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, 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.