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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goodbye to 2017

When I was younger I did this
It's New Years Eve! Another year to say goodbye to and another one to look forward to. I see that it's already 2018 in Australia, according to my news feed, but we have a whole day to spend before the year is over. It's all a little bit arbitrary, isn't it? We decide these things and act as if they are written in stone, but they are just agreements we make with one another. Nevertheless, this year is soon to be behind me, and I'll make the mistake of writing down the wrong year for several days or weeks, before I get used to it.

It used to be when I wrote checks that I most often forgot the correct year, but I hardly write any at all any more, maybe a half dozen during an entire year, so I don't have to worry about that. It will only be paperwork when I write the year that I'll make the mistake. You know, getting used to -/-/18 as the date.

Wasn't it just the beginning of the millennium the other day? How is it possible that the years have flown by so quickly? We are almost two decades in, and our world has changed in many big and small ways. The smartphone revolution had not even begun in 2000 (it wasn't until 2007 that the first iPhone was released), nobody ever heard of Airbnb, for example, or Uber, or much else that we take for granted today. And look at how Amazon has changed our shopping habits, for example.

I just finished a quick search on the internet about the history of blogging, and I was surprised to learn how long it's actually been around. In the last twenty years, it's become a major social phenomenon. I've been blogging myself now for almost a decade, with it beginning as a way for me to keep myself entertained and stay in practice with writing after retirement. And yes, it's done the job quite well. I never for a moment imagined the community that would develop around blogging. Before I sat down to write my Sunday morning meditation, I checked out those who had posted while I slept. People who I will never lay eyes on have become as important to me as family members, and in some cases even more so.

One nice thing about the end of one year and the beginning of another is a chance to take stock of how much has (or hasn't) changed during our last revolution around the sun. The seasons come and go, three months at a time, and we move from chilly and frozen to hot and humid without actually noticing a daily change. The sunlight grows weak in the winter and bakes the ground in the summer. Same sun, different season. Up here just a bit south of the 49th parallel, our days are very short in the winter and long in the summer. From Wikipedia:
From a point on the ground at this latitude, the sun is above the horizon for 16 hours, 12 minutes during the summer solstice and 8 hours, 14 minutes during the winter solstice. This latitude also roughly corresponds to the minimum latitude in which astronomical twilight can last all night near the summer solstice.
I have consulted Wikipedia and Google's search engine a dozen times already while writing this post, and that is all a very recent development. When I pulled up the last article, I saw that Wikimedia is asking for donations to keep it going. Since I am a very frequent user, I donated in less than a minute. Since it's the last day of the year, it's fitting that it would be my final annual donation to a cause I care about. Yes, the world is changing right in front of our eyes!

Since it's also a perfect time for a short retrospective, I thought I'd share my favorite books and movies from the past year. To refresh my memory, I brought up the app my local library provides for me to look over the last year's history. In perusing it, I realized that this was the year I discovered David Baldacci, who writes gripping mystery novels. My sister had a book by him when I visited last year, and I've made my way through pretty much all of them. Frankly, I can't remember a thing about any of these books, so they are forgettable but very entertaining reads.

I also saw books that I enjoyed very much that had been recommended by bloggers whom I read regularly. One that caught my eye is Out to Pasture, a series of books written by a woman who wrote this as a first novel at the age of 85. I read every other one I could find and enjoyed them all very much. I also read Anne of Green Gables and the subsequent novel written at the turn of the nineteenth century, recently in the news, because of a new movie being made about the character. There are more in the series, but I'm in no hurry.

None of those books were purchased, since they are good for one read only. The ability to hear of a recommended book and simply pull up a new tab on my laptop and place a hold on a book, whether new or old, is really wonderful. I use it often when I'm reading blogs and someone tells me I should check out a book. In fact, I've got one I just checked out yesterday that someone told me about (I have no idea who) and came in this past week.

Movies are a little more difficult, since I don't have anything to remind me about my favorites this year, except for my faulty memory. In the past month I've seen a few I enjoyed, such as the wonderful Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill. He deserves to win an Oscar for this one. And I also saw The Shape of Water, a totally different kind of movie, a love story about a woman who falls in love with a fish creature. I loved it, but then again I have very eclectic tastes. Both links take you to Rotten Tomatoes, which tell you that other people have also enjoyed those two movies as well.

I could go on and on, but I'm not going to, since I have my day to begin after I finish up here. As I said in the beginning of this post, it's been a long time since I've celebrated New Years Eve with a party. I cannot manage to stay up that long any longer, even if I wanted to, and why would I? My nice warm bed beckons to me, and alcoholic parties no longer hold my interest. However, I had plenty of revelry in past years, enough to last me through the ones I have left.

Whatever you do with your last eve in the old year, I hope you stay safe and warm (or if you're in Australia, stay cool). Around here the temperatures will be chilly but reasonable, while they are saying in New York and other parts of the East Coast will have some extremely cold temperatures for the festivities. Brrr!

I will be getting up soon and starting my own last day of the year with my friends at the coffee shop, after having said Auld Lang Syne to my dear virtual friends here. Please stay safe and have the very best of the new year to come. Be sure to hug your dear ones to your heart, and remember those who have already gone before us. I wish you well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas magic

Joe Meche's Christmas gift to us
This has been a Christmas season for me like no other. Suffice it to say that the second cataract surgery was successful, and now I am looking at the screen with two eyes and no glasses. It's perfect. I now have distance glasses for driving and watching movies in the theater, but when I'm not wearing them, the world looks much like it did before! With them on, I can read even the tiniest print on street signs, something that had been missing from my vision for years and years. I am beyond thrilled and very glad that the ordeals are behind me, hopefully. I will see the surgeon on Wednesday for the final left eye check and the one-week All Clear for the right eye, giving me the chance to resume my yoga practice. I'll be placing drops in the right eye all the way until the middle of January.

We don't do much for the holidays, just carry on as we usually do, with a few extra parties and indulgences, but we don't exchange gifts any more. Not formally, anyway, but in the course of events we end up buying a little something for each other while out and about. SG treats me to many delightful healthy dishes, and I saw him perusing a book he wanted while we were out, so I bought it for him. We do these kinds of things year round, but just being out in the crowded stores together at this time of year was unusual. We were on our way back from one of the many visits to the surgeon.

It was truly cold yesterday on the walk with the ladies around Lake Padden. Clear and cold, I was taken by surprise at how cold it felt before we got warmed up as we walked. Although it was 24°F (-4°C), the light breeze made it feel much colder, and my face felt frozen, as I walked without wearing any glasses to warm my eyeballs! But within a twenty-minute window, suddenly all the clothes I was wearing made me feel almost overheated. It amazes me how much the body's internal temperature rises when one gets moving. Before long, I was shedding clothes, along with many of the other women. We chatted as we walked, happy to be out on a fine day with each other. More than a dozen of us were dressed with jingle bells tied to our shoes and festive wear for the season. Afterwards, we gathered at a local cafeteria to share coffee and enjoyment before heading off to our respective homes or last-minute shopping. It was so lovely.

Today I will head to the coffee shop to join my friends there for my usual Sunday morning latte. At this time of the year, not many people rise early, so it'll probably just be us and the staff, listening to Christmas music and playing with our iPads. I realized with a shock yesterday that I've known John for more than four years now, and I look forward to seeing him. My life is enriched by his friendship. Tomorrow he, Lily and I will head out in his big truck for our early-morning adventure of trying to find a cup of coffee somewhere other than Avellino's, which will be closed, along with almost every other place in town.

Now that I've had so many different Christmas Eves in my life, I can look back and remember them with joy and gladness. When I was young, it was a magical time of a fragrant Christmas tree decorated in the house, with tinsel back then, and presents under the tree that we exchanged with each other. I was the oldest, but my sister Norma Jean and I were only the beginning of the family Mama and Daddy would produce. PJ was born when I was seven, and our Christmases then included a baby, then a toddler, and finally a playmate. My only brother was born when I was sixteen, and my two youngest sisters were born after I married and left home, so I never knew them as well as the others. Being only one year apart, those two have remained very close throughout their lives.

My parents moved a great deal, since Daddy was in the Air Force, but somehow when I think back on those early years, the constant in our lives was the family, not where we lived but each other. Daddy was gone a lot, but Mama created a home for us, wherever we were, and it created a warm and secure childhood for us. Mama was only 69 when she died, and Daddy had been gone for more than a decade by then, so we never got a chance to experience their old age with them, but now that I am much older than either parent ever got a chance to be, I can imagine how it might have been. No old folks home for them: they would have aged in place, in their retirement home, with us grown children coming home every holiday season to visit our beloved parents.

Now that my sight has settled down, I am reading several books at once, and one that I'm enjoying especially is the sequel to Anne of Green Gables. The author wrote a long series of stories at the turn of the twentieth century about Anne and her family, and I have loved being transported to another era, realizing how every single period has had its own magic. Today we are in a difficult time, with the human population of the planet almost at its maximum, and other life forms dying off because of it. I know it sounds harsh, but in many ways I'm glad I'm old and will probably not be around to see the worst of the days to come.

But peace and joy will reign again, they always do, and the magic of this season will continue to delight people for as long as there are people. I could get really maudlin and dystopian right now and imagine the awfulness ahead, but I will resist and instead think of all the good happening in the world on this Christmas Eve. Tomorrow Christians the world over will rejoice in the birth of Jesus, who came into the world at a very tumultuous time indeed. The cycle of life continues, and every dark time is followed by the return of the light, the return of joy that will ring out with gladness in the days and years to come.

My own little world is perfect right now, with my keys tapping out a message to the larger world that all is well, all is as it should be. My tea, long gone, my partner still sleeping, the darkness outside soon to be banished by the bright rays of the winter sun, I am filled with gratitude and wonder. My wish for you on this Christmas Eve is that if your heart is sore it will be comforted, if your sight is clouded it will be clear, and that the gift of family and friendship surround you in whatever manner you most desire.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Winter solstice

Snagged from the internet
This week, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will experience the longest night of the year, and the shortest day. In the Southern Hemisphere, of course, it's the opposite, due to the elliptical orbit of our planet around the sun. More information about this phenomenon is here. I find it fascinating and have personally experienced it for three-quarters of a century. Depending on where I have lived, the event is either negligible (when living close to the equator) or pronounced (as it is here so far north I'm almost at the Canadian border).

Sunset at 4:13pm and sunrise after 8:00am means our days are just over eight hours long. The sun barely comes up before it starts to set again, it seems. Of course, if I lived even farther north, there are places where the sun actually doesn't do much more than scrape the horizon before going down again. I cannot imagine living much farther north than I already do, but many people seem to thrive in such circumstances.

For me, the upcoming week will have both my second cataract surgery, and the winter solstice at 8:27am on Thursday. It's a day I would normally be hiking with my friends, but this week I'll be home recovering from what I hope is as successful a surgery as was the first, three weeks ago. I know I've said it before, but I still find it a miracle that my sight has improved so dramatically in my left eye. I really had given it up and thought it I was moving toward becoming slowly blind. But instead, although there is missing vision, the new IOC (intra-ocular lens) has made it possible for me to see again. I know I've been going on about this for awhile, but anyone who has been through it knows how miraculous it seems and knows why I can't stop myself. Now just one more miracle, please.

This year, SG and I will be doing little to celebrate the Christmas season. As we get older, it seems more and more like just another day, but really, it's a celebration of the return of the light, the birth of Jesus, and the celebration of Hanukkah. Probably a few more traditions I know little about, but it's a special time for most humans. I remember when I was a kid, Christmas Eve was just about the most magical night of the year, when Santa came to our home and put presents under the Christmas tree during the night as we slept. I can still remember those feelings, although it's been a long time since I've even had a tree. When Chris was little, I tried to make it as special for him as it had been for me.

Now he's gone, but Christmas still comes once a year, and the light returns as the days begin to lengthen, imperceptibly at first. By the end of January, I'll notice more light in the sky and soon I won't need a headlamp to light my way to the bus in the early morning hours. But that's looking too far ahead. I need to get through this week and recover from the eye surgery and find out what my new reality will be.

On Tuesday morning, when I wake and go through my morning routine, it will be different: I won't be able to have my tea with milk in it, because I will be expected to come to the surgery center with an empty stomach, and I'm told to consume only clear liquids that morning. I did find out that coffee (hardly clear) is considered legal. Thank goodness for that, since I'm more than a little addicted to caffeine. I'm not fond of the taste of tea without milk, because of the tannin, but I'll manage. I'll be too nervous to care much about it, anyway.

You'd think that since I've been through this once, I would be less anxious, but as we all know, just because something goes perfectly the first time, it doesn't mean it will be the same story the second time around. For one thing, my eye is different: the doctor told me I have a fairly significant astigmatism in my right eye and that, since I'm opting for myopic vision rather than distance, it "should" be okay, but even if it isn't, the astigmatism can be corrected with glasses. Fine. Whatever. What are my choices, anyway? I know so little about these issues, and research on the internet doesn't make me any wiser about what to do. I scared myself silly by researching cataract surgery before the first eye was done, and I'm just trying to keep myself at an even keel this time around.

Prayer and meditation seems to help more than anything else I've done. And frankly, I'm not the basket case I was before the first eye, because I am now familiar with the routine and I know I should be just fine. I felt well taken care of and in the hands of professionals. What more could anybody ask? (Well, maybe a good outcome, too.)

I am also very fortunate to have a wonderful partner who takes such good care of me when I'm sick or incapacitated. He has held my hand many times when I've been sick or recovering from something or other. I can't imagine how different my life would be without him, so right here, right now, I can express my gratitude for him and for our partnership. He shops for our groceries with my needs always in mind, and for that I am also grateful.

It's beginning to sound a little like a broken record, but I am also incredibly grateful for the community of friends I've gathered here in cyberspace. Fellow bloggers and interested family and friends are constantly present because of the world of the internet. It's become so ubiquitous that I forget, sometimes, how much I rely on it. I've got connectivity at home, in all the other places I hang out, and with the tap on the keys or a swipe of a finger, the world opens up to me. Now if that isn't miraculous, I don't know what is.

Euripides once said, "Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness." That's because in normal times, we take for granted that we are loved and cared for, and we shower others with care and concern when they are in need. I hope that we will remind each other that the darkness is temporary, and light will return once again. Also, don't forget to smile at that stranger on the street, because it might be the one light that makes the difference for him or her that day. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things and a wonderful and productive seven days.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Learning to see again

Belllingham Bay and fog with blue skies above
Lily took this picture yesterday on our walk with the ladies. The fog was such a beautiful color, even prettier than this, but she captured it well, I thought. The air was very cold and frost dusted our path as we made our way down Boulevard Park to Fairhaven. I am still enchanted with the beauty around me, with my new eye, seeing everything so clearly.

I have more than a week before I get the other eye done (the 19th), but for now I am still in an ecstasy of delight every day when I wake and open my eyes. Without glasses, I can see so much more than I ever thought I would again. I met with the surgeon to check out my progress, and he said I could resume my regular activities, even standing on my head if I wanted. But he also said, if it were him, he might wait another week for that. However, inverted postures are no problem for the moment. I went to the final yoga class of the semester yesterday, knowing I could modify anything if I choose, but it was what is called a "restorative" class, where we do some moderate stretching and then breathing practice (pranayama). It was lovely to be back.

The doctor also discussed options for the other eye: I would like to see a little more clearly close up, which he agreed to do that by inserting a lens that is a little more myopic. He also told me that although I have a fairly significant astigmatism in that eye, a speciality lens will probably not be necessary, since I'm going for close vision rather than distance. In any event, whatever I have afterwards can be corrected with my new glasses prescription. Getting the last surgery out of the way and going through the short one-week recovery will be over and done with by the end of the year, if all goes well. I will be putting drops in my eyes well into January, however. I'm hoping for the best outcome, of course.

I am vigilant about washing my hands and trying to keep from getting a cold at this vulnerable time of the year, because then I wouldn't be able to have the surgery as scheduled. So I'm staying away from sneezes and coughs as much as possible. I notice when I ride the bus, there are a lot of people who seem to be under the weather. Fortunately I am wearing gloves and not touching surfaces with my bare hands. I can be a bit of a hypochondriac.

I used to think my mother was a hypochondriac, since she was always discussing her litany of ills with me, but now that I'm older, I know she was experiencing what happens when you get old: things hurt for no apparent reason and you wonder, is it cancer? I have an ache in my side sometimes, but it is only in the morning that I notice it and forget all about it by the end of the day. I'll mention it to my doctor when I have my annual wellness visit in January. But now that I've joined the ranks of the really old, I know it will be something sooner or later that will keep me from being what I consider to be colossally healthy. On Thursday, I walked around eight miles up and down more than 2,000 feet of elevation, some of it very steep. And my knees were fine! What a relief to have been able to join my friends on a beautiful sunny day. The only residual pain has been some sore quadricep muscles, which was to be expected.

Today Judy and I are going to see Wonder, a story about a young boy with some facial disfigurement that ends up going to school and facing the world. Julia Roberts is supposedly really good in it, and it's the little boy who starred in Room who plays Auggie, the young boy (apparently with lots of makeup). I'm looking forward to it.

The dearth of good movies is always gone by the end of the year, when it seems the best are saved for the holiday season, or maybe it's for the Oscars. They want their movie to be on your mind before the nominations come out. We've already seen Lady Bird, The Florida Project, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and now this one. There's still that movie about LBJ that I want to see, but I'm not at all sure that once I've had the second eye done I'll be traveling around much during the recovery week. So far, I think Three Billboards is my pick for Best Picture. The performances are simply incredible, and I left the theater feeling glad I'd seen it. Although The Florida Project is good, it was so depressing I left the theater feeling terrible. Lady Bird was sort of in the middle: a good movie, well acted, but for me, lacking in some indefinable way. Frances McDormand from Fargo plays the lead character in Three Billboards and is simply marvelous. If you have any favorites, I'd like to know what you think.

Remember back in September when I was bemoaning the five pounds I'd gained over the last year or so? Well, they are gone, thanks to the Lose It app I downloaded onto my phone, and being able to keep track of what I eat. I used it five years ago to lose fifteen pounds, and now I feel I've got something to help me lose excess weight whenever I feel the need. I can feel the difference, although five pounds doesn't sound like much. When you're only a little over five feet tall, it makes a difference. Maybe that's one reason my knees did so well on the hike last Thursday: five pounds less to carry. Here's what the Arthritis Foundation says about it:
Every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. So a person who is 10 pounds overweight has 40 pounds of extra pressure on his knees; if a person is 100 pounds overweight, that is 400 pounds of extra pressure on his knees.
Yes, that would mean 20 pounds less pressure on my knees from a five-pound weight loss. I'm grateful to have lost the extra weight, in any event. Now the trick will be to keep it off. I've got a couple Christmas parties to attend, which are always times I allow myself to go off the rails. And my recent birthday party indulgence showed up the next day on the scales, I remind myself. I just kept on plugging in the food I consumed into the app and soon I was back on the losing side again.

All in all, things are looking up. I am truly grateful for the gift of sight, and that someone with limited income, like me, is eligible for cataract surgery through Medicare. I surely hope this benefit will not be one of the cuts that I hear will be ahead for us, because this is truly a miracle for those of us with dimming vision. I also am grateful for having a good doctor to take care of any needs that come up, and the ability to see specialists if necessary. It's not cheap, but there are some good benefits that come from being older. At least at the present time.

Well, with that, I've written another Sunday post. Next week will be the final one before I go under the knife again, and so you'll know by Christmas what Santa might have brought for me. I'm hoping for another good eye. I remember when all I wanted was my "two front teeth," a long, long time ago. The incessant Christmas songs play over the loudspeakers in every store I visit, and the pretty lights shine everywhere, lifting my spirits and reminding me that, if I wish it, I can concentrate on the season of giving, of love, and light. I can leave behind all the woes of the world for a short while. Love is in my heart and lights the way ahead.

My dear partner still sleeps, making a few sounds as he stirs, and my tea is gone again. I am scheduled for a massage early today, after coffee with my friends and before the movie with Judy. It just doesn't get much better than this, if I remember to focus on the season and count my blessings. Until we meet again next week, I hope you are well and happy. I found this quote to leave you with, from Albert Schweitzer:
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Heart full to bursting

Some of us walking ladies having coffee and bagels
After yesterday's morning walk, about half of us went to the Bagelry afterwards, and a nice lady at the next table took this picture of us. (She is the thumb in the upper right.) We were so lucky to have a very nice walk, one that Cindy chose so that I might be able to join them, no hills and fairly short, three days post-surgery. And it didn't rain on us, it waited until we got inside and then began to pour.

Four days! How can it be that I hardly remember how poorly I saw out of my left eye? It is the eye that has already lost some vision from the AMD (age-related macular degeneration) and I worried that it would be worse afterwards. No, it's not! In fact, when I put on my glass (the lens was popped out on the left side, hence the singular term) I can see so incredibly well that it's like a miracle. The right compensates for the missing vision and it becomes invisible. Not to mention that everything is bright and new, with colors I haven't seen in years!

I did have some dysphotopsia, which was pretty startling on the first day after the patch was removed. It was like there was something flashing out of my left peripheral vision, and when I would try to read, I could see what seemed like a bouncing flash as my eye would move across the page. It's almost completely gone already, and I suspect that what remains will be filtered out by my brain. That link tells you that almost 20% of patients experience some dysphotopsia after cataract surgery, which was virtually unknown ten years ago when intra-ocular lenses (IOLs) were made of a different material. The acrylic lens used today is the culprit; it is popular because it can be folded and the site for insertion of the lens is much smaller. It is the only problem I've had so far, except for the constant requirement to put eyedrops in the eye to help with the healing process. On Wednesday I hope to get the All Clear from the surgeon to return to my normal activities. The first few days are critical, and those have already passed, which is why I decided to go on the walk yesterday. I knew I would take it easy and was already told that walking is acceptable, so it was simply wonderful to join my friends.

And of course, they knew all about my birthday and surgery, and while we were out walking (I was behind, not wanting to keep up the brisk pace we usually take), they all stopped to wait for me and Lily. Once we reached them, they lined up on both sides of the sidewalk and made an arch with their arms for me to pass under, while they sang happy birthday. Lily ran around to the front so she could join them. I was so touched that I burst into tears, I couldn't help it. I feel incredibly blessed to have such wonderful friends. And, as you can see in the picture above, most of us went out for coffee and bagels afterwards.

On my actual birthday, my friend Hedi, who lives in the apartment complex, had a small gathering for me to celebrate the big day, my Diamond Jubilee birthday. Lily gave me a beautiful purple vest and a strawberry cake, and Hedi provided snacks (healthy of course) and a long-stemmed red rose in a beautiful vase. There were only five of us, but it was simply a perfect celebration, and I left to walk home feeling like a million dollars, with the gift of fabulous friends and a new eye.

The second surgery will take place on December 19, and it will be a week later on the 27th when I will hopefully get the All Clear for the second eye as well, and I can begin the new year with vision like I haven't had in decades. You don't realize how much colors are muted and how difficult it becomes to see in low light when you have cataracts. I can't help but stop every now and then to admire the view around me, because it's all bright and clear, and that's just with one eye! I opted to have close vision instead of far, so I will need to wear glasses for distance, but what's incredible is how clearly I can see across the room and even across the street. Even though I only have one corrective lens in my glasses, driving is easier and more clear. I am incredibly grateful for the gift of sight. And this is when I thought it would just get worse and worse because of the AMD. Not so, and as I said in the title, my heart is full to bursting!

The other good thing happening right now is that I am successfully losing those pesky five pounds that had made their way around my middle. Other than on my actual birthday, when I had two scoops of ice cream and lots of cake, I've been gradually losing weight rather than gaining, even during the holidays. I did go way over my diet on Friday, and it showed up on the scales yesterday, but there was no way I was going to follow a strict regimen on my Diamond Jubilee! I do have to say, though, I feel better when I eat more healthily, but there's a time and place to loosen up, don't you think?

My friend John picked me up from my apartment on Friday and drove me to Mallard's Ice Cream Shoppe, and even though it was raining and gloomy, I felt bright and joyful as I snarfed down two enormous scoops of the best ice cream in the world. He had some cranberry ice cream, while I had coffee and coconut almond crunch. Mallard's makes many seasonal flavors like cranberry during the winter; John said he would be back in the spring for rhubarb ice cream, his favorite. Then yesterday, my friend Judy treated me to dinner and a movie. The birthday that keeps on giving. (smile)

And now it's time for me to put the laptop away and start my day. Partner is still sleeping, as usual. It looks like we might have a bit of a break from the rain this coming week, and I'll be glad to join my hiking group again on Thursday and head back to the gym for my usual workout. I'll be waiting awhile longer to start yoga again, because inverted postures are a bad idea after recent cataract surgery. But return I will. I hope that all of you, my dear virtual friends, have a wonderful week until we meet again.
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. William Arthur Ward

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A new day, a new beginning

Clearing clouds
Last February, on one of our Trailblazer hikes, it rained almost the whole day (not unusual),  but just as we were beginning to head back down the old logging road, the clouds cleared just for a moment, just long enough for me to capture this view of Mt. Baker and the Twin Sisters. Just a few minutes after I took this, the clouds again obscured them, but I will always have the photo to remind me of that moment.

This morning I woke from a very realistic dream that lingers in my mind. I dreamed that I was with a man whom I had just met, but we bonded very strongly. I didn't know his name, but I could tell that the feeling was mutual. We held each other in a long hug, and then he turned away to walk through Security in some crowded airport or other. I called out to him, "Will I ever see you again?" He stopped and looked back at me, and I realized I was mistaken: it wasn't him at all but someone else who looked like a younger version of the same man. Where was the mystery person I had recognized as my soul mate? This morning as I sit here with my laptop, I can recall his protective touch, his smell, and the look in his eyes. A sense of loss filled me as I woke from the dream.

And now, as I enter this new day, the dream fades and all I have left is a vague memory. It's similar to the memory I have of the day when I took the picture: it's still there, but it's just a glimpse as the clouds cleared away, enough to remain tucked somewhere in the recesses of my mind, not enough to have a clear focus, just enough to remember it happened. Dreams are funny that way.

Today begins the eye drops I'll be adding to my soon-to-be-operated-on eye. Tuesday is the big day, and I wake in the middle of the night and spend some time thinking about the event. Almost everyone I know who has endured cataract surgery gets through it just fine, so why am I so anxious? Perhaps it's because I made the mistake of researching it thoroughly on the internet and know all the things that can go wrong. Although it's a very common surgery, I'll be glad when the next month has passed and I'll be on the other side of both events. Next week I'll report on the experience of the first eye. It's the bad one, the one that has already lost some vision from AMD (age-related macular degeneration). I spend some time wondering whether the increased vision from the cataract removal will make the vision loss more acute, or less so. In any case I won't have the wonderful clear focus that people without AMD receive. I have no choice but to deal with whatever I end up with.

I almost decided to talk about the weather and went over to the website to check it out. I listened to the wind blow, hard, all night long, and the unusual warmth that accompanied it. But no, that's not where I want to go today. It's tempting, because it's a safe subject, but not at all where my mind travels when I stop to think. No, instead I reflect on the awful terrorist attack that took place at a Sufi mosque in Egypt. More than 300 people were mowed down in a few minutes. Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam, believing in love, peace, and tolerance. This article will introduce you to it, if you know little about Sufism. From that article:
 “It is nothing more than the spiritual dimension,” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told the New York Times. “It is Islam, but we focus on meditation, on chanting sessions, which enable the Muslim to have his or her heart open. The myths people have about Sufis are analogous to the myths people have about Muslims.”
When I was a young woman living in a hippie commune, we practiced Sufi dancing once a week in the ballroom of the old mansion that had been repurposed as our community home. I have lovely memories of dozens of us in the dim room walking through the simple steps of the dance and chanting together. Never in my wildest imaginings would I have believed that anybody in the world would see this gentle practice as heretical. But to Muslim extremists, it justifies killing hundreds of people. My heart goes out to those who survived this massacre and who will likely never fully recover. I just pray that it doesn't turn these believers in love and tolerance into their opposite. It's hard not to think of revenge.

We live in a violent world, with terrorist attacks having now become an almost daily event. All around the world, people are frightened and afraid. That means, to me, that the terrorists are accomplishing what they set out to do. They believe that the Apocalypse is imminent and they are going to see us all return to medieval times, and they are hurrying it along. That's my belief about the Islamic State's goals, anyway. A really good article about Islam was written in 2015 in the Atlantic. I learned a great deal from it (What ISIS Really Wants). It's long and thorough, but it doesn't make me feel any better about what's yet to come. It did make me realize why ISIS believes that love and tolerance are heretical ideas.

It's hard for me to imagine what I, a single person, might be able to accomplish in the world today, but then again, I know that it's not possible to remain ignorant and aloof from the trials we all face, each and every day. I believe in love and tolerance as the way I can go towards wholeness. I have known suffering and loss, and there will be more of it to come, but I will not turn away from love. In fact, I found this lovely quote from Elisabeth Kugler-Ross that says it all for me:
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. 
Bringing myself back to the title of this post, "A new day, a new beginning," I will endeavor to find a way to spread love and hope for a better future around in my little corner of the universe. And now it's time to spend my day with some coffee, a scheduled massage, and a movie with my friend Judy. I wish you and your loved ones a stress-free, wonderful day. Until we meet again next week.

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