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, November 19, 2017

Go outside and play

My current favorite book
When I was a little girl, I often heard the admonishment from my mother to "go outside and play." She wanted to be by herself, or she had a project that she couldn't do with me and my sister underfoot, so we were told to find something to do that would give her some time and not have to worry about us. My sister and I would often take our dolls (when we were very young) and play with them in the back yard, pretending to be grownups with babies of our own.

Now that I am old, I still find myself wanting to play in the outdoors. Mama was right that it was a good thing to do. I have vague memories of coming inside after a day of play, grimy with dirt under my fingernails and having my hands scrubbed clean so I could sit down at the dinner table and be presentable. Well, I have learned from the book in the above picture that the earlier activity has carried me into my later years with a healthy love of the outdoors. Early next year, I will have been retired from my career for a decade, ten years of life lived without the structure of a job.

And what have I done with the time? As many of you know, I am not comfortable without some kind of structure, so I created my own daily routine, and I've been very happy inside of it. I wake early, as I did when I was working (it's 5:30am as I write this) and start my day by getting a cup of tea and climbing back into bed, propped up so I can read and write on my laptop as my partner continues to sleep next to me. He's late to bed and late to rise, but I find that it's not the same when he decides (as he occasionally does) to get up while I'm sitting here tapping away. I miss his presence, even if he's not actually conversing with me. Our connection is strong even in silence.

The reason I have introduced you to the book above, Aging Well, is that I've been reading it for quite awhile now. I have it on my Kindle and when I climb into bed at night, I open it and read a bit until I feel ready to snuggle under the covers and fall asleep. Rarely do I read for more than a few minutes, but sometimes I get pulled in and end up reading a little longer. The last few nights I have actually been looking forward to reading more; he tells stories throughout the book about people who have found ways to have satisfying and healthy lives well into their ninth decade. I'm currently reading the chapter on retirement. He suggests that there are four things we need to be happy in these later years.

(1) A social network. Once we leave our work life, he says, we need to replace our work mates, those we spent time with daily, with others we can interact with in meaningful ways. I realize that the world of the Internet has helped me to develop interests that I would not otherwise have been exposed to. Blogging is a fantastic social network, for me at least. And (dare I say it?) Facebook.

(2) Rediscover how to play. He suggests that "play provides a wonderful magic that is especially suited to retirement, for play permits a person to maintain self-esteem while giving up self-importance." And as you know about me, I'm particularly happy to go outside and play, gathering what I will need for a day outside in the wilderness with my other retired friends.  I also enjoy heading off to the movies with my friend Judy, or playing word games with my partner. Anthropologist Melvin Kohner points out that "play is an expenditure of energy that is both pleasurable and impractical."

(3) Creativity. When we are busy earning a living, it's not always possible to allow ourselves to be creative. When I first read this, I didn't actually think I am a very creative person. However, he explains that being creative means bringing something to the world that didn't exist before. It could be something as simple as cooking something new, or taking out watercolors and painting a picture. He says in the book, "Talent is just as important to 78-year-old Mary creating plum jam for the admiration of her doctor as it was to 80-year-old Georgia O'Keeffe in her studio eliciting admiration from thousands."

(4) Lifelong learning. The author suggests that to have a happy retirement, one needs to keep on learning new things. Learning about the world around us can continue whether or not one has much income. I make use of my library to read all the books I want, on every subject that appeals to me, and it costs me nothing. Obviously, this current book appealed to me because I am in the process of finding out ways to make the best of the years I have left. Recently I spent a good deal of time reading about cataract surgery and have learned plenty.

I spend a good deal of my daily activity reading, either online or hand-held books. I love the feel of a book in my hand, and as I was writing about the four activities above, I felt constrained by the fact that I had no actual book to refer to, as I own it electronically and had to keep reopening the device and scrolling back and forth looking for what I had previously read.

There's plenty more in the book that I found of interest, but mostly I find it comforting to learn of so many other people who have found joy and satisfaction in their later years. It's not much fun to think that one might not have the guidepost of fellow travelers on this journey, and every time I discover that I am not alone in my quest, it feels good. Plus, this author has a few other books for me to read.

Once I am finished with this book, though, I'll probably return to one of my spiritual books to give myself something to read before I fall asleep. They don't hold my interest nearly as well as this one has, so they last longer. I find myself happy to have something uplifting to ponder as I tuck myself into bed at night.

We've got another rainy period ahead, with lots of snow falling in the High Country, while we get the wet stuff down here. The skies will be grey and the days are short at this time of year, so finding a way to be comfortable with it all means that I won't be going outside to play much right now. It's all right, though, because I've got plenty to keep me occupied. I do hope that you will spend the next week doing something that gives you pleasure, too. For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful day with lots of good food to enjoy. We'll be having our traditional salmon dinner, compliments of my fisherman friend. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Dream a little dream with me

A beautiful purple sunset
I found this lovely picture while I was perusing Earthsky News. Graham Telford captured this sunset while he was fishing at Stainforth, a village in the United Kingdom. I subscribed to the website awhile back and enjoy seeing what's happening in the sky, and every day they have a different image to delight their readers. Between this blog and Astronomy Picture of the Day, I start every morning with a look at something that gives me perspective beyond my own little corner of the world.

Thank you to everyone who left such thoughtful comments on this blog last week. I was a little bit startled by the wonderful advice I received, since I can never predict what will come out of my fingers when I sit down and begin, as I am right now. And to have struck a chord that resonated with so many of you that caused you to open up your hearts, well I am just grateful to have found this connection with you. I am not likely to repeat the endeavor today, because now I'll be trying too hard, and that will spoil it. They come when they come, and I have to be content with that.

Tomorrow I have the pre-op appointment with the doctor who will be performing the cataract surgery on my first eye, the "bad" one that is already missing vision. Although I've researched how the surgery affects AMD (age-related macular degeneration), I know that it's unpredictable, but in most cases the effect of allowing more light into the eye helps, at least for awhile. AMD is progressive, and the sight that I've lost will not be returned. I wonder, though, if it will make the vision loss more pronounced or not. Whatever, I'll be glad when the surgery is behind me. Then I will know in no uncertain terms.

Last night I had very vivid dreams, and I woke at one point realizing that I had raised my hand to answer a question that someone in the dream had asked. It was enough to wake me from the dream, to realize that I'd actually moved a part of my body in response to a dream sequence. I've never been a sleepwalker, but I figure that must be how it works: you are fast asleep and acting out the dream. Sometimes I have awakened and realized that I was so involved in a dream that it felt incredibly real. It reminds me of a time when I had (in my dream) been laughing with my mother, one of those belly laughs that you can't help but respond to, and I laughed hard enough to wake myself up. The feeling I had from that dream stayed with me throughout the day. I found this fascinating information about sleepwalking and dreaming after a quick search:
As far as we can tell, sleepwalking occurs because two parts of the brain are "awake" at once. The first is the part that is meant to be percolating while people are asleep. It's not the part that vividly dreams. Sleepwalkers don't walk during REM sleep, but about half an hour before they enter REM sleep. The second part of the brain kept awake is the motor cortex. 
It's from a longer article called "How Can Dreams Control Your Body?" and is an interesting read. One of the reasons that it takes me so long to write these Sunday morning posts is that I keep getting sidetracked into articles like that one. At any rate, vivid dreams do seem to come to me more often when I've got something on my mind, like the upcoming surgery. Maybe it's a way I use to come to terms with it. I found a quote from Gloria Steinem that says "Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning." I like that idea: that I am in the process of planning for a really good outcome. The strange thing for me about dreams, though, is their total unpredictability and inability to manage them.

That reminds me that years ago I got a book about Lucid Dreaming, which gives the dreamer some tools to use in order to direct one's dreams. I got about halfway through the book and, after trying some of the methods to direct my dreams, I lost interest. It didn't seem to work for me, although I think there are plenty of people who can make use of lucid dreaming, I'm not one of them.  For one thing, I sort of enjoy drifting off to sleep and allowing the dreams to come to me, not actually go looking for them. I don't always remember my dreams, but often enough to look forward to them. I rarely have unpleasant ones.

Although it's been years now since I've made a skydive, the experience is so ingrained in me that I often still dream about it. I suppose that having accumulated the equivalent of more than two days in freefall might explain why it actually feels comfortable to think of being there again. Sometimes I dream of flying, which is a similar feeling to freefall of being weightless and free to navigate the skies. Of course, in freefall you are also flying in a vertical perspective. Those wing suit fliers actually go farther horizontally than they do vertically. Eventually, though, they have to land, and hopefully they've got some sort of parachute over your head when they do.

I loved my pretty parachutes. I think I have owned more than half a dozen over the years, not because I wore them out, but because I was interested in trying different ones. I finally found the perfect (for me) canopy and was mostly sad when I retired that I wouldn't be flying it any more. I don't miss packing it back into the container at all. In fact, the last time I packed it, I threw my back out and realized that maybe it was time to stop. I had done everything I ever hoped to accomplish in the skydiving world, and although there are plenty of seventy-year-olds still going strong, I decided it was time for me to stop before I hurt myself.

I do still fly my parachute in my dreams, though. Now that I am a retired skydiver, those adventures still come to me unbidden at irregular intervals. Between belly laughs with my mother and zooming around in the sky under my parachute, my dreams give me plenty of enjoyment as I snuggle under the covers on cold winter nights. I do hope you will have some sweet dreams yourself.

With that,  I realize that I've accomplished it once again: I've written another blog post. This one happens to be #419. That's a lot of Sundays since I started this blog. I've enjoyed writing almost every one of them, since it gives me a chance to connect with some great people: my wonderful readers. My partner, sleeping next to me, hasn't stirred since I got up to make some tea and get my laptop. I hope he's having a wonderful dream, and I wish you many, many sweet dreams until we meet again next week.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Maintaining positivity

Leaf strewn path in the woods
I had an extra hour of sleep last night because of the time change. I figured I wouldn't be able to stay in bed until my usual time, but I didn't have any problem at all. How is it possible that just a number on a clock can make it likely that I can sleep longer? As usual, it was having to visit the bathroom that finally got me out of my warm cocoon of blankets. After making myself a cup of tea and getting my laptop for the usual Sunday morning writing exercise, I slipped back into the still-warm covers and cast about for the theme of today's post.

A poem of Emily Dickinson's kept going through my head all night long, so I looked it up this morning to see its entirety. The first stanza goes like this:
A loss of something ever felt I—
The first that I could recollect
Bereft I was—of what I knew not
Too young that any should suspect
One of the reasons that I have remembered that poem so much is that first line, where she puts the "I" in the most amazing place, and I have pondered that particular poem many, many times. She is telling (I think) of her first experience of attending a funeral. And now that first line emerges from the depths of my memories, and I think it speaks to me of the gradual loss of sight that I am going through today. Although I keep telling myself I'm reconciled to the AMD (age-related macular degeneration) that is affecting me, I know that I am living that first line: a loss of something ever felt I.

The vision loss is only just beginning, and it doesn't presently affect my ability to drive, read, or basically live my life. The right eye compensates for the missing vision in the left, and although I have "dry" AMD in both eyes, only the left is currently affecting my ability to see. I no longer drive much at night, and I avoid driving in heavy rain because of the glare, but otherwise I can see the oncoming cars and the road just fine. I've started wearing those dark sunglasses over my regular glasses and find that it does help my eyes feel more rested.

That said, I realize that much of my sense of loss comes from the anticipation of greater vision loss, which I know is coming, but it isn't here now. Why do I do that? Why do any of us project our fears into the future and worry about it in the present? It is counterproductive and eats away at my inner peace and contentment. Yesterday I was talking with one of my neighbors about my eyes, and she told me how she and her daughters coped with a particularly difficult period in their lives. Her first husband was unable to find steady work and they ended up moving from place to place every few months. She and her two daughters made a game out of it, and she looks back at that time and realizes that they were happy, in spite of all the chaos of their lives. Her attitude made all the difference.

Just for fun, I researched the question "should you pretend to be happy?" on the internet, and the first thing that came up was an article by Harriet Lerner in which she says this:
Sometimes I encourage my clients to engage in creative acts of pretending, not to run from the truth, but rather to discover new truths. Pretending joy or happiness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, helping us discover or enhance our capacity for these positive feelings.
It reminds me of what my neighbor said: she and her daughters maintained their joy in life during difficult circumstances by encouraging each other to be happy and finding merriment in their predicament. That was a long time ago, and now my neighbor takes great pleasure in her two grandsons. Watching them play together makes me realize that she incorporated delight into herself, and it never seems to leave. She is a pleasure to be around.

I also know that there are many ways to find happiness in even dire circumstances, because I read about examples of this all the time. You would think that I would have perfected the ability to experience loss by now, but of course I haven't. The one thing I do know is that loss is inevitable, but sometimes the loss is not real. Instead, it's a feeling projected from the current moment into an uncertain future.

I'm going to practice Harriet's suggestion of pretending that I'm feeling just fine and see if it makes it any easier to deal with my vision loss. Suddenly I realize that I'm obsessing over it, and that means I'm neglecting the other aspects of my wonderful life that make me happy. Yesterday, SG and I had a disagreement that ended up with both of us talking it out and learning more about how to avoid such problems in the future. When we are at odds, I am really unhappy, as is he, so it's worth it to find a way forward. We always do, because we are both willing to be honest with each other. And with ourselves. I am very fortunate to have found this person to spend my life with. He's sleeping quietly next to me right now, undisturbed by the tapping of the keys on my laptop.

The wind is blowing quite hard outside. I can hear it whistling through some nearby gap, making me aware that it's pretty awful out there right now. We had another round of snow last night, and between the wind and the cold, it is not very inviting, thinking about going outside. But I'll get up and go anyway, because the coffee shop has become my place of conversation and camaraderie. Plus I've arranged to go to the movies with my friend Judy at 10:00am, so I'll just hang out at the coffee shop until it's time to walk to the movie theater. We're going to see that new Christopher Robin movie, which has come to our local independent theater instead of the larger 16-theater conglomerate across town.

I have been a fan of A.A. Milne for a long time, and sometimes I think of Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore as old friends. It will be fun to find out how they came into being. The reviews are sort of middle of the road (some good, some not so good), so my expectations are not high. I'm sure I'll enjoy being with Judy and maybe I'll even treat myself to some popcorn! I'm making good progress on losing those extra pounds and maybe I'll begin to stop being quite so rigid with my food intake. I say that, but then I realize I have allowed myself a bit of chocolate almost every day!

Even though it's not exactly pleasant to think about getting out of this warm bed, I'm going to do it anyway, and start my day thinking happy thoughts and even letting a smile visit my face. I'm going to think about you, my dear readers, doing the same, and in my mind's eye I'm showering you with love and light. Can you feel it yet? I'll keep it up until you do. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Looking for silver linings

Big old golden tree
Those of you who read my other blog might have read the post I wrote this past Friday, about the discovery I made when I went to see the retina specialist. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get the cataract surgery I've been both looking forward to and dreading, scheduled for the end of November. I've been having quite a bit of visual disturbance, flashing lights and blurred vision, especially in my left eye. When I had my eyes checked recently, hoping for a correction to my lenses, I found that cataract surgery would be necessary to improve my vision. But it's not so simple: yes, I can have the cataract surgery, but it's not going to make my vision perfect, by any means.

I learned on Friday that my AMD (age-related macular degeneration) took a pretty dramatic downturn during the past year. The small hole I had in the left macula is now three times as big as it was last year, and cataract removal isn't going to fix it. The doctors don't know why it began to get worse so quickly, because I have the "dry" form, which usually progresses slowly. There's no cure for it. If I had the "wet" form, which means blood vessels are forming in the back of the eye, they could at least treat it. But so far, the vision loss I have is not right in the center of my vision, but a little off to the side and down. That will progress eventually, but for now, I've got 20/30 vision in both eyes.

For those of you who know little about AMD, here's a link to learn more. If you read about it, the series of three pictures of what AMD looks like will give you an idea of what I'm seeing right now. my vision is similar to the middle picture, but the blurred area is to the left of center. My hope is that the cataract surgery will brighten things up a bit, at least. I'm actually growing more comfortable with the fact that my life is not over even if it progresses to the extent in the third picture. One is considered legally blind if your eyesight reaches 20/200. I've got a ways to go.

Okay, now that I've got all that background information out of the way, I'm busy looking for the silver lining in all this. In just a couple of days, I've managed to pass through the first stages of grief and sadness. Of course, I already knew I had AMD, but I didn't have any obvious symptoms and knew I was under the care of some good doctors. There are advances being made with stem cell research, and clinical trials are under way. Who knows what might be discovered in the next few years? I will be watching and reading with interest.

In the meantime, I'll avail myself of low vision aids when necessary, mostly magnifying text so that one can read using peripheral vision. Since right now my central vision is mostly okay, I won't need to do that, just enlarge the text on my devices if necessary to read comfortably. You know, we all lose acuity in many areas (such as vision and thought) as we age, and this is not something as bad as a cancer diagnosis. By the way, my friend Ronni is coping quite well with her pancreatic cancer diagnosis and surgery over the last few months and is now dealing with chemo in a very positive way. You can read about her struggle to regain normal life on her blog here. So if I look at my own predicament through her eyes, I feel very fortunate indeed.
Look at the sparrows; they do not know what they will do in the next moment. Let us literally live from moment to moment. (Mahatma Gandhi)
Yes, it's my ability to think ahead to a dark future that is what bothers me this morning. Right now, this very moment, is pretty darn good. And yesterday, 26 of us ladies gathered to walk in the gorgeous sunlight together, in the crisp cool air of autumn. My knees are in the best shape I remember for many years, and I could walk briskly, if not in the front with the fastest walkers, at least I was in the middle of the pack, feeling the blood pump through my veins as I huffed and puffed with my dear friend Lily by my side. I have already had more love and good fortune in my life than most, so why should I feel depressed?

The only thing the doctor suggested I change in my everyday life right now is to get those over-the-glasses dark wraparound eye coverings so that the amount of sunlight that reaches my eyes is limited. I'm already taking all the supplements and doing everything else that might help, such as eating right and taking fish oil and whatnot. I had a pair of those from long ago, so I dug them out and wore them yesterday in the bright sunlight. Although I have transition lenses and have used them for a long time, they don't work in the car or through other glass, and light leaks around the sides of my glasses as well. It's not known for sure whether or not bright sunlight exacerbates AMD, but it doesn't hurt to try to slow down the progression.

As I grow older, I realize that contentment comes from within and is not predicated on one's situation. In researching all my options about AMD, I learned that Judi Dench suffers from it and is seven years older than me. She still makes movies and copes with her loss of vision with grace. I saw her in her latest movie last week, Victoria and Abdul, and she is delightful in it. The movie could have been better, but she was magnificent as Queen Victoria. As she has said in many interviews, AMD is something you get accustomed to, just like anything else. Everyone approaches adversity in different ways, and I am determined to make the most of every single day I am here on this wonderful planet.

So now you know what's been on my mind this past week, and where I am at this very moment, sitting in the dark with my sleeping partner next to me. There are very few people who are more blessed than I am, with friends and family near and far. The silver lining I see (and will always see) in the loss of my central vision, is that I will always be able to enjoy the feel of the wind in my hair, a walk in the rain, birdsong and love.
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” 

― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream
And so, dear friends, I will leave you with that quote from Shakespeare as I begin my brand-new day with joy and happiness. Please remember to be grateful for all that you have, whether it's exactly what you thought you wanted or not. I will spend this next week doing just that. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Gratitude Sunday

Empty picnic tables at Samish Overlook
I took this picture last Thursday when we started our usual hike at an unusual place (for us). Usually going up to Oyster Dome we begin from the much harder and longer road. This time, we drove most of the elevation gain and were able to make the hike longer or shorter, depending on the weather conditions. Fortunately for us, it was wet now and then but mostly just overcast and cool. We were all prepared with appropriate rain gear, so it ended up being more than seven miles, not too bad at all.

Today I could have a post filled with lamentations and upset, but I had a long conversation with myself last night once I went to bed and waited for sleep to come. A few weeks ago, I wrote about concentrating on things to be grateful for, rather than focusing on all that is wrong with the world. Especially my own little world. So that's what I'm going to do: I'll tell you about what's happening, but from a positive perspective. It's always possible to look on the bright side, and I sure do have plenty to be grateful for.

My eyes. Ever since I went to the eye doctor to get a new prescription to allow myself to see better out of my left eye and discovered that I am in need of cataract surgery, it's been on my mind. People don't just take it for granted when your eye is going to be cut into, but everything I've learned is that it's so commonplace that most people have no adverse effects and wish they had done it earlier. I suffer from AMD (age-related macular degeneration) and so they warned me that my vision would not be perfect after the surgery.

Then a month or so ago, I began to see little flashes of light, always in the same place, a short little burst of vibration that came and went so quickly I could ignore it. It's gotten worse in the last short while, so I called my retina specialist to see if I should come in before my checkup next month. The receptionist reassured me that it's a normal part of aging, but after doing some online research, I called them back again yesterday and left a voice mail to see if I can get in sooner. Although I wasn't looking forward to the cataract surgery, now I'm afraid that I might have to postpone it while other procedures are done on my eye. If you have symptoms like I do, you might want to read up about it here.

I am incredibly grateful to have a retina specialist that I've been seeing for a few years now, and he will be able to tell me what's going on. Being able to see is important to carry out all that I love to do. If I had been born a century ago, I would have simply gone blind and that would be that. I'll keep you apprised of the situation during what I'm beginning to think of as my "season of eyes."

Basic necessities. This is something I take for granted; it's been ages since I've been miserably cold and wet, unless it was on a hike and a situation I chose to be in. There are many people around the world, more all the time, who don't have basic necessities, like food to eat, clean water to drink, and a roof over their heads. Last night, while I listened to the rain fall outside in the dark, I nestled into my warm bed and allowed gratitude to wash over me for the gift of abundance. I truly wish it were possible for everyone everywhere to have what I take for granted. At the very least, I can allow myself gratitude for my good fortune.

Sound body and mind. Anyone who reads my blog knows how important exercise is to me. I am incredibly grateful for a healthy body that allows me to run and jump and play outdoors. Even though I am a septuagenarian and have slowed down considerably from earlier years, I am able to exult in my good health and use the muscles I've got to stride through my days, rather than shuffle carefully from place to place. For the past few years my yoga practice has helped me to stretch and strengthen in ways I thought were behind me. My knees are in better shape than they were a year ago. Right now, I have no pain when traveling up or down steep hills. I thought my future would be all declining health, but it seems I was mistaken.

I had such a good time on Vashon Island, and I learned that my ability to write down my thoughts is growing, rather than shrinking. I just finished Ann Lamott's book Bird by Bird, and I am enthusiastic about developing my own unique voice for the next season of writing. This blog also allows me to stretch myself into new pathways. This wonderful venue allows me to be grateful for a well functioning mind. To know that a new world of creative writing is available to me, well, how can I not be grateful for that?

Friendship. Now that is a big topic, but one that makes a huge difference in my life. As I sit here in the dark with my laptop casting a dim light around the room, my partner asleep next to me, it is such a comfort just to share my life with such a good person. The coffee shop that beckons me is filled with familiar people whom I care deeply about. It's so wonderful to walk into the Y and see familiar faces and be greeted with smiles as I chat with my fellow exercise junkies about their lives. Many are acquaintances who might develop into friends outside of the gym. That's how I met my friend Judy years ago: in an exercise class, and we went out for coffee afterwards. The beginning of a deep friendship. Today we'll meet at the local independent theater to watch a documentary together. I am thankful for the friendships I've developed since moving to the Pacific Northwest nine years ago.

Technology. Although technology allows me to be grateful for it all the time, it's become so pervasive that I must step back and take a look at how much it's changed the way we do things. This past week I spoke for a couple of hours with my sister on FaceTime, laughing and sharing with each other in ways that were impossible just a few decades ago. I carry my smartphone with me all the time, not only to count my steps, but also to help me to stay connected to the wider world. In my pocket, I have a device that contains the world's entire store of knowledge, a conduit to the latest news, a quick check of the weather conditions to come, a place to keep a grocery list at my fingertips, and much, much more. Wow! How can one not be grateful for all that? Of course, it's not without some drawbacks. I try not to become one of those people I see on the bus who don't look up from their phones for the entire journey. It's important to enjoy the present moment.

Well, that's five bits for my Gratitude Sunday. I could go on and on, but you get the gist. Every single one of those items would be enough for any one of us to expand upon in our own lives for many more paragraphs, but it's time for me to wrap this up for today. Hopefully there will be many more Gratitude Sundays in our lives for us to appreciate. I hope you will find your own gratitude with your loved ones, and I leave you with Mary Oliver, once again.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
Until next week, be well, my dear friends.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Reflections on life


Flaming trees and me
Yesterday on the walk with the ladies, we saw this beautiful tree, which was even more beautiful than the picture shows. I had walked up to see if I could see where the other ladies had gone, as we were all in the back of the group, snapping pictures and taking our time. When I saw that the others were waiting for us, we hurried to join them. It was a lovely morning and, as I've said often, a wonderful way to begin the weekend.

Some of the ladies are still working, but it's been almost a decade since I retired and moved to this part of the country. Had I remained in Colorado, I can see what my life would have looked like through my Facebook friends who still live in Colorado, and it's beautiful pretty much everywhere right now, except of course in California, where the fires rage on. The natural disasters that have been occurring on a regular basis now are truly difficult for me to wrap my head around. Has it always been like this and I'm just paying more attention right now? Or is it the constant drip, drip, drip of catastrophes that are wearing me down?

I consider myself a native Californian, since I was born there and spent many years of my life in the Fairfield area. My dad was stationed at Travis Air Force Base, which I just now discovered after checking out the website for the town of Fairfield, is its largest employer. He went through training to become a navigator on air refueling jets while there, and we spent more years at that place in California than many places he was stationed at afterwards. I think of it as my childhood home, although we moved often, even back then.

We were there when the B-29 crash happened that killed nineteen people. I found on Wikipedia that it happened in August 1950, when I would have been seven years old. I slept right through it, and it must have made a tremendous sound, since a huge crater was created from it. I found this on that website:
About 20 minutes after the crash, the high explosives in the bomb detonated, spreading wreckage and burning fuel over a 2-square-mile (5.2 km2) area. The explosion blew a crater in the ground 20 yards (18 m) across and 6 feet (1.8 m) deep. ... Only in 1994 was it revealed that an atomic bomb was involved, when an interview with Holsey was published posthumously. The Mark 4 nuclear bomb contained a depleted uranium tamper as well as radioactive material inside the electronics making up the arming and firing circuits.
 Yikes! Needless to say, it could have been much, much worse. The air base was renamed after General Travis, who died on the plane. That link is fascinating, to me at least, to find out exactly what happened when I was a child. I do remember my parents asking me when I woke that morning if I was all right. Another one of those memories that must have remained because of the emotions generated through fear and anxiety, even though they were not my own emotions. I must have realized how bad it was for them to be so worried. Who knows? My sister Norma Jean was only five, but I suspect she remembers the details better than I do; she always does.

Although Fairfield is not on evacuation orders right now, it's on high alert, as the fires continue to burn in the entire area. As of this morning, 41 people in northern California are confirmed dead, and more than 5,700 buildings are gone. Most of them were homes, and I suspect that the death toll will climb. It's heartbreaking to imagine what those who survived are going through right now. I have stopped reading articles and news flashes about the fires, because it's not doing me any good at all to sit in front of the TV and weep.

My memories of Fairfield are almost all very positive ones. I started school there, and I still remember a few childhood playmates. A few years ago I wrote a post that included a picture of an elementary school class. So many of those young children are still present in my memories, although I cannot recall the name of even one of them. I wonder where they are today, if they are still alive. I realize that when one reaches the venerable age of 75 that many who started the journey with you are no longer around. But I still am, and my sister is, too. Somehow we became elderly while we weren't paying attention.

Some of my blogging friends grew up their entires lives in one place, and they remember much more of their childhood than I do, since we were constantly picking up and moving on. Fairfield, however, holds a very special place in my mind and heart. I don't think I would like to return there, since nothing would be familiar any more. As an adult, I lived for many years in Sacramento and worked for the Department of Education. I could probably return there and discover many places that are the same, but even so, I don't think I will return for a trip through Memory Lane. They exist in much more detail and more perfectly in the memories I carry inside my heart.

In a few weeks, we'll have another time change, this one where we gain back the hour that was snipped from the morning hours so that we could have an extra hour of sunlight at the end of the day. This ridiculous activity will cause me some disruption as we return to Pacific Standard Time for four months before the whole thing starts over again. I think Arizona made the right choice; they don't change. I found this article on USA Today that explains why:
For a half century, Arizona — but not including the Navajo reservation — has refused to perform the standard-to-daylight-saving-and-back-again dance. In 1968, the state Legislature decided it was best for Arizona to opt out of the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which mandated the saving of daylight.
I wish we would all stay on one or the other. Once we return to standard time in early November, the sun will be setting before 5:00pm and those who work all day long will leave the office to get home in the dark. Sigh. It makes less and less sense to me as I get older. And I hear the grumblings of others about how much they dislike it, too, so I know I am not alone. But I'm not capable of changing it, so I suppose I should just stop complaining. I found it curious (in that article above) that the Navajo reservation observes DST. Must be interesting to go from one time zone to another if you live close to the reservation. Wonder if their smartphones keep up? Now that's worth a smile.

I have just traveled through many time zones in my head, and it's getting to be time to wrap up this post. It's still dark outside and will be for a bit longer, and I'll do my exercises and head to the coffee shop before too long. Partner sleeps quietly next to me, and the tea is long gone. My Sunday morning routine is back in full swing, and it feels really good to me. As a treat to myself on Friday, I bought the latest compilation of Mary Oliver's poems. She selected what she considered to be the best from her many years of work. I will leave you with one that brings me joy every single time I read it.
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled / After a night of rain. / I dip my cupped hands. I drink / a long time. It tastes / like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold / into my body, waking the bones. I hear them / deep inside me, whispering, / oh what is that beautiful thing / that just happened?
May you find that water and drink of it yourself, dear reader. I am happy to be on this journey called life with you and all my dear friends and family. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sunday at Vashon

Potting shed at Lavender Farm
I arrived here on Wednesday afternoon, after a harrowing trip from Bellingham south through Seattle's awful traffic, with Siri as my only companion in the rented car I was driving. I couldn't have made it more than a few miles past Everett without my trusty phone talking to me. If only she knew how to make me calm down and stop gripping the steering wheel tightly every time a huge monster truck roared past. Eventually I made it to the ferry that would take me to Vashon Island and the others who were waiting for me to arrive on the island. And then the ordeal was over: I joined my familiar fellow writers for the beginning of our five-day writing retreat.

And already it's almost over. Our last full day before heading back to our respective homes, and I've been filled with many new avenues to pursue with my writing, although I've also been here before: ready to tackle whatever seems to be calling me, and then... nothing. Just falling back into the comfortable routine I've created for myself in Bellingham. Writing on my blogs, taking pictures, hiking with the Trailblazers on Thursdays, riding the bus to the Y for my daily workouts. And before long, only a slight sense of guilt remains about all those plans I had made to change things up.

This is our last year, in this format at least. We have shrunk over the five years from six to four, and although last year we resisted adding another person to our group, now it seems that we have accomplished all we set out to do as a group. We didn't start as a writing circle that first year, but met as fellow bloggers, who were approached by Linda, the person responsible for this happening. She researched online and found a place with six bedrooms that we could afford. And on Vashon Island, at that! Sally lives in Colorado, with a necessary plane trip to get here, and she was the first to drop out. Then this year Linda decided that she needed to make a change in her life, so she opted not to come either. For one thing, that meant I would have to drive myself here, as I had always carpooled with Linda from her home in Brier. Sandi and Deb live near each other (although in different towns) and have traveled here together every year. Jann lives in a small town in Oregon and has made the five-hour journey herself, except for the initial first year when she, Linda, and I carpooled together and picked up Sally at the airport on our way to the ferry.

As the years have passed, many of us have changed our ideas of what we want to do with our time here. We changed from three days to five, and instead of just gathering for the fun of it, we decided three years ago to have Deb, a facilitator trained in the Amherst Writers and Artists Method, direct our time together doing creative writing. One year, we invited Linda Reeder, who lives in Seattle, to spend an evening with us, and for that one time we were seven. It's been an interesting and rewarding journey.

I had never before experienced such a way of writing. All of it in longhand and not on our laptops, and being given a prompt by Deb, which we could use in whatever way we chose, for a set period of time, varying from five minutes to twenty. Then we shared our writing with the others and received positive feedback, what we liked, what worked for us, how we felt about the piece, always positive. It's a magical way to learn how to stretch one's writing muscles, I've found. Everything written is treated as though it is fiction, although many times we are writing about ourselves and our lives. I highly recommend this method and will, if nothing else, look for other ways to grow in my writing life.

That's what I've learned, but the most important lesson of all: who these wonderful women are, having laughed and cried together, and explored some of the most vulnerable corridors in our hearts and minds with one another. I will miss these October gatherings.

Learning to let go and let change come into my life, that's one of the hardest things I must allow myself to experience at this crossroad. I'm five years older now, but I see that the essence of who we are has not changed. Some of us have grown stronger in writing, and others have continued to develop already strong writing skills, but we have all grown closer to each other.

I'm the only one of us who continues to blog on a regular basis, and I have learned from them that there are plenty of other avenues for writing that I might explore. The desire to write fiction has emerged even stronger this year, and together we explored some avenues I might use to develop that desire further. I hope I do it, but I'm also learning that I cannot continue to "push the river" and must learn to allow life to shape me in its own way. We'll see where this all goes.

So, on this dark morning, without my partner, without my familiar surroundings, I feel happy to be here, but also happy to think about going home to my love and to my own life. I hope that this week will find you also happy to be carried along with the universal forces that guide us in ways we cannot even begin to understand. Be well until we meet again next week, dear readers.
Deb, Linda, me, Sally, Sandi, Jann
Five years ago

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October already

Boats in the bay
Yesterday when I woke to intense rain on the roof, I was afraid that we ladies would be walking in it, but it stopped by 7:00am and the skies began to clear. For most of the walk we had blue skies, but then it began to cloud up again, and by noon, it was raining. For the past couple of days, we've had intermittent clouds and rain, a sign that fall is definitely here. Thursday was our last summery day, I suspect.

It amazes me how quickly the weather changes. Thursday was sunny and hot; Friday and Saturday cooling a little each day, rain clearing the air, and then last night having the outside temperature fall enough to become downright chilly. Our windows are closed up instead of wide open, and although I haven't had to turn on the heat yet, it's coming soon. I kind of like this time of year.

Today I want to talk about karma. If you're not familiar with the Sanskrit word, it explains how our actions affect us, according to many Asian religions. From that link:
[Karma] refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering. 
I have heard that word often lately, since I recently had a car accident where I was rear-ended. I wrote about it here, so I won't go into the details this minute, but suffice it to say that I think I might have earned myself some good karma. Some of my friends think maybe I've made a mistake, but I don't think so: I am not going to contact the insurance company of the other party involved, since they are a commercial operation and would have to pay for it with higher premiums. Instead, they have agreed to cover all the costs of repair and also pay for me to rent a car for two weeks.

A while back I wrote here about the Five Buddhist Remembrances, which remind me of how there is really very little that we can take with us on our journey through life. Our health, youth, friends and family, these will all pass away, and our actions are our only true belongings. The consequences of our actions cannot be escaped, and therefore it seems to me it's good to build up some good karma.

I've known about the concept since I was a hippie living in California in a commune. I don't think I've mentioned this time in my life before, but it was very instrumental in shaping my worldview. I had emerged from my third divorce, and my son's father took Chris to live with him and his wife, since I was in a precarious place in my own life. Although previously Chris had visited him every summer and every other major holiday and lived with me the rest of the time, I had not insisted that his father pay the child support he owed me. In order for him to get Chris to live with him, Derald (Chris' father and my first husband) had to pay the back child support, which amounted to several thousand dollars.

Suddenly, I was without my teenage son and had money in the bank. I promptly quit my job and moved into a hippie community and became what we referred to back then as a "drop out" from regular life. The big old mansion where the community lived had dozens of bedrooms, even a ballroom in the basement, and I had to be voted into the 21-person community in order to join. It also had a huge kitchen, and everyone shared duties to make sure the place worked. Twice a week we gathered in the evenings to share concerns and make sure everyone was engaged in constructive activities to make our community successful. It was an eye opener for me. This all happened in the early to mid-1970s.

During this period, I really let myself go. I stopped wearing bras and gained a good deal of weight. I wore long hippie dresses and Bibb overalls, like all the other women who didn't work outside of the House. I went to plenty of concerts with the likes of the Grateful Dead and others, since we were only an hour away from San Francisco and traveled there in our big van. I remember that life with fond memories, and I learned about Sufi dancing (which took place in our ballroom) and Buddhist concepts, including karma. It actually became, I realize now, part of my most basic beliefs.

Over the years, I have seen karma in action, and it's become part of today's culture, with many of us hearing about good or bad karma without actually thinking about what it means. But I do believe that it's important to add good karma to the world. After my accident and telling people about it, I heard several stories of fake whiplash incidents when other people were hit from behind. I also heard some horror stories about dealing with insurance companies. I called my own insurance company to tell them about the accident and my desire to deal with it privately, and once I explained my reasons, my insurance agent registered the event in my records and left it at that.

On Tuesday, I will get my car over to the auto shop and will pick up a rental car. I'm looking forward to having another car to drive, an automatic, which makes me feel better about the long drive through Seattle traffic to catch the ferry to Vashon Island. Wednesday through Sunday I will be back at the Lavender Farm home for our sixth writing retreat. It will probably be our last, too, since we lost another Vashonista this year and the rental is a bit on the expensive side for the four of us. So I will make the best of it and enjoy myself with my dear blogging friends.

One of my friends pointed out to me when relaying the events of the accident that "kind people get taken advantage of" and that it might happen in a way that I don't anticipate. But that's the nature of life, isn't it? When I wrote about the hippie commune, I reflected on all the events that had to happen for me to end up right here in Bellingham. All the twists and turns of life's adventures brought me to this moment, with me sitting here in the dark, tapping keys on my laptop, and my dear partner still sleeping, as usual. A wise unknown person once said this about karma:
Whatever you give to life, it gives you back. Do not hate anybody. The hatred which comes out from you will someday come back to you. Love others. And love will come back to you.
So here I am, on this dark Sunday morning, reflecting on all the love that surrounds me. I must be doing something right. I hope that you will have a wonderful week, and I'll be writing from my farmhouse bed next Sunday, no partner next to me, coffee instead of tea, and my delightful fellow writers. Until then, be well and remember that we are in this together.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday comes around again

Last tomatoes from the garden
Yesterday I went out to the garden to gather some tomatoes, and here is my harvest. The ones on the vine behind are all pretty much unusable, since we had some cold weather and they withered and wrinkled up. They weren't vary tasty, anyway. I think they were intended to be used for canning. I won't plant them again next year. But the little golden and cherry tomatoes were more than wonderful to make up for it. Lots of Champion tomatoes (the ones in the foreground) are also delightful. I guess my next step is to learn to can my produce.

Most of my gardening neighbors have harvested their plots, except for Lily, who still has fat ears of ripening corn. We almost despaired of any ears emerging, but they finally did, late, and now are awaiting a little bit more time before harvest. It was a pretty good year, a hot dry summer, good for tomatoes. And aphids, which infested much of my kale. I'll have to think about next year's planting, but not now. Soon I'll need to pull out all the plants and get my garden ready for winter. I've been thinking about some different soil amendments that will make my garden more prolific. Some people swear by mushroom compost, which I've used a little, but not enough to make much difference. It sure is nice to ponder next year's garden, though. It will be my sixth and I'd love it to be the best ever.

Everything is back to normal in my sister's home. She's swimming again at the Y every morning, although the golf courses were underwater after Irma, I think even they are ready for use again. But I feel terrible for Puerto Rico and many of the Caribbean islands that were decimated by Hurricane Maria. Three massive hurricanes in such a short period of time, all of them causing untold suffering and anguish. And Mexico! Hit by a third huge earthquake in a few weeks' time. I followed the news about the search and recovery efforts until I couldn't take it any longer. The only thing I can do from here is give a little money to help. I gave to the Red Cross but recently learned that it might not be the best place to donate to. I'll do some more research about it and will let you know what I find out.

I had a couple of evenings of stress eating this past week. I would finish dinner and then rummage around for more to eat, although I wasn't hungry in the least. I just wanted to do something, and that was how it played out. Fortunately for me, we don't have cookies and cakes sitting around, or I would have eaten them. The worst of it has passed, I think, because I know it doesn't really help, and it only makes me feel miserable. I am still getting up every morning and facing the scales, and that is the only thing that keeps me from going off the deep end any further than I already have.

Friendships, and exercise, are all that are keeping me sane. The morass of politics and natural disasters weighs on me and makes me realize that the only thing I can do is take care of myself and my loved ones. And this is something that comes over me every so often, with this time of the year, autumn, being when it creeps up on me and I find myself struggling with depression. And that is in a good year! When the world seems to be crashing down around me, finding ways to cope becomes a full-time activity.

In less than two weeks, I'll be heading off to Vashon Island for my annual writing retreat with dear friends, ones I met through blogging, and I think it will be a time I can possibly find a way to express these feeling in a constructive manner. I keep thinking of writing fiction and creating a couple of characters who can carry away some of these emotions by getting them outside of me. I know it works, but I haven't found the impetus to get started. The writing retreat will help with that, I know. So I look forward to that time.

I struggle with guilt for having these feelings, while other people are struggling just to find shelter and the basic necessities of life. The number of homeless people begging for money on the streets in town has grown every year but seem especially numerous right now, when the weather is changing and they are growing increasingly desperate. There doesn't seem to be anywhere for them to go. What has happened to my country? Why are there so many homeless people?

Perhaps this is the time for me to stop running around in mental circles and try to find a way out of this mindset. After all, I am feeling an obligation not to drag YOU, my dear reader, into this place with me. Okay, I can do this. Let me think on it for a bit.

*   *   *

Well. After a little research on the internet, asking for help to manage anxiety and stress, I found several articles that I stopped to read and ponder. And guess what? Just the activity of doing that has made me feel better. I found this article on 10 Simple Habits to Grow a Positive Attitude, and just reading it made me realize that I do have tools to cope. The first thing on many of these lists is to start keeping a gratitude journal. That's exactly what I intend to do with the rest of this post: write down five things that I feel grateful for every day.

1. My partner. Yesterday he was busy all day making improvements to our home, and I watched with admiration as he got into gear to fix a few small but important things. I feel very blessed that he is in my life. He's right at the center of my gratitude. How wonderful that I have someone to carry the burdens of life along with me. Plus he's got a great sense of humor.

2. A monthly income. Every month I get two deposits into my bank account, one from Social Security and the other from retirement benefits from my three decades of work. I forget how this is beginning to become a rarity for young people. I was forced to contribute to this fund when I was young, but boy am I glad about it today. I am not wealthy, by any means, but we have enough to be comfortable.

3. My health. I am able to hike to beautiful places every single week, year round, with the Pacific Northwest giving me moderate temperatures (mostly) and being close enough to the ocean to walk to it and appreciate its ever-changing beauty. Although I'm in my seventies, I am very grateful for being able to manage my very minor aches and pains.

4. Intellect. I am grateful that I have a mind that works pretty well, even if it is beginning to get more forgetful now and then. It's only the normal aging process, and I can continue to write down my thoughts in a mostly coherent fashion and forget how many people cannot. I have a whole universe of books at my disposal, and I love to read. I just finished Al Franken's latest book and I laughed out loud many times.

5. Friends and family. Gosh, this list could go on forever! How could I forget to be grateful for all the friends I have all over the world? My gratitude for those I see every day and let me know they love me, as well as those whose presence I can feel, even if I don't actually get a chance to visit with them often. They are still there, and I feel my heart expand just to think of them all.

*   *   *

This is simply amazing. The person who began writing this post has transformed herself from being filled with woe to feeling lots of gratitude. Oh, and how could I not mention the Internet, and the wonderful ability I now have to share my thoughts and feelings with so many? Blogging is a blessing, something to be grateful for, isn't it?

And now I feel the urge to start my day, facing those scales with equanimity (well, almost), and getting out into the world so I can laugh and smile and share with my dear friends at the coffee shop. My dear partner is still sleeping, so I will try not to wake him as I get out of bed. We are both still in the process of recovering from flu shots we got this week, but now my arm is only a trifle sore and by tomorrow will be completely healed up. My tea is gone, and you, my dear reader, might take a little time to think of all you have to be grateful for. It was hard to get started at first, but then the floodgates opened and I had trouble stopping at five!

Until we meet again, I hope your week will be filled with joy, gratitude, and blessings of every sort. I will be hopefully having the same benefits in my own week. Be well, dear ones.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Next steps in this thing called life

The Gang of Five
Last week we managed to get all five of the usual suspects together for this picture at the coffee shop. Roger, me, Bob (in front), John, and Gene. Roger has begun to join us now and then, although he's been coming to the coffee shop for ages, only recently has he started to sit with us. He's an interesting fellow and seems to have a limerick for any occasion. Bob runs his own business in town and doesn't come by very often; it had been months since we'd seen him at all. And of course you know the other guys, John and Gene, who along with me form the nucleus of the gang. They add so much enjoyment to my life and I wanted to share this fun picture with you before getting started with the post.

First of all, my sister Norma Jean and her son Peter survived Hurricane Irma in fine shape. Although the mobile home park where she lives was right in the path of the hurricane, by the time it hit, the hurricane had lost most of its punch. The Florida Keys and the Caribbean islands were not so fortunate and were pretty much devastated. So it could have been much worse for us. Some cosmetic damage was all that needed to be repaired, and Peter is taking care of it. Everything has calmed down and I thought I'd make my plane reservations for December, now that I know there's a place to visit.

Then I went last Tuesday for my annual eye appointment and fully expected to get a new prescription for my left eye, which has gotten even worse over the year. Nope. Instead, I will be getting new eyes: I am scheduled for cataract surgery in late November for the first eye, and mid-December for the second one. I won't be finished with the followup appointments until early January. No plane trips for me right now. To say I'm nervous about it is an understatement. I know that usually it's insignificant and no big deal, but sometimes it is. They don't do both eyes at the same time any more, because if you are in the 2% of people who have complications, they don't want you to be blind in both eyes, after all.

Smart Guy had both of his eyes done ten years ago in Colorado. I remember how much he loved being able to see bright colors and have good vision again. He was talked into getting lenses that would allow him to see close up and especially his computer without glasses, and uses corrective glasses for distance. He was very nearsighted and wore glasses for most of his life, and then I got used to seeing him without them, as he doesn't use them at all except for driving. He's been very happy with his eyes and I can only hope for such success for myself.

I've learned that for people with macular degeneration like I have, I won't ever be seeing things perfectly again, but the surgery will allow me to see much better than I do today. So, even though it's scary, I'm looking forward to it with a little excitement and a little trepidation. It's my eyes, after all. One of my hiking buddies is having hers done by the same surgeon a month before mine, so I'll be learning all about her experience before going through it myself. She doesn't have AMD (age-related macular degeneration) like me, though.

In between that surgery and the holidays, I have my annual trip to Vashon Island for the writers' workshop we have there. It will be our sixth gathering, and the group of six became five a few years ago, and this year we will only be four. I suspect this will be our last year, so I want to get the maximum benefit from this one. I started reading "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott, which I downloaded to my Kindle last year after the retreat but never read. Now I am enjoying it tremendously and want to set some goals for my writing. Anne speaks to me me so strongly in this book, not only about writing but also about life in general. She certainly has had an interesting life herself and tells how and why she became a writer. This is a book I'll read again and again.

I go back and forth about whether or not I will decide to write my memoirs (which, in a sense, this blog has become) or whether I'd even like to take on some fiction writing. I've done a little of it, and I find it to be fun, but I'm not really interested in publishing anything for the masses. I know there are people who really want to be published, but I'm not one of them. I know I've got great stories to tell, but this once-a-week writing meditation takes care of that urge, pretty much. Some weeks I've got lots of write about, other weeks it's a struggle just to get started. I vacillate between those two extremes but still never want to miss a Sunday morning sitting in the dim light from my laptop,with my tea, and my partner softly slumbering beside me. Thinking about what might emerge from my mental processes as I sit here tapping on the keys.
We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. (Anne Lamott)
Yep, that pretty much says it all. I'm enchanted with her take on life, and she even makes me consider that I might one day decide to write a novel. One with people I've created from my own imagination and that would go somewhere I've never been. Not that I'm committed to it, but she has helped me to consider it. The one thing I know for sure is that I need my eyes to work properly if I want to continue to read AND write. So both of these issues are tied into the next few months and what will happen: one, the writing retreat, and two, the eye surgeries, in that order.

For a short while during the recent hurricane, I considered that if my sister's mobile home was destroyed, she might decide to move to the west coast and join me by moving nearby. She was considering it, and Peter woke her the morning after the hurricane passed (they were staying in Tampa at her daughter's rented two-story home) and said, "Well, I've got some good news and some bad news." She asked for the good news first. "Our home is still standing." Then she asked for the bad news, and he said, "Our home is still standing."

Unless the Universe arranges something else that might give her another reason to move, she's probably going to stay there in Florida for the rest of her life. I know that when I visit her in that lovely 55-and-over mobile home park, I would probably not leave, either. Her home is paid for, she owns the land underneath it, and her expenses would never again be as low as they are today. Of course, living in Florida during the summer months is no picnic, but she's managed to adapt to it. I, on the other hand, really could never be happy there. No mountains, incredible heat and humidity in the summer, and plenty of traffic and gridlock during the winter when the snowbirds are there.

Nope, I like it here. Maybe the only excursions I'll be taking will be inside my own head. Or no farther away than a ferry ride to an island or a trip across the border to Canada. However, if all goes well, I'll probably visit Norma Jean in January or February when the weather here has turned to all rain. No place is perfect all year round, other than maybe Hawaii, but it's very expensive even to visit.  Oh, well, it's nice to realize that I do have choices, even if I don't make a change.

And you know what? Those guys at the coffee shop are as entertaining and filled with stories as any I might make up. Perhaps the first thing I should start with, if I want to write that novel, is create some characters based on them. They would probably recognize themselves even with different names, I suspect. They're nice guys, though, and would forgive me unless I made one of them into a serial killer (smile).

So that gives me just enough incentive to find a way to finish this post and get up out of bed, dress and do my morning exercises and head off to join them. It's Sunday morning and it's time to share a bagel with John and enjoy a wonderful cuppa. I do hope your day is a good one, and I am so very grateful for you, my dear readers, for joining me here today. Don't forget to give your loved ones a hug, a pet, or a phone call to let them know you're thinking about them. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tough times for so many

Standing in front of a smoky scene
One of my new hiking buddies took this picture of me last Thursday, as we hiked in the usually pristine wilderness on Ptarmigan Ridge. We saw lots of wildlife: mountain goats (too far away for a picture), a huge marmot next to the trail, and a grouse. It was a wonderful hike with new friends, but the lack of any view of our lovely mountains was a bit scary, not to mention tough on the eyes and throat. By now they should be clear again, since we've had a bit of a weather change. We expected much better visibility last week, but the numerous wildfires had different ideas. It's hard to realize that the haze is made up of particulates from forests that are now gone.

It was only a week ago that Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, and I was glued to the TV screen watching the incredible devastation. Some people there have been able to return to a semblance of normalcy as the waters receded, but many are still dealing with flooded homes and horrible damage. Gas prices across the country have risen, with many refineries destroyed, and a bit of panic and hoarding taking hold in the hearts and minds of many.

And now I am once again glued to the TV screen watching the path of Hurricane Irma up the west coast of Florida, where my sister Norma Jean and the rest of her family are hunkered down, hoping to survive the onslaught of that massive storm. She lives (lived?) in a mobile home park, along with thousands upon thousands of seniors in similar 55-and-over communities in Florida, and she was under mandatory evacuation orders. Where are all these people going to live afterwards?

Her daughter Allison was renting a home in the Tampa area before leaving last week for Washington, DC, with her two children. Norma Jean and her son Peter and their two dogs have taken refuge in the large two-story home that is hopefully going to be safe from the wrath of this storm. Peter has boarded up the windows, and it seems that they will be much better off there. She doesn't expect her mobile home to survive, though. And now the storm's path has Tampa in its sights. Norma Jean's home is a 45-minute drive northeast in Zephyrhills.

As I write this, the hurricane has made landfall in the Florida Keys, after having flattened several Caribbean islands, some of which have still not been heard from, as all power and electricity is gone. And this is the current projected path of the hurricane up Florida's west coast:
As of this morning, 10 Sept 2017
Tampa has not been hit by a major hurricane in a century, and so much infrastructure will be gone, probably for good. The feeling I have in the pit of my stomach is caused by the anxiety I feel, not only for my loved ones, but for all that will be irrevocably changed by this catastrophe. Just a couple of days ago, I was making plans to visit my sister for my annual December trip, but then I realized that I have no idea where she will be at that time. When I think of the wonderful Betmar Acres where she lived, I wonder what will survive. Zephyrhills lies a little inland, but it might not matter much, considering the size of this storm. Hurricane Irma is larger than the entire width of the state. What happens to the wildlife?

I read an article this morning on the New York Times entitled, "Apocalyptic Thoughts Among Natures Chaos? You Could Be Forgiven." Indeed. With the wildfires raging around me, the hurricanes in the south, earthquakes in Mexico, and the current political climate with North Korea and more—well, yeah. There's a good reason for me to feel so emotional about it all.

But, but, but. There is so much more to life than focusing on current and anticipated disasters. Everybody may be affected, if not directly, then by our anxious concern. But those of us out of harm's way get to choose how we spend our time. I'm sitting here writing my Sunday post, with no disasters lurking (that I know of, anyway), and although I want to get up and turn on the TV and see what is happening out there, I am not required to do anything more. Perhaps the right thing to do right now, for me at least, is to take care of my own immediate family and loved ones. That includes you, so my attention turns to how to aim my thoughts in a positive direction, so that we can feel uplifted instead of downcast. It will help me, too.

Okay, here goes: yesterday it rained all day long and I rejoiced in the unaccustomed experience. Yes, I know I complain about rain sometimes, but after two long dry months and all that smoke in the air, I was thrilled to see the skies change. Today I will take a nice walk along the boulevard and enjoy looking at the sky, the bay and all the birds. Some of them seemed to hide during the smoky skies. A friend mentioned to me she hadn't seen an eagle in weeks and wondered if they are bothered by the smoke, too. I really don't know, but today we will all have a respite from it.

I had lunch yesterday with a couple of friends, one of whom is visiting from the East. I hadn't seen her in two years, although we all look pretty much the same. She is doing a lot of traveling and having adventures. I realize I'm glad for her but am not needing to travel or have any adventures myself. I'm happy to have my life, my routine, and my dear partner and need little else to be happy. I have my yoga, the gym life that I love, and plenty of time in the outdoors. I can stride down the street without too many aches and pains, and those I do have I consider badges of honor for my almost eight decades of life.

Which reminds me: I have a big birthday coming up in December and will be rewarded by receiving a free bus pass! Once you reach 75, the city of Bellingham gives you a Gold Pass, never having to buy another quarterly bus pass. Instead I will flash my cool card as I board the bus. Also, I will see the eye doctor on Tuesday and will get a new prescription for my aging eyes. Maybe I will have graduated to finally being eligible for cataract surgery. These days it's such a relatively easy procedure that I look forward to it. SG had both eyes done before we moved from Colorado, and he's been very happy with his "new" eyes. Every year I think I'll be ready to receive it myself, but so far my cataract has not yet "ripened."

So, I have definitely found some ways to consider my good fortune and although I will rush to the TV not long after I finish this post, to see what's happening with the storm, I will also make my way to the coffee shop to visit with my friends there, and then venture out for a nice walk to Bellingham Bay under partly cloudy but clean skies, with pretty puffies to admire and cooler temperatures.

Life is good right here, right now. And I have now finished my tea, partner still sleeping quietly next to me, and the day beckons. I do hope you, my dear readers, are out of harm's way, and that you will find your own loved ones to hug and appreciate, as I do you. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Anniversaries and snakes

Me in front, SG behind
I love this picture of SG and me coming in for a landing under our pretty Stiletto parachutes at Skydive Snohomish. It was taken a few years ago and still gives me lots of pleasure to think back on those days. On September 1st, he celebrated the anniversary of his first-ever skydive. It was 55 years ago! It certainly wasn't under a parachute like one of these, but an ancient round version. He also didn't have his reserve parachute mounted behind like we do today; piggyback containers didn't appear until much later. His reserve was mounted on his belly and the gear was massively heavy! I didn't start skydiving until 1990, when the equipment was much lighter and everything had developed to be more appealing to someone like me. I've never made a jump on a round, but he has thousands of them.

Today is the anniversary of my first skydive, 27 years ago. It was a tandem jump and I thought it would be the only one I'd ever make. But I got hooked by the sensation of freefall. I've said it before: until you have experienced what it's like to be in freefall, there's no way to adequately express it. It feels like you are weightless as you plummet towards the earth. When you leave the airplane at 13,000 feet (around 4,000 meters) above the ground, it's WAY down there, and you see mostly sky. As you fall, the horizon gets closer and the ground begins to come up to meet you. At about 5,000 feet, it's half sky and half horizon, and then the ground really begins to come up quickly. I wore a device near my ear that would audibly warn me at 5,000 (time to finish playing in the air), 3,000 (time to pull your parachute) and 1,500 (get something out now!). It was rare for me to hear the last one, because I would already be floating under my pretty parachute.

Since it was such a huge part of my life for so long, you would think I'd miss it more than I do. But everything has a time and place, and at 72 I decided I was done with skydiving. My partner had already come to that conclusion, so in February 2015 we had both retired from the sport. I no longer follow it avidly, like I did for years, but I still enjoy seeing my friends' pictures on Facebook of their latest exploits. I had become cautious and tentative and did not enjoy the thrills and chills of skydiving nearly as much in the later years. But there was a time when I made around 300 skydives every single year, and my logbooks are still among my prized possessions. Not that I like to read them, but I could if I wanted to relive a particular skydive.

Yes, things change as we age. I'm now struggling to keep up with my friends when we do a particularly difficult hike and will one of these days move to the slower group. It's nice that the Senior Trailblazers has two levels, and the relaxed group will be more to my liking after awhile. Not yet, though. I'm not ready to leave my hiking companions behind quite yet, although I know most of the people in the other group already.

I got an email yesterday from an old friend, John, from Colorado. He recounted an experience he had while on a walk with his wife and dog. He saw a small eight-inch-long snake on the trail and thought it had been run over by a bike and was dead. Surprised when he saw it move when he touched it with his boot, he decided to pick it up and move it to the side of the trail to keep it from harm. Unfortunately, it bit him on the thumb, a sensation like a bee sting. He didn't think much about it at the time.

However, as they continued to walk, his hand began to swell. They decided they'd better call the doctor and see what they should do. He was told to go right away to the Emergency Room and have it looked at. By the time he arrived, his hand was twice its normal size. Although he thought it was a garter snake, it was a rattlesnake, probably a baby that had not yet developed a rattle.

In his own words:
Good thing because an hour later my hand was swollen 50% larger and very painful. ER people said the swelling could cut off blood to the hand resulting in severe tissue necrosis.  After some morphine  for 8 pain on a 1 to 10 scale, they did blood tests and decided it was a rattlesnake.
John spent the night in the hospital, receiving antivenom treatment every few hours and having his blood drawn periodically until the toxin level had receded. I guess this is a very expensive treatment, but I couldn't help but think about the fact that long ago (or maybe not so long ago), this would have meant the loss of his hand, at the very least, or maybe his life. I remember when they sold snake bite kits and taught you how to cut the wound and suck out the venom.

Out of curiosity, I just looked up on Google whether or not we have any poisonous snakes in the Pacific Northwest. This is what I found:
Out of the dozen or so species of snakes that are native to Washington state, only one, the Western rattlesnake, is venomous. As they are not found in Western Washington, you can usually assume any snake you encounter in the greater Seattle area is not venomous.
When I lived in Colorado, I was quite aware that rattlesnakes were common, but I never saw one. I think there were a few others that I saw and wondered whether they were rattlers, so I learned to identify them. And for the edification of my readers, I am supplying you with this link. Remember that there will be some pictures of snakes on this page, so be warned. I was going to put a picture of a rattler on my post, but if you are anything like me, it would make your skin crawl. So I decided to turn away and let you decide for yourself if you want to look. (shiver)

Anyhow, you have now learned all about the title of this post. We've covered anniversaries and more about snakes than you probably wanted to know. My friend John will recover completely, I suspect, but he sent me an email telling me that he's still not back to normal, and it's been a few days now. I sure am glad it wasn't any worse.

My dear partner reminded me that next year our skydiving anniversaries will be 56 years for him and 28 for me, exactly twice as long for him as for me. I'll have to find some way to mark that time in a manner befitting its significance. But as we all know, the future is not ours to see, even just a year from now. I'm hoping that next year we'll be looking forward to fall in much the same way as we are today. We are in the last throes of summer's heat and hopefully next week we'll be back to normal Pacific Northwest temperatures.

And with that, I take a look around me to discover that all is well in my world right now. Partner still sleeping and making nice gentle breathing noises, tea is gone, and the coffee shop beckons. And you, my dear reader, I'm hoping that you will have a fine Labor Day tomorrow (if you are in the US, that is), or in any event, I'm hoping that you will have a wonderful week ahead. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Time for a change

Cindy's picture of me last Thursday
My friend Cindy took this picture of me last Thursday, while we were hiking on Hannegan Pass. She didn't send me the picture but posted it on Facebook, where several of my dear friends commented on it, and how beautiful it all looks. Uh-huh. That's not how I felt when I saw it. Can you guess why?

That roll around my middle is NOT the look I was hoping for. But it has finally made me face the truth: I need to lose some weight. As hard as I have tried to deny it, I am getting fat, once again. Yes, I weigh myself every morning, hoping as I step gingerly on the scales that they will not tell me what I already know. A careful step while holding onto the wall before allowing all my weight to be measured, not being happy at the number but rationalizing to myself that it's not so bad. This picture finally has given me the incentive I've needed to fix it.

In January 2011, at my annual wellness exam, I realized that I had gained more than ten pounds over the years, and they were all right there, around my midsection. One thing about exercising a lot is that my arms and legs don't tend to accumulate the excess fat; it all goes to my middle. I'm what is called an "apple" shape: excess poundage makes me round, and my rear end and hips don't grow much, if at all. Apples tend to be more prone to diabetes and heart disease, which makes sense considering my family history. Yes, in my family we are all apples. I come by it naturally.

I lost almost fifteen pounds over the period of a year back then, more than five years ago now, and gradually it has begun to accumulate. A real positive side effect of keeping a blog is the ability to go back and remember when things happened, decisions were made and followed through with, and I remembered something while looking back: I used an app on my phone to help me count calories at the beginning, and then I picked up a book recommended to me by a fellow blogger: Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. I have it on my Kindle and I read it avidly and became a believer that wheat is one of the insidious foods that help to make us gain weight. I changed my diet to remove wheat (not an easy task!) and found that I was able to keep the weight off, and even lost another few pounds without trying.

But that was then, and now I realize how often I consume wheat. What started as an occasional treat has now changed into a daily habit, and I find that I want more of it. Maybe it's true that certain foods make it harder to lose weight, but more than anything I know that the amount I take into my body and the calories I expend are no longer in balance. Something has to change, or that roll around my middle will only expand, and I'll be forced to come to grips with it at some point. Why not now, this minute?

Sometimes change comes gradually, and other times all at once. When I decided to lose the excess weight six years ago, I did it without much difficulty. In fact, I find that when I get into the mode of wanting to see the numbers on the scale recede, I can become unwilling to eat anything extra, the opposite of where I am today, wanting to eat everything in sight! I struggle these days to stay away from ice cream, especially in the summertime, because I love it so much. Just one little ice cream cone won't hurt me. And of course it doesn't: it's the accumulation of an entire summer of just one more.

I cannot imagine how it must feel to have to lose enormous amounts of weight, like fifty or a hundred pounds. It must seem like a huge mountain to climb, impossible to achieve. Yet people do it all the time, although few of them keep the weight off. They must get into that same mindset I sometimes can find of not wanting to get derailed, so they eat less and less. I do have one blogger I follow who has managed to lose a great deal of weight but struggles over the long haul not to fall back into her old habits when under stress. She has always been one of those people who yo-yo's up and down the scale, and as I read her posts I can recognize myself in her words. However, I also am so uncomfortable when I've gained ten pounds that I usually get to where I am today, looking for ways to push myself into action.

After having said all this, I realize how fortunate I am that this is what is on my mind today, rather than some awful calamity like my house being washed away by a hurricane, or having been diagnosed with a terrible illness, like my friend in Portland. She has recovered from her ordeal of the operation and is now beginning chemotherapy. I am worried for her. She recently put a picture of herself on her blog after having gotten a port implanted in her chest to receive the chemo. She wrote about having to become a professional patient, something she never wanted to happen to her.

She is struggling now to keep weight on, after that awful surgery and being unable to eat more than a few bites, even of foods she loves. She had written about looking forward to eat all the ice cream she wanted, but now she doesn't want it and wishes she did. So I am feeling just a little ashamed of myself for being so obsessed about losing a little weight. It could happen to me tomorrow, and I'd be looking back on the times when I was able to hike ten miles and shaking my head for having gotten stressed out over a few excess pounds.

As far as I know, I am in good health, and at the last doctor visit I had only gained a small amount of weight, nothing to be concerned about, according to my doctor. Of course, before I went there I had donned the lightest clothing I own (since I knew I was going to face the scales) and had removed my shoes, phone, wallet and loose change from my pockets before stepping up to see the dreaded number. That was six months ago. This summer, however, I seem to have picked up some bad eating habits and had not really noticed the change until I couldn't find any way to rationalize the morning visit to the scale into something positive. I still weigh myself daily, because it's become part of my routine, and you know how I am about routine.

One thing I have learned over the years, that making resolutions about dieting is not the answer. They come and go, and it's impossible to maintain a diet for the long haul. For me, the trick is simply stopping any and all between-meal snacking and thinking about what I put into my mouth, rather than eating mindlessly. That's an easy thing to do when I'm binge-watching a new exciting show, or when I'm choosing to forget that I got full quite awhile ago and am still eating.

Another thing that helps me is writing it all down, like I'm doing this morning. I'll be forced to confront myself with whether or not I make any progress or just forget about it. It sure would be nice to be going down the scale rather than up, that's for sure. You, my dear friends, will notice, won't you? And you don't even see my physical self, just the parts I choose to reveal. It took a little courage to put that picture on the front of the post, because I really don't like it at all. Maybe someday I'll be able to look at the picture and take in all the REST of it, like where I am fortunate enough to be standing.

And it has finally come to this: the end of the post, with my tea gone, partner still fast asleep next to me, and the day ahead stretching out with infinite possibilities. It's another beautiful summer day, and I can spend it however I wish, now that I have fulfilled my one daily obligation of writing this post. I think I'm feeling better, now that I've come clean about what's on my mind. And we'll see if I actually am at the beginning of a change, or whether it will simply evaporate as time goes by. We'll see.

Until we meet again next week, I do hope that you will be well and that you and your loved ones, near and far, are safe and sound. And don't forget to acknowledge all that you have in your life that is good. You are part of what's good for me. I send my love and wishes for all good things to come to you.