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, June 17, 2018

Father's Day 2018

Derald Heath
This is a picture of my first husband, Derald, who was also the father of my two boys. Today, they are all on the other side of the veil, no longer living, but my memories of them are as much a force in my life today as if they were. So many of my loved ones have passed, but I am still here, so today I'll take a few moments to remember what a great guy Derald was. I didn't always think so; when I divorced him all those long years ago, I was convinced I deserved better. These days, I think he deserved better than the sorry wife I was.

This is what he looked like when I met him and ended up marrying him, although we had only known each other a few months. You can see why I was enchanted with his smile, his good looks. He was an airman working in the hospital when my mother was admitted for some reason I can't remember now. He wore a white coat just like Vince Edwards did in Ben Casey (an old TV series), and he wore it open at the collar, just like in the movies. I was in heaven. When I brought my mother's things to the hospital, Derald asked me out. I was eighteen and smitten.

On our second date, we had sex. It was my first time, and we were in my parents' little Austin Healey Sprite. If you know what the car looks like, you know how challenging it must have been to actually do the deed in that little car. Derald didn't own a car, it was my parents' car, and we drove to an abandoned gravel pit. Romantic, I know. The moon was full, and I remember very well seeing the mound of white gravel reflecting in the moonlight. It was over before I thought it had begun, and I was confused and totally inexperienced. I was eighteen and he was twenty. I know you can probably guess what happened: our son Chris was conceived that night.

I know it was that night, because it was the only time I allowed that to happen, and it was too late. I knew within a few weeks that something amazing was happening in my body. We were married on March 1, 1961, and Chris was born in November. Derald died in 1990, many years ago, and Chris died in 2002.

We had a second son in 1964, Stephen, who was healthy and beautiful until he contracted spinal meningitis at thirteen months. He died in just a few short hours. It was this traumatic time in our lives that broke up our marriage for good. Some people face an event like this one together, and it makes their bond stronger. For us, it was the end. And I was only 22, and the life experience I had was not enough to help me through this period. Derald and I separated shortly afterwards.

But today I am looking back at my life and realize that Derald was not only a good man and a good father and if I would have known what I know now, we would have stayed married and probably made more beautiful children. Derald went on to remarry and had two more sons in his second marriage. He had a heart condition that went undetected, and he died in his sleep at the early age of 51. Chris would eventually die of the same thing, at 40.

One day, Chris convinced me that I should talk to his father. He had been trying to get us to talk to each other for ages, but I was resistant. It was important to him, and he knew and loved both of us, so with much trepidation I made the phone call. We ended up talking for hours, and I realized that Derald had matured into a wonderful person and I felt regret for the choices I had made back then. Of course, I didn't know we would never talk again, that he would soon die (I think it was only a matter of months after), but I was more than a little blessed to have been able to heal over the wound of our separation. He was happy in his life, and I was happy in mine. Chris was thrilled that we had reconciled. I have never forgotten the gift that my son gave me.

I have written many times on Father's Day about my own father, and I thought it would be appropriate to mention the man who fathered my children, and to give him the credit that he is due for being a good father for as long as he lived. He never abandoned his first son, even after he remarried and had a new family. For awhile, Chris lived with them and worked alongside his father in construction projects. I remember Chris telling me about the two of them replacing an entire roof, just the two of them. They were both relatively young and healthy at that time.

At my age, most of my friends have lost their parents, although now and then I'll overhear somebody my age at the gym talking about visiting a parent in a nursing home. No member of my family has ever lived long enough to end up in one. Years ago I volunteered in a nursing home for a short period and found it to be a horrible, horrible place: the vacant stares, the smell, the hopelessness.

But you know, all of those people were at one time vibrant, healthy, productive people. What happened to them? What is real? If we were to actually survive death, in another life, what person emerges into the spiritual realm? If the beautiful infant who was my son Stephen was transported into heaven, did he continue to grow into a man? Surely other people must wonder about these things.

When I think of my departed loved ones, my parents, my children, my previous husband, and the life I am blessed with today, I realize that we will only know the answer to these questions when we join them, if we do even then. My reflections today include the hope that the two of them are hanging out together, maybe working in cloud construction. In my mind's eye, I just got a glimpse of them both laughing and sending their smiles through the thin veil that separates us.

I hope this Father's Day will give all my loved ones a chance to reflect on our own fathers, or those who have acted in that capacity, and take a moment to send them a bit of gratitude. I hope also that until we meet again next week, you will have many moments of grace surround you and your loved ones. I wish you well until then.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Family and friends

Whatcom Falls
Yesterday my sister-in-law Luena returned back to her home in southern California, after a four-day visit. Although we have been married for a quarter of a century, this was the first time a member of SG's family has ever come to visit us. I knew little about her, except that every day on his birthday she called him, and he did the same for hers. Luena had married a man that SG didn't much care for, and consequently they stopped having frequent personal contact. Her husband died a few years ago, and Luena has sold their home and moved into a gated community.

By the time I came into his life, almost every one of SG's relatives had died, and Luena is the only living relative that I knew anything about. Long ago, when SG was married to his first wife, I think they socialized a little, but as he has grown older he does less of it and has become more settled in his ways. It was interesting to watch their interaction; at first tentative and after they became more comfortable with each other, there was more reminiscing and plenty of laughter.

It's so different from my own experience of family. When you come from a large family, you have lots of relatives and it can be overwhelming to someone like SG. He came to visit my family once, when my mother died, and it was difficult for him to find any peace and quiet among the tumult of so many of us. And we tend not to be very quiet when we get together. Of course, it feels normal to me, but for others, it can be overpowering. I know this from experience.

Now, after twenty-five years together, we are family to each other, and I've grown quiet and serene in our own world, with little need for the kind of experience that was once normal to me, with huge gatherings for holidays and plenty of drama going on all the time. Once a person reaches the eighth decade of life, you need the peace and quiet that we now enjoy, rather than being constantly on the go. Times change; people change, but every once in awhile you can get a glimpse into the way things used to be.

Although I have five siblings (well, four now that my sister PJ has died), with all the concomitant relatives, it's an amazing spectacle when we get together. The only one of my siblings that I visit annually is my sister Norma Jean. We grew up together and share memories that now no one else is alive to remember. I talk to her on FaceTime a couple of times a month, and fly to Florida every winter for a visit, and I look forward to it very much. I travel alone, which is how it should be, to my mind. SG looks forward to my absence, when he can do as he pleases without thinking of my needs. Everyone needs a break to appreciate how good it is when you're back together.

I am closer to some friends than I am to other family members. It doesn't really matter to me if I've known someone for a long time or grown up with them; it's how important they are to my daily life. When I think of my friend John at the coffee shop, I realize how much I enjoy just sitting next to him and commiserating over the state of the world, or sharing a bagel and laughing together. I appreciate his sense of humor and have learned a great deal about gardening from him, too. He's an important person to me, and sometimes I wonder just how that happened. When I first met him, I didn't like him at all, but as we spent more time talking, I realized that his outward appearance had made me think he was just an old rednecked farmer without any redeeming qualities. How wrong I was! Appearances can be deceiving. I'm learning that lesson on a daily basis, it seems.

Friends are just family that you didn't grow up with, ones you get to choose rather than having a relationship you've been born into. When I think of how important some people are to me that I've never even met, such as my blogging friends, it gives me a lovely feeling of inclusion in the larger world. I learn about their lives, their worries and accomplishments, and I rejoice that I have so many friends who really matter to me.

I just spent a good deal of time trying to find the right quote about friends and family to add to this post, but nothing seems quite right, so I guess I'll skip it for today. Wait: I'll give it one more try.
My friends and family are my support system. They tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear and they are there for me in the good and bad times. Without them I have no idea where I would be and I know that their love for me is what's keeping my head above the water. --Kelly Clarkson
Well, that about sums it up and gives me a good place to end this post. I've finished my tea, partner just went to the bathroom and now has snuggled back into his spot in bed, and the day is calling me. After the coffee shop, I'll be going to see the movie Book Club with my friend Judy. It's got a few of my favorite actors of a certain age in it, and although the reviews aren't great, I'm just looking for a little entertainment.

I hope that between now and when we get together again next week, you'll have found some time to spend with family and friends, too. If not, come visit me here and we'll catch up. Be well until we meet again, dear ones.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Hope is the thing with feathers

One of our strawberries
It is now strawberry time in our garden. Mine aren't doing so well, but Lily picked this gorgeous specimen out of Hedi's garden spot. We must get to them quickly, or the slugs will take bites before we get a chance to eat them first.

About the title of my post this morning: it is the first line of a favorite Emily Dickinson poem, which goes like this:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
 
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
 
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
With the news in the world feeling so shaky these days, not just in my own country but throughout the globe, I keep trying to find a silver lining, a way to keep my own hope alive throughout. A blogging friend, Linda, wrote a wonderful post about being "drenched in privilege," which gave me pause. And then after reading it carefully and thinking about it, I realized that yes, I am also very much drenched in privilege, and since it surrounds me so completely, I am mostly unaware of it. I am retired, have a decent (if not huge) monthly income, thanks to Social Security and a pension (actually annuities) from my previous job. Enough that I can pay the bills and still have a little bit left over to pay for yoga and other activities I enjoy.

I have a place to live that continues to increase in cost, but until I can no longer afford to live here, I'll be grateful for a roof over my head, a garden spot in the back yard, and plenty of lush greenery to soothe my soul. And I have to continue to be grateful for the gift of sight, which is all too tenuous as I go through my days. My macular degeneration continues to progress, even though I am now wearing dark sunglasses and eye shades whenever I go outside, slowing the degeneration for as long as possible.

There is a young blind woman at the gym, who has someone help her take showers. Often as I am leaving the showers, I will see the two of them entering. The helper is fully clothed as she leads the young woman into the shower area, and I have wondered whether the blind woman has someone with her for the rest of her day. She looks like she's in her early twenties. I'm again very grateful for my own ability to see and realize that I will probably always be able to get around and take care of myself, even as I lose the ability to drive and to read books like I do right now. The good part of AMD is that you keep your peripheral vision as you lose the ability to focus in the center. I still have my central vision and hope (there's that word again) to keep it for as long as possible.

I am happy to focus on the positive aspects of my life and realize that it does absolutely no good to concentrate on the negative. Some of us are natural optimists and tend to see the good in everything. I like to think that I am that way, but sometimes these days I find myself despairing that things will get better and let myself become afraid of the future. When I think there is nothing I can do to change things, I feel my hope begin to ebb. Some very wise person (Harriet Tubman) once said:
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. 
Is it possible to experience a world at peace? A place where everybody has a home, enough to eat, and freedom from fear? That's my dream. And since I've only got my own environment, my own life to work with, I'll start right there and imagine the dream emanating out from this little spot in the universe, reaching for the stars. That's my little feathery hope you feel tickling you behind your ears, on its way to the moon.

As I look around at my world, I see plenty to give me hope. My partner sleeps contentedly next to me, cloudy skies are bringing us some showers today, which my garden will appreciate, and I'll wear my raincoat to keep myself dry. And this morning, I'll skip the news cycle so I can concentrate on more positive parts of my day. I'll be heading off to the coffee shop to enjoy some time with my buddies there, and then off to the movies with my friend Judy. What's not to like about a day like that?

 If I keep hope in the forefront of my thoughts, I believe my soul will soak up some of those nourishing raindrops. And I am wishing the same for all of you, my dear friends, the blogging universe that reaches out to you with love and desire for a very good week ahead for all of us. I wish you well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Memorial Day weekend

Sky, clouds, water, trees
Yesterday I went to Lummi Island with my walking group, and I took this picture of the water through the trees, hoping to show how pretty it all was, but unfortunately the picture doesn't do it justice. I decided to use it anyway, because for me, it evokes the feeling I had while we walked. A brisk breeze and cool temperatures made it fairly easy to cover the seven miles. Most of the time, I love my environment, although there are times when I get tired of the incessant rain. We didn't have a drop yesterday.

Memorial Day weekend in Belllingham is filled with an unusual amount of traffic. The Ski to Sea race is today, with many hundreds of competitors in town. This relay race has seven legs and starts up at the Mt. Baker ski area and ends in Fairhaven. There are eight people on each team, starting with cross-country skiing, then downhill skiing, running, road biking, canoeing (two people on this leg), mountain biking, and then a final leg in a kayak. A timing chip is passed from one participant to the next, and it gets very competitive. There are people who do the race for fun, but many come from afar to try to win or place.

For a couple of years, I've gone down to Fairhaven to watch the kayakers come into the bay and climb out of their kayak, run up the hill from the beach to ring the bell and finish the race. It's fun to watch for awhile, but there are so many people everywhere, a bit overwhelming unless you wish to be jostled shoulder to shoulder in a raucous throng. Being short, I feel lost in the crowd and can see so little except the heads and shoulders of those around me. So I'll skip going out today. Instead, I'm planning to make a nice stew with my new Crock Pot.

One of my blogging friends sent me a couple of books to read, and I just finished one, which is the reason I bought that Crock Pot. The book, Walking with Peety, is "an inspirational and informative story about recovery, redemption, hope and achieving dreams, made possible by a doctor who listened and cared, the unconditional love between a man who thought life was over and a shelter dog who wouldn't let him quit" (from the link). Eric was way overweight and miserable and finally found a doctor who was able to help him. One of the first things she suggested is that he adopt a shelter dog to get him moving.

He had never had a pet in his life and didn't know the first thing about how to care for a dog. He also changed his diet completely, becoming a vegan following a whole food plant-based diet. Although I know a lot about food (and diets), I was moved to learn more about the difference between it and a regular vegetarian diet. Yesterday I watched Forks Over Knives, a documentary on Netflix, which was what made me decide to buy that Crock Pot and find out how I might be able to make some interesting dishes that require little work. Today it will be a vegetable stew; I'll head from the coffee shop to the co-op and get the ingredients. Looks easy enough; I've never used a slow cooker before.

On Memorial Day, lots of people visit cemeteries and remember their loved ones. I've got so many to remember, and no graves of my family anywhere, that this post will have to be my way of bringing to mind that which is never far from my consciousness: my son Chris who was serving in the Army when he died of a heart attack at the age of 40, my father who died at the early age of 62 of a heart attack, and my sister PJ who (you guessed it) died at 63 from heart disease. I take a statin to keep my cholesterol in check, but now I'm wondering if I followed this diet if I'd be able to stop taking it. Not likely, but it's worth checking out.

Right now I am re-reading a wonderful book by Paul Kalanithi, a neurologist who died at the age of 38 from lung cancer. When he realized how sick he was and that he would probably not survive for long, he and his wife decided to use IVF to have a child. He was able to be present for his daughter's birth, and he was given so much pleasure from watching her develop. He wrote the book, When Breath Becomes Air, in part as a legacy so that she might hopefully remember something of him. This beautiful book has a piece that I cannot forget and will share this long-ish quote from it with you:
Words have a longevity I do not. I had thought I could leave [Cady] a series of letters–but what would they say? I don’t know what this girl will be like when she is fifteen; I don’t even know if she’ll take to the nickname we’ve given her. There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past. 
That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.
Each time I read this, like right now, I tear up. I can't help it, it's so beautiful and says so much about how I feel about loved ones and life and love. On this Memorial Day weekend, when so many of us remember those we have lost, I'd like to also say thank you to Paul for his determination to finish this book. It was actually published posthumously by his wife early last year. In the second reading of it, many parts of the book resonate even more deeply. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

And to you, my dear readers, I give you my most sincere wish that you will have a chance to remember all your departed loved ones, and will give those you still have with you a hug (virtual or physical) and be grateful for their presence in your life. I know I am thrilled to have such a fine virtual community, and I send you my love. I wish you all good things. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Long days and short nights

Last of the tulips
The time of the year that I go to bed before the sun goes down has arrived. We have days longer than 15 hours already, and by the summer solstice a month from now, the days will be longer than 16 hours. I am staying up a little longer than I do during the winter months, because when I snuggle into my covers at the the end of my day, it seems weird to see the sun shining onto my bed. For this reason, I have a sleep mask that I use to trick myself into thinking it's really dark outside.

I know there are people who love the extra-long days and short nights, but I am not one of them. After a good day's efforts, I must somehow get my eight to nine hours of rest, or the next day isn't much fun for me. I've always been an early-to-bed and early-to-rise sort of person. My best hours of the day start about 5:00am until early afternoon, when I begin to spend more time in my easy chair with a good book. Until then, I"m active and happy to be outdoors in my garden or at the gym working out, or out walking or hiking in the beautiful area I live in. As a retired person, I seem to find plenty to keep myself occupied, and the days fly by.

It's already Sunday again, which amazes me. Wasn't it just yesterday when I sat down in my bed with tea by my side, laptop situated on my legs, propped up and ready to write a post? No, it was a week ago, because here I am again, this time wondering what the heck to write about, since nothing much has emerged from the depths of my consciousness.

I've spent much of this past week reading. The library sends me a notice when books that I've got on hold arrive for me to pick up. Mostly they are books that fellow bloggers have recommended, or ones by authors I have recently enjoyed. By the time I get that email, often I've forgotten why I asked for that book, who recommended it, or what it's about. It's like a hidden treasure. Yesterday I picked up one by A.J. Finn, The Woman in the Window. It is new this year, and I have no idea what it's about or why I put a hold on it. I only get it for two weeks, because there are other people waiting for it. Apparently it's a thriller, so once I begin to read it, I'll be finished with it much sooner than that.

This week I also finished the final book in the Red Sparrow trilogy, not my usual fare, but my friend Judy had the first book in the series and lent it to me. Once I grew fond of the characters, of course I had to find out more about them. A movie was made about the first book, which wasn't well received, but the book was really good, about the world of spies and spycraft, which I knew little about before reading it. Some of the characters seem taken right from current events between Russia and the US. My only objection to the books was the amount of violence that I had to read about. There is enough real violence in the world that I prefer to read uplifting books.

Once I finished the last book, I perused the books I had previously read on my Kindle, and decided to re-read The Martian by Andy Weir. Although it was only a few years ago when I read it the first time, I had completely forgotten much of the events in the novel. It was almost like a first read. I enjoyed it thoroughly, so much so that I downloaded the movie yesterday and watched it again. The book is better, I think. If you don't know the story, it's about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars when a six-person mission goes bad and he's left behind, supposedly dead, but he manages to survive in the Hab (Habitat) and figures out how to contact Earth. Although there lots of suspense and close calls, Mark Watney (the Martian) uses ingenuity and humor to help survive. Once Earth realizes his predicament, his survival becomes a worldwide rallying cry, with billions of people hoping and praying that somehow he would make it.

It made me wish that somehow or other we could have something like that to pull people together and concentrate on what we as humans share and not what makes us different. There is so much division and hate in the world today, enough to make me despair of any chance we might have as humans to one day live in harmony. Of course, anything is possible, and I wonder if I could make a difference in the world by simply living my own little life in as loving and caring way as I can. If enough people would do that, little by little, I believe we would begin to see a change in the world around us.

Albert Einstein seemed to think it would be enough. His words:
Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes -- goodwill among men and peace on earth.
 Perhaps it's a pollyanna premise, but why not give it a chance? As Einstein says, nothing we can do will change the underlying structure of the universe, but we live and breathe on another plane of existence, too: that of like-minded people working to create a better world. We have instant communication these days, and although it is often misused, it can also (I believe) quickly create harmony and peace if we just knew how to begin. Maybe it begins now, right here, with each of us who read these words making a commitment to the greatest of all causes: goodwill among people and peace on our beautiful, precious planet.

I am reminded of the parable of the Hundredth Monkey. Do you know it? It goes like this:
The account is that unidentified scientists were conducting a study of macaque monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima in 1952. These scientists observed that some of these monkeys learned to wash sweet potatoes, and gradually this new behavior spread through the younger generation of monkeys—in the usual fashion, through observation and repetition. Watson then concluded that the researchers observed that once a critical number of monkeys was reached, i.e., the hundredth monkey, this previously learned behavior instantly spread across the water to monkeys on nearby islands.
I lifted it from that Wikipedia link above, if you want to learn more about the history of this phenomenon. Whether or not there is such a thing as the hundredth monkey effect, it's quite possible that if enough people visualize world peace, we might actually make a difference. Who knows? What else do we have to do as we watch the world around us roiling in such turbulence and conflict?

Well, I'm starting right now. I'm looking over at my dear partner, sleeping contentedly, thinking of the sunny day ahead, my coffee shop friends, and putting a lovely circle of love and light around it all. My heart feels lighter already. I do hope that whatever you do today, you might imagine, just for a moment, that your loved ones and your world are beginning to merge with my own circle of light. Be well until we meet again next week, dear ones.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day

Me and my mama
I love this old picture, taken in the mid-1940s, judging by my age, somewhere around two. Leave it to Daddy, the photographer, to make sure our car was also in the frame. Is that an old Studebaker? He was probably as proud of the car as he was of his family. My sister Norma Jean was born two years and eight months after me, so Mama was probably already pregnant with her, but otherwise it was just me, the apple of their eye and obviously quite spoiled, believing that I am the center of the universe.

Mama was only nineteen when I was born, so she was very young and beautiful at this time, and a very good mother to me. I suppose it's normal when a baby grows up in a secure and loving environment to believe that everything was created just for her enjoyment. My childhood was a very happy one, and that was due mostly to my mother's efforts. She ended up bearing seven children, with me the first and my sister Fia the last, twenty years later. She had one pregnancy that she didn't carry to term; at seven months gestation the baby didn't have lungs developed enough to breathe on her own. These days that baby would have lived, but back then (I was a teenager at the time), she didn't make it.

The remaining six of us were raised by our parents to become productive and relatively happy members of society. My sister PJ died at 63, from complications of heart disease and diabetes. Mama herself only lived to be 69, so I wasn't born into a family destined to become centenarians. I've already lived longer than either parent, so that's one reason I take health and exercise seriously: to be more fit and active in my old age than my genetic heritage would suggest I've got coming to me.

Daddy was in the Air Force when I was growing up, so we moved often. Mama would always create a home for us wherever we were living, and I didn't suffer so much from the experience. Norma Jean did, however; she decided when she grew up that she wouldn't do that to her children and would raise them in a secure home in one place. It's interesting how differently two siblings can experience the same events, isn't it? I loved the experience of going to a new school with new friends. She was shy and would make one dear friend who she would have to leave behind when we moved. I, on the other hand, never made close friends like that, preferring to have lots of acquaintances who were interchangeable. Of course, I always had my sister, and we were very close when we grew up. We still are, and it occurs to me often that she's the only person still alive who shares my childhood memories.

My mother never felt like she accomplished much in her life, since she never brought home a paycheck, never worked outside the home except for volunteer work. I think she had the idea back then that somehow her life was lacking an essential ingredient because she never developed a career. But she was so wrong: the career of motherhood at the center of her life gave every one of us the best possible start in our own lives. And we all end up having our children grow up and away from home in any event.

There are moments from my childhood that stand out in my memories, and almost without fail they involve my mother. I remember once when I was very sick and she was taking me to the hospital. I was feverish and felt awful, but she put my head in her lap (someone else was driving) and she stroked my forehead with such love and devotion that I remember it to this day. Once a child from a large family no longer needs that kind of care, it's memorable when it happens again. Mama loved me, and all of her children, I have no doubt whatsoever.

She was an avid reader all her life. I'll bet Mama read just about everything in the local library, and I remember her going in with a box of books she had read and leaving with another full box. She'd sit on the couch surrounded by books and make her way through each one. I don't remember if she preferred any particular type of book, but I do know she devoured an enormous number of them. Norma Jean and I are the same way, having inherited the love of reading from our mother.

Mama had so many illnesses to combat in her life. She developed breast cancer in her forties, and the treatment they gave her back then, cobalt radiation after a radical mastectomy, scarred her heart and caused her numerous heart attacks over the years. She always rallied, and we began to think she would continue to fight back forever. But she had a final heart attack in 1993 that she knew was the final one. Although she lived for a few weeks afterward, giving all her children a chance to say a final goodbye, she gave away all her possessions and we knew she was ready. She slipped into a coma and for about a week she lingered before finally breathing her last.

I was privileged to be with her in her final moments. After the last gentle breath slipped away, we took all the flowers that were in her room and arranged them around her face. She was simply beautiful and her face was filled with peace. Although it was a hard time, it was one I will always cherish, having been able to be with her when she took her last breath, as she was with me when I breathed my first. We came full circle together.
Life began with waking up and loving my mother's face. --George Eliot
And so, on this Mother's Day, I remember my beautiful mother with love and happiness. I'll go out to my regular places and carry her memory in my heart and spread love and joy as far as my being allows. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well, my dear reader. Happy Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Hiking as salvation

Me, a modern hiker (taken by Bob at Maple Grove)
Since I have spent the past decade going out on hikes of varying difficulties every Thursday, I think I am stronger now than I was ten years ago. I've gone through numerous pairs of boots and a couple of backpacks, until I found one that I really like. I've got water in an internal hydration pack, and always plenty of food. And the ubiquitous trekking poles.

I realize now that I have always been an active person. Sometimes you have to get towards the end of one's days in order to look back and see a trend that would be obvious to anyone else. When I lived in Colorado, I took week-long backpacking trips, carrying everything I might need and a fairly heavy pack: dried food, sleeping bag, tent, camping stove and fuel. It was hard to start with such a heavy pack, but as the days went by, I not only got stronger, I also fell into the rhythm of the trail.

At the coffee shop last week, one of my buddies showed me a link about a book that he said made him think of me: Grandma Gatewood's Walk. I went right to the local library's website and put a hold on this book. Once I received a notice in my email that it was available, I picked it up and brought it home. Yesterday I began to learn about Emma Gatewood.
At the start of her 2,000-mile hike
In 1955, when Emma completed the entire Appalachian Trail with only a homemade knapsack slung over her shoulder carrying a few supplies, a blanket and a shower curtain for rain, no sleeping bag or shelter, I was simply astounded to learn about her adventure. She was 67 years old and had 11 children and more than 20 grandchildren by then. But Emma was no stranger to suffering: she had an abusive husband who would beat her repeatedly, going so far as to break her ribs and teeth, making her unrecognizable.

I found this interesting article about her in Adventure Journal. It sums up what I'm learning from the book, written by Ben Montgomery in 2014, many decades after her death, to celebrate the woman who saved the Appalachian Trail by drawing attention to its deficiencies:
The public attention she brought to the little-known footpath was unprecedented. Her vocal criticism of the lousy, difficult stretches led to bolstered maintenance, and very likely saved the trail from extinction. Author Ben Montgomery was given unprecedented access to Gatewood's own diaries, trail journals, and correspondence. He also unearthed historic newspaper and magazine articles and interviewed surviving family members and hikers Gatewood met along the trail. 
In reading about Emma and all that she endured during her lifetime, I realize that all those years of suffering made her stronger and more determined than ever. Where one person would just give up or decide to die rather than overcome such difficulties, another will get up and keep going. It's very inspiring to me and a reminder that one's state of mind can help you make it through whatever difficulty you're facing at the time.

One thing that I'm beginning to understand in my own life is that all the exercise and hiking that I do is not only good for my body, but also essential for my peace of mind. They don't seem like they're closely connected, but they are. When I read about someone like Emma and think of putting myself in her shoes (Keds sneakers), I realize that I have resources inside me that I haven't even plumbed. I do hope I won't have the chance to find out how deep they go. But you never know what lies ahead in the path of Life. When I despair about the state of the world, it tends to make me sad and defeated, just the opposite of what I need to be feeling. So reading inspiring stories about people who overcome enormous obstacles without a shred of self-pity I find to be very uplifting. I'll finish the book today, and I only started it yesterday. You wouldn't think it would be that kind of page-turner, would you? But it is, well written with some history included as well.

Yesterday I made a lot of progress in my garden, with my dark glasses and wide-brimmed hat protecting my eyes, and I can only hope that I will not be forced to discover how one gets along without central vision. However, someone like Emma would not let a little thing like macular degeneration hold her back.I found this quote from Anne Morrow Lindburgh that says it all for me:
I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.
Ah, yes, that about sums it up. Now my heart is full of hope and the day beckons me to enjoy whatever comes my way. And if suffering is part of it, I'll just remember to add a few additional elements to change the flavor of the day. I do hope that whatever comes your way, dear reader, it will be delightful and inspiring, too. I wish you well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Living memories

Me and my son Chris in 1962
Lately I've been thinking about all the memories I carry around in my head, a whole lifetime of them. So much has happened to me in my life that I think I've completely forgotten, until something jars an old memory and I think about the many different lives I've lived. I was once long ago the mother of a fine son who gave me endless joy. The young woman in the picture has changed into an old woman, and the baby grew into a man.

So many memories surface when I gaze at old pictures like this one. We were in Puerto Rico, where my first husband, who took the picture, was stationed. It was a sunny day, but then again almost all the days were sunny. I was a happy person, and it shows in the picture. I recognize that blouse from my memories; I sewed it myself, from a pattern. Back then I made a lot of my own clothing, something I haven't even thought of for a long time.

I'm not sure why I've been thinking lately about times past, people long gone, and decades of life lived and forgotten. Perhaps it has something to do with a book I just finished reading: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. In the story, Alice hits her head and loses a decade of her memory. She wakes up and thinks she is twenty-nine and pregnant with her first child, only to discover that she is thirty-nine, has three children and is getting a divorce. The book reminded me of how much we change in ten years, as well as the crucial part memory plays in our current existence.

Then on Friday I went into an ice cream shop while waiting for my yoga class to begin. I indulged in one of my favorite things, ice cream, while sitting next to a young man with his daughter. She is four and very outgoing. I watched her eat an enormous sugary fried fritter while her dad scrolled through his phone. I asked her how old she is and whether she knows her ABCs. Promptly she recited them to me, and it brought back a memory of raising my own child. The three of us started a conversation and I learned not only her age, but that the family recently expanded to include an infant. Dad was taking care of his lively daughter so that Mom could have some quiet time.

Since Chris died without having a child of his own, I will never have grandchildren. I appreciate the stories of them that my fellow bloggers share in their posts, and look at their pictures and remember my own days as a young mother. Sometimes the memory of a smile comes unbidden to my mind and I can almost feel the moment return. The joy of children laughing never stops being a delightful memory. The little girl I met the other day, with her wide-eyed chatter about her new baby brother, gave me a little twinge of regret about lacking grandchildren. But that's silly: the little girl shared her life with me and has given me the gift of remembered childhood. It's everywhere around me. Just because I don't have any grandchildren myself doesn't mean I miss the chance to enjoy the company of young people. And I truly enjoy the pictures and stories about the grandchildren of many of my blogging buddies.

When I think about it, if my son had fathered a child at the same age that I had him, that child would now be grown, too. Great-grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren would be more like it. Wow! How time flies when I'm not paying attention; then something happens to remind me of how long ago it was that I was a young mother myself. That young mother still is a part of me, however long ago it happened. My activities these days don't give me much chance to be around small children.

I have a coffee shop friend, Leo, who was not even a year old when I first met him. We played together in the coffee shop, he let me read to him and we enjoyed each other's company. But Leo grew up, too: now he is almost ten and no longer plays with me but instead sits and reads his own books, sometimes not even acknowledging me other than a polite hello. It makes me a little sad, but when I look at the young man he's becoming, I realize that it is the natural progression of life. I enjoyed the toddler much more than I would enjoy hanging out with the young man he's becoming today.

Instead, I'll hang out with friends my own age, John the farmer and Gene the fisherman. We'll have our devices in front of us and share funny things with each other that we find on Facebook. As I age, they are aging along with me, and the years pass without that much difference. When you're young, change from year to year is much more pronounced. I look forward to being with them several times a week. John will be getting up soon and going off to the coffee shop. He's the first to arrive. On Sunday mornings, we share a bagel, something I want but not the whole thing. He will have already had one himself, so he gets three half bagels and I get one, which is perfect for both of us. And a quote from Helen Keller to wrap up this post:
So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good. 
Yes, life is good. I have so many memories to cherish, and I'm glad I can share them with you, my dear reader. It's almost time for me to get up and start the rest of my Sunday. Partner is still sleeping next to me, and I can feel the growing desire to get off to visit my friends. I hope you will be here again next week, when I'll sit with my laptop and think about a lovely week ahead for us. Be well until then.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Today is Earth Day

Good morning
According to the calendar, spring has been here for a month now, but you sure wouldn't have known it from the soggy and dreary days we've spent around these parts lately. I found this lovely picture on the internet (don't know from where) and it spoke to me about the fine days and sunrises we have ahead of us for the season.

April 22nd already! And yesterday was sunny and glorious, with an entire week without rain projected ahead. I went out yesterday and began to figure out what I will plant in my garden once the winter's weeds and grasses have been removed. One good thing from all this rain, the ground is soft and pulling them up is relatively easy. I made a start on it yesterday, but then it began to rain! Big fat drops fell out of a rogue raincloud and sent me back inside. Today, though, we have zero chance of precipitation.

Last Friday my friend Lily, who had the day off from work, joined me in visiting the Tulip Festival in Mt. Vernon, a half-hour's drive from Bellingham. People come from all over the world to view these incredible tulip fields and gardens during the month of April. RoozenGaarde Gardens are my favorite place to go. It was partly sunny, but with so much moisture in the air, once the warm sun begins to warm the ground, clouds form quickly. I think that was what created yesterday's shower. Anyway, we had perfect weather to enjoy the tulips. Since it was Lily's first visit, she snapped hundreds of pictures on her phone, while I walked around and took a few pictures, but not that many. It really marks the beginning of the season for me.

Earth Day. It's been around for 48 years, can you believe it? Every year the Earth Day Network (EDN) focuses on one aspect of pollution that we can help to eradicate. This year it's plastic pollution. I've seen pictures of that awful place in the Pacific called the Great Pacific garbage patch, and it's now twice the size of Texas! I live in a city that bans one-use plastic bags in grocery stores, but everywhere I see people drinking bottled water out of store-bought plastic bottles and think about the enormous volume of plastic that must be generated worldwide every day from their use. We've got to do something about this. As the Earth Day Network tells us,
From poisoning and injuring marine life to disrupting human hormones, from littering our beaches and landscapes to clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet.
You can learn from the EDN what you might be able to do to make a difference in the world today. Take a look here at all the different campaigns EDN has launched. Earth Day contributed to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and many others. One thing I did is take the test on line to find out about my own personal plastic use and how I might reduce it.

Okay, I've done my small part to raise awareness about plastic pollution and how we might make even the tiniest difference in the consumption of plastics, and now it's time to move to something more pleasant at the very beginning of this lovely day. I'm looking forward to spending some more time in the garden in full sunshine today, and just thinking about it raises my spirits.

However, I'm nursing a sore ankle from a fall yesterday while on my usual Saturday walk with the ladies. It feels better today, but I notice that it's beginning to turn colors, meaning that I twisted it hard enough to bruise the tissues inside. I'll continue to be careful with it, but there's no way I can stop using it. I thought about wrapping it with an Ace bandage, but I don't think it would have made a difference; it's just going to take time. I notice that I turn my ankle and take a fall more often these days. I think perhaps I'm going to have to start wearing a brace on my right one, which seems to be the culprit more often than the other.

I know that while my aging body would probably find benefit in having me take it easier, my mind and spirit haven't learned that lesson yet. It will come, but I keep thinking it's not now, not today, but somewhere in the distant future that I'll have to pay closer attention to all these aches and pains and what they're telling me. In the meantime, I'll continue to run around and play in the sunshine until I simply cannot continue doing it any longer, whenever that is. Tomorrow. Maybe.
Your body actually reminds you about your age and your injuries - the body has a stronger memory than your mind. --Mikhail Baryshnikov
Well, if anybody should know about injuries and aging, it would be Misha. He was wonderful to watch when he was young. He's 70 now, into my decade, and has continued to change and grow into new phases of his life. It's a good thing for all of us to do, look at others around us and see how they cope with the aging process.

And now it's time for me to stop dithering with the keyboard and make my way into the rest of this beautiful day. I've got the usual suspects around me: sleeping partner, an empty teacup, and the pull to the coffee shop coming on strong. I do hope that you will think about your own loved ones and not forget to be grateful for the life we share today. You are always in my thoughts, dear reader. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Reminiscences

SG, Gene, me (and the now deceased parrot)
This picture was taken a year after we moved to Bellingham from Boulder. It was Opening Day of the Farmers' Market in April 2009. The market just had its 2018 opening a week ago, and I was reminded once again how much I enjoy this wonderful town. I've been in a mood for reminiscing lately, reading other people's memoirs and even going back into my old journals and reminiscing about my own past.

I kept handwritten journals during the 1980s, which started with my desire to get my problems with weight under control, and it had been suggested to me that I keep a diary of everything I eat during the day, so I could begin to examine how I might change my eating habits. It quickly turned into a much more comprehensive journal, covering whatever I felt like writing about. The first journal is dated February 1982 and makes for some very interesting reading.

Yesterday I opened one at random and read about what I was doing in March 1984. It was the time in my life when I had decided to volunteer for Hospice. I went through the two-day training and then was assigned my first patient, Carl, who was dying of a brain tumor. I would stay with him for several hours once a week so his wife could have time to herself. Over the next three months, I became quite fond of him and would read to him, as well as help him out of bed so he could sit in the living room or kitchen for short periods. He must have been very much a storyteller in his younger days, because he told me some jokes and stories that gave me some idea of his personality; even as sick as he was, it still came through.

It was hard to watch him deteriorate, but that was to be expected. At the end, I remember once walking into his bedroom (which had a hospital bed installed) and realized he had changed a great deal in just one week. He was propped up in bed and was almost blind by then, but he recognized me. I asked him how he was feeling, and he said, "with my hands!" Then he smiled and his wife left for her errands, and we were alone together. It was one of the last times I saw him.

I had forgotten how incredibly busy I was during those days. I worked a full-time job, volunteered, ran several times a week to keep myself fit, and attended evening classes. I didn't realize how much I managed to cram into one day until it was all there in the journal. I recognized the person who wrote those words, but in the thirty-four years that have passed since then, I retired from working and find that just reading about that much activity is exhausting.

These days, I have a routine that fills my days with all I need. Sunday mornings I begin with this post, a way for me to keep myself mentally fit, and I walk and hike and work out at the gym to keep myself physically fit. I cannot run any more, but I'm happy that my knees and other joints still manage to work well enough that I can enjoy the outdoors. One of these days I'll get into my garden and the muscles I use will be sore for awhile, a good kind of sore. But for now, it's still raining and I have to wait until the saturated ground dries out a little.

The arc of a life, or a story, can usually only be viewed after you've finished all the chapters. One thing that keeps coming up to me is that the chapters of my own life are mostly written and behind me. But they are still present in my memories and the decade of the 1980s is still there in my journals. I love to read, and being able to lose myself in the chapters of another life is simply wonderful for me. I look forward to the days ahead, whatever they bring.

I have been privileged to be present when several loved ones and people I've known have passed over to the other side. I remember how peaceful my mother looked once she breathed her last. She was only sixty-nine, and I've already lived five years longer than she did, and I wonder what lies ahead for me. If I could make a wish for my own passing, it would be that I am mentally present for the event. I know many people hope that they pass away in their sleep, but to me, I'd feel like I missed the final act of a magnificent play. Mama knew what was coming, and she faced it armed with her faith that all her loved ones were waiting for her to join them. We will never know until we get there ourselves if that's true or not, but it certainly gives me a great deal of pleasure to imagine it to be so.

And who knows what the future will bring? I'm hoping it will be a good one, and that even with all the turmoil in the world right now, I might live to see peace on earth. It's a long shot, but it could happen. In any event, I can help to bring it into being in my own little corner of the world, with love and joy in my heart.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Remember that is all we have power over: to decide what to do with the time that is given us. I hope that you will make an attempt to bring some love and joy into your world, because that is where peace on earth starts. With each one of us. Be well until we meet again next week, dear readers.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Potpourri post

Drippy scenery
I took this picture from the summit of our hike last Thursday. We were out in the elements, with almost a full inch of rain falling that day. We spent our lunchtime indoors at the Senior Center, because nobody wanted to stop and try to find a place to huddle out of the rain. There wasn't one. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the day because of my companions; you know that old saying about how misery loves company.

Last night I couldn't seem to find anything rolling around in my head that wanted to come forth this morning, so this is one of those days when I'm sitting at my laptop without any idea of the topic that might emerge. So this will be a grab bag of thoughts, or more elegantly, a potpourri, a mixture of things.

Yesterday that rain continued. I think even the most hardy of Pacific Northwesterners are more than ready for a change in the weather. This latest round of precipitation is hitting California even harder than us, with flooding and washouts of areas that were burned last year that lost all natural groundcover. I found an interesting blog that tells the tale:
This rainfall was so intense that it led to very significant flash flooding near Mariposa and Groveland near Yosemite National Park and nearly caused the failure of a small dam in the area. Had this rainfall ended up 100-200 miles farther south, as initially anticipated, it could have led to catastrophic flash flooding in the SoCal burn areas. Fortunately, it instead fell in an area that had much greater capacity to absorb the sudden deluge.
I am a weather junkie, you might have noticed. It all started when I was skydiving every weekend, and I wanted to know whether it would be possible or not, so every day, year round, I'd check the weather to see what was coming, and how windy or cold it might be. If there was the slightest chance that I might be able to get my "knees in the breeze," I'd drive the fifty miles to the Drop Zone and hope to be one of the first people to get on a load. Those first few years of my skydiving career, I just couldn't get enough. If I made one jump, it was worth it, but there were days when I'd make five or six in one long summer's day. That meant going up in the airplane, jumping out, playing in freefall for about a minute, then flying my canopy to the ground, go indoors and find a place to spread out my gear and pack it up for another skydive.

Although those days are long gone, my interest in the weather has not waned. I still watch the Weather Channel or the local news to see what's coming. I am not sure whether I would have had such regard for the weather otherwise. I remember when I learned how to tell the strength and direction of the wind by watching flags moving, the clouds of dust in fields being plowed, or smoke from brush fires. When you are under a canopy and want to land safely, you need to find an open field and land into the wind to slow down your forward speed.

I have made the mistake of misreading the wind when setting up for a landing and finding myself moving across the ground too fast, realizing that it was too late to turn around (since you lose altitude as you turn, and a 180-degree turn isn't possible when you are close to the ground) and knowing that I'd better get ready for an ignominious and possibly dangerous landing. Usually the worst that happened to me was a serious tumble and getting tangled up in my parachute's lines. But it made me look even more carefully afterwards to gauge the wind.

Once I became a skydiving instructor, it was important to teach my students what they needed to know to be safe, and emphasize the most important things so that they wouldn't be confused when having to make a quick decision. When I look back on those days, I realize that as much as I enjoyed the experience of teaching, it was a tremendous responsibility. Fortunately nobody in my classes ever got seriously hurt making their initial skydives, but I agonized over every single sprained ankle. I did once have a student misread the wind direction and land downwind in a fairly strong wind, and he ended up breaking his wrist. But he recognized what he had done wrong and wouldn't make that mistake again.

Instructing anybody in any activity is a responsibility. Yesterday I took a free seminar at my yoga studio about how to maintain stability in standing twists. I was way beyond my comfort level and felt that I would never learn how to keep from falling over while doing these poses. The instructor suggested going right to the level of discomfort and not continuing to push on to the full pose. I only fell over twice, but I did learn how to practice the pose at home. Why would anybody want to do these standing twists, you ask? Here's a link to a young lady's blog who explains how to do the pose we practiced yesterday. She calls twisting poses "spring cleaning your body."
Twists are like wringing out a dirty dish rag. When we twist deeply we stimulate our internal organs and give them a nice massage. After a twisting practice, you’ll feel lighter, more energized and cleaned out!
We spent the entire class learning how to do that first posture, and I do have to say that it's true that I could feel the benefits of twisting that deeply. When we would release it, I felt lightheaded and definitely like I'd done something beneficial. But getting into the posture without falling is a challenge. I'll keep trying. I trust my instructor to help me learn without hurting myself.

Well, that's it, what came out of my fingers this morning. I am ready to begin the rest of my day, which will include going to the movies with my friend Judy and, of course, my stop at the coffee shop to visit with my friends there. Partner is fast asleep at the moment, and I'm beginning to feel the pull of the day, time to get out of bed and get moving. I do hope that whatever the week brings you, it will be beneficial and that you will remember to smile and bring a little laughter into your days. It helps as much as any twist. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week.
Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. ---Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter 2018

Lovely sunrise
This morning I woke to see if perhaps there would be an Easter sunrise like this one, but it's cloudy and there is not likely to be sunrise service anywhere near us. The sun rises at 6:48am and I'll be looking (that's about an hour from now). I've attended a couple of sunrise services in Colorado, but I've never gotten involved with a congregation since we moved here ten years ago.

Many years ago, when I worked at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, I would take a personal retreat at a nearby convent, the Convent of St. Walburga, during Holy Week. The Benedictine contemplative nuns allowed a small number of women to spend four days there during that time. I don't know how I heard about the convent, because I wasn't involved in a church community at the time, but somehow I found that much-needed experience to allow myself to have nothing to do but pray and contemplate the direction of my life for four whole days. I would get very frazzled and needed someplace to go where I wouldn't hear a phone or be available for work at all. The convent fit the bill perfectly.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and settled into the small retreat cabin that I was assigned for the next few days. At first it was strange to have absolutely nothing I had to do and maintain silence, as the nuns did. We retreatants gathered three times a day for meals in a small room off the kitchen. Each of us (I think there were maybe eight or ten) had her own place setting and we would be served by the nuns. We didn't see where the nuns ate, and the only time I was allowed to see them at all was when they went to chapel to sing the liturgical offices, seven times a day (I think).

It was a very small community, and I enjoyed the complete difference from my regular life during that time. On Thursday, the nuns washed the feet of the retreatants, a very profoundly moving service. On Good Friday, the nuns began their withdrawal into prayer, which continued during Saturday as well. And then on Sunday morning, everything was joyful, and I found a small Easter basket outside the door of my cabin, filled with eggs and homemade cookies, a real delight. It's the only Easter basket during my life that I remember with such happiness.

For the following three or four years, I enjoyed the same Easter retreat with the nuns, but then life changed, and the convent stopped providing the service and I had only the wonderful memories of that time in my life. For a brief period, I toyed with the idea of spending every day like the nuns, but I realized that it was not for me. The whole idea of taking a vow of obedience and the rigidity of one's days from sunrise to sunset was enough to deter me. I wouldn't have lasted very long.

Nevertheless, it is a favorite Easter memory from long ago. Today I spend my Sundays taking a day off from my usual exercise, and this Easter I will follow my habitual routine by going off to the coffee shop to join my friends there, and then I'll return home to spend some time transferring the flowers I bought yesterday into pots on the front porch. If the weather allows and it's not raining too much, I'll also start the process of preparing my garden area for planting.

I am reading a very good book by one of my blogging friends, Dee, about her time as a Benedictine nun. She spent more than eight years in a Benedictine convent similar to the one I knew. She recalls in this memoir her life during that time, and it resonates with me. The book is called "Prayer Wasn't Enough" and is available in both electronic and hard copy. I have it on my Kindle and will probably finish it today after I spend some time getting my hands in the dirt. Her book gives me the ability to imagine how I would have fared in that environment.

Today I am as far from that world as I am from my skydiving years. I was an active skydiver for twenty-five years, and it amazes me that it has faded from my consciousness as much as it has. I still follow all the exploits of my still-skydiving friends on Facebook with pleasure and find enjoyment in their achievements. But the strange thing is that looking back, it's with the same detachment that I feel from any need to have a life of prayer and retreat from the outside world.

I keep thinking about that quote from Madeleine L'Engle I left you with last week: "The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." Although I may not lose all those other ages, do I lose all the other lives I've lived? These days they seem no more solid than a dream. Perhaps that's the way it is for everybody, but how can I know?

The interesting thing is how one morphs from one life to another. One day I am a third-grader playing with crayons and learning to spell, and the next I am an old woman sitting in her bed with a laptop, tapping away at the keys and thinking about what the day will bring. And all the lives in between blend together to become the person I am right now, at this instant in time.

And now it's getting to be time for me to wrap this up and start the rest of my Easter Sunday. Tea is gone, partner is sleeping, and I found this quote from Dr. Seuss that will give us something to think about for the coming week:
How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?
Ah, yes, that sums it up nicely. I hope your Easter Sunday is a good one, and that you will not forget all the worlds that encompass your past and future days. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Waking up old

My red rain poncho
Melanie took this picture of me last Thursday, as we were getting ready to hike the Chanterelle trail on a wet, rainy day. You can see the others in the background, waiting for us before starting a rather short (not quite seven miles) hike. We didn't even stop for lunch, but turned around and made our way back to the trailhead and drove ourselves to the Senior Center so we could enjoy our lunch in a warm and dry place. It turned out that Thursday's rain total tied the record for the date, almost three-quarters of an inch.

Having made it to the grand old age of 75, I find myself rather amazed that I can still do all the activities that give me such pleasure, such as hiking with the Trailblazers every Thursday, rain or shine; yoga twice a week; enjoying the YMCA's classes every weekday; and the Saturday morning walks with the ladies. I manage to get more than 10,000 steps every day, and some days even twice that number. I'm proud to be such an active elder.

But make no mistake: I'm definitely old, and anybody who tells you that age is just a number and you're as young as you feel, isn't very aware of the process and is probably much younger than I am. So every day, every single day, must be enjoyed and lived to the fullest, because one day I will not be so fortunate. I may have a decade of active living ahead, or maybe only another year. Who knows? I don't take anything for granted any more.

Although I was a grown woman fifty years ago, the physical person I was then bears little resemblance to the woman I have become today. When I was young, I would notice how old people begin to lose their strong gender appearance and begin to look alike. That's happened to me now, and I am sometimes rather taken aback by the person who looks back at me in the mirror. I don't wear makeup, but sometimes I think about it, will purchase some and apply it as I once did every day. It doesn't look right to me any more, but I suppose if I did it every day, I'd get used to it again and wouldn't feel so self-conscious wearing foundation, rouge, and lipstick. Eye makeup is no longer an option; the folds around my eyes have become deep enough that a small amount just becomes invisible, and too much ends up under my eyes rather than where it belongs. My eyelashes are very sparse, too. So why bother? I've gotten out of the habit and cannot think why I would want to start up again.

I had my annual wellness visit last week and was very pleased with the numbers from my blood work. My cholesterol is acceptable, and for someone who has rampant heart disease in her family, I was very pleased to see that my ratio of good-to-bad cholesterol continues to go in the right direction. That's not just by chance, though: she (my doctor) told me that diet and exercise are the keys to a healthy cardiovascular system. I also take a statin, I have done so for decades now and don't seem to have any side effects. My triglycerides were well under 100 (74 to be exact) and my glucose (sugar) was 89, also nothing to worry about. One needs to keep the number under 100, she told me, and that number tends to increase with age. Another side effect of being active: it helps to keep those numbers low.

I walked out of her office feeling pretty good about myself, but when I went to the restroom before heading home, I caught a glimpse of myself under the harsh overhead lights and saw those wrinkles and sagging jowls that come with age. Yes, I know I earned them, but it was again a reminder that age is not just a number, things are wearing out, both externally and internally. I've lived three-quarters of a century, for heaven's sake; this linear process travels in one direction only. I will never be a young woman again in this life, no matter how much I exercise.

I was mesmerized by the looks of some of the older women I saw at the Oscars. Jane Fonda's face and neck would not look like they do without a whole lot of plastic surgery. Helen Mirren looks great, and I wondered if she has also gone under the knife, but she looks much more natural to me and probably hasn't. In a special program, she showed how she looked before and after makeup was applied by a professional. It was rather astounding, and I thought, hmmm. Maybe I could learn to do that, too, but... why?

I can't help but wonder how this last part of my life will play out. I've done pretty much everything I ever wanted to do, so I don't have a bucket list. All the travel, both international and domestic, is behind me and has no appeal any more. All those skydives and parachuting I did was great, but I don't miss it today. My career was satisfying, but it also seems like it happened to another person. How did I ever manage to fit a full-time job into a very busy life? I sure wouldn't want to go back to working.

Writing on my Sunday blog (which I am doing right now), and three times a week on my other blog keeps my mind active. That, and having become an avid reader, with at least one book going all the time. I just finished re-reading "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. Several times while reading it, I would get a "blast from the past" when I would remember little snippets of the story and where I was during the initial reading. Now I'm prepared to see the new movie of the story and see what Hollywood did with it. I do read books for both enlightenment and entertainment.

And now I'm getting ready to wind up this post and look forward to the rest of the day. I'll go off to the coffee shop to visit with my friends, and this afternoon see a movie with my friend Judy. Don't forget to take the time to appreciate your wonderful life and the dear friends and family who love you. I am doing just that myself, as I gaze over at my dear partner who slumbers next to me. And with that, I'll leave you with a quote from Madeleine L'Engle:
The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been. 
Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Searching for serenity

Yoga teacher's props bathed in sunlight
It's one of those Sundays that came around quickly, after days and days of delightful sunshine and being outdoors enjoying the burgeoning signs of spring. There's nothing that raises my spirits as much as watching the changes occurring all around me, as dreary winter turns to cheerful spring.

I've just signed up for another round of yoga classes, this time taking two a week instead of just one. The studio signs you up for semesters, either 10 or 12 weeks at a time, changing with the seasons. I have two more classes in the current semester and then there's a week of free classes for people to try out other instructors or levels. I'll stick to my current ones but I might try the next level up during free week. It's a wonderful studio and I love what yoga has given me.

Iyengar Yoga allows the use of props, such as blocks and bolsters, as well as folding chairs and the wall for certain poses, and I'm able to try the harder ones using them. I will never be able to move up very far in level, given not only my advanced age, but also because I don't have a home practice, not yet anyway. I'm moving in that direction, and I realized not long ago that I might one day reach a place where I feel confident enough in the poses that I don't need a teacher to correct me. That's where I seem to be headed.

At the beginning of class, we have a short lesson about yoga, and I've learned about the koshas, or the Five Layers of Self. In my mind, can hear my teacher talking about annamaya kosha, or the outer layer, the physical self.
Derived from Sanskrit, kosha means "sheath" or "covering." As such, the koshas are often called the five sheathes. The annamaya kosha is the sheath of the physical. The yogi who understands herself within this kosha would define herself as a physical body: blood, flesh, bones, fat, and eating and drinking to sustain the body.
This is but the first of the koshas, and one can learn through practice to understand life in a larger sense. Although the annamaya kosha is the first and most basic layer of one's self, discovering each kosha is believed to bring the individual closer to oneness with the universe. I'm learning to appreciate this kosha as I try to remain my equanimity in the chaotic world around me.

My habit in the morning is to rise early and make myself a cup of tea and bring it back into bed while I sit propped up with pillows and turn on a low light, opening up my laptop. My partner is now very accustomed to the sound of the tapping of keys as I write and doesn't even stir if he's particularly tired. We are the essence of opposites: he comes to bed late most nights, and I rarely even hear him come in as I'm already fast asleep. When I get up, I spend about an hour reading the news, emails, and what's going on in the life of my blogging friends. If I have time to spare, I'll even check Facebook, but as you know, that can be a real time sink, so I usually wait until later in the day to go there.

On Sunday mornings, like today, I spend a little longer propped up in bed, because I write this post as a meditation, usually not knowing what will come out of my fingers. The night before, as I lay in bed waiting for sleep to take me, I think about what I might write. Casting about for what's on my mind, it will usually become evident that something particular is wanting to emerge. Not always, though: sometimes I don't have much of anything in mind when I sit down to write. Or sometimes, I realize I have some resistance to examining what's bothering me. In any event, knowing that my Sunday morning will begin with this practice helps with my attempts at self-discovery.

Now that my eyes seem to have settled down after enduring cataract surgery, and finally having some progressive lenses that allow me to see with clarity in the distance, I'm feeling very happy about being in a holding pattern with the macular degeneration. I'm sitting here with the laptop without wearing any glasses at all, since I can see close without them, and that's a big change from before. I had to wear my glasses all the time, for close or far, and even then my vision left much to be desired. I'm very happy that I have been given the opportunity to have so much better vision.

When I first get out of bed, usually I cannot quite take full steps as I test the state of my ankles, which almost always hurt. As I begin to move around as I make my tea, they begin to loosen up a little (usually) and by the time I'm actually up and ready to start my day, I'm moving normally. I do sometimes hear the internal conversation I carry on with myself: this is what old ladies do, they toddle around and this is where I'm headed. But then I am able to walk again and realize that I'm not there yet.

This week I'll have my annual wellness visit with my doctor. I've only seen her once before, as my previous doctor has moved on, but I look forward to the visit with her. I like having a female doctor, especially a young one, and she seems very knowledgeable. I will have my blood drawn early tomorrow morning so we can discuss the results. I like the fact that I'll be able to see the results myself the day after it's drawn. I've been doing this now annually since I moved here ten years ago, and I really like the system. I can also compare the results with previous years in a graph. The only number that changes much has been my cholesterol and triglyceride numbers, and they have been getting better as the years pass. I'm hoping this year will be the same.

I will also ask her if she knows when I might be able to receive the new shingles vaccine that has been developed. That's one illness I hope to avoid: shingles is no fun and as we age we are at increased risk for it. I've already received the earlier vaccine, but this one is apparently much more effective. It doesn't sound like much fun to take, as the side effects can be uncomfortable in many patients, but if you have ever seen what shingles can do, it's worth it.

And here I am already, it's 6:30am and I've finished my Sunday post along with my tea. I just took the last swig, and this is where I find a few minutes to extend my consciousness out into the ether and see if I can connect with you, my dear reader. I wish it were possible for me to open up a two-way avenue and reach into your world and give you a hug, but I can't. So it's going to have to be a virtual one, from my annamaya kosha to yours. Please, be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

March is a favorite month

Daffodils in bloom
Yesterday was a sunny delight as I walked with the ladies, and everywhere the trees are budding out, the flowers are coming up, and basically reminded me that the Spring equinox is right around the corner. In fact, it will happen a week from this coming Tuesday, March 20, at 9:15am here in the Pacific Northwest. It was a rather mild winter, with only a few wind storms but plenty of rain, and plenty of snow in the mountains. It makes me realize it will probably be awhile before we are able to hike on our favorite High Country trails. And we'll be making more hikes at sea level for awhile yet. But the short days and long nights are behind us for another year.

Late last summer I decided to start counting calories again so I could lose the five pounds I had gained, and within a couple of months of watching what I eat, those five pounds disappeared. Temporarily, it seems. Then I started eating normally, not recording my food intake onto the Lose It app on my phone and gradually, very gradually, those pounds starting showing up on my scale in the mornings. Slowly, I stopped seeing my favorite numbers and would step lightly on with my eyes closed, then looking at the number, one eye at a time, hoping it wouldn't be showing my indiscretions. Most of the time, it's three over, not five, but the last two days are a harbinger of things to come.

Of course, those numbers include the occasional ice cream and popcorn indulgences I have allowed myself, and I've begun to eat wheat and bread again, things I don't touch when I'm trying to lose. But the funny thing is, I'm just not able to work myself up enough to cut back again. The scale keeps me honest, and it does make a difference when I decide to eat something I know I shouldn't. I really like not carrying around those extra pounds. One day soon I'll start being more careful of what I eat.

In two weeks I have my annual wellness visit at the doctor's, and I really don't want to show up there with extra weight. I hate getting on those scales at her office and seeing numbers I don't like, since I have to weigh with my clothes on. I will have removed my loose change, phone, and wallet from my pockets before stepping on them. Am I being silly? Perhaps, since I know I play games with myself to work up some semblance of outrage. I just don't want to have my clothes get snug around the waist and spill out a spare tire over the top. Not my ideal self image, not at all. But what the hell, I tell myself, you are the only one who cares.

There's so much distress going on around the world, and here I am fixating on a couple of extra pounds. That's the part I find not to be normal, actually. But the difference, for me, is that I can actually DO something about my weight, and I can't do anything about what's going wrong in the larger world. I'd rather focus on something that is within my grasp. Nevertheless, I will read the news every day and have opinions on what is happening, but what can I do about the school shootings and the dysfunction in Washington? Not much, other than vote every chance I get, attend marches, and give money to causes I believe in.

The healthy thing to do, I think, is pay attention, read the news, and do whatever is necessary to keep a positive attitude about it all. Everything moves in cycles, and what is ascendent today will be descendent tomorrow; what goes up and all that. Usually I focus on the good news anyway. It's part of my coping mechanism, and I do have to say that my environment helps with that. Thank God I don't live in Syria, or Appalachia, or even in a big city anywhere. I like my small town of Bellingham, with its wonderful bus system and YMCA, both of which I use regularly. And even though it rains a lot here, in the summertime it is pretty darn perfect. I have so much to be thankful for, and I need to remind myself of that.

I had to get up an hour earlier this morning, since we lost that pesky hour of sleep last night as we begin Daylight Saving Time once again. Eight months of it ahead, before we get back that extra hour of sleep in the fall and return to Standard Time. Why do we do this? It seems so strange. I read that Florida has passed a resolution to stop DST, and Arizona and Hawaii stay on Standard Time all year. I found this interesting article about what it would be like if we simply stopped doing this. It also gives some background about how it all started. Hope you find it enlightening; I did. Winston Churchill seemed to think that it was worthwhile. He is quoted as having said:
An extra yawn one morning in the springtime, an extra snooze one night in the autumn is all that we ask in return for dazzling gifts. We borrow an hour one night in April; we pay it back with golden interest five months later.
I like thinking about it like that, giving it a positive spin. Like I said, staying positive is what is on my mind most these days, that and those few extra pounds. I hope that until we meet again next week, you will be filled with light and airy thoughts. Also, don't forget to give your loved ones a smile or two.