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, January 31, 2016

Things change

Norma Jean on the left, me on the right
I woke this morning with competing storylines running around in my head. I spent the entire day yesterday doing something I haven't done in ages: I attended an all-day training that didn't even allow for a free lunch hour. From 7:45am until 5:10pm, I was in one room with ten other women and only got up to use the bathroom or fill my plate with food during our scheduled lunch.

The training was the final step to becoming a certified Advance Care Planning facilitator for the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement (WAHA). It was very intense, with several role-playing scenarios (never one of my favorite things, although it's a valuable tool to practice and gain feedback). A great deal was covered and I became familiar with the other women, who will become valued friends in the future, I have no doubt. Many of them are in the health care profession, nurses and counselors; most are donating their time to WAHA while still working full- or part time. I planned to write about yesterday's experience today.

But the other competing storyline has won out: the one about my sister Norma Jean and her latest trial. The lower part of that lead-in picture was taken when I visited her last November. We had a great time and I fully expected to be visiting her again sooner, rather than later, but then life got in the way and I decided against the disruption of travel. The top part of the picture was taken more than six decades ago, on an Easter Sunday in the late 1940s. I know it's Easter because of our matching dresses that Mama probably made for us.

If you've been following this blog for any time at all, you know that I am close to my sister Norma Jean and that we both are rather dedicated exercisers. She swims more than a mile five or six days a week, does power walks around her retirement community, and golfs several times a week. She wears a Fitbit to track her daily progress. I also walk with a group on Saturdays, work out at the gym four days a week and spend all day Thursday hiking with the Senior Trailblazers. She probably gets more exercise than I do, because those more than hour-long swims really burn up the calories.

In mid-January, she was on one of those power walks when she fell, catching her toe on a curb and went down, scraping her knee and breaking her fall with her left hand. She limped home and dressed her knee but realized that her left hand was hurting pretty badly and she should have it checked out at the local Urgent Care clinic. An x-ray confirmed that she had broken the long bone that goes from her little finger to her wrist. This is called a "boxer's fracture" and needs to be set in a cast. However, they don't do that at Urgent Care and told her to see her doctor and sent her home with a splint in the meantime. Unfortunately she could not use that hand at all in that splint, and she had to wait NINE DAYS to get a cast on the hand.
Fingers are cast downward
By the time she finally got to the doctor's office, she said it was very painful to have her fingers bent downward like this, which is (I surmise) to keep the tendons from shortening during the period of time she is required to wear this cast. She is scheduled to have it taken off in mid-February, if all goes well. In the meantime, there is obviously no swimming. No golf. And worst of all, no walking indoors or out because she is not supposed to do anything that would cause her to sweat under that awful cast.

So this is why that storyline won out: I cannot help but imagine myself in the same position of suddenly being unable to do anything after having been active for so many years. How does one cope? And it could happen in the blink of an eye, as it did with Norma Jean. But it is more than just a month of time out of her life: it will take a long time for her to recover back to her original fitness level. There's going to be a period of rehab, of learning to stretch those muscles and make her hand work right again, and who knows how long that will take. Getting that cast off will mean she can at least walk again, and I picture her like a racehorse champing at the bit, waiting for the release so she can charge ahead and finally stretch her legs.

It has made me realize I need to develop for myself some kind of backup plan in case something like this happens to me. You can only read so many books, watch so many shows on TV, and one needs some kind of other stimulation for the body and mind. I figure asking my readers what YOU would do if this happened to you is one way to start formulating a plan.

I learned recently that the brain actually uses as much as twenty percent of the body's energy, so maybe it would be a time one could learn to speak another language, learn calculus or some other taxing mental exercise. Right? Maybe it would be the opportunity to write a book, record my memoirs or some other such activity. It's a mystery as to how I would handle what she's going through right now.

But as I titled this post "Things Change," it dovetails into what I learned yesterday. It is not often that we sit down and think about the fact that as we age, our abilities to do what we always have done begin to decline. One of the scenarios that we thought about often yesterday is how to help people make decisions now in the event that they are incapacitated and unable to speak for themselves. Using the scenario of a car accident or a fall that renders a person unconscious means that our loved ones must decide how to proceed if, for example, the doctors said there is little chance that I would ever regain the ability to know who I am or who I am with.

Thinking about what "living well" means to me, I realize that I need to be able to be outdoors, to see the sunrise, to visit with my friends, laugh and share the trials and tribulations of life with my loved ones. To maintain the ability to reason and ponder the meaning of life, that's very important to me. That means I need a functioning brain, even if the rest of me declines until I'm forced to become sedentary. It's something I'm giving a great deal of thought, planning ahead for a possible future that doesn't look much like my present-day lifestyle. Although my mind might wander for awhile to other realms, it keeps coming back to this question.

Oh, and before I forget: a friend sent me a link to this twenty-year-old New Yorker story, and it is so profound that I really need to share it with as many people as possible. Jo Ann Beard, the author, has captured both inevitable decline and change, as well as a sudden shock to the system, all in one elegantly written piece. You won't be sorry you spent the time to read it (it's long).

And, on that note, I realize that it's not even 7:00am on a Sunday morning and my post is just about finished. The only thing I need to do is look up from my keyboard and take in my familiar surroundings. Is that rain I hear outside? It wouldn't be unusual. My partner is gently snoring next to me, that familiar and cherished sound as he continues to sleep as I sit next to him, the light from the screen casting a soft glow on my face as I tap away, glad to have written this Sunday morning, and giving thanks that I've still got a functioning brain, filled with excitement for a brand new day.

I hope wherever this day takes you, either on great adventures or small ones, that it will be with a smile. Gratitude fills me and spills out onto the screen. If you're quick, you can grab some of it for yourself. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Almost to the halfway point

Looking out at a very wet landscape
You know, I always think I can deal with the continual rain here with equanimity, but every once in awhile I realize how much I miss sunshine streaming in the windows. It was less than a week ago when we had a beautiful Thursday hike with blue skies overhead, but the angle of the sun is so low when you live this far north that we saw very little of the sun. Today and tomorrow promise to be sunny, though, and I'll enjoy the returning light.

Today solar noon will occur at 12:22pm, with the sun angle at 22 degrees. That's 4 degrees higher in the sky than it was at the beginning of the month. It will continue to climb in the sky as the seasons progress toward the summer solstice. I know all this because of a website I have mentioned before: timeanddate.com. If you're interested in the angle of the sun where you live and other fascinating aspects of local astronomy, check it out. All you need to do is put in your location and it does the rest.

Groundhog Day (February 2) is the halfway point from the winter solstice to the spring equinox, which means after that date we are closer to springtime than we are to the winter doldrums. I haven't read the news yet, but I've looked at a couple of my favorite blogs to see how my friends on the East Coast fared in yesterday's snowstorm. I've seen some pictures that reminded me of massive snowfalls I've experienced in other parts of the country. When I lived in Michigan as a young mother, I remember one time when the snowfall and snowdrifts piled the snow higher than the top of the door! We had to tunnel our way out to the street, where snowplows would finally make the area accessible again. My son and I had a great time playing in it. He was five or six, as I remember, meaning I was in my early to mid-twenties.

What a long time ago that was. I saw a wonderful movie yesterday, Carol, a love story between two women set in the early 1950s in New York. The movie is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt, which was originally written under a pseudonym and has since been published again under her name. Written in 1952, I found this wonderful link from the New Yorker that reveals Highsmith's backstory. She wrote thrillers for most of her career.

I loved feeling immersed in that time period. The director and producer captured it perfectly. The clothes, the cars, the music, the ubiquitous cigarette and cocktails at luncheon: all bits of our past history that are gone now, long gone. Although I was only a small child at the time, I remember the moment in time. One aspect of the movie that keeps coming back in bits and pieces to me is the difference in the way men treated women back then. If a man fancied a woman and asked her to marry him, she was almost expected to accept. It was what every woman apparently wanted to achieve. The days of Ozzie and Harriet, her with the lace apron and pearls while she prepared the family dinner, he coming home from his unknown office job. They were an actual family, the Nelsons. The sitcom ran for 14 years, with their two sons growing up in front of a television audience.

I was part of that audience and remember having a crush on Ricky. It's interesting to think how the worldview of many women like me was shaped by the mores and attitudes of the time. There were never any real problems in that TV family, and I guess that made it seem like I was not quite normal when I got into scrapes and troubles that were outside the reality of that make-believe world.

How much our world has changed. Much of the difference today, I believe, is because everything that happens all over the world is known immediately by anyone with a TV or a laptop. Smartphones were not even dreamed of back in 1952. Unfortunately for many of us, what the media chooses to focus on is what we think is happening in everyone's world, and heartwarming stories tend to be pushed out by stories of wars, disasters, and suffering. It's enough to make anybody depressed, especially when the days are short and the nights are long. For me, I realize that I can direct my daily focus to what really matters and what makes me feel better about the state of the world.

Nothing stays the same. The fact that today in my part of the world we are gaining almost three minutes of daylight every single day brings a smile to my face. It's never going to stay dark forever. I've got a roof over my head, a partner who loves me and takes good care of me, and an active daily routine that gives me a chance to enjoy the Pacific Northwest with all its ups and downs of weather.

Next Saturday I will attend an all-day session for those of us who wish to become End-of-Life Advance Care Directive facilitators. I've done all the rest of the work and am looking forward to this final step. I'm a little nervous about it, but I suspect that isn't unusual. Helping other people to make their wishes known to their loved ones and getting it in a form that hospitals and other facilities will respect is critical. I feel called to do this task, and I will join a larger group of people, mostly women, who are also completing their training. When I write in here next week, I'll tell you all about it.

Until then, I'll continue to stay positive and hope for the best for me, my own family and friends, and you, my faithful readers as well. Life is good here at the present, and today we'll even have some sunshine to brighten our landscape. Be well, dear friends, until we meet again next week.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A visit from my mom

My beautiful mama with her firstborn (me)
Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time thinking about today's Eye on the Edge post. I had already decided I would write about the dear friends I no longer see on my hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. All one needs to do is visit a photograph taken five years ago to see how much our makeup has changed in that period of time. It's because when you hang out with old people, infirmities inevitably surface that keep us home now and then. And then one day the "now and then" becomes "never again."

It's the way the world works, the direction we all travel from birth to death. Last week I mentioned how comforting I find it to think of one's life as a series of chapters, from our earliest memories to the present day. Few of us really know how many chapters we have in our Book of Life, and I hope I have many more Thursdays to hike with the Trailblazers, enjoy the company of the others, and to push myself in order to come home tired and content after having spent a day outdoors exercising. When I was a kid it happened naturally, but now I make an appointment every Thursday to go out and play.

That is what I was going to write about today. And then, that visit from my mom. She's been gone from the planet for more than twenty years, having died in 1993, but yesterday my brother Buz sent all of his siblings a copy of a poem that our mother wrote. He ran across it while going through some old papers; it had been sent to him after it was found between the pages of one of the books that were donated to the Mansfield library, where she was a frequent visitor. As usual, Mama made friends with everybody she came in contact with, and one of the librarians thought that Buz might appreciate having it. It was written in her handwriting, and I was fascinated to learn that she spent a fair amount of time thinking about her life after she had died. Here's an excerpt:

In this excerpt, her spirit senses, sees, and hears the beauty of the natural world. I love the "tangerine and rustic red" line especially. My mom loved the written word: the reason she was so well known at the library is that she probably read more than half the books in it. I know that sounds like an exaggeration; maybe it is, but I remember her coming home from a visit to the library with boxes of books to read. And read them she did.

I didn't know she was a poet. I didn't know she thought about things like this, because she certainly didn't discuss it with me. She told me many times that she was not afraid of death, not afraid to cross over to the other side, and in her poem she is still here, still sensing and seeing and hearing it all. It's such a comforting thing to know about my mom, that (in her own words) she would "fly and soar and dip" in the sky long after she had drawn her last breath.

Mama died at the age of 69, the same as David Bowie and Alan Rickman this past week. I tend to think of it as being premature, but it's not, really, is it? The Bible gives us a span of three-score and ten (70) as representing a full lifespan, and also reminds us that if we manage to keep going after that, it's not going to be without travail. Things are changing, moving toward stasis, toward the inevitable demise of our physical selves. But yesterday, I received a missive from that still-extant spirit of my mom, one that fills me with so much joy and love that I woke several times during the night to realize I was smiling in my sleep. She reminded me, once again, that there is nothing to be afraid of, and nowhere to go.
I'll wait content, to stir in sleep
The hour the earliest violets peep.
For with them all the wood will rustle
Under the west-wind's old-maid bustle,
Lifting perhaps, a speck of me,
And bearing it, due south, to sea. 
(P.S. I was informed by one of my commenters that Mama did NOT compose this poem. She copied it, almost word for word, from the book Diana by R.D. Delderfields. You can see the poem in its entirety here. Mama didn't sign it, so she must have been very moved by it to copy it. I'm glad to know she wasn't a poet and I didn't know it!)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reminiscing and new adventures

Hanging out together
My coffeeshop friend John has started sending me funny sayings and collections of pictures that I would otherwise miss. This was one of them, and I spent quite awhile looking at this one and saved it to share with you today. I'm not sure what these little creatures are; I thought mice at first, but now I'm not so sure.

It made me ponder how much I appreciate and enjoy my friendships, and how important each one becomes over time. I've got another new friend, a woman who moved into the apartment complex a few months back. We went to the movies together yesterday to see Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, where Redmayne plays the part of a transgender person who undergoes sex reassignment surgery in the early twentieth century. It's based on a book by the same name that I've put on hold at the library. Although the novel is fictional, it is loosely based on the lives of two married Danish painters. Lili Elbe wrote an autobiography that was published in 1933, Man Into Woman.

Although the reviews are not overwhelmingly positive, I found the movie to be beautiful in just about every way. Tom Hooper directed it, as he also did with Les Miserables and The King's Speech, two other movies I enjoyed very much. Both Redmayne and his co-star Alicia Vikander have been nominated for numerous honors for their parts in this movie. It's one I would recommend, but then again, there are so many wonderful movies to see right now, as we get ready for the announcement of the Oscar nominations on Friday. I usually try to see all the potential nominees beforehand, but that's not going to be possible this year, it seems. There are too many all at once!

I have finished my online training modules for the End-of-Life Advance Care Directive facilitator training I'm going through. At the end of the month I will attend a full day in-person training session and then I'll be ready to volunteer. I've learned quite a bit of new communication skills and look forward to putting them to use helping other people fill out their own ADCs. One skill I will have to work on is to put my own feelings and preconceptions aside. I look forward to mastering the exceptional skill sets that have been created for this important task. I'm not there yet, but I will get plenty of practice beforehand (I'm hoping). Do you detect a little trepidation? Yes, it's there all right, but I trust the process and will just take it a step at a time.

Ever since I moved here in 2008, I've been looking for just the right place to volunteer my time. Knowing that I can get overextended in no time at all, I've been cautious. It was the process of filling out our own ADC forms and the help I received from our own facilitator that got me interested in this. Little did I realize how much is involved in becoming certified. It is a worthwhile endeavor, though, and I'm glad I've continued to explore it. Isn't it interesting how much of a difference a single event can make in the trajectory of one's life? When I think about how different my life would be if I hadn't starting going for coffee at Avellino's, for example. I wouldn't have met my fisherman friend Gene, my young friend Leo, or my newest coffeeshop friend John.

It was an employee at Starbuck's who got me turned on to Avellino's, when I asked if there were any existing coffeeshops that still used the old-style espresso machines. I was told about a shop just down the street that had one, and I learned that it is an Italian built antique named Stella. I had many an espresso made from that machine. It has now been retired and sits in a place of honor over the doorway. But I still go there for the companionship and the coffee.

This past week, I have also gone to two yoga classes at Yoga Northwest, where I've signed up to attend three months of classes. At the beginning of the year, they have ten days of free classes where people can attend and see how they like them. There are two that interest me at this time, Gentle Yoga and Gentle II, the next step up. I tried them both, and I realize that for now, the first one is probably the most appropriate. I had not been exposed to Iyengar yoga before, and in my usual fashion I am reading the biography of the founder. He died in 2014 at the age of 95, and the pictures of him show that he had the most amazing eyebrows I've ever seen. I have the feeling that embarking on this new chapter in my life will introduce some changes I cannot foresee from here, but I predict that it will be an adventure. I know I walked out of each of those two classes feeling taller and lighter.

Recently I read somewhere that thinking of one's life as a series of chapters makes a great deal of sense. Thinking of the chapter of being an active skydiver just recently closed, makes me think of that time in a very different way. It was time to stop, I knew it was, but I didn't want to let something so central and important to me just fade away. I can always open that chapter and reminisce if I want to, just like I do with the memories I have of my parents, of my son, and of other friends and activities that have moved out of my present-day life. And with the technologies of today, I don't even have to wonder how Lauren, the present owner of my skydiving gear, is doing: it's all there on Facebook. I saw pictures and videos of her in Arizona this past holiday season, skydiving and smiling and doing all the things that I once did, looking extremely happy. It made me happy to see it, and there was only joy where once there would have been sadness not to be there myself.

I'm not sure how many chapters are left in this book of life, but I am happy to have had as many exciting and wonderful ones as I have. I can now enjoy them as I look back at all the people I have known, places I've seen, and adventures I've benefited from. Another chapter that began in 2009 was that of blogging, an activity that takes up much of my life these days. I've got an entire universe of friends and acquaintances that I visit daily. The amount of enjoyment and benefit I get from this activity is still being plumbed. (Is that the right word? I love words and wordplay, but sometimes I get carried away.)

And the interaction with my readers that I enjoy through your comments! That is priceless. I learn new things, and I find new friends every week. Sometimes I'll wonder what happened to so-and-so, and I'll go off to their blog to see if somehow I missed a post. Usually it's just the holidays or a case of the sniffles that keeps us away from our regular activities, but it's always nice to know that my friends are hanging out and handing me flowers from their own perch in the blogosphere.

Until next week, dear friends, be kind to yourself and don't forget to hug somebody, even if it's yourself. I've wrapped my arms around myself just now and am noticing that it feels pretty good. Makes it hard to type, though. It's time for me to start my day, now that I've accomplished another post. After a quick read-through, I'll hit publish. Be well!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What I see when I look up

Blue skies through the trees
When I was on our Thursday hike last week, I happened to look up and saw the brilliant blue sky and trees illuminated by the sun above me. It was so pretty that I stopped to take a picture. The photo doesn't do justice to the beauty I saw, but it made me think about how incredibly lucky I am to be able to spend time in the wilderness. I've been going out with the Senior Trailblazers on an almost weekly basis since September 2008. That's more than seven years now, longer than I have been blogging.

I started this blog in December 2009, almost a year after I had been writing on my other blog, DJan-ity, because I felt constrained to keep my posts short and write for a larger audience. I've written 323 posts here, only writing on Sunday mornings, and just looking at that number amazes me that there have been so many, that it has been so long. I guess it's because of the new year that I am in a reflective mood. It seems like a good time to stop and take stock of my life. This past year was momentous in many respects, but only a few events rise up be examined: I went to Turkey in February; I gave up skydiving and sold my gear; I visited my sister Norma Jean and met my new grand-niece Alicia; and I planted my garden spot for the fourth year in a row. In 2016, I will continue to learn more about the garden and will visit my sister again in the fall. I will always be a skydiver, but now I'm a retired one. I'm pretty much done with international travel, too; it's not much fun any more.

But gardening continues to bring me pleasure and I'm looking forward to the season. Me, who never dug in the dirt before and didn't know anything about the joys and trials of gardening. This post tells how our community garden began in May 2012. For one thing, I thought I was in shape back then and was taken by surprise by how much work gardening is, and how sore I was. Now I expect it, and I've discovered ways to minimize all that bending and pulling, and even so my arms, back and legs get sore in a way that none of my other exercising even begins to touch. I've learned how to battle slugs and aphids and love the fruits of my labor. Nothing tastes quite as good as a strawberry or a tomato right straight out of the garden. I'm happy to have only a 7-by-23-foot plot. It's more than enough for me.

Yesterday I went to see the new Star Wars movie. Many of my blogging friends have seen it and most of them loved it. I've seen all seven of them, of course, and the first three were wonderful. It was 1977 when the first episode was released; both Han Solo and Princess Leia are present in the first one and in this last one, too. People are surprised at how much they've aged, but give me a break: it's been forty years! I heard that Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) had to lose thirty pounds to reprise the role. She looks her age, but that is to be expected, if you ask me. She obviously hasn't had tons of plastic surgery to try to stop the appearance of aging, as so many in Hollywood have done. Harrison Ford (Han Solo) bears little resemblance to the dashing young man he was forty years ago. I noticed a few scenes where he obviously isn't able to run very fast; I smiled when I noticed that because we are the same age.

I enjoyed the movie but I wouldn't say I loved it. There were a lot of action scenes that began to tire me out and make me wish it could all be over. The parts I enjoyed the most are the relationships between people. The new faces are wonderful (playing the parts of Finn, Rey, and Poe) and the new villain is pretty good, too (Kylo Ren). The movie sets you up for the next one, and it made me remember how much I yearned for the next episode when I walked out of the first Star Wars movie. Almost forty years later, here I am still enjoying adventures in a galaxy far, far away.

As I take stock of the past year, I realize that there are more than a couple physical aspects of aging that have made themselves known to me lately. I also cannot deny that being in my mid-seventies means that not only have I slowed down, but I am having to watch my step more carefully. I've taken several spills this past year, and I've got pictures of scraped knees and elbows to prove it. I broke a trekking pole falling this last Thursday on the snow and will have to replace it, since I cannot hike on anything other than flat surfaces without the use of them. Giving me four points of contact with the ground rather than two makes all the difference in my ability to stay upright on ascents and descents. That's a little distressing when I think about it. I'm looking down a lot, watching for uneven ground.

And then there's neuritis and neuralgia. I remember as a kid hearing those words on TV selling something to help old folks deal with them. They are words for inflamed nerves. I've got several places on my body where I've sustained past injuries, and apparently as you age those damaged nerve pathways flare up now and then. It feels like shingles but isn't as serious, apparently. Recently I had a bout of neuritis that made me spend several days taking it very easy. It's better now, though. But it's enough to bring you down if one only concentrates on what's going south in the physical realm.

Well, I began this post with a title that reminds me of what I see when I look up. When I stop for a moment and lean on my trekking poles and see what's above me, it can be breathtaking. I also take that as a metaphor for life: if I spend all my time looking at what's not working, what once was but isn't any more, I could get very depressed. But I get to choose not only how to live my life but also how I manage the aging process. I can always stop and gaze at the heavens and remember that there is much, much more about life to learn and explore as I navigate the shoals of seniority.

Not everybody gets the opportunity to grow old, but I have, and I am grateful, so very grateful for the health and abilities I still have in abundance. I have just finished a second reading of Atul Gawande's book Being Mortal and cannot recommend it highly enough. Although I read it the first time only a year ago, it was like reading it for the first time, since I've been studying to become an Advance Care Directive facilitator. My perspective has changed. Now I have my own hard copy and will cherish it and re-read it again and again. It's a tool to help me become a wise old woman.

It happened again. I sat down in my bed with my laptop across my knees, sipped my tea as I wrote this post, and now I've reached the place where I take stock of my surroundings and get ready to publish. My partner is, as usual, still sleeping next to me, and the window curtain is pulled against the darkness outside. The sun won't come up for another hour, but the days are getting imperceptibly longer now. We will gain more than a minute of daylight today, which adds up quickly from one week to the next. And every day we gain a few more seconds and minutes as we move toward the light.

I hope you will think about where you have come this past year and share it with me, if you wish. I love all of my virtual friends and wish you all good things in the coming year. Until next week, when we meet again, be well and please accept this electronic hug.