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, 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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday 2017

Easter Sunday 2009
Eight years ago, I was in Skopje, Macedonia on Easter Sunday. Although I had retired by then, my old boss Mickey talked me into working for him one more time, for a conference he wanted to have in Macedonia, and I reluctantly agreed. It was pretty wonderful to be able to travel to such a distant country and have it all paid for, and the work I was doing was something I had done for so many years for him that I wasn't worried about whether I could do it.

We organized it for the week after Easter, but we had neglected to realize that in this part of the world, the Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter at a different time, since they figure the date using a different method. However, by some fluke, this year, 2017, Easter is celebrated on the same day by both Orthodox Christians and the Catholic and Protestant churches.That means that at this moment, everywhere in the world the commemoration and celebration of Easter is in full swing.

In preparation for the trip, I had to figure out just where in the world Macedonia is, since I knew it was in Europe somewhere, but where exactly I didn't know. It is just north of Greece, surrounded by Albania, Kosovo, and Bulgaria. Arriving in the airport in the capital, Skopje, it was a bit of a culture shock to see how dilapidated the airport was. But once we traveled into the town, it was quite an adventure to be exposed to a new culture. The one thing I really enjoyed about my job was that I traveled to many exotic places in the world. Perhaps that's one reason why I no longer have any wanderlust left at all. I'm happy to stay right here in the Pacific Northwest.

Looking back over the past few decades, I am struck by how much my life has changed and settled down into a comfortable routine. I was thrilled to be able to travel to many parts of Southeast Asia numerous times, as well as Europe and even Russia once. I think my favorite place of all was Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) many years ago. I have fond recollections of a trip we took to the countryside, and I was simply amazed at the sight of oxen-led carts sharing the street with cars, and the sense of happiness I felt from the people themselves. Everyone treated me with respect and curiosity, even though my country had waged a terrible war against them. I visited the Củ Chi tunnels during a tour, which should not be missed if you get a chance to get there. From that link:
The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.
It was simply amazing to see whole hospitals and living quarters underground like that, which I saw after crawling through several tunnels (widened for tourists) and going down to other deep levels. I have never forgotten that unique experience. It's easy to see why it was so difficult to conquer the Vietnamese people. And in my short visit there, they captured my admiration through their gentle spirit and willingness to forgive. I think that spirit of forgiveness is in short supply these days.

On this particular Easter Sunday, I am filled with foreboding when I read the news from around the world. We are apparently going on a path toward war, once again, this time with North Korea. It's difficult to fathom how this will be avoided, but on this day I want to concentrate on the resurrection of the light, of hope, and of joy, not on fear and dismay. Therefore, I am turning my eyes away from all the rumblings of conflict and instead concentrating on the positive side of life. The sun is shining today, the trees are in bloom (making me grateful for allergy medication), and at this moment my life is good, very good.

One thing about getting older is that it becomes easier to take a long view of history. When I was born in 1942, the world was so incredibly different than it is today, in so many ways, that I would never have believed it could change so much in a single lifetime. So when I take the long view, whatever happens in the world today will not be insurmountable. The world turns, the seasons change, and nature reasserts itself and heals the scars of humanity's folly. Eventually. Although I won't be around to see it, just knowing that helps me to find serenity in today's chaotic world.

Although I won't be attending church as I don't actually follow any particular denomination these days, I am very aware that Easter is a time for new beginnings, for me to find love and joy in my surroundings, my loved ones, and my daily life. I'll be heading off to the coffee shop and will truly enjoy my interaction with the people there. My friend John and I will share a bagel, and I'll laugh and carry on with him and Gene until it's time to go, and I'll step out into the magnificent sunshine and feel it on my face before deciding what comes next. One thing about living in a place where it rains much of the time, when the rain stops and the sun comes out, it's fun to see the faces around me break into smiles. You don't get that when you live in Florida or the desert.

My patent-leather Mary Jane shoes and Easter dress belong to another Easter, long ago, another time that only lives in my memory. I've got several months of Easters to look back on and as well celebrate the moment of today, Easter Sunday around the entire world. Hallelujah! Or, in today's vernacular, Woo-Hoo!

I just took the last swig of tea, my partner is still fast asleep next to me, and the sun, which is coming up earlier every day, is lightening the skies outside. I hope however you celebrate this day, whether Easter, or Passover, or Wicca, or nothing at all, it will be a good one, and one that you share with your friends and family in marking the coming of another season of love and joy. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

Sunrise from my front porch
I spent way too long looking for a picture to put up on my post this morning. I got lost in memories as I looked for something that would be a fitting picture for my state this morning. Yes, I've been lost in the past in recent days. I read a very good book by Annie Proulx that covered three centuries of life in the early days of logging (Barkskins is the book). I was glad, though, when I finally reached the end of the book so I could pick up my own life again. The book is more than 700 pages long!

For the past week I've been thinking about how much of my own early life I've forgotten. I suppose this is normal, but years ago I kept journals, and yesterday after finishing that book, I began to wonder when it was exactly that I traveled with my friend Donna on a bicycling adventure from Boulder, Colorado, to San Francisco. It was in the mid-1970s, it turns out. I had been living in Boulder for a few years but had not yet begun my career at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, starting in 1979. In the fall of 1976, the two of us decided to bicycle across the country together. I had a ten-speed bike that I loved. We prepared for the trip by taking day-long treks into the nearby mountains and thought nothing of biking thirty or forty miles in a day, so we felt we were ready.

We had panniers (saddlebags) on our bikes, with camping equipment pared down to next to nothing, along with lightweight sleeping bags. We decided to go without a tent because of weight, and figured that if we ran into much rain we would buy one, or hole up in a motel until it passed. Incredibly, in the six weeks we were on the road, we never had any rain at all!

We headed north from Boulder, hoping to make Medicine Bow, Wyoming, in a few days (175 miles away). We had no problems, and we camped in city parks on the way. It would be our first time in a larger city, and we weren't sure where we might stay once we got there. I had the idea of calling the police department and asking for their advice. This was in the days before cellphones, and I remember standing in a phone booth calling the police department, and while I was on hold, a woman cut into the call and said she was the switchboard operator and that we could stay at her place! Apparently whenever there was a call to the police department, she would listen in to see what the story was. And that's just what we did: I hung up from the call and followed the directions she had given me to her home. We stayed with her overnight and she made us a big breakfast the next morning.

This was the sort of hospitality we experienced all across the country. We took back roads because we wanted to avoid the traffic of the interstates and saw all kinds of wonderful sights. We went through Yellowstone National Park, and I remember well having to climb the passes and then whizzing down the other side. I think we went over five passes in Yellowstone, if my memory is right. We traveled through eastern Oregon, which I remember being very dry and unappealing. Other than a few flat tires, our bikes and our bodies functioned quite well. I remember realizing one day that my thighs were hard as rocks from all that biking.

By the time we reached Eugene, five weeks after we began, our friendship was beginning to fray at the edges. Too much time together, I guess. We decided to separate and go our own ways from that point. I traveled down the coast on Highway 1, and I will never forget the sound of the logging trucks approaching behind me. I would always stop and pull off the narrow road because of the size of those big rigs. And I learned how hilly that highway is: hardly ever doing anything but going up and then down on that road.

When I reached San Francisco, I called my parents to let them know I had arrived safely after six weeks on the road. And I learned that my grandmother who lived in Santa Monica was ill and she needed someone to care for her. Was I willing, since I didn't need to return to Colorado right away? I decided to do it, but nobody prepared me for how tough it would be to spend all my days in a small little house with my grandmother and her three cats, after having been outdoors constantly for well over a month! I managed, but I chafed at having to be inside for so long. I ended up taking long walks to the Santa Monica pier and around the area, but I was pretty unhappy. Grandma didn't need much care, just someone to shop for her and take her to the doctor for her treatments. Although she wasn't expected to recover, she did, and eventually I took the opportunity to move back to Boulder.

I still remember seeing her in the doorway as I left. It was the last time I saw her, and she really didn't want me to go but I had my own life to live, and she understood that. Donna had also made it to San Francisco, and she got a job as a bike messenger, with her strong biking legs carrying her up and down the hills of that city. Eventually we both returned to Boulder and moved into an apartment together, our relationship much better for having taken some time apart.

I have only a few memories of that six-week-long adventure, but they are strong ones. Often we stayed at established campgrounds in order to shower and clean up. Once we couldn't find a place to camp and bedded down in an orchard not far off the road we had traveled on. I put down my sleeping bag, with my water bottle within reach on my trusty bike. I woke in the middle of the night to see the stars so brilliant and thick above me that it took my breath away. My bike was my companion, as I turned over and went back to sleep, I felt blessed to be there right then.

Of course, that was more than forty years ago, and sleeping on the ground, even with a thin pad underneath my sleeping bag was something I could do then but have no interest in repeating! But it was an adventure well worth having, back then. I wish now that I had kept a daily journal during that time, because I would be curious to see what I wrote. Reading my old journals from more than three decades ago seem to be written by another person entirely. Much of what I wrote I have forgotten completely, and I mention names of people who are also gone from memory, but when I wrote it back then, I thought I would never forget. One cannot retain it all; there are too many hours in the days and months that pass to remember everything.

My life has been filled with adventures, and thinking back to those days when I was a young woman are rather delightful to remember, but I'm happy in the life I have now. Yes, things change, and activities that I felt I would always enjoy have passed away. That's the way it works, but there is an old saying that never does one door close than another one opens. I've found that to be true in my own life. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Today is the oldest you have ever been, and the youngest you'll ever be again." So I'll just keep on with the todays that I have left, and enjoy every last one!

And now I've finished my post, and it's time to get up and move into the rest of my Palm Sunday. It's the beginning of the final week before the Easter celebration. I hope it will be a good one for you, and for those you love and cherish. Partner is still fast asleep and I'm ready to get going. Be well until we meet again next week, dear reader.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My circle of friends

Sunshine on my shoulder
One of the best things that happened to me when I moved here from Colorado was the chance to meet new friends. It was hard to leave all the people I knew and loved in Boulder, but I am the kind of person who makes friends easily. It probably comes from my early nomadic life, when I moved from place to place as an Air Force brat, with a close family and lots of siblings.

I moved here in April 2008, and the first thing I did was join the YMCA and the Senior Center. I started taking classes every day, and I bought myself a bus pass and would sometimes just ride the bus for fun, to see where the different routes would take me. I found that if I didn't have a car, I could get just about every place in town I needed to go. At that time, though, I was still skydiving, so I needed to drive more than an hour south to Snohomish for that activity. Now, however, I rarely venture out of town myself, as we carpool on our various Thursday hikes. I will drive my fifteen-year-old car now and then, but mostly I pay my share for gas and let somebody else drive.

In late summer 2008, my sister Markee in Canada decided that she would like her family to join her in a half-marathon in Texas, and she invited all of us and of course I accepted the challenge. I had been going to the Y faithfully, but since this was a distance event, I needed to find some way to get longer hikes into my repertoire. The Senior Center offers several different hikes, so I decided to join one. In September 2008, I made my first hike with the Senior Trailblazers.

I was not a neophyte when it came to hiking, so I had a backpack with extra clothing, rain gear, a lunch, snacks, and water. I had learned long ago that when it comes to hiking where you'll be sweating a lot, you need to avoid wearing cotton, and I didn't want any of these veterans to think I was not aware of that. The synthetics I wore served me well. We drove for more than an hour to the High Country and once we got to the parking lot, a park ranger approached us to let us know that a storm was coming our way, and we needed to be prepared for wind and rain.

Once we started the hike, the weather was overcast but dry and rather pleasant. There were a dozen of us, and I chatted with those hiking nearby, learning names and finding out how long some people had been with the group. Before long, however, it began to rain lightly, and the fog moved in. We kept going, and every once in awhile someone would inform me that right here there would have been a wonderful view if we could only have seen it. The one thing I didn't have that everyone else did was trekking poles. I had never used them before but I quickly saw their usefulness on steep, uneven terrain.

Well, by the time we headed back to Bellingham, I was hooked, and from that day forward I have been a regular with the hiking group. The following week I borrowed Al's second pair of poles, and the next week I had purchased my first set of trekking poles. They make a huge difference for me in hiking downhill, since I can lean on them and save my knees. That was nine years ago, and I'm still going every week unless I'm sick or injured. Needless to say, I've made some fast friends from spending so many hours with these fine people every week.

I haven't made as many friends during my classes at the Y, but instead have many acquaintances who greet each other as we make our way to the classroom. Everybody has a "spot" that they prefer, and I've gotten to know several people around me quite well. One fellow, Joseph, who stands next to me is a retired professor from the local college and is exactly ten years older than me. Although I never see him outside of class, I miss him when he's gone and usually find out when he returns that he'd been traveling. The instructor of this class, Joanne, has been teaching it for well over twenty years and has quite a following.

Another class, Strength and Tone, taught every Tuesday and Thursday rounds out my exercise routine at the Y. Usually I don't make it to the Thursday class because I'm out with the Senior Trailblazers, but this class is where I met my friend Judy. She and I began having coffee together after class, and before long we would take trips together. In 2009 we traveled to the Tulip Festival in Skagit County, and we've taken day-long trips to various parts of the state. Now we see movies together and go out to dinner afterwards. She's become a very good friend.

And then there's the walk on Saturdays with the ladies. It was Peggy and Linda from the Senior Trailblazers who tried to get me to join them on this walk, and finally I did. At first I wouldn't go when it was rainy, but after awhile I got so I really missed the walk when I didn't go. This is the only exercise every week that still hurts my ailing hip: we walk really fast and I find that my hip will hurt me as I push hard to keep up. Yesterday was the first time since I hurt it that I was able to complete the entire five-mile walk. But I see the same women every week, and now it's been so many years that we ask where someone has been who misses several weeks in a row.

So this is the core of where I've made friends in Bellingham since moving here nine years ago. Of course, since these groups are filled with like-minded people who are around my age, the makeup of the group changes from time to time. People get injured or move on, and some people stay for the duration. If I am not going to attend, I find it important to let Al (our leader) know so people won't wonder if I'm all right. And I'm constantly making new friends, as people join and become regulars like me. You just cannot spend that much time with people without getting close to some of them. At least I can't.

The coffee shop I visit every morning also has its regulars that I have come to love and cherish. It makes me laugh to think that those old fogeys have wormed their way into my heart and that I miss them if I don't see them regularly. Plus it helps that we all have excellent coffee to enjoy. So that's my circle of friends who enrich my life every single day. My life partner also fills in the gaps, as he's my go-to guy when I need to have a good long talk about anything that's on my mind.

This morning I didn't have any idea what I would write about, and it's just become a soliloquy about my circle of friends, those who enrich my life in so many different ways. And I've somehow written to my other circle of friends, my virtual friends, who I visit every day on the web, and who also visit me. They say that keeping yourself surrounded by friends and family will help you to live a richer and longer life. And I can attest to the power of friendship to keep me looking forward with excitement and delight to each day as it comes.

I hope that you will take the time to think of those around you who enrich your own life, and if they are present, let them know. And if they are not, talk to them anyway. If they have passed beyond, I believe they will still hear you. But that's just me. Until we meet again, dear friends, be well.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


The Washington Monument
I took this picture in November 2005, when I was visiting my niece, who was living in Arlington at the time and working at the Pentagon. My sister Norma Jean and her husband Pete were also visiting, as we had gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I had never before seen the sights around Washington, D.C., so we toured all the memorials. This is taken from the Lincoln Memorial. I was very impressed with the Korean and Vietnam Memorials especially.

During this past week, the thought of perspective has been on my mind. I've lived a long time, and the perspective I have today of what is going on in the world is different from someone who has not lived so long. One's perspective changes with distance from the event. Or the object. The classic picture of a train track disappearing as you view the horizon comes to mind. When you get to a certain age, your perspective naturally shifts from looking ahead at the long decades of life to those already traveled.

We moved here to Bellingham to enjoy our retirement years, almost a decade ago. I started writing this blog in 2009, and the years have flowed along without much outward change. It's been seventeen years since the turn of the century, and when I compare my life today with that of almost two decades ago, it's very different. But the change has been so gradual, in most respects anyway, that there are only a few events that stand out for me. My son Chris died in 2002, that was one, and leaving my career of thirty years and moving to a different part of the country in 2008, that was another.

Last week I was lying on my yoga mat in class, listening to the gentle words of the instructor, and I was following my breath, with palms lying across my lower ribs and feeling the gentle rise and fall of the breath. A long-buried memory came into my mind: I remembered just having given birth and laying flat on the bed. I had placed my palms on my belly in just such a way, and the sensation of having no baby in there was shocking. It felt like my hand was going right down to the bed underneath me. During the nine-month gestation period, I had gradually grown accustomed to that mound underneath my fingers, and I would explore the movement of the baby inside with wonder and joy.

And then the moment of birth changed everything. In that instant I felt empty and the infant had not yet become real to me. The world had changed, and I was no longer pregnant with a big belly underneath my fingers. That moment long ago in time, more than fifty years ago, was suddenly present as I lay on that yoga mat following my breath. If I had tried to conjure up that image, from that moment in the past, I could not have done so. But there it was, and it's been close to my consciousness ever since. Remembering being a young mother, remembering from the perspective of being a septuagenarian.

When I was young, I remember an older person telling me that she felt no different at seventy than she did at twenty. The only difference was the way others reacted to her, and the change she registered at her reflection in the mirror. When change is gradual, as it is in aging, you don't notice the incremental loss of color in your hair, or muscle tone, or the accumulation of wrinkles. I sure don't remember when my hair changed from brown to white, but now I can hardly imagine it being otherwise. As I raise my leg to stretch it in yoga class, I notice how the skin has become loose and crepey, just like any other old person's skin. When did that happen?

Being an active person, I didn't realize how much I've changed over the years, because I am still active, but it's different now. Where did I ever find the energy to travel as much as I did, hold down a full-time job and still manage to spend every weekend and every vacation skydiving, going to bed every night looking forward to the next day's full schedule. That's what is different today: now I find myself getting much more tired after much less activity. I am still able to hike, take long walks, do yoga and exercise classes, but things keep breaking down: the knees or back, now that pesky hip pain to deal with. This is the same hip I damaged so badly in June 2000 when I broke myself up, and now I think the damage is catching up with me.

The only thing I know how to do, though, is keep going until I simply cannot do it any more. The perspective I have from this vantage point midway through my eighth decade of life is that it's been a good long run, and I'll keep on trying everything to stave off the inevitable. Bertrand Russell once said, "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” I've long taken good health for granted, and I'm thinking about how fortunate I've been in my life.

There have been some really good things I've experienced in the last decade, and one of them has been the luxury of blogging. What a fine world it is, with others like me, young and old together finding a community that helps me find my way forward. And you, dear reader, know just what I'm talking about. It's the perspective of others that I learn from, and I hope that my own perspective helps others as well.

And now it's time for me to start my day. I've fulfilled my first task, and now as I hop out of bed, not too vigorously so I won't wake my partner, I'll dress, do my exercises and other normal morning tasks, and then head to the coffee shop, my latte and my friends awaiting my arrival. Until next week, I hope you will be well and surrounded by love.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lenten ruminations

Norma Jean and me, long long ago
Do you know what Lent is? It's the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and was originally begun by Christians to fast and pray for those 40-odd days between, to purify the body and soul before the holiest day of the Liturgical Calendar, Easter. Those two little girls knew nothing about all this, but they were dressed in their Easter finery, on our way to an Easter egg hunt, where we would fill our Easter baskets with colored hard-boiled eggs and candy. Although we didn't go to any church, we followed the traditions of the season because, well, that's just what one did in those days.

Over the many years between today and when those little girls dressed up in their Easter finery, I joined several churches and actually learned the meaning of Lent. It's observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. (Information I learned from that link.) I first joined the Episcopal Church, which is Anglican, and that first year I gave up eating meat during Lent.

I think that was the first time in my life that I actually gave much thought to the ubiquitous presence of meat in my daily diet. We grew up in a family that always had some sort of meat, potatoes, and a vegetable on the dinner table. Usually a canned vegetable such as green beans or maybe corn. I remember when my mother discovered instant mashed potatoes, we endured them daily, because they were so much easier to prepare than peeling and preparing them from scratch.

But vegetables? They were nothing much, as I recall, and we ate them because we had to. Sometimes we had a salad, if you can call it that, just sliced or diced tomatoes and iceberg lettuce, along with maybe a bit of grated carrot. But when Mama really cooked, she made excellent dishes. It's just that in my memory, it was rare that we deviated from the usual fare. On Saturdays we had hamburgers, but when I try to recall any really excellent meals that we had, other than on holidays, my memory comes up blank.

However, that Lenten season so long ago when I gave up eating meat changed the way I thought about food. I never again ate meat every day, and many years ago I became a vegetarian. These days, however, I eat a bit of chicken every now and then, and fish more often. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and salmon is wonderful here, so we eat it a few times a month. For health reasons, I stopped eating red meat and now it's been decades since I had any at all. The smell of bacon is tantalizing, and it's the only one that even attracts me (although I don't eat it ever). For some reason, of all the meats I remember eating growing up, the only one that actually repels me these days is pork. I don't remember when it started, but it's been so long now that I wonder why I have such a strong aversion to it. Here's some information about pork:
Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, accounting for about 38% of meat production worldwide. Consumption varies widely from place to place. The meat is taboo to eat in the Middle East and most of the Muslim world because of Jewish kosher and Islamic Halal dietary restrictions. 
I remember when I was in western China and we had breakfast served in our hotel. There was a hot dish labeled "Bacon," but when I looked inside there were very thin slices of beef that had been fried in some kind of fat and seasoned. Definitely not bacon, but in that part of the world no pork was ever consumed, I learned. It was very easy to eat a balanced and healthy diet, though, because vegetables and legumes were plentiful. And during those visits to China, I learned to love congee. What is it? Congee is probably the most common mainstay of the Chinese breakfast, a mild-flavored rice porridge that has been cooked for a long time with plenty of water to soften the rice. To give the congee some flavor, it is usually served with different toppings, such as pickled vegetables, fermented tofu, peanuts, and eggs. I liked the pickled vegetables the most and piled plenty of them into the congee bowl.

How did I get off on that subject? I was thinking about how giving up meat for Lent that one time changed the way I approached my diet. And now I'm sitting here thinking about food, instead of my original thought about today's post. Frankly, when I first sat down to write, nothing came to mind, except that we are in the Lenten season, and that is the only reason you are reading about it. I was completely without any good ideas, so I decided to just wing it, and here I am getting hungry, thinking about that congee.

One year, I gave up chocolate for Lent. Interestingly, though, as soon as it was over, I went right back to enjoying and eating chocolate, in contrast to giving up meat. Have you ever thought of giving up something that you enjoy for any length of time? It's fascinating how we can get into ruts of thinking, or eating, or routine of any sort, that becomes a part of one's daily habits, and that we can continue those habits long after they serve any purpose. Sometimes becoming aware of them and making a change can alter one's life. It happened to me.

It's been a long time since I've observed Lent. And it's been a long time since I dressed up for Easter, like we did in that picture from long ago. Dressed in pretty pastel dresses with white shoes and socks, those little girls were the apples of their parents' eyes, and at that time it was just the two of us, Norma Jean and I, with our sister PJ not coming along until I was seven. I wonder if Mama made those dresses for us; I wouldn't be surprised, because she was an accomplished seamstress and made many of our special outfits. I am feeling a little nostalgic this morning, thinking about times past and beloved people long gone.

Soon it will be time to get up and start my day, going to the coffee shop to join my friends there. I'll be going to the movies this afternoon with my friend Judy, so the day has already got some shape to it. And we'll be expecting a little bit of sunshine for a change as well. I read that we have already had all the rain we usually have in an entire year, and it's only March. I usually don't have as much problem with the constant rain, but right now I'm sure ready for it to stop. Today would be lovely.

And with that, I find that I am at the end of my Lenten post. I hope that whatever you do this week, until we meet again, it will be fulfilling and satisfying. That's what I'm hoping for myself as well. Don't forget to appreciate those you love, be they family, friends, or furry companions. Be well, dear ones.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Family dynamics

Fia, PJ, me, Markee in 2008
After having written about my partner in last week's post, all week long I've pondered writing about my siblings, or my parents, or somehow tie together all that I am feeling about how fortunate I am to have my family. Mama and Daddy have been gone for a long time, but each of us carries within us so many traits that are part and parcel of our parents' personalities.

My sister Norma Jean did not come to Texas for Thanksgiving this particular year, so she's missing from this picture. I especially like it because it shows those sisters I know the least well. Fia and Markee are the youngest, and they are very close, like Norma Jean and I are. PJ was seven years younger than me, and she didn't have another sibling close to her in age, but she grew to be quite close to our brother Buz, who was nine years younger and lived nearby.

PJ died three years ago now, of heart disease, our family nemesis, and the reason for my parents' premature deaths. At least I consider them premature, since Daddy was only 62, and Mama was only 69. Both of them suffered for many years from the side effects of high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I feel very fortunate to have lived in a time when we have much better treatment for these ailments, such as statins. I believe every single one of my siblings takes them; I know Norma Jean and I have taken them for decades now. They make a huge difference when you have a familial tendency toward what is called hyperlipidemia, which we all have. My son Chris had it, too, not only from my side of the family, but from his father's side as well. He only lived to be 40.

So it was with much relief that I received the results of last week's blood tests, to find that my tendency towards heart disease seems to be in remission, as long as I continue with my healthy lifestyle and statins. The tendency is so strong in our family that it makes me wonder if there is some survival benefit to hyperlipidemia that has yet to be recognized by the medical profession. Maybe if we lived in a time when you had to be active from morning to night, it wouldn't have been so bad for you and had some beneficial effects. But these days we spend so much of our time sitting or lying around and not being active as we stare at some screen or other.

When I listen to stories of the family dynamics of others when they were growing up, I realize that our family was very fortunate to be as close as we were. Although I was not particularly close to any of the three sisters in the picture because of lack of proximity, I recognize them as my family because of the way they interact with me, and with each other. We are all outgoing and successful in our chosen professions, and each one of them reminds me in one way or another of our parents. I was thinking of writing about my mother this morning, but I went looking back in my archives here and realized that I already did it, and that there is no way I could much improve on what I wrote in "My Mama." I considered taking that post and reworking it for today, but once I read it along with the comments from back then, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead, I decided to give you the opportunity to read it as I wrote it seven years ago.

My sister Norma Jean and I talk to each other on FaceTime a couple of times a month, and I look forward to it with anticipation. It's so much more than a phone call, where we just talk to each other. Instead, we see each other in our own settings, and I can tell how she is much more than if she was only a voice. She also keeps me in touch with my grand nieces Lexie and Alicia, because she has become somewhat of a nanny to those two. Between Norma Jean and her son Peter, her daughter Allison has all the child care she needs. Alicia is now in her terrible two's and a handful, but Lexie has grown old enough now (she's seven) to be an actual person who can be reasoned with. I enjoy seeing them on FaceTime, but it reminds me how fortunate I am that they are so far away from me most of the time. You know that old saying about "absence makes the heart grow fonder"? It's sure true about small kids, for me at least.

This morning we go back to Pacific Daylight Time, and I'm losing an hour of sleep. I see it's later than I expected it to be by the time I've written this, but that's because we did our usual trick of taking an hour from the morning and tacking it to the end of the day. Tonight the sun won't set until after 7:00pm, but it also won't rise until almost 7:30am. So it will be dark for awhile in the morning as I set off for the bus, but since we are so far north it won't last long; our daylight hours are increasing by more than three-and-a-half minutes every day at this time of the year. We are not far from spring, but since we've been colder and wetter than normal for what seems like ages, our spring has been slow in coming. I read that last year by this time we had 17 days of 50°F or warmer, and this year only one. No wonder it seems colder: it really is.

And rain? I could grouse about the weather but I won't. It doesn't change anything, and I know for a fact that things will green up. All the rain in California has caused a Super Bloom in the deserts, something that happens now and then, and this year it's just started and is nowhere near its peak. I wish I could go there and see it in person, but I'll be busy here, starting my garden planting and visiting the tulips in the Skagit Valley before long. My favorite time of the year around here is springtime, and it's a-comin' faster than one can say "Yahoo"!

With that (hope it brought a smile to your face), I will wish you a wonderful Sunday and a blessed week between now and next week, which will only be a few days away from the Vernal Equinox. Be well until then, my dear reader.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A quarter century later

1992 --> 2015
Don't let anybody tell you that 25 years is not a long time. It might not seem like much, looking back, but it's almost a third of a normal life span. And frankly, I would be one of the last people to think that the two of us would have made a life together in such wonderful fashion. Me, a veteran of three failed marriages and he of one. And we were both fifty when we first met. Looking at that top picture, it amazes me that we looked so good for our ages. And the septuagenarians in the bottom picture look pretty darn good, too. It is a quarter century later, after all.

I wasn't looking for a mate when we first got together. I had started skydiving two years before and that was all I thought about, all that mattered to me at the time. Every waking moment that I wasn't working was spent thinking about when I would next be able to make a jump. I had state-of-the-art skydiving gear and had bought an old rust bucket of a car so that I could make the fifty-minute drive to the local Drop Zone every weekend. I left work early on Wednesday when the summertime weather was good to make some jumps in the afternoon with three like-minded friends.

There was a news group on the Internet (long before everybody had a website) about skydiving, and I spent some guilty work time on that group, learning all I could about the sport, and making friends who were also skydivers. There was one person who didn't post often, but when he did, I liked what he had to say about skydiving. I could relate when he explained how skydiving had taken over his life, and I decided to send him a private email. It couldn't be delivered, for some reason, so I tried again a week later. He sent back a short cryptic email that said he'd answer when he had some time. I had made contact!

Well, over the period of several months, we sent many emails back and forth, and I learned that he lived in San Francisco and was exactly my age and single. It also turned out that, although he had thousands of skydives, he was not currently jumping. But he answered every question I had about it, and I must say I fell in love with him before I ever heard his voice or saw his face. We made a decision to call each other (in the days when long distance phone calls weren't cheap) and before long we were talking to each other almost every night of the week.

Then it was time for us to send pictures to one another. He sent me some of his writings and a couple pictures of himself from twenty years before, saying he didn't have anything more current. I saw a wild-haired young man wearing a backpack in the wilderness smiling at the camera, and the other he was standing with some other skydivers at a Drop Zone sometime in the distant past. I sent him current pictures of me showing off my skydiving gear before making a skydive. I might have sent him some others, but I don't remember.

We made plans to meet. He would fly from San Francisco to Denver and I'd meet him at the airport and take him back to my apartment in Boulder. We felt like we knew each other well by this time, and the actual physical meeting seemed like an afterthought. I remember standing at the arrival gate at the airport, watching each person leaving the plane, impatiently waiting to see my love depart. Nobody caught my eye, nobody seemed like the man I was waiting for. After everyone had left, I looked around to see why I had missed him. And there he was: a balding slightly overweight man who appeared only faintly like the picture I had in my mind. He looked at me and I looked at him, realizing that reality was taking over my romantic vision.

As we walked through the airport and finally getting in my car, I had recovered enough to realize that this was still the man I loved, and I tried to kiss him once we were inside the car. He recoiled and I didn't understand why. The romantic reunion I imagined was not there, not at all. What I hadn't realized (and I know so well now) is that SG is not someone who rushes into situations without contemplation and caution. I learned much later that the person who approached him in the airport (me) reminded him uncomfortably of his mother, who he didn't much like.

So there we were in my apartment, learning about each other for the entire weekend, and although I wasn't exactly happy about how things had gone, we made some progress towards each other: almost enough for me and overwhelmingly enough for him. We made plans for me to come and visit him in San Francisco. The top picture was taken in his apartment when I first visited, and we walked around the city together and I met some of his friends. That time it was easier, because we knew what to expect from one another.

One thing led to another, and he decided to give notice at his job and move to Boulder. I was able to get him on my health insurance if we were willing to announce ourselves as a couple, and before too long he packed up his belongings, I flew to San Francisco and we made the several-day-long journey to Boulder. He stayed in my apartment for a short while before finding a place of his own to live. I went back to spending every weekend at the Drop Zone, and he accompanied me as I made skydives with other friends.

Before long he was back in the sky with some borrowed gear, and he and I made many skydives together, both with each other and sometimes with other friends. When my mother died in 1993 and I inherited my share of her estate, I used some of that money to buy him his own gear. And that was the beginning of many years together with skydiving at the core of our relationship. We were married in freefall in 1994 (yes, that is something you can do). I wrote about it here.

And now, neither one of us skydives any more, and we have found a place where we belong, here in the Pacific Northwest, enjoying our sunset years together. I have full, interesting days; as an extrovert married to an introvert we spend much of our time apart, doing what makes us happy, but we always spend some time together every day sharing with one another. He is asleep next to me as I write this as part of my Sunday morning routine. I'll soon get up and start my day and head off to the coffee shop to meet my friends there. When I come home, he'll be up and about, and we'll check in to see what the day has in store for each of us. It's a pretty perfect life for us, and we both cherish each day we have together.

I could never had guessed that life would have taken me here with this wonderful man. It's a good thing I wasn't in charge of making the big choices or I wouldn't be here. We seem to have some pretty active guardian angels who helped make it all happen! I hope that the coming week will be a good one for you, and that we will meet here again next Sunday. Be well until then.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

My wonderful siblings

Me, Norma Jean, PJ, Buz, Markee, Fia
I love this picture, taken in the early 1980s, in my parents' back yard. Daddy took it, I'm pretty sure, and although none of us look like this any more, we are all recognizable as the people we have become, except PJ who died of heart disease three years ago now. There are twenty years between me, the oldest sister, and Fia, the youngest. We are arranged by age. Fia is now in her mid-fifties and a grandmother three times over.

I didn't have any gray in my light brown hair, and I don't have that smooth neck any more, but otherwise I think I look pretty much the same. Age changes us all. It's been decades since I wore a skirt, and Norma Jean bore a strong resemblance to Farrah Fawcett in those days. Buz, our only brother, was a handsome young man sandwiched between his many sisters.

Although I love all my siblings, you can see how it turned out that the two on each end of the picture became closer to one another than to the others. When I visit Norma Jean in Florida these days, we talk about the old days and realize that none of our other siblings share our memories. It's the same with Markee and Fia; they are very close and visit each other often.

The last time we were all together was three years ago, for PJ's celebration of life. It was a hard time for all of us, but especially for her husband and those who live nearby and saw her often. Years ago I would visit Texas at Thanksgiving, getting together for the holiday. Norma Jean in Florida often wasn't there, and Markee who lives in Canada came more often, but all of us being together was rare. Now it isn't even possible, since PJ is no longer with us. These days I see her children and grandchildren growing up on Facebook, and it amazes me that times passes so very quickly.

Our names might seem unusual, but they aren't really. I was always called by my middle name, Jan, skipping over Dorothy, my paternal grandmother's name. Norma Jean grew up being known by her first and middle names, but she dropped the "Jean" part as she grew older. I have never known her by anything but Norma Jean, and when I would call her at work and ask for her, whoever answered the phone would call her to the phone with, "it's your sister." I didn't have to announce it.

PJ is short for Patricia June. As she grew up, she stopped being known by her initials and became Pat. PJ is all I've ever known for her, too, and when she finally got onto Facebook, she used "PJ" instead of Pat, which made me smile. She had four grandchildren who were the apple of her eye, and she would call them over to me when I visited so I could also see how delightful each one is. They are only known to me because of Facebook, and I marvel at how quickly they have grown from little people into young adults.

Buz is really Norman Francis, but I have never heard him called anything other than Buz. He was nicknamed after a family friend by the same nickname. You wonder how these things happen, when time has blurred the reasoning behind it. I was a teenager by the time Buz was born, and we all know how self-centered teens can be; I was no exception. I did notice that he was a beautiful, talented child. And my dad got the boy he had always wanted. Today Buz is married to a wonderful woman and has a daughter in her mid-thirties.

Somehow at this point in my parents' life, they decided to have more children. The family story is that they couldn't bear to put the high chair into the attic. but who knows? My mother carried a child almost to term, a little girl Tina Maria, who lived only a few hours, but we always think of her as being one of us. My father and I are the only ones who witnessed her tiny body put into the ground.

Markee's name is a contraction of Mary Katherine, and when she was little neither name seemed appropriate to such a little one, so I guess that's how it came about. I had left home by the time she was born and had a son a month younger than she was. At the time I lived in Puerto Rico with my Air Force husband, who was stationed there. My son Chris was born there as well. Markee is now called Mary by her family, and she has three beautiful grown children.

Fia is really Rita Sofia, named after my mother (Rita) and perhaps a distant aunt. I wish I knew more about the naming rationale behind each of us. Fia, the baby, was sometimes called FeeFee, and she was the only one of us who really looked different from the rest of us. She was born bald as an egg and very fair-skinned, and as she grew she developed the prettiest white-blond hair. She actually is the only one who resembles her maternal grandfather, who was Welch. She didn't ever have to do anything to keep that gorgeous blond hair, which she has to this day.

My siblings. Although twenty years separate the oldest from the youngest, we will always be connected by the bonds that we share. There's a little bit of each parent that shines through us in our daily lives, flavoring the present with echoes of the past. Perhaps it's inevitable that as I age I see more of our similarities emerge. Norma Jean and I talk to each other using FaceTime a couple of times a month, but I only see my other siblings on Facebook, and mostly it's their offspring who post on there. My nieces and nephews, and grand-nieces and grand-nephews are quickly growing into young adults. Beautiful people all. I am so blessed to have at least some way to keep in touch as time goes by. I never knew I would become so attached to a social media site, but I have.

I suppose it's inevitable that as I age and look back on the decades of life I've lived, that there are several versions of each of us. I was once a young mother with two beautiful children, and now the ghosts of my nonexistent grandchildren shine through each one of my relatives' progeny. Life is like that, I guess. I'll take it, happily.

I'm sure that I've written about my siblings before, but they are on my mind today, and I hope I've given you a little peek into why they are so special to me. I've got a life that I enjoy and cherish today, but I am also enriched by a long line of pretty exceptional people. Desmond Tutu once said, "You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them."

And with that, my post is finished. I've got to get up and start my day, and I'll be heading off to the coffee shop to join my family of the heart who love coffee as much as I do. I'll be watching the Oscars tonight, hoping that my favorites get honored. Plus I love to see the gowns. Until next week, I hope that you will stay safe and will find much to enjoy in your days. Be well, my dear friends.