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, September 16, 2018

Late summer musings

Taken from my front porch
I took this pretty scene when I got up one day last week, seeing the sun just beginning to lighten the sky and brighten the clouds. It was early, but in just a week since I took this picture, the sun is now coming up later and later, and it's dark when I go out the door. In fact, this coming Saturday, September 22, will usher in the first day of fall. The equinox will occur at 6:54pm PDT. The September equinox occurs the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above Earth’s Equator – from north to south. Some fun facts about the equinox from timeanddate.com:

  • The full Moon closest to the September equinox, the Harvest Moon, is astronomically special. This is because the time between one moonrise to another around this period becomes shorter.
  • In the old days, the early moonrise for a few days around the equinox in the Northern Hemisphere meant that farmers could work and harvest their crops for a longer time in the evenings.
  • Many cultures around the world hold feasts and celebrate festivals and holidays to mark the September equinox.
I don't think there will be any festivals I'll attend at the equinox next Saturday, since I don't know of any. Many of my friends don't like to acknowledge that summer is truly over for this year and that we're now heading toward the long nights of winter. Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, it's all reversed and the days will get longer after Saturday and spring arrives, so one could always hop on a plane and fly into spring! 

For those who might be wondering how Lyle is doing a week after I wrote about his accident, according to Peggy he is "precarious," now fighting infection and continuing to have surgeries. It's pretty awful; I'm getting my information by email from our mutual friend Linda, since I sure don't want to add to Peggy's burden by bothering her for updates. My heart goes out to both of them and their family.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to spend fifteen minutes every day doing some yoga here at home, trying to make it through the 100-day Challenge. The studio has sent out some emails with ideas of how one might use that fifteen minutes. You would think it would be easy to carve out a niche of that small amount of time every day, but I'm finding it impossible to do it at the same time every day. It needs to be between meals, in the proper clothes and barefoot, so the preparation takes at least as long as the asanas (yoga poses).

I've been doing the sun salutation twice through, a couple of the standing poses, stretching my hamstrings with a yoga belt, and at least one twisting posture. Then it's done and I can write on my little sheet that I've accomplished one more day of the challenge. A friend told me that if you do something for at least 21 days in a row, it will become a habit. Well, it's not yet a habit, but I'm beginning to think I will finish it. I had been wanting to start a daily yoga practice, and this seems to be the way to do it. I hear the instructor's voice in my head as I attempt some of the poses, so perhaps that helps keep me from doing the postures incorrectly. Anyway, it's not the burden I thought it would be, and I occasionally find myself smiling as I lay out the yoga mat in preparation for my daily practice.

Hurricane Florence is no longer a hurricane since its winds have diminished, but incredible amounts of rain are continuing to inundate the Carolinas and beyond. At the same time, there is a huge typhoon in the Philippines that is causing terrible damage from winds and rain (Typhoon Mangkhut). I just learned that there little difference between hurricanes and typhoons:
Hurricanes and typhoons are the same weather phenomenon: tropical cyclones. Once a tropical cyclone reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, it is then classified as a hurricane, typhoon, or tropical cyclone, depending upon where the storm originates in the world.
 I feel very fortunate to be experiencing gentle rain for most of the coming week, with a little breeze now and then, nothing like what millions of people around the world are coping with right now. September is peak hurricane season, and most storms occur right around this time. It should be over by the end of November. Hopefully we won't be having any more monster storms after this one leaves. But you never know.

Anyway, I've taken out my raincoat and am ready to face the elements here in my little town, and I'm glad for their relative harmlessness. While the world is a dangerous place, there are many little pockets of serenity, and I'm feeling quite glad to be in one today. The coffee shop will open in a few minutes and my barista will be preparing fragrant coffee for the patrons, one of which will be me within a short time. I can almost smell the coffee!

I do hope you will find a little pocket of serenity for yourself today, and that you will not forget to be grateful for its presence. I will take that advice for myself, as I begin my Sunday. My beloved partner still sleeps quietly next to me, the sun will be coming up soon, and it's time to begin the rest of my day. I wish you all good things between now and when we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

How quickly life can change

Me, Sue, and Al taken last Thursday
My friend Cathy took this picture of us on our hike into the High Country last week, and I like it for several reasons. First, it shows us in one of our favorite places, on one of our favorite hikes. Second, you can see how dry it's been up there, with orange colors predominating. That will all change this coming week, however, with rain in the forecast every day: it's the beginning of the fall changeover. We'll still have plenty of sunny days, if past seasons are any indication, but still.

It's a bittersweet picture for me, since I am finally taking seriously the need to stop hiking uphill in high temperatures. Although I will still be able to visit this incredible place in future seasons, I'll be going with the slower group. Once again, I struggled with the uphill part of this hike, climbing more than a thousand feet from Bagley Lakes to Herman Saddle, and with my new fitness tracker device, I saw that when I was feeling the absolute worst, my heart rate had skyrocketed well above where it should be. It gave me the excuse to slow down and rest more often on the way up. Out of the twelve of us, I was the only one having such difficulty. Another indication that I must start hiking with the "relaxed" Trailblazers, rather than the "half-fast" group.

It's not the end of the world, after all, to admit that I cannot keep up with the faster hikers any longer. And it was exactly ten years ago that I began my hiking career with the Trailblazers, on this very hike, when I discovered the joys of our beautiful wilderness area. You can read the Washington Trails Association description of this loop hike, Chain Lakes, here. I've been fortunate to have enjoyed the company of my fellow hikers for so long that I haven't wanted to lose their companionship, but the couple of hikes I've done with the other group makes me realize that there are a whole bunch of people I will enjoy getting to know better. Like I said, I can still for the moment continue to hike, just at a slower pace.

Yesterday on my usual Saturday morning walk with the ladies, as we gathered to begin our trek up the very steep Taylor street, I was glad it was cool and that I knew I'd be done with the hard part quickly. We always form a circle and Cindy, our leader, tells us what the route will be, and then we go around and state our names. There were fifteen of us yesterday, and Linda, a long-time friend, shared with us a terrible accident that Peggy's husband Lyle endured on Labor Day.

He was out at the end of their driveway gathering their bins after trash collection. The truck had just passed by, but apparently the driver had missed one of the cans and backed up to get it. Although the backup beep sounded, Lyle seemingly didn't hear it, and the truck ran right over him. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, and then transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle in critical condition. Although it's been almost a week, he's still in critical condition and has had numerous surgeries; they even had to amputate one of his legs. I cry just thinking about it, how terribly injured he is.

I did find out that he is conscious, even if heavily medicated. They were able to take him off the ventilator and now he can at least communicate with his family. Lyle has never hiked with us, but he has never missed a party, so I feel I know him somewhat. Not as much as Peggy, but over the years we learn a great deal about each other's family life as we hike along, and I knew that Lyle was hard of hearing but had not gotten hearing aids yet. I wonder if he didn't hear the backup sound, or whether it all just happened so fast that he didn't register the significance of the sound quickly enough. I know that I hear that sound often enough that I might not have responded, either.

When I got home I sent an email to Peggy, telling her I'm thinking of both of them and sending fervent wishes that he will recover. She wrote back that there's an old saying that "in every life some rain must fall," but in their case, it's more like a snowstorm that will drastically change the course of their lives. She said they are strong and made stronger by the caring thoughts of friends. We will be kept up to date over the weeks by Linda. Peggy will not be hiking or walking with us for some time to come. My heart just breaks for them.

It is also a reminder to appreciate our loved ones, every single day, because you just never know when an accident like this one will upend the course of your life. I have also thought of the driver of the truck, and how the course of his life has also been changed. He will have to deal with it every day as well. There were no tickets issued, and the accident has been chalked up to inattention by both parties. But Lyle is the one who pays the heaviest price.

I am doing everything I can to care for the condition of my own body, but something like this could happen to any of us. And then the climbing back to whatever semblance of wellness we can muster. I must remember to be thankful for every single bit of health I have, and something like this helps me to continue my efforts. Just last week I joined a 100-day challenge with the yoga studio I attend. First of all, I was just not sure I could commit to fifteen minutes of yoga every single day for 100 days, but after talking it over with other students, I realized that it is a perfect way for me to grow a home practice. I've been wanting to do that, and now I've got a perfect justification to get that going. It started on September 5, and I've now managed to get four days behind me. I found that setting a fifteen-minute timer on my phone lets me know when I'm done, and I've already learned how many asanas I can do in that time period.

The sun is just now rising, and I glimpsed the orange colors of the sunrise through the window, realizing that we are not far from the first day of fall in this hemisphere, and that we will begin our long journey into the dark and wet months of the year. Fall is my favorite season of the year, and I look forward to the brilliant leaves as we move through it. I have so many things in my life to be thankful for, and I sometimes need a reminder to appreciate and enjoy my day to the fullest, for we never know what the future holds.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present. 
I hope that the coming week will bring healing to all who need it (which is pretty much everyone), and that you will not forget to send love and joy out to the world from your own abundance. My tea is gone, the post is written, and the world outside beckons. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Maintenance

Cathy took this last Thursday
Last week I was thrilled to be out in the wilderness with my friends, feeling better than I have in awhile. I don't do well in the heat, but that seems to be gone for now, and it was cool and delightful to hike in the clouds, rather than in the uncomfortable (to me) heat. For once, I didn't lag behind. Cathy took several hundred pictures and sent me her favorites.

It's that time of year. The leaves are beginning to turn and the wildflowers are on the wane and the mountains will soon be covered with snow until next year. It seems like summer just began, but now it's almost over. In three weeks we'll have the autumnal equinox upon us, when the days and nights are the same length, and then we'll start moving towards the shortest day and the longest night, before it all begins once again. Fall is definitely my favorite of the four seasons, but as in all things, it's the variety of experiences that add to the flavor.

This month, I will celebrate ten years of hiking in the wilderness with the Senior Trailblazers. It's hard for me to remember today how the places we visit every summer felt to me back then. Now, I've gone to all the places at least once every summer season, and they are very familiar. But that first time we went into the High Country, back in September 2008, I was overwhelmed with the beauty and the challenge to my hiking ability. I didn't have a pair of trekking poles at the time, since I had never used them before, but I was the only one who didn't have them. These days, there are several hikers who choose not to use them, but I was at a definite disadvantage back then, especially navigating the steep downhill sections.

Ten years. I know I will not be so privileged to be doing this activity ten years from now, and although some of our hikers are close to their eighties, they are mostly male. The women don't seem to keep going for nearly as long. We do have a couple of members over eighty, but they mostly begin to miss hikes now and then, and one day they just don't come back any more. It's to be expected, really, but I sometimes forget that it's normal as we age to change our activities to fit our abilities. And those abilities change.

This past week I bought myself a fitness tracker. I was intending to buy a Fitbit like my sister has, but I was talked into a Garmin Vivosport instead. The salesperson said if I didn't like it, I could always bring it back and try another. But I have been quite pleased with it. I wear it on my wrist, and it gives me my heart rate, steps taken, distance traveled each day, stress level, and best of all, my sleep patterns. Since I started wearing it, I've learned that I get around eight hours of sleep every night, with most of it light rather than deep sleep (last night I didn't get any deep sleep; I tossed and turned much of the night). It's useful information, and I had been envious of my sister's Fitbit; now I'm feeling up to having some bragging rights when we FaceTime next week.

I did have to go online to figure out how in the world a device you wear on your wrist can possibly tell you how much sleep you get, and whether it's deep, light, or REM sleep. Well, it turns out that these trackers are not all that sophisticated. They use your heart rate, age, and movement to estimate these things with an algorithm. Did you know that when you're in REM sleep that your heart rate increases even though you're asleep? I didn't know that. Anyway, I take it all with a grain of salt but still feel happy to know my statistics. It's another tool to help me maintain my fitness level.

It takes more and more effort to maintain that level. Right now I spend four days a week at the gym, not for long periods, but enough to raise my heart rate and to lift a few weights. I also attend an hour-long class on those four days, and I usually leave a little early to beat the swimmers into the shower. They take a class at the same time as I do and when they come into the locker room, sometimes I have to wait in line to get into the shower.

I am also at present taking two yoga classes a week, and I'm thinking of joining a 100-day challenge that starts next week. You commit to at least fifteen minutes of yoga each day. That might help me to incorporate yoga into a daily practice, so it's worth a try. I learned that even savasana (corpse pose) counts towards that time, so why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Nobody will yell at me if I don't accomplish it.

I have been taking the same yoga class, yoga Level 1, for a couple of years now. It's been more enjoyable and helpful to my maintenance than I ever expected. For years I had taken my flexibility for granted, and it had slipped away during decades of not stretching properly. When I first started, my left knee was a little wonky, but now it's as good as the other knee, and I no longer need to wear a brace when I hike, although I always carry it. I credit yoga for the improvement. I look forward to every class and am sorry if I have to miss one. And there are people in the class who have been coming to the same class for decades, so I'm in good company.

Well, here I am again, at the end of a post. This one wasn't very inspirational, unless you're looking to be inspired to hit the gym or the yoga studio. I know I'm much happier with myself and my life because I work to remain a level of fitness that works for me. I did look for a quote, but nothing quite hit the mark. So I'll just sign off here, for now, and get up and start the rest of my day. It's the middle day of a three-day weekend for those who still go to work. For me, it means there will be no gym tomorrow (it's closed) or bus (they don't run on holidays), so I'll have to find something out of the ordinary to do with my day.

Until we meet again next week, I do hope you will find some inspiration to work up a little sweat. And don't forget to give a gentle hug to those you love; they will appreciate it. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Saying goodbye

It never gets any easier
Yesterday one of my favorite politicians died from brain cancer. He was 81 and would have turned 82 this coming Wednesday. This is not news to anybody, but for me it was a bit of a shock. When I learned last year that he had developed the same kind of cancer that Ted Kennedy and Beau Biden died from, but that it had been caught early, I was hopeful that even at 80 he would prevail.

When I read over the past year about the amazing breakthroughs made in treatment of this particular type of cancer, I began to hope. John McCain was always a true fighter and, over the years, I watched him stay true to his beliefs, even bucking the party line when it wasn't what he thought was right. But I sure didn't expect to feel the way I did when I learned last week that he had stopped treatment for his condition. That told me, sadly, he also would succumb.

I felt a kinship with him for many reasons. We were both parachutists, and when I visited the "Hanoi Hilton" in Vietnam years ago, I saw a display behind glass of the gear he was wearing when he was captured by the Viet Cong. Inside, along with his jumpsuit and helmet, was his parachute, the thick lines coiled neatly and the faded silk of his canopy looking like it could be used even today. Pictures of him during his five years of captivity were arranged alongside the display. I was fascinated and spent a good long time studying it.

The Vietnam War was horrible in so many ways, both sides suffering such terrible losses while those in Washington stayed comfortably removed from the awfulness. Many years later, McCain became one of the leaders in Washington who fought to normalize our relations with Vietnam, and now many veterans from that war have returned to the country to try to make sense of it all. Today I see homeless veterans on the streets begging on street corners. I despair for our sense of fairness. What a world!

There have been quite a few people over the years whom I have mourned, even though I only knew them through the media, from Martin Luther King and JFK, to Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela. Great people that I shared the planet with for a short or long time. We all end up dead in the long run, but mourning good people who pass away before we do is cause for reflection and sadness on our loss. The world will long remember these remarkable people.

I am only six years younger than McCain was when he died, and I realize that when he was 75, he was seemingly healthy, as I think I am. It's a reminder that age continues to cause our decline, and that's totally normal. Perhaps I'll make it into my eighties, but perhaps I will get sick and die before then. Normal either way. In any event, I don't think I would feel there is anything in my life that I left undone, or unsaid, or unexperienced. In these final years, I am trying to enjoy my many blessings and tie up any loose ends I've left unraveled.

I've had more than my fair share of loss over the years, starting when I was 22 and my son Stephen died suddenly of spinal meningitis. More than fifty years later, I am still trying to learn how to grieve properly. Back then, there were no grief support groups to attend, and I must say that first loss was the very hardest I've experienced. In 1993, when my mother died at the age of 69, I was able to handle it much better, and I've learned that the stages of grief are real: you don't stay feeling like your life is over for very long, and that gradually, very gradually, the scars of your loss will heal. But there will always be scars. You are never the same, just as John McCain bore the scars of his five years of torture for the rest of his life. I bear the scars of my losses, too, even if they are not visible they are just as real.

It's only when we allow our losses, which are a natural part of life, to distort us into incapacitation, make it impossible to carry on, that it becomes a problem. Today there are many ways to help us heal, ways that didn't exist a half century ago. If I were to lose my dear partner, for instance, I would grieve terribly, but I would attend support groups and connect with others going through the same thing. And I would find a way to carry on with my new scars, until I too finish my time here and move on.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie The Pooh
Today I will spend some time watching the news, which of course will be filled with stories and remembrances of McCain's time on earth. It will trigger some memories I've had of loved ones I've lost, and believe it or not, I cherish going into those reminiscences of times gone by, people long gone.

I will also remember to cherish those I share my time with, starting with the one who sleeps next to me right now, and those whom I look forward to seeing at the coffee shop, my neighbors, my friends, those of you in the blogosphere, those with whom I also share my life. It's good to be reminded of the brevity of life every once in awhile. So, dear friends, until we meet again next week, I hope you will do a little of that, too. I wish you well and that all good things will come your way.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Changing my mindset

Red sky
We are preparing (as much as one can) for another onslaught of bad air, after two days of glorious clear skies and mild temperatures. When I woke this morning, I first checked the air quality for my area and find that it is still in the good category. Here is the current forecast:
Sunday morning update: Currently, still MODERATE in many areas. Later today, we may start to see smoke levels that are UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS, due to the fires in British Columbia and the nearby Cascade Mountains. Smoke could worsen into UNHEALTHY levels on Monday or Tuesday. We'll keep this forecast updated as conditions change.
That will be the most pressing issue on my mind for the next couple of days, I suspect. It's hard to figure out what to do when the air around you is so bad. It's not like you can decide to breathe later. There's not much else to do except stay indoors as much as possible. 

For some other reasons, I woke this morning in a dark mood. It's hard for me to watch people I care about having a hard time, and right now that is happening with a dear friend. Plus I had been doing so very well with my diet lately, having lost five pounds and feeling great, until Friday when I went off the rails. I indulged in ice cream and when I'd gone over my daily calorie budget, it was a signal to just keep going. And then yesterday I went to a barbeque gathering and had already told myself that I could stay within limits, but no, I continued to overeat. So I woke reminding myself that I need to cut myself some slack here.

Figuring that I could write a blog post that would hopefully cheer myself up, it did help a little to find that the air quality outdoors is still in the moderate range and not yet unhealthy. But the forecast is not good, so I'm bracing myself. In addition to that, I'll be getting on the scales, which I do every day, feeling resigned to whatever number I see. It was so nice to see the numbers fall and feeling my clothes begin to fit better. Sigh.

The last couple of weeks I've been able to write about compassion and that love is all you need. But today I'm on the flip side, trying to find those same emotions so that I can feel good about life, and they are elusive. I guess this is typical for everyone, feeling good sometimes and feeling bad other times, but I figure there must be a way to climb out of this well of darkness. All I need is to find some purchase on the slippery walls of gloom.

It didn't help to lose Aretha Franklin this week. She's my age, and she died from pancreatic cancer, which seems to be taking more people lately. My friend Ronni is recovering from the serious Whipple surgery and is doing well, but the statistics for how many people survive five years afterwards is scary. Apparently Aretha had that same surgery in 2011 and made it until this week. I watched some clips of her and enjoyed the realization that she was a truly amazing person in so many different ways. Sigh.
We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death. --Nathaniel Hawthorne 
I am probably making a mistake by going to the theater today to see Spike Lee's latest movie. Yesterday a friend asked me if I had seen it yet, and I told her I am going today. She said she walked out of the theater unable to speak, it was so powerful. It does say it has some comedy in it, so maybe I won't be too overwhelmed. We'll see. It's certainly getting an audience here; some of the showings are selling out.

By writing down all the different things that are bothering me right now, it sure doesn't look like it should be enough to explain my grumpy outlook. It could be so much worse, I suppose, and there are no real reasons not to simply scale the walls and emerge into the filtered sunlight and give a whoop for still being alive and kicking. Can I do that? I don't see why not. All I need to do is plaster a smile on my face and step on that scale. Take myself off to the coffee shop to join my friends and quaff a cuppa coffee together. In the larger scheme of things, I'm doing pretty well. And I have hopes for a better day today.

Okay, I'm halfway out of the doldrums, so I guess it's time for me to make it the rest of the way. Partner is still slumbering next to me, my tea is gone, and I've got people to see, places to go. There is even a smile playing across my face, thinking of the day ahead. I hope you will find some joy in the day, and that you might leave me a comment that will boost my spirits, eh? Until next week, be well and I wish all good things to come your way.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

All you need is love

Stream crossing
Last Thursday I joined more than a dozen of my friends for a hike, something I love to do every week, although it's quite difficult for me in the heat. There was a song playing inside my head during the entire day: the Beatles song "All You Need Is Love."
There's nothing you can know that isn't known
Nothing you can see that isn't shown
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be
It's easy
All you need is love, all you need is love
All you need is love, love, love is all you need
 
John Lennon wrote this song for Britain's contribution to Our World, the first live global television link. Watched by over 400 million in 25 countries, the program was broadcast via satellite on 25 June 1967. I didn't realize, until I decided to learn more about this song, that it has such a complex and asymmetric time signature, according to Wikipedia's entry. I know it is still a universally loved song fifty years later, and I hear it on the radio as well as in elevator music, still to this day. But is it true?

Lately I have been feeling very out of place on these hot summer hikes, falling farther and farther behind the others as I struggle to keep going. With my legs all a-tremble and fighting back nausea, I considered whether it's in everyone's best interest for me to go along. There are easier hikes, and I wonder whether it's just my own ego that keeps me from going on them. I actually almost joined the other group last week, but they were going somewhere that would be just as hot and, as it turned out, they turned around after a couple hikers got sick in the same way I did, mostly from the intense heat and lack of shade. And I did accomplish the hike without any permanent injury to anything other than my self-esteem.

Next month, I will celebrate ten years of hiking with the Senior Trailblazers and hope that, one way or another, I'll be able to continue on for awhile longer. The coming week I will not join them, because it's a scheduled hard hike in the hot sun, with no shade at all. The other group is going somewhere I've already been this summer (and it is also a hot one), so I'm not at all sure what I'll end up doing on Thursday. It's a little disconcerting, but I really have to remember that ten years of wonderful trips into the wilderness is a gift I will always cherish and can never lose.

It's sort of like when I stopped skydiving. At one time, it was the center of my world, with my entire life shaped by the excursions to the Drop Zone on the weekends, and week-long trips during the year going to boogies (gatherings of jumpers from all over with specialty aircraft to jump out of). When I finally finished being an active skydiver after 25 years, it was because I knew that I had become the oldest person still active on the Drop Zone and that I was placing myself in danger to continue doing something I loved. It took a fairly long process over a couple of years for me to get to that realization. I seem to be in the middle of that same process concerning these difficult hikes. There are still plenty of places for me to go into the wilderness; I just have to take stock realistically of what I can and cannot do any more.

Learning to love myself and have compassion for the aging hippie inside me that never went away, never learned the lesson of moderation and tends to live in denial, well that seems to be my current assignment, doesn't it? Most of the time, I am happy and enjoy every single day, whether it's puttering in the garden, reading a good book, talking with my mate, or struggling up a hill. And, of course, I must always remember to be thankful for the wonderful life I've been given. Many of the family and friends who have mattered so much to me are already gone, and I'm still here. I've outlived both of my parents and my two sons, but it won't always be true: at some time I'll be joining them, too. Is it true that love is all I need?

Yes, I believe it is. When I think back on my life, the moments that stand out in high relief from the others are filled with memories of love. It's also true that although I suffered during the loss of my loved ones, that suffering is not what stands out when I think back: it's those priceless moments of happiness that I remember. They will never leave me, and I am blessed that I can recall myriad episodes when we laughed together until we cried.

My current assignment seems to be to find the next stage of my life, explore where the days will take me, and find myself surrounded by love everywhere I look. Waiting for me at the coffee shop are a couple of my good friends, and my partner sleeps beside me as I write. My pals in the world of the Internet are also present (that would be you, my friend) and give me great pleasure as I share my thoughts this morning.

I've managed to write another post, although this morning I had no idea what might emerge. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. Today was one of those days when I felt the magic. I do hope the coming week will bring you some realization of the love that surrounds you. And I wish that same thing for myself. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mindfulness and aging

Glacier lilies emerging from detritus
One of the things I love most about hiking in the High Country is seeing how the seasons change the landscape. Those dead stalks were living, vibrant growth just last fall, and now they are sinking back down into the earth to sustain new growth. Glacier lilies emerge for just a few short weeks once the snow has retreated. I took this picture last month, and I suspect that this same spot is now covered with greenery, with no lilies to be seen anywhere.

This past week has been a real blessing in so many ways: first, the intense heat that we Pacific Northwesterners only occasionally experience is gone. We went from a high temperature of 90°F to a high of 68°F, with marine air finally scouring out the heat and giving us back our usual summertime temperatures. Yesterday, however, I could feel the beginning of the return of higher than normal temperatures, which are expected by the end of the week. After this lovely interlude, I don't feel the same dismay; my frame of mind seems to be rather fluid, and that's okay.

Second, I attended three wonderful yoga classes that helped me appreciate the ability my body has of recovering from the exertions I put it through. Although I hiked ten miles on Thursday and gained quite a bit of elevation, I woke on Friday feeling refreshed and happy. Very different from two weeks earlier when I could barely walk after a hard hike. I don't know what caused the difference, but it reminded me that if I give myself enough time to recover, lots of restful sleep and mindful stretching, even at 75 I am capable of more than one might imagine.

I know it's temporary, that the aging process continues apace, and that one day I'll have to change my activities, but that's not today. So today I'd like to consider the tools that help anyone to have Mindful Sustainable Aging. It's a thing, I discovered, actually, and that article I've linked will give you the whole story, if you're interested (and I hope you are). To sum up:
Learning to use mindfulness later in life can be important in terms of coping with the (psychosocial) crises of old age and the struggle to find meaning in late life. The fact that mindfulness spans both the normal and the pathological makes it capable of addressing a wide range of problems, something that this article has attempted to point out.
When I started taking yoga classes a few years ago, it was so that I might be able to regain some of the flexibility I'd lost over the past decade. Although continuing to exercise, I noticed that getting out of bed in the morning was always accompanied with myriad aches and pains, which I attributed to my age. But once I started doing the yoga poses, gradually I noticed a difference in my body throughout the day, starting with getting out of bed. Yes, there are still arthritic and achy moments, but they are much, much less. And my feeling about those aches and pains has changed to one of compassion. Last week I wrote about having compassion for myself, and just a simple change of attitude has given my days a happier perspective. Another quote from that article:
By engaging in things that demand both activity and spirituality, older people cultivate a mindful sense that is still vibrant with hope and meaning. However, older people also need time to cultivate their inner being by withdrawal from the outer realm of the doing-mode. Older adults who have made the shift from a doing-mode to a being-mode are considered to be spiritual elders.
Oh! A spiritual elder, can I become one too? That sounds like just the ticket for those days in my future when I can no longer continue to engage in my daily pursuits. I found another wonderful website from the Positive Psychology Program that gives 22 Mindfulness Exercises, Techniques and Activities for Adults, which should keep me busy reading and studying these techniques for quite awhile. I'll be sure to let you know which ones have worked best for me. I do know that writing this blog post on Sunday morning, my first activity of the day, has been very therapeutic and never fails to give me a changed perspective toward the day ahead.

Years ago, I meditated twice a day for at least a half hour, and I still remember how much I would crave to return to that state after a full day of hard intellectual work. I kept it up for what I remember to be at least a year, maybe longer. During that time I actually had moments of transcendence while meditating. I don't know why I stopped, but several attempts to take it up again have been disappointing. Part of me longs for the serenity I found back then, and maybe now that I have so many tools at my disposal, I can find my way back to that place. Or even to a new and more delightful one on my journey to become a spiritual elder.

There are so many twists and turns in one's life, and nobody can predict where a certain avenue might end up. I do know that, in my quest to regain my flexibility by taking those yoga classes, I've grown more willing to find mindfulness in everyday life. The best part is realizing that there is so much more to learn and so many ways to expand my horizons, even (or especially) as an older person.

I just looked at the clock and realized that I've spent more than an hour getting to this place, with all the reading of those two websites I linked above, and my attempt to capture it for you, and for myself at a later time. My partner lies sleeping next to me, quietly breathing, so I know he's fast asleep, not in a light doze as usual. And of course my tea is long gone, and a light grumbling in my stomach reminds me that I'm a little bit hungry. Time to finish and start the rest of my day.

Please remember that we are all surrounded by peace and beauty, if we just take a little time to search for it. Or at least that is what I desire for us all. Take a moment to think of what makes you happy and maybe it will come to you today. It is my most sincere wish that we have a wonderful day ahead. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Compassion starts with me

Mt. Baker from Skyline Divide
I took this picture while hiking along the ridge on Skyline Divide last Thursday. Again, I lagged behind the others, suffering from the heat and the bugs, and I stopped for a lunch break before the rest of the group. Melanie stayed with me, I think partly because she was worried about me. The last few years I've noticed that the heat really bothers me when I try to hike uphill. Of course, what I'm able to do is still considerable, especially when I compare myself to other septuagenarians. There is something unpleasant that begins to happen to the body as it ages, and I sometimes forget that I'm no longer young.

Ten years. That's how long I've lived in the Pacific Northwest and have been going on these weekly hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. Many of the participants that were along back then are no longer hiking. One day, I'll be one of them who has to find other, less strenuous activities to enjoy. Truly, though, I hope that I can keep going for at least a few more years. That means I need to be kind to myself and forgiving of my shortcomings.

Yesterday I read a passage from a book that resonated with me. The author is trying to show how to be compassionate to oneself. He starts by asking why it is that we can be kind to others but berate ourselves and find it difficult to forgive that one person the way we do others. Here's the quote:
Compassion begins with self-acceptance. Self-acceptance first requires letting go of negative thoughts about yourself. And it requires being aware of the negative thoughts to begin with.
Awhile back I wrote about the Buddhist Five Remembrances, and in pondering them again today, I realize that I keep forgetting that life is change, nothing stays the same, and that the only true belongings I have, that I can keep, are my actions. "They are the ground upon which I stand. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions." When I forget to take care of myself, and when I extend my body past its limits, I pay the price. That's what I did a couple of weeks ago, and I regretfully acknowledge that I will never visit the top of Church Mountain again. Although I believe that today I am pretty much recovered, more than a week later, my knee is still bothering me and now I realize that I was deficient in self-acceptance. I wasn't taking care of myself.

Yesterday I walked with the ladies, my usual Saturday activity, and I was feeling strong and happily strode along with the others, not lagging behind, and being glad to be back in the swing of things. But you know I will forget, once again, that I must be kind to myself and will overdo it. It's my nature to overdo and push myself too far. But times are a-changing, and my body must be allowed to take longer and longer periods of recovery. Otherwise, I'll be falling over unable to get up. And all because I was unkind to myself, unrealistic in my thinking.

Some people are naturally compassionate to others but not to themselves. I'm one of them, I fear. It comes partly from having a competitive nature, and partly from being in denial about the vagaries of age. Yes, I know I'm guilty of this failing, but it's becoming evident that I must forgive myself and become more accepting of my nature. Otherwise, I'll continue to think if I just push myself a little bit more, I'll leave behind those aches and pains. Life doesn't work that way.

***

In the coming week, those of us who watch the sun make its way across the seasons will get to celebrate Lammas, summer's First Harvest. Although I've already been bringing in lots of vegetables from the garden, this is the time when the first grain is harvested and the first loaves of bread from the harvested grain are baked. It's also halfway between the summer solstice and the fall equinox.
August was considered an auspicious month for handfastings and weddings. But underlying this is the knowledge that the bounty and energy of Lugh, of the Sun, is now beginning to wane. It is a time of change and shift. Active growth is slowing down and the darker days of winter and reflection are beckoning.
 Soon the long days of summer will be but a memory, and I'll think back on all the wonderful days we spent in the High Country. And I'll also be glad to find ways to enjoy my favorite season, autumn. The equinox marks the Second Harvest, and the Third Harvest is at Halloween, when the nuts and berries are gathered. The circle of life reminds me to look around and enjoy it, not try to push the river, or pretend that it's a static condition. Every day that passes brings me closer and closer to a greater understanding of myself, if I allow it.

Now that I've written this post, I'm feeling like I've found a direction for the day's activities. I'll pay attention to how I treat that most important person in my life, me, and how much I can show compassion to myself. Not only that, but those around me will feel it, and it will spread out to the larger world. And we know the world needs all the compassion and kindness we can muster.

With that, I'm smiling over at my partner, still asleep, and finding myself ready to face the day filled with good feelings towards all. I hope that you will spend a little time today being kind to yourself, and that all will be well in your world. Until we meet again next week, I hope all good things will come your way.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Perspective through the years

Church Mountain, almost to the summit
Last Thursday, another hiker friend, Dave, took this picture of me along with Cathy and Jim, as we debated whether or not to climb the final fifty feet to the summit of Church Mountain. There would obviously be no view, since the clouds had remained pretty thick during our trek to this spot. We had traveled more than four miles and up almost 4,000 feet of elevation to get here, and I was tired. Little did I know what was in store for my aging body on the way down, though: my knees and back began to complain mightily. It was my last time on this summit, I'm afraid.

Since the other two had never been to the top, we decided to go. I'm glad I did, and after looking back on my blog, I found that it had been five years since I last visited the top. Five years is a long time, and Thursday I was reminded that my body is three-quarters of a century old now and needs TLC, not arduous hikes like this one.

It's three days later, and I am now almost back to normal. I have binge-watched a Netflix series and an Amazon Prime original, which helped keep me occupied in a way that wouldn't put too much stress on my tired limbs. And it was interesting what I learned while watching those two series. First, I was intrigued by the nominations for the Emmy awards and discovered that two shows I had not heard much about are nominated for numerous awards. The first is entitled "GLOW" or "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling." Not being a fan of wrestling, I didn't think I would enjoy it, but after seeing its 11 nominations, I decided to give it a go.

The comedy series is set in 1985, more than thirty years ago, and I enjoyed looking at the clothes and hairdos of the era as much as anything else. The premise is that a guy decided to create a TV show of women wrestlers and recruited a bunch of non-wrestling women (with a couple who know what they're doing) and trained them. I had many a laugh while I watched the first two seasons. Season 3 is in production, and I am excited to see what happens to these women next.

It is hard for me to fathom that thirty years has passed by in the blink of an eye, that this period piece represents a time when I was already in my forties, older than those GLOW girls. Although the cars and clothes are dated, they changed so slowly that I didn't notice that it's long enough in the past to be part of my history. I thought I was old back then in 1985, but now I'm truly elderly. I laughed when I realized that if I were to die today, my obituary would not reflect on my tragic truncated life, but instead would reflect on a full life well lived. I've reached the age when most people are beginning to feel all the time like I do right now: achy and tired. I just keep forgetting that I'm old.

The second series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, follows a housewife in 1958 New York City who discovers she has a knack for stand-up comedy. It's an Amazon Prime original, and I was glad I discovered it after only one season, which meant I didn't have to binge-watch it for days to catch up. In fact, after I watched the pilot, I was truly hooked and could hardly wait to learn more about Midge Maisel. This period comedy is set in a time that I remember so very well: I was in high school, and the clothes in the series brought back so many wonderful memories. I wore those pretty dresses with layers and layers of crinolines underneath. I remember washing and starching them so that when I walked, frothy petticoats swirled around my legs.

Sixty years! Although in 1958 I had no idea what life had in store for me, I was young and idealistic, like most people were in those days.  Now it's a historical period. This comedy series received even more nominations: 14, to be exact. I had to find out what the fuss was about. Here's a quote from that Wikipedia article I referenced above.
NPR similarly highlighted the effectiveness of the comedy in the show, writing "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel isn't aiming for realism. It's a heroic fantasy. And Midge's humor, one might say, is the ultimate version of staircase wit. Recklessly honest, she says what female comedians would've said half a century ago — if they had only been free to say it."
 A heroic fantasy. Maybe that's why I resonated so deeply with her as I watched the eight episodes released by Amazon. I even watched the last one over again, because it was so densely packed with... just about everything. And it brought back another period of time when I was actually there, enjoying the beginning of my adult years. The two series are coincidentally thirty years apart, and it's thirty years since then. It gave me a chance to look at my life from three different vantage points, to be reminded of how much I've been privileged to live through.

I have also realized that there will be no more thirty-year periods, that I will have to imagine them because I won't be here to live through them, it feels like I've been given a priceless gift: the chance to reflect, be reminded, and celebrate a life well lived. And I have the most precious gift of all: a pantheon of wonderful friends and family who populate my memories, who are still with me in so many ways, even if they have already moved on. But today I will enjoy the richness of my current crop of friends and acquaintances, and we will find many things to laugh about and enjoy together.
Laughing is one of the best exercises, it's like running inside your mind. You can do it almost anywhere and it's even better with a friend. -Anon
And now, having been given the gift of retrospection, I now look forward to my day in the sunshine. I get to head down to the coffee shop and join my friends there, and I believe I'm going to the movies with my friend Judy later today. I've finished my first Sunday meditation, this post, and I hope that I will get to smile at your comments later this day and this week. Blogging is a gift that I treasure and am glad to share with my friends.

Hubby is still sleeping quietly, my tea is long gone, and the day beckons. I wish you all good things in your upcoming week, concentrate on finding laughter to warm your soul and share with your friends. It's what I'll be doing until we meet again next week.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Good medicine

Someone's collection of hearts
One day, while on a walk in the park, I discovered someone's collection of heart-shaped rocks, with a "good medicine" message in the middle. What does it mean, good medicine? A quick search on the internet gave me the source:
“A cheerful heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” –Proverbs 17:22
Laughter and a happy attitude does indeed go a long way towards making me feel better about myself, and gives me hope for the world, too. Being depressed and sorrowful doesn't help anybody, especially me. So today I'm going to look at ways to lift my heart and share a bit of the joy we can all feel for simply being alive.

Yes, I know that as I age, aches and pains are normal, and I have grown accustomed to feeling my familiar aches when I first step out of bed and start my day, but I also know that as I move around and stretch a little, I'll feel better and before long, they will diminish to more manageable levels. When I was younger, I'd leap out of bed feeling nothing more than delight in the workings of my body. But these days, I no longer leap with confidence into much of anything, but instead take it easy in situations where leaping is required.

Last Thursday my hiking group had to cross several roaring streams, and we needed to leap from rock to rock, and I must say that my confidence waned as I eyed one rock to another, trying to figure out how to get across. And then I found myself unable to move, unable to go forward or backward without falling, so Jim, one of my fellow hikers, came over to help me get across. And sure enough, I was able to make it across with his help, without getting my boots submerged in the rushing water. It is always a good idea to ask for help when you need it.

Kindness and caring comes naturally to some people. My friend Jim is one of them, and although I only know of one aspect of his life, his joy in hiking and travel, I know he will be available to help me if I ask. He recently traveled to Peru and hiked the entire length of the Inca Trail, which I also did way back in 1981. It surprised me to see his pictures and hear of his adventures, because it's changed so much since then. Now it's practically an industry, with hordes of people on the trail all at once. When I was there, I saw only a handful of others during the three-day backpacking trip from Km 88 (where the train left us to begin our journey) through the ancient ruins to our destination of Machu Picchu. Now you can hire a guide, or (in Jim's case) a sherpa, who carried his gear for him. In all his pictures, I saw so many other people that I hardly recognized the trail I covered almost forty years ago.

Forty years! It boggles my mind how quickly those years passed, but if I recall the memories carefully, I realize how much I still remember of those days, those moments in my long life, and am grateful that I got a chance to see those ruins for myself. I would not go back; it would make me sorrowful to see how much it's changed. That is true for many of my previous excursions. When I spent those six weeks in Peru, my first international trip, I had no idea that I would travel many more times to places in the world that would astound me: the Forbidden City in Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, to name a few. I've traveled more than my share, and now that I'm retired, I have little desire to go very far from home. Visiting my sister in Florida during the winter is far enough for me these days.

There was a time when I truly wanted to travel the world. Little did I know back in 1981 that I would have the chance, but it happened and now I have a plethora of memories, photographs, and stories that will always be with me. One thing that emerges in my mind's eye as I think back over those years are little vignettes of the people who, at one time or another, showed me a kindness, for no reason other than that they are good people. We need the good medicine of kindness now, as much as we needed it then. It's like a benign virus: showing someone a kindness causes them to want to do something nice for another.

This morning, as I venture out into my little corner of the world, I'm going to take my own cheerful heart out there and spread a little of that virus around. First the coffee shop, giving me a chance to share a bagel with my friend John, having a few laughs together before perhaps taking a short walk down the boulevard in the early morning before it begins to get hot, and noticing how often a stranger will smile at me if I smile first.

Something that will warm your heart, if you are an animal lover like I am, that is, is a video that I discovered about a retired couple who created a wonderful haven for elderly cats. It just happened without their planning it, and this should help to spread that virus around from me to you:



I must warn you that it's 12 minutes long, and I have to admit I cried several times during the video, but they were tears of happiness, and gratitude for people like this couple, who spend their retirement years creating something like a Cat Heaven.

Now it's time for me to start my day, having finished my first and most important task, writing this post. Interestingly, I feel quite a bit of happiness already, just now, and I'd like to share it with the others. My partner still sleeps next to me, so I'll just send him a virtual hug rather than waking him with a kiss. Thank you for being with me in this electronic life we share, and I do hope you will leave me a comment, if you want, to help spread the benign virus of love. I wish you well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Muddling through


Good morning! I have been looking for some place I could use this drawing, and today I decided it would be on this post. I like the image of the seed breaking open and putting down all those roots into the fertile ground. It reminds me that nothing dies without another life being born from it. And that is true, even if it's a "weed" that carries on, popping up from the small cracks in pavement, on its way to reducing the pavement, eventually, back into dirt.

Today is one of those days when nothing comes to mind to write about. I woke up in the middle of the night wondering what would happen if I just didn't even attempt a blog post, but that didn't last long. I've been doing this without a break since 2009, so I'm going to muddle through today.

When I first get up and make a cup of tea and carry my laptop back into bed to start my Sunday, I make a quick pass through the news before starting. I also read any new blogs from my friends that showed up in my Reader overnight. There were only a few, so here I am without much direction from that front, but I just learned that the rescuers in Thailand have begun to take out the 12 trapped boys and their soccer coach from that dark cave. Two of them are safe. This attempt has captured the attention of the entire world. At first I thought with all the help to rescue them would be easy, but then that young rescuer died, and I began to fear for all their lives. I pray for the safety of them all. Apparently it's got to be done right now, because the monsoon rains will fill up their escape route at any moment. And those boys don't even know how to swim!

I am not a fan of caves and would never have done what those boys did. Or perhaps I would have, if peer pressure had caused me to feel it necessary to go along with the others. I remember long ago visiting Carlsbad Caverns and going down the walkway deep into the ground to a central room in what felt like the center of the earth. I could feel the weight of the rocks over my head and was very glad to emerge into the sunlight after that. I think I suffer from a little claustrophobia that only shows up now and then. And my imagination does a great job of putting me in that cave with those young boys.

I guess we all have to live with our fears and phobias, which differ from each other. I'm sure that standing on the outside of an airplane two miles from the ground would trigger many people's anxiety, but for me it is liberating. I can still feel the exhilaration I felt as I climbed outside, waiting for the other skydivers to get into position so that we could all let go at once. It's been a long time ago, but the feeling still lives on when I recall my skydiving adventures. Give me the sky and plenty of air, the opposite of those caves, anytime.

There was a time, long ago, when I couldn't even imagine making a skydive. I was well into my late forties when I finally made that fateful tandem jump, older than most skydivers are when they are finished with their jumping careers. And then, to my surprise, I felt the need to go again and again. I couldn't get enough of the feeling of being in freefall, and now I have accumulated well over 68 hours of time in that wonderful place. I wish I could describe to you what it feels like to be flying through the air, looking around at your fellow playmates hooking up to make a formation. It's magical. I'm sure if I had the proper gear (which I sold in 2015) I could still make a skydive, but nothing calls me in that direction very strongly these days. After all, I must carefully pick and choose my activities at this point in my life, so that I can continue to play in the outdoors during these later years.

When I turned 75, the first several days after my birthday I would wake up and the first thing that I'd remember is that: I am 75 now. I won't ever be any younger than three-quarters of a century. Who knows what the future holds? One thing I know is that my time here on earth is limited. Of course, this is always true, but milestones give me a chance to reflect on what has passed, what has changed, and what lies ahead. I have had a fulfilling life, and if I died today, there is little I've left undone that I wanted to accomplish.

I feel very fortunate to have the circle of friends that I have, my family members and my dear partner to share these later years with. And wonder of wonders, the internet has brought many delightful people into my life and given me a chance to expand my horizons well beyond the borders of my own country. I've got friends all over the world who mean as much to me as any "skin" friends I have, and I look forward to hearing what's going on in your lives, being happy and sad with you, as you do with me.

This will not be one of those posts that everyone thanks me for, I suspect, because it's not really inspired. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. But I will be here again next week, God willing, and I'll hopefully have something more profound in here. Until then, I'll leave you with one of my very favorite pieces I discovered years ago:
Life is not a journey to the grave
With the intention of
Arriving safely in a pretty
And well preserved body,
But rather to skid in broadside,
Thoroughly used up,
Totally worn out,
And loudly proclaiming,
WOW !!!! What a ride!
Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The wolf I feed

Yesterday's rally at City Hall
It was happening all over the country: rallies against the tragedy at the Mexican border and a call to reunite the children who have already been separated from their parents. I am not much of an activist, but I felt it was important to add my body to those gathered together in protest. I know that many of my readers might object to any overt political posts, so I keep my thoughts to myself and away from my blog. Mostly. Sometimes it leaks out a little, like today.

It was raining here in Bellingham yesterday. Pretty much the whole day a light rain fell, but we are used to it, and in the picture, I see only one or two umbrellas. I had my raincoat and rain hat and was just fine. You might notice in the picture that most of the attendees seemed to be little old ladies, just like me. White hairs prevailed, and I saw many of my friends from other activities were there as well. However, young children and their parents were also there in large numbers.

The speakers mostly talked about the injustices we face, but I was particularly moved by a Native American woman who spoke of the early days of this country when her people were systematically separated from each other, and either killed or relocated. It reminded me that our country has been doing this ever since the first settlers usurped Indian lands. This is not new behavior. But that doesn't mean it needs to continue.

As I wandered through the crowd, I was sometimes overcome with emotion, for many reasons, but mostly because there are so many people like myself who really do care about the fate of people we will never know in person. There was no sense of anger or rage, like I often see portrayed in the media, just sadness and solidarity, and a desire to make a difference.

The other day I listened to a podcast that spoke about the parable of the two wolves that live inside all of us. It goes like this, from Virtues for Life:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. 
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” 
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” 
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
 As I wandered through the crowd and looked at the signs, smiled at the children, and felt the mutual support and harmony among the crowd, I realized that it would do nobody any good, especially myself, to allow anger to overtake me about what is happening. The feeling of despair and misery I sometimes feel when I watch the news is also not good for me. Depression is just anger turned inwards, so I am actively looking for other ways to heal myself and my world.

My thoughts are a choice I make, just like deciding which wolf I will feed, and I choose to have positive thoughts dominate my mind. I found this interesting post on line: Think Positive: 11 Ways to Boost Positive Thinking. I will read it carefully and take some tips from it; I hope you might think about doing the same, if you think you might need it. It's not just our thoughts that matter, but what we say to others is important as well, and what we say about others.

I've also often used this short little mental note of three things to remind myself before speaking about others is helpful: First, is it true? Second, is it kind? Third, is it necessary? This applies to so many areas of my life, and it's certainly something that makes me feel better if I think of it before speaking.

***

This week I went to the movies with my friend Judy to see "Won't You Be My Neighbor?", a documentary about Fred Rogers, who had the long-running TV show for kids for three decades. I only occasionally saw the show, but I watched him enough early on to get the feeling he portrayed of innocence and sweetness. The documentary also has many interviews he gave over the years, and you really sense that here was a gentle soul who wanted nothing more than the best for kids. I didn't know he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, but it makes sense. He just ministered through television rather than in a church. He had two children of his own, and they are extensively interviewed in the documentary.

It was fun to see him interact with Koko, the gorilla who just recently died at the age of 46 and knew sign language so well. I learned that one of my coffee shop friends went to school with Penny, the woman who worked with Koko ever since she was a baby. Penny must be devastated, having lost her dear companion. The gorilla did live a good long life, and she knew she was near the end. I read that one of the last "conversations" she had with Penny, she signed "old" and "patient" with sad eyes. She knew; I think other animals often know better than we do when our time is up. In any event, I highly recommend the documentary and hope you might find the time to see it. Surely it will make its way to Netflix once it's out of the theaters.

Today I will make a special effort to look for the beauty around me, not only in the external world, but my own internal thoughts as well. As Mr. Rogers says, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." The neighborhood of my mind is looking pretty good right now, since I am almost finished with my Sunday morning post, and I feel the happiness of heading to the coffee shop to hang out with my friends. Sundays are my days that I have regulated the least, and so the day stretches forward with my anticipation of joy. A little time in my garden, finishing my latest book, and another movie with Judy. Sounds good to me!

I hope that the coming week, with our Independence Day holiday right in the middle, will be filled with everything that makes you happy. Don't forget to give thanks for everything that is going right in the world, because I'll be doing that as well and it always helps to have a friend or two along the way. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Being old and being happy

Clouds, sky, mountains
I took this picture last Thursday and would have used it in my other blog, except that it was almost ruined by my thumb covering much of what I tried to capture. You can see the remnants of it after a severe crop in the upper right-hand corner. Sigh. When will I ever learn?

It was a wonderful hike, which I wrote about on my other blog, here. We didn't make it to our destination because of too much snow, but it was a beautiful day spent in the wilderness with good friends, so I was very happy. When we stopped for lunch, I had a moment of well-being that filled my heart and soul with joy, and that moment is with me still today, three days later.

I was a little down in the dumps before our hike, I think because of all the memories I stirred up in last week's post. My missing children, all that I have lost, people and things I don't forget but also don't dwell on either. Usually I rejoice at stories about my friends' grandchildren and listen with affection about their exploits and accomplishments. Recently, though, I felt myself feeling sorry that I will never know that joy personally.

What has also helped me this week is a new book I picked up at the library. It was one of several that I'd put a hold on, and it's very popular. More than twenty people are still waiting for it, so probably today I'll finish it and send it back to the library. It's a book by a journalist, John Leland, who interviewed six people who are in the category of being "oldest of the old," eighty-five and up, and followed them for over a year. He wrote a book about it, which has become a best seller. Happiness Is a Choice You Make is available both in hardback and electronically.

Even though during the year that he wrote the book, two of the six died, he found that in general these oldsters were still enjoying life and in some cases, looking forward to the final chapter of their lives being written. Not one of them feared death. On page 42 of the book, he quotes one of the women, Ping, and it resonated with me: "When you're young, the future is so far away, and you don't know what will happen to you and the world. So when you're young, you have more worries than the elderly. But I don't worry now."

I have ten more years before I will join this group in age, if I make it that long, and I do look forward to not worrying about the state of the world. Or wondering whether I'll contract some dread disease and die a slow and lingering death. But even now, I don't spend lots of time worrying about these things, because there's really not much I can do about either one. And I'm a good one for worrying. The book gave me hope that I'll outgrow that pesky mental activity.

There are many tips that Leland has learned from his research and friendship with these people. For one thing, he realized that the final phase of life is not without some wonderful compensations, like learning to truly live in the moment and appreciate small joys. All of them lived simply and as they lost mobility, found pleasure in the tiniest accomplishments. They didn't dwell on what they had lost (mostly), but rejoiced in what they still had. None of them felt helpless in their lives, but found ways to work around their limitations.

One researcher, Laura Carstensen, who wanted to determine why some people are better than others at aging, discovered something she calls the "positivity effect." For more than a decade, she and a team of researchers at Stanford began a study of this effect. They gave electronic pagers to 184 people between the ages of 18 and 94 and paged them five times a day for a week, asking them to write down immediately how strongly they felt each of 19 emotions. This is what they found:
The results were striking. Older people consistently reported just as many positive emotions as younger participants, but had fewer negative ones. They also had more mixed emotions, meaning that they didn't let frustration or anxiety keep them from saying they were happy. Consciously or unconsciously, they were making the choice to be happy, even when there were reasons to feel otherwise.
Although I'm only halfway through the book, I'm enjoying it very much and learning a great deal. It also explains to me why I felt sad after dredging up those old memories, and why I felt so good when filled with endorphins from exercise and laughing with friends. Sometimes I feel like I should be spending more time remembering those loved ones who had died, but then something like this book will remind me that it's counterproductive to happiness. There's a fine line between denial and accepting reality as it is, and I find myself trying to stay on the right side of that line. Mostly I succeed.

I have the usual aches and pains that accompany aging, but fortunately they don't bother me, unless they keep me from doing what I love. Old knees, creaky joints in general, and diminishing strength, are part of my daily life. But things like yoga, walking, and time spent outdoors in the wilderness continue to fill me with joy and, I think, give me hope that I can continue for a while yet, doing what I love. When I can no longer hike, I'll walk. When I cannot touch my toes, I'll touch my shins. And so on. When I've lost my ability to see clearly, I'll learn to love the shape of things.

I've got plenty of role models to cheer me on, such as Mary Oliver the poet, whose poems fill me with tremendous happiness. She's just entered the realm of the oldest old, born in 1932, and continues to write some of the most amazing poems. She's the one who wrote
Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
With your one wild and precious life?
Well, I plan to continue to learn, and love, and enjoy my wild and precious life in the company of my loved ones, my dear virtual friends, and remembering those with much love who joined me in my earlier years. I hope I will continue for a while longer, but if I died today, I can truly say it's been a great ride. Until we meet again next week, dear ones, please remember to find at least one thing to smile about every day, and give thanks. Be well until then.

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.