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 13, 2021

A day in the life

Waterfall in Whatcom Falls Park

Last time I walked through Whatcom Falls Park, I saw this smaller but very beautiful waterfall away from the main falls and was enchanted with the sun shining perfectly on it, dappled sunlight on the trees. Just beautiful. I have been saving this picture to use when I couldn't find anything else to open my Sunday blog with. Today is that day.

Yesterday five of us ladies walked six miles together in full sunshine, walking from downtown to the Fairhaven ferry terminal and back, along Boulevard Park and the South Bay trail. Warm temperatures and full sun also brought out most of Bellingham, it seemed. People were everywhere; the pandemic is no longer keeping people indoors. It's been a long time since I've seen so many pedestrians, bikers, kids and dogs out for a stroll.

Things are opening up: I went to pick up a book at the library, which is now open to the public from 10:00am to 3:00pm. It's been redesigned and was refurbished during the lockdown. The computer systems are not up and running quite yet, and not too many people were inside while I was there, but it's looking good and will soon be swamped with users. Masks are required for the moment. I took a look around and was pleased to see such an improvement throughout the entire facility.

The Senior Center will open the first of July. For now, we are allowed to use the parking lot where the Senior Trailblazers can now gather to carpool for excursions into the High Country. On Thursday, three full cars went up the highway to Church Mountain, while another car of four made the long drive down to Maple Grove. I was in that car, and I wrote about the wonderful eight-mile-long adventure we shared last Thursday on my other blog. I learned that the High Country group made it all the way into the meadows, with plenty of snow still to navigate. Everyone did just fine, though, and both groups enjoyed themselves, even if clouds obscured the views. It didn't matter: we are back together and will enjoy a summer of great hikes. Last year's absence of High Country hikes is now in the rear view mirror!

After yesterday's full sun, today is forecast to be cloudy and rainy, which might be one reason why so many people were outside yesterday, enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures (well, relatively speaking: it got all the way up to 70°F (21°C)! I see that many parts of the country are sweltering in a heat wave, so I'm really glad I get to experience mild Pacific Northwest weather. I'm just not good when it gets above 80. Late July through late August around here we have some hot days, but not many, and I am grateful for that. 

We saw someone out in the bay who was kitesurfing. We thought at first it was a paraglider, or maybe a windsurfer, but after looking it up online, I discovered it was someone who was on a small surfboard and was dipping and swaying with the wind under (and alongside) a parachute. It was quite a sight to see, and the person was very accomplished, tacking back and forth along the bay, using the parachute expertly. It's a very different looking canopy than those used for skydiving, but it brought back memories of learning how to fly my own parachute. Ah, those were the days, gone now, but not forgotten.

I made my last skydive and parachute ride almost seven years ago now, but those times will never really leave me. I still notice the direction and intensity of the wind whenever I see a flag fluttering in the breeze. Every once in awhile I'll think of what it felt like to jump out of an airplane and enter into freefall. Even though each skydive only lasted around a minute in freefall, and another four or five minutes under canopy, those moments are part of me. After all, I have accumulated more than two-and-a-half days of time in freefall, one minute at a time. No wonder I haven't forgotten it.

These days, I get a thrill from being out in a forest setting, seeing all the gorgeous old trees and abundant ferns and flowers, with my feet firmly planted on the ground. Even though I have old knees and hips, I manage to keep myself going, even when I'm feeling some discomfort. On the walk yesterday, my left foot bothered me for much of the time, but it wasn't enough to make me turn around or stop. I wasn't alone, as I noticed Lily favoring her left foot, too. We talked about our various ailments but also shared our gratitude for having the ability to be out and about. She's in her mid-fifties and a generation younger than me, but also is aware of the need to keep our bodies in good shape if we want to keep going.

I talked to my brother yesterday, and he told me that today is a very special milestone for him: a while back I calculated the number of days I've been alive, so he did the same. He found the exact number of days that our father was alive, and today he will meet that number himself. After today, he will be older than Daddy. Once a person dies, they enter a new dimension of time and will always remain static in our memories. It's interesting that when I think of my son Chris (who died at 40), he is a young man in his late teens. I wasn't around him after he joined the Army and went off to Germany, so that might be why I think of him as being younger. When he appears in my dreams, he's a young man.

I'm sorry that I haven't been very inspired with today's post. I wasn't sure what I'd write about when I sat down to begin, and it's become just another "day in the life." As I age, my days and nights fly by, so quickly one week passes, a month, a season, a year. As I listen to the rain hitting the roof, I know I will enjoy walking around in my rain gear as I face the day ahead. But for now, I need to find some quote or poem that will summarize the way I'm feeling right now.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

 He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth,—the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

 And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

 Many, many years ago, I memorized this Emily Dickinson poem, because it spoke to me directly, and now with so many more of my dear friends and family on the other side of the grass, it is even more meaningful. And it says what I wish I could say myself, that as I sit here composing, it is the same as us talking between the rooms with like-minded brethren. I hope that as I move along in life that I will be able to continue to remember those who came before me, and give thanks for all who will come after.

And with that, I find myself ready to join the rest of the day. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, my tea is gone, and the coffee shop beckons. I truly wish that all good things will come your way this week, and that you will find some beauty in your days. Be well until we meet again, dear friends.


Sunday, June 6, 2021

Farewell , dear Hedi

Me, SG, Rob, Lily (and Hedi's picture)

Yesterday, the four of us gathered at a favorite brewery and restaurant to give our own farewell to Hedi, and commiserate with one another about how much we'd give to know the circumstances of her death. Hedi's husband Dan is unwilling to tell anybody, and there will be no official public information, no obituary, nothing. He's not saying, and I guess everybody is entitled to their own grief process, but it's sure hard for those of us who would like to know more. She had just endured a long operation two days before, and it was her first day home from the hospital. 

All we know for sure is that she died not long after going to bed for the night. In an email, he said, "I helped her into bed and when I checked on her a few minutes later she was gone." Rob, a longtime friend who knows Dan's brother, said that he learned from him that there will indeed be no official notification, such as an obit, and that's what Hedi said she wanted. But that's so hard for us who are left behind, and I have a hard time not saying goodbye. So, we gathered to have our own little wake, and I brought my iPad and displayed a picture of Hedi with me and Lily at Hedi's birthday party in 2018. It helped me get some closure, and today I do feel that I can now let her rest in peace. I miss her and wish so much that I had gone over to see her last Thursday night, before she left us all for good. 

Hedi was a year younger than me, and she never let me forget it. We joked that we both had to make it at least until 2029, she even set a date (which I think was in May), but that is no longer something to look forward to. I still have a year and a half before I reach my 80th birthday, and I do hope I will be around to enjoy that milestone. But, as she has reminded me, nobody is guaranteed even one more day of life. She was very religious, and I hope that she is now at peace and sitting up there in heaven, smiling down at those of us still making our way through life, one day at a time. 

* * *

Let's see: what else happened this week? Well, we had a gathering of all the Senior Trailblazers to begin to plan our summer hikes. It was incredibly well attended, and as usual we walked on the horse trails behind Lake Padden before sitting down to a potluck lunch. The only thing different this year was that we didn't all share food, but brought our own and some people brought a few items to share with everyone. I unfortunately ate three truffles that one guy brought from Trader Joe's. He said they had to disappear as he was unwilling to take them home. They were delicious chocolatey delights.

Since we were instructed that only fully vaccinated people were to attend the gathering, nobody wore masks, and we decided that we would begin to carpool once again. We also learned that the Senior Center that sponsors our hikes will open to the public at the end of June. We are allowed to park and leave our cars there now, so that's where we'll begin our excursions into the High Country, starting this coming Thursday, if enough snow is gone in order for us to get to the trailheads.

I'm hoping I still have what it takes to climb more than 3,000 feet to the meadow at Church Mountain. At least I am sure I won't be the slowest hiker, or the fastest. Almost everyone has found some way to keep in shape as we made our way through the pandemic shutdown, although it's been difficult to find endurance hikes that simulate a day climbing in the mountains. Hopefully I'll be able to continue gaining strength as we resume our usual summer schedule. I feel very fortunate to have adequate well-used knees that take the brunt of the downhill stress, and knee braces to help as well. Between the braces and my trekking poles, I feel ready to give it a go. I sure miss the views and the forests I've visited every summer for more than a decade, except for last year.

In any event, I have so much to be thankful for, that I need to take a moment to acknowledge all that exists in my life today that makes me happy. First and foremost, it is my dear life partner, who sleeps quietly next to me as I write this morning. That's his usual configuration when I create this post on Sunday mornings. I think he hears the tapping of the keys, but it's so much a part of his morning sounds that hopefully it is soothing to him. I can tell by the quality of his breathing that he's content right now, at least.

Secondly, I am grateful for my ability to get out and about as much as I desire, with an old but reliable car and a coffee shop that, while still closed to indoor gathering, has an outdoor seating area that allows me to drink my morning latte with my friend John (and sometimes my friend Gene) before beginning the rest of my day. I am able to get in my usual step count by walking to and from the bus, taking a side trip through a local park most days, and enjoy observing the passing of the seasons as I walk.

I am also grateful that the macular degeneration, from which I suffer, has not caused me to lose my ability to read and watch favorite shows. Although my eyesight is not what it once was, it is something I cherish and do what I can to keep it healthy for as long as possible. I am missing big areas of vision, in both eyes, but one eye compensates for the other, and my focal vision is still intact. All I have to do to notice how much I need both eyes is to cover one and observe what I can no longer see. While it's scary, it is also encouraging in some ways. I am grateful.

And you know that I also cherish my online community, of which you are part. I follow many blogs, and although sometimes I get behind and have to skip leaving a comment, in most cases I know that you look forward to my comments as much as I look forward to yours. We are truly a community of like-minded friends, which means so much to me, and it enriches my life in myriad ways.

Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything. —Alan Cohen

And with that quote, dear friends, I will leave you for another week, and hopefully when we get together again, you will have spent some time in gratitude for all the blessings you have. I know I will definitely try to find more blessings in my own life. Until we meet next, be well.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Suddenly everything changes

Me and Hedi

This picture was taken at Hedi's house, when we celebrated my 75th birthday a few years ago. One of the things she always did was buy me a rose; the one in the foreground is from her. 

Last week, Hedi underwent surgery to repair what started as a hernia and grew into a large hole in her diaphragm. She endured the surgery well, and she came home last Thursday. But something happened: she went to bed around 9:00pm and never woke up. I can't find out anything further because her husband Dan can't talk about it right now. But the one thing I know for sure is that she's gone. My dear friend of thirteen years has completed the other end of her "dash," 1943–2021.

Hedi lived in the same apartment complex as we do, and I met her not long after we moved here in early 2008. She was an accomplished seamstress and that's how I first met her. Over the years she has repaired or altered many items of clothing that I will now keep forever, just to help me remember her and what she could do with her sewing machine and her talent. She also joined me in the vegetable garden for several seasons.

It's one thing when we lose someone who was expected to die, like my mother who had numerous heart attacks before the final one. Mama was in a coma for over a week before she died, and we had time to get used to the idea that this was the one that would take her from us. Both of my sons died unexpectedly: Stephen of spinal meningitis that sickened him in the morning and killed him that night, and Chris, who died of a heart attack while jogging. When I think of how many times I've had to reconcile myself to a changed world in a short period of time, I am thinking I should know how to handle it by now. But I don't, I really don't, and I am now grieving over the loss of another dear friend.

Grief is normal and needs to be given time to process. It doesn't have to be a person or a beloved animal to trigger grief; it comes from loss in many different aspects of our lives. I am still grieving over the loss of that extracted tooth removed earlier this month, and although the recovery period is just about over, I still miss that old friend and explore the hole in my mouth often. There's no going back, though, unless I decide to spend a fortune and have an implant where the tooth was. I'm not going to do that, not at my age. I figure if you live long enough, you get accustomed to all the small (and not so small) changes that occur in one's body as it ages. Hedi and I had many conversations about that, and I was so looking forward to how she would blossom after recovering from that surgery. Instead, she died, and all the dreams I had of our adventures, once she would be strong enough, also die with her.

It's Memorial Day weekend here in the US, and many of us will be taking some time to remember those who died in active service defending our country. The cemeteries will be busier than usual, with lots of flags and flowers placed on graves. And there are plenty of us who will take the time to remember the loved ones we have lost over the years. It's a time of reflection, as well as the unofficial beginning of summer. The days are long and the nights short, and the official beginning of the season will happen in just a few weeks, on June 20th, three weeks from now. Then the days will begin to shorten and the nights lengthen, until we reach the end of September and begin the fall season. The cycle of seasons, the inevitable gradual change from one to the next, continues throughout the year, one following another, until we finish our own journey on the planet.

According to timeanddate.com, which has a date calculator along with lots of other fun things, I've been on the planet for 28,671 days, or 41,286,240 minutes. Now that's one way to estimate how much a million actually is: I've only been around for a little more than 41 million minutes! I don't even want to think of how much a trillion is: way more than I will ever grasp during my short little journey through life.

And here is a wonderful quote from one of my favorite poets, Maya Angelou, who has now passed herself, but she has this lovely message for those of us still here:
When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors.
 
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country to no return. Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
 
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ with ‘It is here in my heart and mind and memories.'

And with that message, I will leave you for another week, and during this coming week I wish that every good thing will come to you, and that you will be filled with love and joy for all that we still enjoy each day. One of my favorite things is to visit with my electronic friends through your posts and comments.  Be well, dear friends, until we meet again.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Pay the price of continuing offering kindness

Gravestone in local cemetery

Yesterday Melanie and I walked around five miles, starting from Bloedel Donovan Park and then through the Bayview Cemetery near Whatcom Falls Park. Although cool and breezy, the sunshine made it seem warmer than it was. For the first time since I've walked around the area, we spent some time wandering among the headstones. We found this one, with a sweet message that inspires today's post. Jim Garrett has this message to all:

If I leave any legacy, let it be kindness. As a man entitled to little, I was given much. Pay the price of continuing offering kindness. We all need it. —Jim Garrett

I have long felt that truth: if we can be anything, why not be kind? What keeps us from always having empathy for others, since we all suffer just by being born and traveling through life? It got me to thinking, and of course I went online looking to see if this man was famous enough to have a website. He doesn't, but I did find a book entitled, "This Book Will Make You Kinder: An Empathy Handbook," and ordered it from Amazon. It will be here tomorrow, and I should be looking for something to read about that time. I'm engrossed in a very good book right now, Kristin Hannah's latest best seller, The Four Winds. She is a very prolific author and has a formula for most of her books, which makes me hopeful that this historical novel about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression will have a somewhat positive ending. She sure knows how to paint word pictures that take the reader into the world she creates. 

As I had been thinking about kindness, I noticed many times while reading the book yesterday how the author points out that a simple gesture of kindness to another can make all the difference in someone's life, sometimes for a long time to come. Although Elsa, the protagonist in Hannah's novel, has two children and fought for every scrap of food while living in a migrant camp in California, she shared what she had with others. There is much in the story that reminds me of the severe inequities we face in our world today: some people have so much while others are homeless, wandering the streets without hope. I see them here every single day.

Sometimes I think I need to read stories about real hardships to be reminded of how fortunate I am. Not only do I have a roof over my head and enough food to eat, I also share my life with a wonderful person who takes good care of me in so many ways. As I was suffering through the first few days after having a tooth extraction (no fun at all), he quietly looked after me without being asked, just because. It has now been ten days since the event, and other than having a pretty huge hole in my jaw (which I am told will eventually fill in), I am no longer in pain or needing special care.

I am also curious about what Jim Garrett meant about "paying the price of continuing offering kindness." What is the price? What do I have to give up by being an empathetic person? Hmmm. Perhaps it's that I cannot help but see myself in the suffering of another, and there is plenty of that. We are all human beings sharing the current situation of being in the middle of a viral pandemic, with political and humanitarian ramifications for many of us. When I watch the news these days, I am struck by how many people are suffering from it, India being the current epicenter, and wondering how long it will take for us to emerge from this period and what the long-term effects will be. 

Here in the US, we are slowly coming out from hibernation, and many of us for the first time in over a year are able to share hugs with our friends. Many of us are fully vaccinated now and looking forward to being able to hike and carpool together to some of the more distant hikes in the wilderness. I just learned that the Canadian border will remain closed for the foreseeable future, until Canadians and Americans have reached around 70% of our population being vaccinated. That is not too far away, I suspect, but for now I still cannot visit Canada, just a few miles north of here. Funny how I didn't really care much while I had the choice, but now I feel deprived. 

This year we Senior Trailblazers will gather to celebrate the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day, by gathering outdoors for our annual potluck in Lake Padden Park, but this time we will not share food but simply bring our own lunch and will gather under the pavilion and talk about the last year's deprivations and opportunities for a better summer this year. Although I didn't have a chance to visit some of my favorite hikes, I was able to get out almost every Thursday with my friend Melanie and sometimes a few others, to enjoy our forests and get some exercise. I do wonder if I still have what it takes to make it to Church Meadow and Excelsior Pass, both more than 3,000 feet in elevation gain and loss. I guess I'll be finding out soon enough; our snowpack in the mountains is finally beginning to recede after a very snowy winter. Usually we make our first forays up the Mt. Baker Highway around Memorial Day or a bit later. We are all looking forward to being able to hike in the wilderness once again.

This afternoon I am scheduled to receive a massage from my usual practitioner, and I am looking forward to it. It's a good thing I get a reminder about it or I would have completely forgotten. These days my memory for events slips more often, and without my calendar to remind me, I'd be forgetting even more of them. The days and weeks seem to fly by, and here we are almost ready for summer! That means my friends in the Southern Hemisphere are preparing for winter. That still astounds me, that it's not simply summer everywhere in the world. My little corner of the world is just that: my little corner, and I need to expand my horizons a bit to be reminded that we are not all getting ready for hot days and warm nights. In Canberra, for example, my blogging friend there will be eventually blowing bubbles, letting them freeze, and sharing them on her blog. I look forward to it every year.

Well, I guess I've wandered around in my mental corridors long enough and need to start thinking about the rest of my day. It's cloudy today, with rain in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow, so I am again really happy that I had such a wonderful walk yesterday in the sunshine. I will finish Hannah's book today and spend some time in my vegetable garden making sure the weeds don't take over. I always look forward to hearing how my dear readers are faring in the world, and I also enjoy reading several blogs to see what's going on in your lives. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, my tea is gone, and the day beckons. I do hope that whatever you do today, you will take the time to spread a little kindness, and pay the price along with me for continuing offering kindness. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

One of life's little surprises

Three months later

I walked by those pretty little shoots coming up out of the ground in mid-February and decided to get a picture once I could tell what the sprouts would become. Lo and behold, by mid-May, I see we have here some lovely iris. At first I thought they were tulips, but they didn't look quite right, and I was correct: they are instead gorgeous purple iris.

We are in full spring flower around here, with summer not far behind. The world has changed in many ways during that short period, with virus cases falling quickly in the United States, even as they continue to rage in other parts of the world. We are no longer required to wear masks outdoors, as well as in many indoor settings. By the end of June, our governor has announced that our state will open completely.

Already so much has changed. The weather is gorgeous; it's my favorite time of the year, when we have many days filled with sunshine rather than rain, and everywhere I see new flowers opening up. Rhododendrons are our state's flower, and they are in full bloom everywhere. The blossoms on fruit trees have already changed to green leaves, and the smiles on everyone's faces can now be seen without masks. Well, mostly anyway: many of us are reluctant to just throw our masks away, as well as still needing them to enter many places of business. I think most of us were surprised by the sudden declaration that we don't need them anymore if we are fully vaccinated. Perhaps it's a ploy to get people to receive the vaccine, but how do you know when you see someone maskless on the street whether or not they are vaccinated? I guess it doesn't matter if you are not at risk, but after more than a year using face coverings, it feels a little unsettling. We are definitely, however, through the worst of the pandemic, at least here in the US.

Once I was fully vaccinated, I made an appointment to see the dentist and get my first cleaning in a year and a half. This time last year, the dental offices were still closed, but I had been so accustomed to twice-yearly cleanings that I was anxious to get my teeth back to feeling clean again. When I got that cleaning, I also learned that one of my molars had developed a deep periodontal pocket and, although I had no pain, it was suggested that I have the tooth extracted. I hemmed and hawed but finally decided to go ahead and do it, and it was removed last Thursday. I was very anxious about the procedure and read online about what to expect. It is surgery, after all, having a tooth yanked out! It had been so long ago that I had two wisdom teeth removed I have no recollection of the events. Plus, I was young.

After ascertaining from research that it was likely that an infection would probably develop if I did nothing, I decided to go ahead. I also decided to pay extra to receive nitrous oxide and anxiety medication in order to have as little anxiety as possible. SG drove me to and from the appointment, and now I am left with the aftermath. I guess I didn't realize what a major trauma it would be; maybe I just didn't want to know so I could keep myself from backing out. After all, there was still no pain and I was going to put myself through it anyway. I obsessed about the extraction right up until I walked into the office, and by that time it was inevitable. Somehow, though, I never thought about afterwards.

If you live long enough, you'll go through similar experiences; it's part of life. It just didn't occur to me that the loss of a tooth could be so difficult. Another part of me is gone forever, and it feels way more consequential than I expected it to be. And this is NOT the way I thought I'd lose the extra pandemic weight I had gained, but that is a positive side effect of the event. It's difficult to eat much of anything even if it is soft and requires no chewing. Thank goodness for ice cream! Today is the third day since the extraction, and although I am still having some pain, it is less this morning than it was yesterday. I was given a prescription for Vicodin, but I don't think I'll need to fill it, since ibuprofen seems to work just fine. And in another week or so, I should be able to resume my normal eating habits. I wonder if I might begin to crave broccoli and get tired of ice cream. Not likely, but you never know. I usually have green leafy vegetables daily and only occasionally allow myself ice cream. The half-gallon container in the freezer seems to be going fast. The broccoli hasn't been missed quite yet, but maybe once my mouth has healed more, I'll begin to look at it with more interest.

Some pains are physical, and some pains are mental, but the one that's both is dental. —Ogden Nash

 Although I missed hiking with the Trailblazers on Thursday, I did walk with my friends yesterday morning. We covered around five miles; I did get tired and noticed my jaw aching more than I expected, but once I got home and helped myself to some coffee ice cream, I settled in for the day, feeling much better for it. I am definitely addicted to exercise, and now that I am on the mend, I should be able to join the Trailblazers once again this coming Thursday. The long-range forecast does show a possibility of rain, but after so much sunshine, nobody will mind all that much. We are more accustomed to rain than sun, after all.

What else is going on in my life? Well, for one thing I'm looking for a good book to read that will keep me occupied, and perhaps today I'll peruse the bookstore for my next literary adventure. I'll of course visit the coffee shop and sit outside in the sunshine. Maybe Lily will come, too; she always does when she doesn't have to work. I am feeling myself beginning to think about getting up and starting the rest of my day. The ibuprofen has worn off and I can feel the ache in my jaw, which reminds me that it takes quite a bit more time than usual to prepare myself something appropriate to eat, so I'd probably better get started. My sweet partner still sleeps next to me. He's been such a wonderful help to me during this time, and I once again give thanks for his constant presence in my life. 

I do hope that you will find some joy in your day, and that you will also find a way to spread a little happiness in your world today. The entire world needs it, and it will also make you part of the solution, to give light through your words and deeds. I will also attempt to do the same. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mother's Day 2021

Mama and Grandma

I took this picture many years ago, at Grandma's home in Santa Monica. Mama had come to visit from Texas, while I was taking care of her mother as she, Grandma, endured chemo treatment for lymphoma. She was not expected to survive and was given palliative injections of chemo. But then she got better and lived for several more years. I believed it was because she had someone living with her and her two cats, which gave her a reason to look forward to every day.

In trying to figure out when this was taken, I had to think back to when I went on my six-week-long bicycle trip from Boulder, Colorado, to San Francisco (it was in the 1970s). I and a girlfriend spent those weeks on the road, most times sleeping in city parks or campgrounds as we made our way across the country. When I called my parents after we finished the trip, Mama asked me if I would be willing to be a caregiver for what was supposed to be a short time. Since I was betwixt and between, she figured I could spare a few weeks to spend with Grandma. In the end, I was there for more than six months and decided to leave when she was once again able to live alone. She didn't want me to leave, but I needed to resume my own life. It was quite a shock to my system to go from living outdoors to being confined to living in a stuffy two-bedroom house.

I don't know how old Grandma was in this picture, but she died at 79, so she must be younger here than I am today. It is quite a shock to realize this, and reminds me once again that if you live long enough, you'll get old, too. It must have been the mid-to-late 1970s, and both she and Mama have been gone for a long time. Mama died in 1993 at the age of 69. On this Mother's Day, I am glad to sit here and look at this long-ago picture and reminisce about times gone by. Even though they are no longer alive, they will always live in my heart as long as I draw breath.

Me and Chris in the 1980s

And I am a mother, too, even if my two sons are no longer living. This was taken in Boulder at my then-current home. No grey hair yet, and Chris is wearing his hair in the style of the day. He died at 40 and has been gone for almost two decades. He joined the Army when he was in his early thirties, and he died in Germany while serving. It was a heart attack that took him; he had high cholesterol and incipient coronary artery disease that he inherited from both parents. But still, it was a real shock to lose him at such a young age. Chris was jogging when he collapsed, and his fellow soldiers were unable to save him. It was classified as "sudden cardiac death," which (I have seen many times since) often takes seemingly healthy individuals, mostly young men. I remember reading about a young athlete who finished a run and died while getting a drink of water from a fountain, without any warning. After Chris' death, I began to notice that this is not all that uncommon, but before my own experience, I had no idea about the syndrome.

My goodness! I sure didn't sit down here this morning to become so maudlin, but instead wanted to remember why Mother's Day is important to me. After all, we all have mothers, and some of us are mothers too. It's nice to have living parents, but by the time you get to be old yourself, it's perfectly normal to have lost them. Not many of us live to be in our eighties and nineties, and the longer we live, the more we must learn to cherish the memories of our loved ones who have already left us.

Mama was a central part of my life as I grew up, and I have memories of her from my childhood into my middle years. Most of us only have one mother, and she is always a central character in our formative years. One strong memory I have of my parents when I was growing up was watching them get ready to go to a formal party, and Mama wore a dress that I can still see in my mind's eye: its voluminous skirt contained multi-layered clouds of sheer material decorated with streaks of silver and gold. When she moved, it swished around her in dazzling glory. I don't think she ever wore it again, but I will never forget how beautiful she looked that evening. The smell of her favorite perfume, Shalimar, was in the air as well. Of course I had to look it up, to find out if it is still available. These days, the scent is indeed still available, and that article tells us that 

Shalimar is preserved in its original 1925 formulation in the archives of the Osmothèque, donated by Jean-Paul Guerlain. As of 2017, Shalimar was Guerlain's second best selling fragrance, behind La Petite Robe Noire, with approximately 108 bottles being sold every hour.

I would love be able to smell it once again, and see if Mama might appear, but unfortunately my smeller doesn't work as well as it once did. I can still smell certain odors very well, but others are no longer available to my nose. That said, the memory of the scent of that perfume and its juxtaposition to my mother are still with me today.

After I finish this post, I'll start my own Mother's Day with a trip to the coffee shop to share a latte with my friend John, still sitting in his truck's cab rather than inside, since it will be awhile longer before they open the doors to indoor seating. It's cloudy and only 45°F out there right now, so we won't be sitting outdoors, I suspect. Then we will enjoy a gathering at my friend Lily's place for an early dinner. John is bringing some of his cod and will cook it for us. I'm bringing shortcake for his rhubarb sauce (instead of strawberry). Other than probably eating more than I should, it will be a fun gathering. We are now allowed to gather in small groups indoors if everyone is vaccinated. Slowly things are getting back to our new normal. And as I sit here in bed, my dear partner still sleeps quietly as I write.

Motherhood is the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary — it’s an act of infinite optimism. —Gilda Radner

And with that quote from one of my favorite people, I will continue with the rest of my Mother's Day 2021. I hope you will have a fine day, too, filled with lots of laughter and remembrances. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Quality versus quantity

A beautiful bunch of tulips

This picture was taken during my recent visit to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. There were so many beautiful flowers that my eyes felt overwhelmed at times, trying to take it all in. The quality of the display was not lessened by the enormous quantity. Is that true about life in general, I wonder?

I sometimes wake in the middle of the night and think about things, and last night I began to ponder my life in terms of duration. When I was a young woman, I would often think about what I wanted to accomplish, not in my entire life, but in that moment in time, where I was headed. I could no more imagine my life today than I could fly, but I sure thought I was more in control of the trajectory of my life than I was. Now here I am, creature of habit that I am, sitting in the dark with my laptop lighting up my face as I begin to create my Sunday morning meditation.

Now that I am in the end stages of life's journey, meaning that I am not only retired from my profession, I am also looking at a body that is moving out of the decade of its seventies and looking ahead at eighty. It is not the same one I enjoyed in my twenties, or thirties, or even sixties. I look over at my dear partner, sleeping quietly next to me, and I realize that, even though we met in our fifties, we have been together almost three decades. We've been through plenty of adventures and trials during that time, and I cannot imagine my life without him by my side. I hope we'll be here together for a long time to come, but who knows? We had a scare last August when he had a stroke and although he has recovered to a semblance of normalcy, it's a different normal. It has reminded me to be grateful for every single day.

Just as most of my readers can attest, our lives have certainly changed over the past year, during the pandemic that is still killing millions of people worldwide. We in this particular part of the country are faring pretty well, but it's not gone and has the potential to get worse if we relax our pandemic restrictions too quickly. Fortunately for us, we have access to vaccines, and I and most of my closest friends are completely vaccinated. This morning I'll gather with some of them at the coffee shop, where we will sit outside and enjoy each other's company. It is springtime, after all, and today we should have sunny skies and mild temperatures. Not warm by any means, but a nice warm sweater under my jacket will make it perfect, I'm hoping.

I can barely stand to watch the news these days, as I see what is happening in other parts of the world, India in particular. We were in similar straits on the East Coast last spring, but I fear that with all the new variants and poor Indian government management, it will only get worse. And not only in India: I see that there are more Covid infections worldwide right now than ever. As of today, there are 152 million reported cases, with 90 million recovered, and more than 3 million deaths. We here in the United States have the largest number of fatalities, but the rest of the world is catching up, as we have managed to vaccinate around half of our adult population. It's been a horrible year for many of us.

There are so many things I can be grateful for, and probably one I am most thankful for is that vaccine I was able to receive, for free, and after several weeks of anxious and nervous excursions into websites to sign up for a shot, they suddenly became available to anyone around here who wants to receive one. And almost everyone inside the stores I frequent is masked and keeps their distance. Yesterday I saw one woman inside Winco's who was not wearing a mask, but she was the only one. And although we can now walk on the trails outdoors without one, most people around here still wear theirs. I've got mine around my neck, and if someone passes me while they are wearing a mask, I pull mine up out of courtesy.

I am not the only one who has noticed that we had a winter without colds or flu, because of the masks. It's going to be hard to get back to being exposed to those nuisance viruses once again. Maybe I'll just keep one wearing a mask even after we aren't required to any more. But who knows when that will be? We are a long ways from being out of the woods with Covid.

As I lay in bed thinking about things last night, I pondered my wonderful circle of friends and acquaintances. We will be having a gathering of Trailblazers on June 3rd, after our Thursday hike, to enjoy food together again and to celebrate the season. We didn't have any gathering last year, because of the pandemic, and so this means the beginning of coming back together in our new normal. Details are still to be worked out, but it will be at Lake Padden, and a few of our members will be bringing their kayaks so that others can experience that adventure, if they want. Just being together again will be wonderful.

Last week I mentioned that I will be having a tooth extraction on May 13th. I pondered whether or not to get a second opinion, since there is no pain in that molar, but after some research and talking to others who have been through similar experiences, I decided to go ahead and do it. After all, it's not going to heal up by itself, and a 9mm pocket is serious. I found this article, What to Know about Periodontal Pockets, and that was enough to make me just go ahead and do it. So now I am in the process of mourning the loss of the tooth ahead of time. I also learned that seniors over the age of 65 have, on average, only 19 teeth left out of the 32 adult teeth they began with. So I am ahead of the curve by a lot, and I'll just enjoy my remaining healthy teeth. I had my wisdom teeth out long ago and don't remember it being particularly traumatic, but as I said, it was a long time ago.

As I age, I realize how fortunate I have been in my life. Not only do I have reasonable health and the ability to pretty much do all that I want these days, I also have many advantages that many don't have: I have a primary care doctor I like (and see as little as possible), I am able to attend three yoga classes a week through Zoom, get a monthly massage from a practitioner I adore, and receive acupuncture treatments every few weeks. I never thought I would enjoy having needles stuck into my body, but I do. And I always feel much better afterwards. One of these days I'll feel better about going back to the gym, but I'm not yet ready. Plus my favorite class is gone, perhaps forever (hi-lo aerobics). 

When I first began this weekly blog post, in 2009, I could not have imagined that I would still be doing this every Sunday morning. What would I write about? How could anybody be interested in it? At first I agonized over each post, but not any more, now I just take each Sunday as it comes around, and hope for the best. As I've said before, sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. For now, I'm glad I have the mental acuity to continue, and I so look forward to the comments from my friends.

A poem from Emily Dickinson has been rolling around in my head for a day or so, and therefore it seems I should share it with you. The entire poem is here, but the part that keeps coming back to me is this:

Elder, Today, a session wiser
And fainter, too, as Wiseness is —
I find myself still softly searching
For my Delinquent Palaces —

And a Suspicion, like a Finger
Touches my Forehead now and then
That I am looking oppositely
For the site of the Kingdom of Heaven —

And with that, dear friends, I will wish you the best of weeks ahead, and that you will please find another to give thanks for all that you have and all that you share with others. The world will be better for our having given each other a sincere wish for happiness. Be well until we meet again.