I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Our changing world

Scarlet runner beans in garden
At the end of May, I planted some scarlet runner beans I received from my friend John into a seed-starting kit and covered it with plastic so that they would germinate. I've never done such a thing before, preferring to buy starts from nurseries already sprouted, but when John gave me the beans, I had to learn one more thing about gardening: how to turns the beans into plants. You can see them here from a month ago.

I planted them along my fence, and gave half of them to my gardening friend Hedi, who has a stretch of fence in full sun, and look at how they are doing! They are already beginning to flower, even though they haven't grown very large. The other half, along my fence, doesn't get full sun like these, so they are just barely beginning to flower, but hers are looking fantastic. I am so excited to see them flourishing, since I've once again learned a new gardening skill. Next year I might even start some tomatoes like this and keep them inside until the danger of frost is past.

Our community garden has given me so much pleasure in the five years since we began it here in my apartment complex. Although other gardeners have come and gone, I and one other person have been here the whole time, and the opportunity to be a gardener has been an unexpected delight. The person whose idea it was and who convinced the owners to erect a fence to keep the deer out is long gone, but he put it in motion and planted for a couple of seasons before moving on.

Nothing stays the same; it's the nature of life to have things evolve right in front of our eyes. And planting a garden is one way to see that metamorphosis from day to day. I'm pleased to see that my tomato plants are heavy with fruit and will be giving me delicious red tomatoes in another month or so. I might even branch out next year and plant something new. Why, I might even learn to can! The possibilities are endless.

But all that is just a lead-in to what I thought I'd write about today: how much our world has changed since we've entered the new century. It was only ten years ago that Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, and look at how much things have changed in that decade. There are places in the world where smartphones are the only communication devices available. Having a computer in your pocket has become commonplace. Who would ever have guessed in 2000 that we would take it for granted that we could have the entire history of the world in our pockets, available at a moment's notice to look up any fact? Certainly not me. I have become another addicted customer.

When I am in the mountains hiking, I don't have any connection, and I've found it's nice to have times when my phone is not available to me. I turn it onto airplane mode when I hit a certain spot on the highway as we make our way to our trailhead. It is still counting my steps, however. I look several times a day to see how I'm doing with my daily count, and being a competitive person I'm always hoping to up the number from day to day. Right now I average around 14,000-15,000 steps per day, but that's partly because when we hike I get almost 30,000 steps on a longish hike of ten or so miles.

I did notice that the hike up to Welcome Pass was so difficult for me that I might not be doing it again. Or, who knows, maybe I'll join some of the other septuagenarians for something a little bit easier. It's just another one of those milestones that come around in life, like stopping my skydiving habit at 72, or becoming a gardener at 68. We change as the days and weeks and months go by, and so does the world around us.

One of the biggest changes for me has been the social aspect of blogging. When my friend Ronni got sick and I wrote about it in here, many times I have realized our friendship has become as substantial as any I've had with "skin" friends. The people I follow (and who follow me) communicate with me more often than my family does, and as I've learned about the trials and tribulations of my virtual friends, they have become very important to me. The world shrank when I began to blog. I have friends in Canberra, Prince Edward Island and other places in Canada, Seattle, Hawaii, the boonies of Minnesota and North Dakota, Tennessee, the East Coast, and many, many more. I smile often when I'm reading what my friends are doing, or commiserating with them over illness or misfortune. Sometimes I don't even know where in the world some of my friends reside, because of their desire to keep it hidden. It doesn't matter in the least: when we write about our lives and share with one another, the location of our physical selves becomes unimportant.

In the car when returning from our hike last Thursday, I discussed Ronni's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with my three companions. One of the women is a medical doctor, and I wanted to know what she thought about the Whipple procedure, which Ronni endured. I learned quite a lot about it, and I never thought to differentiate my friendship with Ronni from those people I spend physical time with. One person asked if I went down to Portland (where Ronni lives) to be with her during the surgery, and I hesitated, wondering if I should mention that I've never actually MET Ronni. I decided to discuss the friendship as I would any other, and not go into details. That led to a sea change in my thinking, realizing that I no longer feel a separation between virtual and physical friendships.

Yes, I am attached to my smartphone for many reasons, not the least of which is that it gives me a whole universe of friends right there in my pocket. Unless I don't have coverage, I am connected to my virtual community at all times, even if I don't actually go visit anybody. And here I am, on a sunny Sunday morning, talking with my friends once again through my blog. What a world! How fortunate we are to have such blessings.

And another Sunday post comes to an end. Partner is still asleep, which comforts me, as I type away in my bed with the laptop on my knees. I've got dear friends waiting for me at the coffee shop, and when I check here later in the day, I'll find your comments and feel my invisible community surrounding me with care and love. I'll read your latest blog posts and who knows, maybe even make another new friend today. Until we meet again next Sunday, I wish you all good things and hope that it's a wonderful week. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Another routine Sunday post

Summer sky
After spending more time than I'd like to find a picture to put at the front of this post, I finally just gave up and put up a picture of the beautiful sky I can see from my back yard. I've been spending a fair amount of time watering and weeding my little garden patch, and it gives me such pleasure. Who would ever have guessed that I would get so much satisfaction from digging in the ground? Certainly not me: my gardening days only began five years ago. Before that, I was more than a neophyte: I simply didn't care. Anyone can change and grow, even me.

I've had illness on my mind for weeks now, ever since I learned that my blogging friend Ronni has pancreatic cancer and had to undergo a very long surgery, with only a small chance for recovery in any event. It makes me very glad for the relative health I enjoy. Of course, that's what she was thinking when she was my age (she's two years older than me) and now she's fighting for her life. There are so many things that can go wrong with these bodies of ours, and eventually something or other will fail. It's the way things work, but we forget that inconvenient fact, acting as though everything will continue as it is today. I've been learning from her as I imagine myself in her shoes.

It does make me wonder what I would have done in her place: if I were given a diagnosis of the possibility to recover after surgery and chemotherapy being only 25-30 percent, would I do it? Or would I opt to let the cancer take over and make the most of the few months I would have left? It's something I don't think anybody knows until one is faced with it. My friend Lily says her aunt died of pancreatic cancer and it was painful and horrifying. Nobody wants to suffer, but we don't always have a choice. In any event, Ronni is already suffering as she faces a long recovery, at best. The Whipple procedure they performed removes the cancerous part of the pancreas, her gallbladder, part of her stomach, and a few other body parts. They found two of the 17 lymph nodes they removed tested positive for cancer cells, which means that it has probably spread to other parts of her body. That means she must make a decision about whether to have chemotherapy and we all know how difficult that road will be. Take a look over at her blog if you want to learn more, at Time Goes By.

Last Thursday the Senior Trailblazers went up Welcome Pass, one of the harder hikes we do every summer, and it was really hard work to navigate the 67 steep switchbacks that take you to the pass, climbing 3,000 feet (900+ meters). Even today, three days later, my quads are sore from the hike. I don't know how many times I've made it to the top in the past, but this year I realized that there are not too many more of these difficult hikes in my future. My body is in good shape, and my knees seem to be holding out just fine, but the desire to push myself to the absolute limit is beginning to fade. Although I was really happy to be there, and it was a perfect day with great company, it was also a reminder that expending all that effort was not without a price.

One person in our group really struggled with the steep downhill and his legs began to cramp. Fortunately for him, we had four hikers who stayed with him and helped him down the trail. The rest of us would stop every once in awhile until they caught up with us, but it made for a very long day. Once you're in the wilderness, there's no way to get back to safety except deal with whatever happens and hope that you can manage. It made me realize that it could happen to any one of us. Once we were down the final switchback and we were all together again, I saw that he was not looking well and seemed on the verge of collapse. Fortunately, he made it back to the trailhead, and we drove to Grahams where we all treated ourselves to ice cream or cold drinks. It's enough to make one wonder about the wisdom of old folks doing such difficult hikes. That doesn't mean we'll stop, though, because one day we'll be forced to leave that part of our lives behind anyway. But not today.

Today the sun is shining, again, and I'll be heading out to the coffee shop once I finish this post, and I am continually grateful for the opportunity I have for enjoyment. I might even treat myself to another ice cream cone today, although it depends entirely on what the scale says when I step on it soon. My daily routine also includes a weigh-in, which helps me decide how to spend my calories for the day. If the number is good, I'll let myself enjoy a small treat or two, but if not, I'll spend them more carefully. It works for me. The other day I didn't want to step on the scales because I knew I had overeaten the day before, but I made myself do it anyway. It would have felt like cheating if I had skipped it.

Some people don't like routine, but I seem to slip into different routines without difficulty. In fact, I have the opposite problem: if I don't get to perform my usual regimen, I feel like the day has begun badly and then everything will be off track. Although it doesn't make the slightest difference to anybody but me, these routines become well-worn ruts that give me some sort of comfort. Am I just weird or do other people do this, too? I have no idea. You don't get to observe that part of another person's life, except for perhaps your mate. And I do know that my guy actively avoids routine, because it makes him feel constrained. For me, it helps to give my day structure. It's a good thing we are not all the same.

Speaking of routine, it's just about time for me to have finished my Sunday post. This was another of those posts that felt like I have been wrestling around for focus, because my mind is pretty much unfocused. I slept well last night, but when I woke, nothing emerged from either my dreams or my mental processes to help me find that focus. The only thing that has been constantly on my mind is illness, and I sure didn't want to have that become my post. It pretty much has, though. I guess I should just give up and start the rest of my day.

Tea is gone, partner is awake for a change and just laying quietly next to me as I write. The next part of my routine is to get out of bed, get dressed (after the weigh-in) and do my exercises on the front porch in the sunshine, then drive to the coffee shop to meet John and share a bagel with him as we drink coffee together. He's been there for awhile when I arrive, but he's ready with his garlic salt for his half of the bagel. He's another one of those people who must like routine as much as I do.

And I do hope that you have a wonderful week, free of encumbrances and filled with joy and love. That's what I want for myself, too! Be well until we meet again next Sunday, dear friend.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My Sunday action items

Early morning sky and tree
I saw this tree blocking the rising sun and let me see these beautiful clouds this past week. When I am walking to the bus, I often get a feeling of great joy because I live here, right in the middle of the Pacific Northwest, with incredible skies and perfect temperatures at this time of the year. We don't usually have the terrible heat that many of you deal with because of the moderating temperature of the Pacific Ocean, which gives us a built-in air conditioner most of the summer. The onshore breeze brings the cool air and the only time it gets hot is when that air flow is blocked and we experience offshore flow, bringing warm air from the interior. But it never lasts.

Then again, what does last? Even the mighty mountains and rocks wear down in time. I won't be around to see it, of course, because the span of a single lifetime reveals some change, but it's just a drop in the bucket in ecological time. We are here for such a short period, and sometimes that bothers me, but other times it makes me feel content that I don't have to be around to see the changes ahead.

When I went to bed last night, I pondered what I would write about today. The only thing I knew for sure is that I didn't want to write about getting old, about the weather (which I already have), or about illness. Thinking of the Five Buddhist Remembrances again, I'm realizing that I don't want to focus on all the changes going on around me, but concentrate on what does last. The Fifth Remembrance, "My actions are my only true belongings, the ground upon which I stand" gives me some idea of where I might take this post this lovely Sunday morning.

What is the definition of an action, exactly? (Thank you, Google.) "The fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim." Or: "Action applies especially to the doing, act to the result of the doing. An action usually lasts through some time and consists of more than one act: to take action on a petition. An act is single: an act of kindness."

Well, I am and have always been an active person, but what specific actions do I have in my own life that I can stand upon? When I think of my daily life, which is full and filled with activity, I'm wondering how much of it is actually action and how much is busy-ness? Or does it even matter? All those years I spent as an active skydiver are actions I'm quite proud of, but they don't have much relevance to my daily life today. The only thing that still lingers are the damaged bones I broke and their concomitant arthritic annoyances. I have lovely memories, but they are all in the past. Out of all the thousands of skydives I have made, only a few of them actually stand out in memory, usually because something untoward happened. Or because of some silliness, like skydiving naked. (Yes, I did, once.)

I had a career at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, working there for thirty years and retiring nine years ago. Does anything actually still exist because of my efforts? There are books on some bookshelves that I edited, scientific books with fewer errors because of me, and thoughtful indexes that I compiled. They exist as a result of my actions. But I find those years of effort and action don't give me much satisfaction today, when I think back. Perhaps they should.

In retirement, I find that most of my actions are related to physical activity or writing blogs. Every day I try to get at least 10,000 steps on my iPhone app, and sometimes I'm quite pleased to see that I've often managed to get more than twice that number. I'm a little addicted to seeing those numbers grow; the app shows daily, weekly, and yearly averages, and I spend some time every day looking at them. It's one place I've chosen to spend my energy: doing what I can to keep my aging body fit.

Blogging four times a week is sometimes a chore, but much more often it's a satisfying action that keeps me apprised of the daily and yearly passage of time, and when I'm getting ready to go on another Thursday hike with the Trailblazers, I can look back on my blog (not this one but my DJan-ity blog) to remind myself what it was like on past visits. This week we will be going on one that is, while not a favorite, quite a workout. I go not only for the exercise, but for the companionship with like-minded friends. And then I document the trip in a blog post when I get home and download some pictures to enliven the text. I've been doing this for several years and really don't like to miss because my sense of world order gets a little skewed when I'm not out hiking on a Thursday.

Another action is going to the coffee shop almost every morning. It's more than the coffee: my friends who have become as dear as family members are there, and I look forward to seeing them. In fact, I am totally amazed at how much I anticipate seeing some of them. John has become a good friend, and ever since I wrote the first post about the Five Buddhist Remembrances, John has insisted on receiving the hugging meditation I mentioned. Lately I've given and received many more hugs because of it. Just to remind you of what that meditation is:
Another way of practicing the Five Remembrances is through something Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh calls hugging meditation. When your partner or children leave for work or school, hug each other for three full breaths, and remind yourself of the Fourth Remembrance.
It works. Hugs are sure nice to give and receive. SG has received many more hugs than before, but then again we have always been huggers. Some people I don't hug, or offer hugs to, because it seems a little invasive if it's someone you don't know all that well. But I've learned that physical touch of any kind can be healing and reassuring. I know that the massage I receive every third week is an essential part of my wellness routine. When I'm done and getting ready to leave, we always have a very nice hug before parting.

Reading is an action item I would miss very much if I didn't have such an abundance of material to peruse. I am an active library patron, and friends give me books to read as well. Right now I have two books next to my easy chair that I'm making my way through. I also have plenty of books on my Kindle, which I usually read when I'm traveling somewhere. Reading is an activity I love. It is also an action upon which I stand, because every book I read becomes part of me. 

My Sunday post is an action that I have been doing for 400 Sundays. In fact, this will be the 400th (I just looked back to see how many I've written). That translates into 92 months and more than seven-and-a-half years of blogging every Sunday.  That's enough time to settle into a routine, wouldn't you say? It's become a sacred moment for me, this time every Sunday when I sit in my bed with my laptop on my knees, my dear partner sleeping next to me as I write. Usually I don't have much idea what's going to come out, and sometimes the magic doesn't work and I struggle. Today was easier.

And it's written, here for posterity. Or for as long as there is a World Wide Web and blog posts stay relevant. In the scheme of things, there's not much that lasts forever. I'd love to think that my actions make a difference in the world, but I'll leave that for others to figure out. I'll just stay here in my little corner of the world and enjoy myself for as long as I can. I do know that my little community of followers who comment on these words have become cherished friends. I'm glad I've lived long enough to see the advent of virtual communities.

Please take care of yourself between now and next Sunday, when we meet again. I am now going to go forth into the summer day to play. Be well and don't forget to hug your loved ones.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Beautiful sun days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dystopian future and Wonder Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Being of the nature to change

Ripe strawberries already at the Farmers' Market
Last week I wrote about the Five Remembrances as described by Thich Naht Hahn and have spent the last week practicing them in ways I didn't quite anticipate. It has been driven home to me that the Five Remembrances can help me to deal with impermanence and change. Yesterday I was astounded to see that the first berries of the season are already (already!) showing up at the Farmers' Market, which reminds me that the first day of summer is right around the corner, even as we are still dealing with either unseasonably hot or chilly temperatures. How quickly that seasonal change seems to happen, and here it is yet another Sunday morning with me sitting in my dimly lighted room with the light of my laptop screen gently prodding me to consider what to write about today.

My routine includes every other Wednesday afternoon spending some time talking on FaceTime with my sister Norma Jean, and this week I wanted to show her my beautiful front porch garden and how well it's coming along. So I turned the iPad camera around and showed her the pretty flowers I've cultivated this spring. While holding the iPad in my left hand, I reached forward with my right hand to point out a plant, and that simple movement caused me to pinch a nerve in my lower back, in the sciatic area. When I stood up straight, the familiar spread of pain reminded me that I'd definitely done it again, performed that movement I should avoid, and that I had once again caused myself to "throw my back out."

I haven't let it keep me from my usual activities, but I have also been reminded that there are certain movements I must avoid until the back has healed. Not knowing exactly what they might be unless I test the limits, I managed to go on my Thursday hike as well as yesterday's walk with the ladies. Even now, as I sit here on Sunday morning, there are still remnants of the pain lingering, but mostly it's gradually improved. It's that pesky Second Remembrance ("I am of the nature to have ill health") that I've thought about as I rub cream into my back. When I finish writing today and get dressed, I'll find out when I try to do my exercises whether I'll still have to modify them, as I have for the past three days.

Then, just yesterday, I received a shock when I learned that one of my favorite bloggers, Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By spent three days in the hospital and returned with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Ronni usually writes about what it's like to get old, and because she's only a couple of years older than me, I can relate to everything she experiences, as it is always relevant to my own life. She has reminded me of the Fourth Remembrance ("All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change"). As I feel the sense of grief, that all too familiar friend, I realize that she will look ahead and know that her life will never be the same. Just like that, the ground has shifted under her feet. And mine as well.

Even though it seems like there is little comparison between throwing my back out and getting a diagnosis of cancer, it's really just a matter of degree. Nothing stays the same from one day to the next, and when I snuggle into my bed at night, allowing myself to relax and let sleep come over me, I don't know what the next day will bring. I think I know, because I expect everything to stay the same, and of course it doesn't. If I allow myself to  forget that, even for a moment, I experience the pain and suffering that comes from the futile effort to cling to what was. Instead, I must leap into each day with as much joy and delight as I can muster, because there really isn't any acceptable alternative.

I think that's what getting old is really about: you go through enough of these changes and just trying to find some stable ground underfoot causes you to look elsewhere for that stability. Which brings me to the Fifth Remembrance ("My actions are my only true belongings"), which reminds me that my actions are the ground on which I stand. And I've got a lifetime of actions to contemplate. The "action item" of the moment is writing this post, pondering what's on my mind as I've done now for more than eight years, every Sunday sitting here with my laptop and pouring my heart out. Well, sometimes it's just a muddle, because for whatever reason I cannot get into the flow of it, and sometimes things come out of my fingers that surprise even me. It's truly a meditation, and anyone who's ever attempted to meditate knows that one's mental processes sometimes get in the way of serenity. You just keep on keepin' on, knowing that the effort itself will cause you to change direction, following the breath in and out.

I took a quick look at the news before I began this post, but it was so distressing that I decided not to read any more about the latest terrorist attack in London; it upsets me so much and causes me to despair. So, I look away for the time being and concentrate on my post, on my garden, and the wonderful strawberries I'll be enjoying in a week or two, thinking of my many blessings instead of the tremendous upheaval surrounding us all. And in a short while, I'll get to test out my back and see how much (or how little) better it is. If every day is different from every other day, I can choose where to focus my energy and find some "action items" that will improve the world around me.

And with that, the post is written. A fair description of my past week, and I know that my dear love, who lies next to me sleeping, will add plenty of enjoyment to this fine day, and that my dear friends at the coffee shop look forward to my arrival. And you, dear reader, my friend in the ether, you add so much to my life. I look forward to your comments, to your own blog posts, and feel our connection with gratitude and love. Be well until we meet again next week, and don't forget to look for some action items that will please you and your loved ones.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

Vanilla leaf in flower
It has been almost too hot for some of us fragile Pacific Northwestern types this weekend. Yesterday here in Bellingham it was above 80°F (28°C), almost twenty degrees warmer than average. We have at least a few more days like this, but hopefully yesterday was the peak of this heat wave. I know that calling this a heat wave makes some of my friends smile, because for some it is perfect, not too hot, not too cold. This is the first time in Washington state that we have had a Memorial Day weekend with weather like this, since at least 1995, twenty-two years ago.

Yesterday I joined my Saturday walking group on a trip to Lummi Island, and it was just perfect, since most of the time we were on the water with a gentle cool breeze moderating the temperature. I myself was so pleased that I am well on the way toward regaining my previous ability to walk at a brisk pace for several miles. It's true that I felt my hip for most of the time we walked, but it didn't impede me at all. One of the walkers I haven't seen for ages: Flora doesn't join us often, but she is 85 years old and I could not keep up with her at all! I could see her in front of me, and I applaud her stamina and determination. She's an inspiration.

This week I learned about the Five Remembrances and have been practicing this Buddhist meditation for several days now. There are several versions of the Five Remembrances, but the one I like the best is from Thich Naht Hanh, a ninety-year-old Buddhist monk who lives in France but has traveled extensively during his life to give talks on peace and harmony. He has written many books, some of which I read earlier in my life. I feel as though I have just rediscovered him.

Back to the Five Remembrances. What are they all about? They help us to embrace the realities of life. We all will grow old, get sick, and die. There is no escape. When we contemplate them daily, we get a perspective on life that is skillful and wholesome. Here is Thich Naht Hanh's version:
1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old. 
2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health. 
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death. 
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. 
5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
I found this wonderful article online, which I also want to share with you. It's from Yoga Journal, and it's an article written in 2007. I enjoyed it and have read it several times now, trying to understand the Five Remembrances better. From that article:
Once you accept the reality of impermanence, you begin to realize that grasping and clinging are suffering, as well as the causes of suffering, and with that realization you can let go and celebrate life. The problem is not that things change, but that you try to live as if they don't.
I have the most difficulty with the one that reminds me that all that is dear to me and everyone I love will be separated from me. Maybe it's because I have already dealt with that one more than most, having lost both of my children. It's normal for someone my age to have lost their parents, but having to find my way twice through the grief I experienced through loss changed me forever. Frank Boccio, who wrote that piece, gives this advice:
Another way of practicing the Five Remembrances is through something Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh calls hugging meditation. When your partner or children leave for work or school, hug each other for three full breaths, and remind yourself of the Fourth Remembrance.
I've started doing that with my husband. We discussed the practice and he agrees that it's a good idea to celebrate our connection with hugs and appreciation of one another. It's funny that in just a day or two, I've already noticed how much my feeling of gratitude for him has emerged. Gone are the little disruptions that never mattered anyhow, and in their place is a sense of peace and happiness for the moment we share. Just three breaths while hugging.

But the one that really gets me is the final one, that my only true belongings are my actions. The only thing that doesn't leave me, as it says, is that I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. Now that's a realization I didn't have before. But it's true, isn't it? As I sit here on a sunny Sunday morning writing my post, it occurs to me that maybe out there in the ether there is someone who also needs to hear this today. I know it shifted something important inside my own mental processes, realizing that whatever happens in the world today, it will be different tomorrow. It is of the nature to change.

It is also comforting to think of my actions as the ground upon which I stand. As long as I am alive, I will act, and if I can think of it in positive terms, my actions will become more and more aligned with the Universe, and my actions will come from love and charity, rather than fear and dread. It's really freeing to realize that I can direct my mind to align with the light. That will be my task until we meet again next week, to put it all into practice and see what comes of it.

I will spend tomorrow remembering. Memorial Day and the Five Remembrances are uppermost in my thoughts right now. I know that you, dear reader, will be there also, somewhere out there in the world, hopefully at least taking a look at how much we can improve our lives with a little remembrance of what a fabulous thing life is. And we all have it, right now, right this minute! Yay for us.

My dear love lies next to me, breathing softly. My tea is gone, and the day is beginning to call to me. I hope you will think about the Five Remembrances for a little while today and hopefully even read the article. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will be well and that you will hug your loved ones, or if you have no one around you, wrap your arms around yourself for those three breaths and think of me sending you my love and appreciation. Blessings to you.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Focus is hard for me this morning

Front porch geraniums at dawn
Every morning part of my routine is to perform the Five Tibetan Rites right after I've gotten dressed. I don't wear shoes because it doesn't feel right to have my feet covered when I do them, or when I do yoga, either. Other than those two times, I always wear shoes or slippers. In the spring and summer, I like to be outside on my front porch with my yoga mat. In the Second Rite, I'm lying on the mat and when I look up, I see my flowers, sometimes lighted by the sun as you can see in the picture above.

I write this post every Sunday morning, as soon as I get my tea and my laptop, I open the lid and ponder what I'll write about today. When I went to bed last night, I kept thinking of the phrase "Intimations of Immortality," but I didn't remember where I had heard it before. Since I have the entirety of human knowledge right at my fingertips, I went searching for the origin of that phrase. William Wordsworth wrote an Ode by that name, with a line that I remembered vaguely, "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." Somehow that must have come to me in some form lately, because I keep thinking of it and pondering its meaning. The subtitle of that Ode refers to recollections from childhood. I don't think I ever read it, but this morning I perused parts of it and find it interesting but very difficult to understand because of the stilted writing. Take a look at it yourself, if you're interested. That link has a line that sums it up well, though:
[It] is a long and rather complicated poem about Wordsworth's connection to nature and his struggle to understand humanity's failure to recognize the value of the natural world. The poem is elegiac in that it is about the regret of loss. 
Right now I'm regretting the loss of time I just spent in perusing at least a dozen links. That's part of the problem with having the infinite wealth of knowledge at my fingertips: I can't seem to keep myself from getting lost in it. And that's right now, while my brain is still rather clear from having had such a good night's sleep.

I learned recently that researchers suggest that the reason we sleep is to "clean out" our memories, and that it's an important part of being able to store new ones. I know that when I sleep I have such vivid dreams they amaze me with their creativity. I wouldn't ever come up with some of the themes and images if my waking self were present. It's a whole different world when I'm asleep. Apparently I'm also storing and organizing while all that's going on. That's pretty astounding, when I think of it. (I just spent another half hour researching THAT subject. I'll never get out of bed unless I concentrate on getting this post written.)

Now I'm regretting the loss of all that time I just spent, but it's not going to get better unless I find the focus I'm lacking at the moment. I think of my readers noticing how scattered I am this morning, and that's not making it any better. I feel rather exposed because I feel that pressure, totally self-induced pressure, but still. Sitting here with my laptop and my fingers tapping the keys, with absolutely no idea where I might go with this post. Can I forgive myself for my difficulty?

I will tell you what I did yesterday, just for something to focus on. It was a beautiful bright day, and a little after 7:00 my friend Lily and I drove to the coffee shop to get caffeinated before our walk with the ladies. Afterwards we joined the others at the meeting spot, to see that there were over twenty of us ready to walk in the sunshine. It's a nice walk, and we walked three miles at a brisk pace to the ferry terminal. At that point, seven of us decided to turn around and not go any farther, since we all had various aches and pains and wanted to walk at a more leisurely pace. It was lovely to slow down a little. We ended up walking six miles total.

Once we got back to the Farmers' Market, Lily and I shopped awhile and then came back home. Since it was such a beautiful day, I went out to the garden and puttered around, watering the plants and talking to them a bit, while admiring the work of my fellow gardeners. Then I came inside and started a new book and almost finished it before I realized what I had done. And then, since it was getting late, I went back into the garden to join several other gardeners who had gathered to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer. It was a lovely way to finish the day.

I feel better now, a little more focused, after having thought about what I did yesterday. Today, once I finish my self-imposed task of writing, I'll get up and dress, do my exercises and then head to the coffee shop to visit with my friends there. I don't know why I look forward so much to my interaction with them, but I do. My friends John and Gene are almost always there before I make it, but on Sunday I have a ritual: when I order my coffee, I also order a well-toasted and well-buttered bagel and share it with John. I don't usually allow myself to have such a calorie-laden treat but Sunday morning is different. It wouldn't be the same if we didn't share it.

Ah. Now I realize why it was so hard to focus this morning. I have been trying to rush through in order to get out and about. The intense sunlight streaming through the windows makes me want to get going, and meditating about things is not where I want to be. I'm a little embarrassed by my rambling lack of focus, but it is what it is. Nobody is forcing me to write this, and nobody is forcing you to read it. I suppose you were expecting something profound, and I promise I'll try harder next week. But for now, the day is not only calling to me, it won't shut up!

So with that, I'm going to finish this post, send it out into the universe, and fly out of bed to start my day. I do hope that you will forgive me for my lack of focus. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week. Here I go!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Everyone has (or had) one

My family several decades ago
A mother, that is. Everyone started out with one, even if they no longer grace the planet with their presence. This was my family. Everyone in the picture is related to me, although the two men in the back row are related by marriage. That's me in the back row, too, with the pointy chin. Perms must have been in style, since I have one, along with Markee (in front of me) and Norma Jean in the front row with hair darker than I ever remember seeing it. Fia's lovely blond hair also looks permed. Mama is in the middle next to my brother Buz (crossed arms) and my sister PJ is on the right of Mama. The two young girls in the front are Fia's daughter Megan (who now has three children of her own) and Trish, Buz's daughter.

I am the oldest of six children, and Mama is in the center of it all. Daddy died in 1979 and Mama in 1993, but the family has grown and expanded since the time this picture was taken, although PJ died three years ago. The rest of the remaining five of us are scattered across the country. The last time we were all together was to celebrate PJ's life.

It's Mother's Day today in the US, and she is on my mind, along with all the other members of my family that I'm missing. I travel to Florida for a week in the winter to visit my sister Norma Jean, as well as to escape the incessant rain that makes the Pacific Northwest such a lush green wonderland. Usually I can handle it easily, but it's nice to have a change during the shortest days of the year. Maybe this year I'll visit the family in Texas, because I realize that I miss them very much. Fortunately I have them on Facebook so I can see and hear how they're doing.

Mama was only 69 when she died of heart disease (that's what PJ died of, too), and as I look at this picture and remember what we were all like back then, my heart is full, realizing how lucky I am to have been born into this family. After Daddy died, I would visit Mama wherever she was at Thanksgiving every year. Now I stay at home, since the center of our family dissipated when Mama died. I would always travel "home" for the holiday and to give thanks properly surrounded by family. "Home" is now wherever SG is. We have been together for twenty-five years now, and I don't think we had even met when this picture was taken.

When Mama visits me in my dreams, she is always a young beautiful woman, and her smile and love for her family radiates around her and spills over onto me as I sleep. I am so grateful that I am able to have vivid dreams that feel like visitations, because she never seems that far away. She resides within all of her children and grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren. Mama was a natural when it came to being a mother.

I wanted to be like her when I was young, and I had two beautiful young boys before I turned 21. My motherhood was not as fortunate as hers was, though. My beautiful Stephen died when I was 22, and Chris was left with a fractured family and a mother who could not recover her equilibrium in time to keep from damaging her remaining child. Chris turned out just fine, however, mostly because of his father's love and caring. I eventually got better, but by then the damage had been done. So even though being a mother was what I craved, the universe did not give me the same advantages that my mother had.

Every life follows its own path, often not the one we envision. I would never have imagined how my life would turn out, not in a million years. I experienced three failed marriages, the death of both of my children, no grandchildren anywhere to be seen, and my mothering instincts forced into other avenues. I was a good employee, conscientious and dedicated to my work, and I was well rewarded during my working years for it. In 1990 when I began to skydive, that activity dominated the next two decades of my life, and when I became an instructor, those mothering instincts helped me teach many students how to be safe in our chosen sport.

And through that sport, I met my life partner, and back when I first met him, I could not ever imagine that a quarter century later, we would be happier together than when we began this journey. Children are not part of my existence, but family has never been stronger. I can feel the presence in my life of my siblings, all of them, even though we don't see each other very often (other than on Facebook now and then). We are family.

Our mother is being remembered by all of us today, along with so many other people with their own mothers celebrating the day with flowers and gifts. My next-door neighbor Lynn's son built her three raised beds in her garden for Mother's Day. I smiled and was thrilled for her as I watched their progress when he constructed them yesterday.

Today I will enjoy being with my friends who surround me in this apartment complex, who greet me at the coffee shop, even strangers on the street with whom I will share this day. It's another cool and showery day, like so many we've experienced lately, and I really don't mind a bit. Yesterday the rain petered out and we had plenty of scattered sunshine in the afternoon. Hopefully it will be the same today. I heard the other day that we have already had way more rain than normal, which doesn't surprise me. We haven't started our warm spring days yet, but they are coming. I'd rather have "cool and showery" than "hot and dry."

Thinking about Mother's Day, thinking about all the mothers I know in the world who will be with their children and celebrating, there will be many of us who will remember our wonderful mothers with joy and gratitude, even though they will not be with us in the flesh, they will certainly be with us in spirit. And with that, I have written my Mother's Day post, which doesn't have much in it about my own mother (I wanted to tell you who she was to me), but the person I have become is pretty much an outcome of her love and care when I was young. She was a consummate professional when it came to mothering. I hope that you will think of your own mother today, whether she is here or not, and realize how much of who you are is because of her.

It's time for me to get up and enjoy my own Mother's Day celebrations. I hope you will be well and happy until we meet again next week.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tripping through time

Trillium in bloom
It feels like it's the first week we've really had spring coming on strong. The temperatures have moderated, the sun is high in the sky, and it's light outside right up until long after my bedtime. Although we've only had a few days where the high temperature for the day reached 60°F (14°C), everywhere I look there are flowers in full bloom. And although we've had rain most days, we know that there comes a time when it all stops and we finally have wonderful weather.

The progression of the seasons is something I will never get tired of. It seems like I just get accustomed to winter, and it slowly becomes spring, with shoots popping out of the ground everywhere, and then before I know it my world has become a riot of lush green, which begins to turn into fall and then winter again so fast sometimes it makes my head spin. How can something seem both so slow to finally come into fruition and then, looking back, have passed so quickly?

My life is like that, too: wasn't it just yesterday that I was a nubile young girl looking forward to my twenties? How is it possible that now I am in my mid-seventies and finding the time ahead of me shrinking down to only a few years, or at best a decade? I have some age mentors who show me that it's possible to still be active and involved at eighty and beyond, but even they must make some adjustments and compromises in their lives.

Yesterday I walked with the ladies and noticed that I am probably the oldest in the group right now, and that my recent hip injury is no longer holding me back. I'm capable of walking fast again, even if I cannot keep up with the leaders I am also not the slowest in the group. A month ago I was lucky to manage to keep the slowest walkers in sight. This has not happened accidentally; I've been working on getting myself back to normal, but what is normal in an aging body? Should I keep pushing through the pain? It's a dilemma I deal with on a daily basis.

And of course, you don't get to be older without learning to live with aches and pains. They are a fact of life. Did I have them when I was young and just didn't notice? If I get involved with whatever I'm doing, I forget to concentrate on my discomfort and feel annoyance when something brings my consciousness back to it. I'm adamant that I stay away from drugs that mask it, because then I'm not aware of the true state of my current condition. Occasionally I'll take some ibuprofen but I don't like to depend on it and take it daily. Recently I've learned that all NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are not good to take all the time, as they may block the pain but harm the body with sustained use. You just can't get around it.

In yoga class, I was recently introduced to the concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence. It means 'not to injure' and refers to a key virtue in Indian religions. From that link: "The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this, i.e. cause no injury, do no harm." It's a fascinating concept that makes me wonder about self-harm as well as violence toward others. Does pushing myself constitute self-harm or am I just conditioning my body? Where do I draw the line, or is there a line to be drawn at all? Must I make my decision based on ahimsa?

Sometimes when I'm really injured, there's no question about what path I should follow, but that's not what I'm wondering about. It's when, for instance, my knee throbs with pain and I continue to walk on it anyway, taking little notice of it or gobbling down some NSAIDs. Am I doing harm to myself? I sure wish I knew the answer to these questions, because I face this dilemma almost every day. What do you think?

If I could, I'd twirl and dance through every day through thick and thin, light and dark, with joy and excitement until I just got so tired that I'd fall into bed, spent and happy. Dancing through my days, from the young girl who started this journey, to the white-haired granny who trips through her days with happy anticipation of what lies ahead. If I could, that's what I'd do.

Is there anything stopping me from doing that very thing? I hope not, because that's what I intend to do with my day today. Practice ahimsa, especially related to myself and my loved ones. I found a wonderful quote from Rabindranath Tagore (one of my favorite philosophers), which might point me in the way I need to go: "Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf." A beautiful vision for me today, and I hope for you as well.

And with that, I'm ready to start my compassionate day, with my coffee shop buddies waiting for me, with my dear partner beside me, lightly asleep, and my tea gone from the cup and into me. I hope that you will read that link about ahimsa and learn more about it for yourself, and then come back here in the comment section and tell me what you think. My virtual buddies, it gives me such pleasure to have you in my life. Be well until next week, when we will meet again on another glorious Sunday.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The arc of a life

Sky and blossoms
When I left my yoga class on Friday, I happened to look up at the pretty blossoms and saw the clouds behind, making a beautiful scene. Since I always have my cellphone with me, I snapped this picture and continue to look at it and enjoy it. A moment in time that will not come again.

For some reason I cannot name, I have been inordinately happy for days now. I wake up with a smile on my face, and I snuggle into bed with a sense of contentment, my body tired but amazingly free of unusual aches (I always have some, but nothing bothersome). I know this period is temporary, but for that matter, isn't everything? I plan to enjoy it for as long as I can.

I've been thinking lately about the arc of one's life, how we all start out as infants and progress through decades of life into old age, if we're lucky. I'm there, I'm old now, and I notice that I think of people I've admired through film and television and how they are dealing with growing older. Yesterday I happened to watch a couple of episodes from the mid-1990s of Star Trek: Voyager, with Kate Mulgrew playing Captain Janeway. I have been a fan of all the Star Trek series, from the original 1960s with Captain Kirk and the half-Vulcan Spock, all the way through the series spinoffs, which started with Patrick Stewart playing Captain John-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Voyager is the only one that had a female captain, and I think Mulgrew did a great job.

What struck me while watching those old episodes yesterday is how much Kate Mulgrew has psysically changed. She began filming Orange Is the New Black a few years ago, a fairly new series in its fifth season. It's an original on Netflix and the season is scheduled to air in early June. (I read that hackers have just released ten of the episodes because Netflix refused to pay a ransom.) In the Voyager series, Mulgrew was slim and athletic, and now, twenty years later, she's gained a good deal of weight and I don't think she works out much any more. Twenty years doesn't seem like that long a time to me, but you know, it really is in the arc of a life.

We usually have a short span of around eighty years of life, so twenty years is a full quarter of that time, and we go from infancy to adulthood in the first quarter, have a career of sorts in the second, then become mature and move into retirement in the third quarter. Now that I'm in that last quarter (from 60 to 80), I realize that I've gained a great deal of perspective that just wasn't available to me in the earlier part of my life. And I wonder how it ever happened that I got this old while I wasn't paying attention. Nevertheless, here I am, and at the present moment I am enjoying every last little bit of it.

* * *

I stopped by the library the other day to pick up a book that I'd put on hold and had arrived in the library. The library often puts up a display of timely books, and I saw one on gardening. Of course right now that's what everybody who gardens is thinking about, as April is almost over and it's time to get those plants into the ground. I picked up one of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, this one on gardening. If you're not familiar with these books, they are short inspirational pieces that I find to be a nice bedtime book. Although they tend to be a little more saccharine that my usual fare, it's nice to pick up the book and read a little. Often they bring a tear to my eye and I often admire how easily the writers are able to tell a story in so few words.

Anyway, I was reading it yesterday and was interested in one article about an event that began in 1884 in Tombstone, Arizona. Two young Scottish immigrants married and moved to Tombstone the following year. Needless to say, it was quite a different environment for the young wife, Mary, so her family in Scotland sent her a care package.
In the spring of 1885, a large box arrived from Mary’s family in Scotland. Carefully packed inside the box, Mary found plants, bulbs and cuttings from the beautiful garden that she missed so much – heather, purple columbine, tulips, daffodils, and several rooted cuttings of the White Lady Banksia rose that she had planted as a child. As a token of the friendship so important to the young bride, Mary gave Amelia one of the cuttings. The two friends planted it near the woodshed in the back patio of the boarding house. Amazingly, the Scottish rose tree flourished in the Arizona desert.
Of course I went online to find out the story of that rose tree, which is now considered to be the world's largest. Who would have thought that a tea rose from Scotland would flourish in the Arizona desert? Well, it did, and the story of the tree is here, if you want to learn more about it. The above quote is from that website. Tombstone not only has the world's largest rose tree, but it also holds a rose festival every year to celebrate roses in general and that tree in particular. It now covered around 8,000 square feet and is supported by a series of beams to create a shady area underneath the now-enormous trunk. Take a look:

Fortunately for the rose tree, it's not limited to the short life span of humans, so it's impossible to know just where it is in the arc of its life. But who would have believed that it would grow so large in such an inhospitable climate? And it all started from a small cutting sent across the ocean to a homesick young wife more than a hundred years ago.

During my long life, I have had periods where I was intensely religious, and others where I was rather indifferent to religion. Since I moved to the Pacific Northwest nine years ago, I have found my religion in the outdoors, going once a week on a hike into the woods in the winter months and in the High Country during summer when the snow has receded. The magnificent Old Growth trees that I am privileged to admire are scattered throughout the area. Some of them are close to a thousand years old, and if there were not such a thing as a timber industry, they would grow much older. Everywhere I go, I see the remnants of huge trees that were harvested long ago, and the forest has grown around them. Some of them have become "nurse logs" that nurture young trees and gradually sink back into the soil. It is impossible not to feel sadness for the loss of those magnificent old giants.

The arc of a life well lived, though, is pretty much what all of us aspire to. Death and decay come to all living things, some in a short time, and some in the span of centuries. It is what it is, and I find myself incredibly grateful for the arc of my own life. It has been filled with thrills and chills, as well as loss and love, but as it continues in my later years, I have a garden to plant today, friends to visit at the coffee shop, and the luxury of a laptop and the ability to create a post out of thin air, with only my mind, heart and soul to guide me.

However it is that I came to enjoy this Sunday morning activity, somehow it's been years now and I'm still creating. My partner lies sleeping next to me, the tea is inevitably gone, and the day beckons. Whatever you find to fill the arc of your life with, I hope today is a high point, or that a spark of enjoyment comes to you somewhere during these hours. Until we meet again next week, I hope you are well and happy. You never know what tomorrow will bring, but today is the only present we have. Blessings from my little corner of the world.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Becoming older but better

Tulips, sky, tree
Last Monday my friend Judy and I headed off to the Tulip Festival in Skagit County, something we've done many times before. This is the latest I've been to visit the tulips and we were still early, with the majority of the tulips either at the beginning of their bloom, or not even open yet. It didn't rain on us, but it threatened to all day, giving us plenty of dramatic shots like this one.

We strolled through the gardens and enjoyed the early morning light playing on the tulips. W arrived at the tulip gardens just at the gates opened to the public, and perhaps fifty people where there with us. By the time we left, just after noon, there were long lines waiting to get in, even on a weekday, the Monday after Easter. I was really surprised, but it was partly because we've had so much rain lately that I think people were doing just what I was: taking advantage of a break in the weather.

I'm really getting tired of the incessant rain, and that's saying something. I can usually do just fine with a bit of rain, but we have had the wettest winter since I moved here almost a decade ago. I've learned to enjoy and appreciate the rain, the cool and glorious summers, and the lovely change of the seasons. In Colorado, where I used to live, sunshine was a given on the vast majority of days year round. When we moved here, it was wonderful to enjoy the difference. But this year, I'm ready for a change from dreary skies and mud puddles.

One thing I've learned to do well is exercise in the rain. My closet is filled with rain gear of every sort, and I make use of it all: raincoats, rain hats, rain pants, gaiters, waterproof boots and walking shoes, you name it, I've got it. One thing I am not willing to do is stay inside because of the rain, as I am one of those people who is addicted to exercise. It turns out that this may be a really good thing to be addicted to.

Recently I read an interesting New York Times article about how to become a superager. A "superager" is defined as someone whose cognitive brain functions remain youthful, rather than declining, in old age. The author of the article, Lisa Feldman Barrett, studies superagers to figure out what makes them different from other people. It turns out that part of the difference is the degree of effort they expend, either physical or mental, helps to keep the brain from deterioration. From that article:
The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment.
I have experienced that "yuck factor" of having pushed myself to my physical limits on many a hike with my fellow Senior Trailblazers. It never occurred to me that it might be good for my brain to do so, but it seems to be the case. I'm hoping that in pushing myself I'll keep my mental faculties sharp (or sharper than they would be otherwise). I doubt that I'll be solving many math puzzles or taking up tournament bridge, because I don't have the desire to do so. The article, though, closes with this intriguing line:
If people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it. So, make a New Year’s resolution to take up a challenging activity. Learn a foreign language. Take an online college course. Master a musical instrument. Work that brain. Make it a year to remember.
The one thing that really scares me about getting older is losing my memory. I follow a couple of bloggers who are dealing with dementia or Alzheimer's with their life partners, and their struggles are very enlightening. How would I deal with it? In this country we don't offer many options for our loved ones, other than caring for one's spouse at home, or eventually sending them to a nursing home until they finally pass away. Anybody who has been to a nursing home knows how awful they can be, although they vary in quality, often depending on what one can pay.

Recently I have been following Carole, who writes about her struggles with her husband's dementia on her blog, One of Life's Little Surprises. She is a gifted writer who brings to life the daily difficulties that she faces. At the end of this month, she has an intake session with a gerontologist, and I hope that there will be some medication that might make Carole's life a bit easier. I can't help but put myself in the same situation she's in, because it just might happen, either to me or to my own partner. What would I do? I used to think it was easier for the person who is mentally slipping away, but her blog has convinced me otherwise. It's hard no matter which side you're on in this awful scenario.

Years ago, I mentioned to my regular doctor at my checkup that I was concerned about forgetting things, about whether my cognitive decline was normal or not. She gave me a series of tests to see how I did, and I was surprised by some of the questions she asked. One thing she did was to recite to me a list of five things and asked me to remember them for later. I was able to recall four of the five at the end of the session, but it surprised me how hard it was to dredge them up out of my memory, after only a few minutes. She showed me a picture of a clock and asked me to tell her what it was by the hands of the clock. The hardest of all, for me, was to count backwards from 100 by 7. That was so hard for me that I went home and figured out how to do it: I could count backwards by 10 (easy) and then add 3. Not that it did any good for the test at the moment I was taking it.

She told me that, although I did have some problems, basically my memory seemed intact. It was a relief, but now it's been more than a decade and I figure I should probably do those tests again. I'll bet they are available online somewhere or other. It is hopeful to me to remember some of the difficult hikes I've been on lately and think that maybe they are benefitting me in ways I couldn't even imagine. Now that I think about it, all of my hiking buddies are pretty sharp mentally; maybe it's a side effect of our trudging up a mountainside, grumbling all the while.

One thing is certain: that every day that goes by is one more day to either enjoy one's life or experience regret for not having lived it to the fullest. I intend to spend some time every day giving thanks for all that I have received, and spend some time spreading it around. I do hope that you realize your own importance to your loved ones, and I'm hoping you count me among your virtual family. I certainly feel that way about you, dear reader.

Another post written, another day about to begin. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week.