she is aware of it every moment of every day. Although I am twenty years younger than that old woman, I can feel what she meant, since so much time has passed since I was that young toddler with my stuffed animal. Even if I have the gift of twenty more years, that is just not very long at all in the scheme of things. It will pass in the blink of an eye.

But I've been given that gift, as I realize when I stride quickly past an old man who leans heavily on his cane, shuffling carefully down the sidewalk. I've had such a good life already, and I still have more to come, God willing. For the time being, I also have good health. My loved ones who left in their forties, fifties, and sixties did not have the gift of time. Whatever else comes to pass in my life, I will not die prematurely. Or have my hair turn prematurely white, for that matter. I've written before about that "three score and ten" span of a lifetime, and I've managed to achieve it and am skating along through my seventies. I'm not ready to retire from life just yet.

Today my toys are a lot more expensive than that stuffed animal, and I am now looking forward to a new iPad to take the place of my old one. In three years, although it is still very functional, the advances in screen quality and speed have convinced me to upgrade it. I use it every day and carry it with me to the coffee shop or wherever I might be wanting to connect to the outside world. I'm looking forward to showing off my pictures to my friends on my newest toy. It's so new that it has just appeared in the stores. I went yesterday to the local Best Buy to take a look at it, and I am glad I've got my very own iPad coming in the mail tomorrow. It was supposed to have arrived Friday, but the delay has simply spread out my anticipation to encapsulate the weekend.

It has also made me very aware that it's that feeling of anticipation and joy of ownership that I desire. Just like the little girl in the picture, she's got her toy and feels no lack. But long after the toy has worn out its usefulness, the feeling I had when I first held it in my hands, that will be easy to remember. Of course, this is just what the advertisers have in mind: to feed that ephemeral desire to have the latest and greatest. I fell into their trap and I'm not sorry. I can also convince myself that I'm helping bolster the economy. Plus I'll sell my old one to a friend who is anxious to have her own toy, which will be new to her. I can't think of a downside to my purchase. I've already gotten quite a bit of emotional mileage out of it.

The weather has been pretty rainy and blustery all week, and it's no different today. I was hoping that perhaps I might have gotten a chance to make another skydive before the Drop Zone closes for two months, but it isn't going to happen. It's possible I've made my last skydive already. But then again, I'm not selling my gear, and I will keep it in date. That means that if I decide next spring that I want to make another jump or two, it will be possible. Rather than closing the door with a slam, I'll close it gently, and keep my hand on the doorknob for awhile longer. I know that many of you are not surprised that I might want to keep skydiving, but that is a toy that is almost worn out. I would never have believed twenty years ago that I would find myself in this place, almost neutral about whether or not to continue leaping out of airplanes, but that's where I am. And then I'll have a flash of remembrance of being under my beautiful canopy, looking out at Puget Sound, the mountains rising up from the horizon, the wind in my face, and I think well, maybe...

I have been blessed with the gift of time. I'm still able to partake in outdoor activities to my heart's content. Although I know that all things pass, I'll never forget the wonderful feelings that I've experienced in my life. Long ago, I remember thinking that one day I would be an old woman and hoping I'd be glad that my life took the twists and turns that it has. And you know what? I am.

Now it's time to start my day. My partner still sleeps next to me, the rain is drumming on the roof, and my tea is gone. I missed all this last weekend when I was not here; it's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It's also true that taking stock of one's life and being grateful for the good things makes one happier. Because of this blog and my habit of writing here every Sunday morning, I have that gift, too. Until we meet again next weekend, I wish you nothing but good things, and the gift of time.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

On Vashon Island

Jann, Linda, me, Deb, Sandi: the Vashonistas
I am sitting in a bed at the old farmhouse on Vashon Island, where the five of us fellow bloggers have come for a retreat, This is the third time for this event, although Sally is missing this year. It's amazing to me that we all agreed so readily to get together once again, but now that I'm here, I'm already hoping that we'll do it next October as well. It's been wonderful to reconnect in person, although I keep track of all these ladies through their blogs, which is how we met in the first place.

I drove through the rain on Friday 80 miles south to Linda's home, and we took her car to the ferry across to the island. Jann drove by herself and Deb and Sandi traveled here together. Driving up to the farmhouse was like coming home. It's become such a familiar place, and we have now shared more than a week's memories here, combined from these last three years. I'm sad to think that today, Sunday, we will need to say goodbye both to this place and to each other for another year.

I am the oldest of the group and have been retired for longer than the others. Actually, Deb and Sandi are still teaching and have retirement to look forward to. They had to take a day off in order to come. I keep forgetting what it's like to be working until I listen to them and realize how much my life has changed since I was in that world. Deb, the baby of our group, needs to work at least two and probably three more years before reaching 65 (or 66) when she can access her Social Security and Medicare benefits. Sandi will work for the rest of this year and probably next as well, since she needs to find a way to live with a reduced income, and the longer she works, the easier it will be.

That's true of so many of us of a certain age: I know I had to wait until I was 65 and a half before I could retire and receive full benefits from Social Security. Medicare automatically kicks in at 65 in the United States. Although it doesn't offer what it once did, it's still something and very important to seniors, and is a big part of the planning we must do as we decide how we're going to live for the rest of our lives. It makes me grateful for having gotten into the system when I was young, since one's benefits are figured based on what was paid in during your working years. Although I couldn't possibly live on just my Social Security, it makes a huge difference.

We haven't had the wonderful weather we enjoyed during our first trip here, when we explored the beaches and some other parts of the island, but it hasn't mattered all that much, since we don't need to get out to have a great visit with each other. I have been in stitches listening to Jann tell some of her stories, and Linda has shared what it's been like for her to now live four months of the year (in the winter months) in Arizona. She suffers from seasonal affective disorder and this has made all the difference: getting away from the short rainy days that constitute the Pacific Northwest winter.

I think it helps me to get outdoors every week during the winter, when the Senior Trailblazers trade our High Country hikes for ones around town, which are just as challenging sometimes, and almost as beautiful, sometimes. The rain presents a challenge, but I do find that getting out into the weather makes it easier for me to appreciate having a nice warm, cozy place to return to. There have been times when I've wondered if I'd lost my mind, as I struggle to stay dry in the pouring rain, and trying to keep my hands from getting too cold when we stop for lunch. But I've got company, and that makes a huge difference.

Vashon Island is the only place off the mainland in this part of the country where I think I might be able to manage living on an island. It's got a very quaint and relaxed atmosphere, and there are plenty of things to do to keep one from boredom. But then again, as I look at the trees changing color and think ahead to the winter, I'm not so sure. I don't like being hooked to a ferry in order to travel places. As we waited to board the ferry on Friday, we saw what looked to be school children returning on foot, lots of them. It made me wonder if they attend school on Vashon and live in Seattle.

Because one of the women who arranges for visitors to come to the farmhouse also arranges tours to Italy, both Deb and Sandi have decided to join a small group of women in the coming spring. This two-week trip will take them to places in southern Italy off  the beaten path, before experiencing Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan. I'm envious, but because I'm retired, I just don't have the funds. Well, that's not entirely true: if I chose to use my savings, I could go, too. It's just a matter of choices. But as I listen to them and their excitement, I wish I could join them.

Today we will travel back to our respective homes and will probably all write about our adventure in our respective blogs. And next week I will have my partner next to me as I write. This morning it's been difficult, because I want to join the early risers and share more stories before we need to part. In fact, that's why I'm going to cut this short this morning. I don't want to miss out! See you next week, dear friends. Stay well and hug somebody for me, okay?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An attitude of gratitude

In the High Country in front of Larrabee Mountain
Al took this picture of me last Thursday. It was such a beautiful day that I think I will remember it as being one of the finest fall days I've ever had up in the Mt. Baker wilderness. I've just begun my eighth year with the Senior Trailblazers; I started hiking with them in late September 2008, and now the hikes and the way things change from season to season have become familiar and cherished.

Tomorrow, October 13, is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. They celebrate on the second Monday in October, while we in the US celebrate on the fourth Thursday in November. October seems reserved for Halloween on this side of the border. I see decorations everywhere for it, and I guess pumpkins and ghouls are appropriate displays for the season. I've got a blogging friend who decorates her entire house with spider webs and sparkly witches and posts pictures of them for the enjoyment of her followers. I'm glad she does it so I can enjoy it, since I'm not much for doing it myself.

Thanksgiving, however, is a favorite holiday, because I have the chance to contemplate all the things that I enjoy and am grateful for. First of all, I am grateful for my health and my ability to spend time in nature and then enjoy the feeling of being tired after a day in the wilderness. I am definitely hooked on it, and I look forward to my Thursdays, rain or shine, to play outside. The coming week, however, is bringing lots of rain to this part of the country, and in the High Country, the precipitation probably will be in the form of snow. That means the spot where I am standing will be covered with white and will become inaccessible in a few short weeks. Until next year, that is.

I am also grateful for the abundance and variety of foods I have available. Yesterday I harvested the last of the broccoli from my garden and began to prepare my plot for the winter. As I ate the steamed broccoli with my dinner yesterday, I marveled at the fact that it was grown right in my back yard and tasted better than anything I could have purchased at the store. It's taken awhile for me to appreciate vegetable gardening, since I was such a novice at it two years ago, but I've already got all kinds of plans for my little space next spring. I'll plant some garlic before I put it to bed, but otherwise I'm just about done for the year. I look around at my neighbor's plots to see what they've done to get ready for winter and I've learned quite a lot.

I am grateful for my community of friends. We just got a new neighbor in our downstairs apartment and will be learning more about the single woman who has moved in. I went down yesterday and introduced myself; she's just moving into Bellingham after living on a boat on Whidbey Island for the past several years. Her daughter lives here and is expecting; she'll be around to enjoy her grandchild. I already like her and am so grateful that I've got another "woman of a certain age" to get to know. That's a relief; I hope she stays for a long time.

Yesterday I enjoyed coffee after my walk with the Fairhaven walking group, and we laughed and carried on like a bunch of teenagers as we sat at the round table and talked about our lives. Two of the women are also gardeners, and they gave me some tips about how to prepare the garden for the winter. We discussed the pros and cons of planting a cover crop; I'll have to research that. When we arrived at the coffee shop, it was pouring rain outside, but when we left, all the clouds were gone and the sun felt strong and warmed us as we made our way to our individual cars. I love these women and know some of them from my hiking group, too. In fact, it was Peggy and Linda who kept encouraging me to join the Saturday walking group, but I resisted at first. I didn't think I could walk that fast and enjoy it, but now I look forward to it every Saturday. And I'm much faster than I was when I first started.

I'm also very grateful that I have the ability to write. Although the writing I do every Sunday morning is a bit "seat of the pants" stuff, I find that it gives me enormous pleasure to sit with my laptop in the early morning and pound the keys, with hopes that somebody will find what I write enjoyable. I never tried to gather followers for this blog, but more than a hundred people follow it, and I look forward to your comments very much. I learn something every week from you. What a fine community I share with my fellow bloggers! To think that a few short years ago I didn't even know that this community existed and now it's an essential part of my life. I am fortunate indeed.

I decided I'm going to write some short biographies of my friends here in Bellingham. It was an idea that came to me in the middle of the night, and I thought about how much I'd like to know the history of some of the people I only know in one context. I've already interviewed my fisherman friend Gene and my hiking friend Rita, and now I've got to spend some time distilling the information into just the right amount. Then I'll run it past them before publishing (probably on my other blog) to make sure they are happy with it. Just the week after I made the decision to do it, I got a call from the local newspaper to see if I would be willing to be interviewed about my skydiving career. It will be for their Prime Time bimonthly magazine that covers the activities of seniors in the area. Another one of those serendipitous happenings, don't you think? Anyway, I'm excited and looking forward to it. I wonder if they will give me a chance to see what they write before it goes public. It's the right way to do it, if you ask me.

Yep, I've got a lot to be grateful for, and I've only scratched the surface! There's my family and my partner, good books to read, my warm and cozy apartment, and much more that doesn't seem to be bubbling up to the surface right now. My tea is gone and I'm beginning to think about getting up and starting my Sunday, now that my self-imposed contemplation of life has been accomplished. I do hope you find yourself in an "attitude of gratitude" this week, as the fall season moves us ever closer to winter's dark days.

Remember we have each other, and on the other side of the planet, it's moving ever closer to summer! Another blogging friend has been posting pictures from Canberra of the daffodils sprouting in her garden. It's always wine o'clock in some part of the world, and spring and summer too. Be well until next Sunday when we'll chat again.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A lifelong habit

Blueberry bushes in the foreground, Mt. Baker in the distance
I laid in bed last night around midnight, when I woke up to visit the bathroom, and I didn't go back to sleep right away. Thinking about this post, what I would write about this morning, and nothing came to mind. Sometimes in the morning I toss and turn my words this way and that as I struggle to get started on something that might be of interest, not only to you, but also to myself. It helps to have a topic in mind.

As I lay in bed, I massaged my sore Achilles tendon and wondered when, or even if, it will get better. It's been a couple of months since it started to bother me, and although it's changed a little in its nature, it still hurts for a few days after my Thursday hike. I went so far as to purchase another pair of boots, thinking that maybe it is caused by my footwear. It's not bad enough to keep me from exercising, but it's worrisome. I would go to the doctor, but the treatment for non-acute tendinitis is fairly straightforward. I'm doing it all.

That picture: last Thursday, when the sun was shining through the bushes, which have turned red as they do in the fall, I wanted to get Mt. Baker behind. It meant laying down on the ground to get low enough to capture this shot, and I managed to struggle down onto the path and take it, but the sun was so bright that I couldn't be sure about what I captured until I got home and took a look. I'm pleased with it, and it was worth the effort. I didn't see that one stray stalk on the left at all, or I would have removed it. It doesn't bother me; in fact, I kind of like it. Although those bushes look like they're on fire, it's only because the sun is shining through them; if I were to stand with the sun behind me, they just look brown and uninteresting. Loaded with ripe blueberries, but certainly not pretty.

Many of my blogging friends have commented on how active I am, and it got me to thinking about it. Am I more active than most people? If I were to look at a bell curve and figure where my activity level might be placed on it, I'm certainly not the most active, but I would be past the top of the curve going in that direction. Three times a week I get on the treadmill at the gym in order to warm up before my aerobics class. I look out the window at the streets below on a busy corner, and I almost always see, like clockwork, an old man go running by. He's not going fast, not more than a fast shuffle, but he's out there. I was amazed the other day when I saw him trotting in the same manner in an entirely different part of town. Does he run all day, every day? He looks to be about my age, I think. If I ever get a chance to ask him, I'll find the answer to my little mystery.

I have been exercising regularly for so long that it's become a habit. Not just a small habit, but one I feel compelled to continue for as long as I can. As I mentioned when I wrote about Olga Kotelko back in July, I would love to be able to carry on like she did until I am in my nineties. But frankly, my genetic background doesn't make me optimistic. Neither of my parents even made it out of their sixties, and only one first-order blood relative has lived to be ninety. Several of my friends have parents who are still alive or recently died, but it's been more than twenty years now since my mom died. I read a wonderful book about Olga (it's linked in that post), and I was struck by something she said in the book: that she really didn't know what she would do with herself when she became too ill to compete in track and field any more. She said nothing else would stop her. I knew just what she meant: you must find something to take the place of those activities that give you a reason to live, to stay in shape, to feel good about yourself.

Thinking back, I realize that exercising has not actually been a lifelong habit. When I was young, back in the sixties and seventies, most people didn't do much physical exercise, other than a few outliers. Then in the 1980s, the fitness craze hit. I well remember the first time I laced my feet into a pair of running shoes. Thinking that all I needed to do was go out there and run around the block a few times. Hah! In a few days I had shin splints and could barely walk. I went to a sports podiatrist and began wearing orthotics, and it did the trick. I had moved to Boulder, Colorado in the early 1980s, and several of my friends convinced me to go into the wilderness with them and climb 14,000-foot peaks. It was painful and sublime: I struggled to the top but could not believe the wonderful 360-degree views I was treated to in that rarified atmosphere. Not much air up there, but it sure was beautiful. And addicting. I climbed 26 of the 52 peaks over the years.

When I was working, I would often exercise during my lunch hour, grabbing a quick salad and eating it afterwards, rather than socializing in the lunchroom. And then, of course, there was skydiving for a quarter century that helped to keep me in shape. I still remember jogging first thing in the morning when I would travel to various places to skydive. But I no longer run, and soon I will no longer be an active skydiver. I'll always feel that those years of running and skydiving are part of me. That will never go away.

And in my retirement years, I continue to find ways to enjoy the outdoors. My Senior Trailblazer friends are all around my age, so we commiserate about our various aches and pains, but we keep each other going, even if we sometimes don't go on the hardest hikes, we still get out there. My Saturday walking group has also become a staple of my exercise routines, and I do love many of those wonderful women. I have decided to take my own advice and hope that if I take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

I want to leave you with a funny dream I had two nights ago. In my dream, I am getting ready to attend my hundredth birthday party. As I was talking with my friends, someone asked me when I was born. I told him, and he said, "you're not a hundred! You are only ninety!" I remember looking at him, bemused, and said, "well, I did wonder why my nineties zipped by so fast!"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Falling into fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 21, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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