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, July 31, 2011

Skydiving day

Our six-way participants, 30 July 2011
Just to show how one's plans for a weekend can change in an instant! Yesterday was all planned out: get up early and head to Lake Whatcom and make a six-mile walk along the North Shore with the Fairhaven Walkers, dash to the Farmers' Market for a quick look around, and then swim my usual Saturday half mile in the pool. But when I woke up and checked the weather forecast, Saturday was forecast to be sunny and beautiful, and Sunday (today) cloudy with a 50% chance of rain.

So I quickly changed my plans and drove down to Snohomish to meet my friend Linny (the other white-haired skydiver in the picture) and friends to make some jumps. This was my original schedule for today, and since I can't exactly switch, I've ended up with NO PLANS for the day, other than this early morning post.

The weather was the only thing that could have caused this change, because you can't skydive if you can't see the ground. Skydiving is required by the FAA to operate under visual flight rules (VFR), since you wouldn't want to climb up above the clouds and jump out of the plane only to find there is an aircraft that you couldn't see! And indeed, as I sit here in the early morning, I find that it's overcast and dark outside, no sunshine anywhere to be seen. I made the right choice. Yesterday was a spectacular day.

Within the space of five hours of jumping and packing, we made four skydives and I packed my own parachute three of those times. Once, we had to make a quick turnaround call, so I hired Tony, one of the Drop Zone's regular packers, to do it for me. It costs $6 and I told him that if I had a good opening I would give him another dollar. It was a beautiful opening, something I am still trying to perfect with my new canopy. Every single canopy has its own quirks, and this one wants to open, all right, so I need to slow that process down a bit. Tony's and Smart Guy's pack jobs do this, so I know it's possible.

I had budgeted enough money to make four jumps, so I was ready to leave by 2:30pm. As I was packing up after the last jump of the day, I managed to wrench my lower back in an ill-advised move. By the time I finished, I knew that I wouldn't have wanted to make another jump anyway. After taking some ibuprofen and spending a night feeling that lower back pain, I'm thinking it should be okay within another day or two, but it's sure not fun hobbling around moaning. I had just made four skydives without incident and then hurt myself packing! Sometimes life is funny that way.

I was really looking forward to swimming yesterday, since the pool is now closed for two weeks for its regular maintenance. I'll probably try to find an alternate place for at least one swim, since the activity has become a very relaxing and contemplative complement to my other physical pursuits. There's something so soothing about the breathing and stroking, and before a few minutes has passed, I enter a zone of peacefulness that nothing else provides. I have taught myself to breathe on alternate sides, with three strokes in between, in order to provide symmetry to the workout. My arms are usually a little sore after swimming for a half hour, and my legs feel worked out in a different way. When I climb out of the pool and lose the buoyancy of the water, I feel heavy and need a moment to readjust to land.

I started swimming in Florida in February when I visited Norma Jean and kept it up as a way to feel connected to her. It's been a real surprise that I have learned to enjoy it so much. Between hiking with the Senior Trailblazers, skydiving on the weekends, and swimming and taking aerobic classes at the Y, I guess you might say I'm a rather active Senior. The saying that you need to "use it or lose it" is becoming more and more evident as I age. Taking time off from exercise is not something I want to do, and this annoying pain in my back is reminding me to take it easy today so I can begin the week in good shape.

Retirement for me is only retiring from the working world, certainly not retiring from working out, or being engaged in life. My blogging life fulfills a need, too: I would certainly miss it if I stopped, not to mention missing all my friends, whose comments and blogs provide me with a community of like-minded companions. You are an essential part of my life. Thank you for being there.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Alcohol and me

When I was growing up, we had this bar in every home we lived in. Here's a picture of it, with Norma Jean and her doll on one side, and Mama and me on the other. This photo was taken in either Puerto Rico, where we lived from the time I was three until I turned six, or in California. I started school on Ramey Air Force Base when I was five, so I suspect we got the bar while we lived in Puerto Rico in the late 1940s. In any event, it traveled with us from home to home, until Mama and Daddy retired in Fort Worth, where it had a place of honor in their retirement home, called Windswept. Over the years I remember the barstools that are missing from this picture, and I remember so well the glass on the top displaying pictures of family and cartoons that had been arranged underneath, protected from spills and remarked on, reminisced over, for many years.

As a military family, I think alcohol and its pervasive presence in our lives was not unusual. It seemed that every one of my parents' friends drank, and some of them drank heavily. My parents would host gatherings in their home after a day of golf when we lived in Puerto Rico. (I lived there as a small child and then Daddy returned again to the same Air Base when I was a teenager. The bar came with us wherever we moved.) Most times when I would go to bed I would hear the party going strong. It was somehow comforting to hear my parents enjoying themselves so much. Of course, at the time I didn't know how much the alcohol contributed to their merriment.

Even when they were up late, Daddy never failed to get up with us and get us off to school. He was a morning person and was awake while Mama stayed in bed. She was definitely NOT a morning person but stayed awake long after Daddy had fallen asleep. I remember many nights at Windswept when the kids would come into their bedroom to talk to Mama, and Daddy was asleep next to her. She worked on her latest knitting project and counseled them about whatever was on their minds. Daddy snored away, the lights on and Mama and the kids talking at a normal volume. I had already grown up and left home, which is a natural consequence of having their six kids spread out over twenty years. As the oldest, the only time I lived at Windswept was when I was leaving a husband and trying to start my life over.

Windswept was located on Lake Worth, and my three youngest siblings grew up on the lake. This picture of Mama taken on the dock shows her drinking their favorite beverage, martinis. I also think that martinis were part of the military tradition, but I only have my parents and their habits to go by. I am positive this martini was prepared by Daddy from the libations they kept behind the bar. Because I never knew anything else, I thought everyone drank martinis every night. I would beg for the olive, because I liked the mysterious taste of the gin it was soaked in. But I couldn't ever understand what they liked about the taste of martinis, which seemed pretty awful to me.

But as I grew older, I found that I did like a glass of wine, and when I started skydiving in my forties, the skydivers all drank beer after a day playing in the sky. When you accomplish something in skydiving the first time, it is your duty to buy a case of beer to share with all the other skydivers. This ensured that at the end of the day, we would all have plenty to drink. I bought so much beer as a newbie that I learned to drink it, too. And I enjoyed it as much as anybody.

It's interesting to me that none of my siblings drink to excess, although our parents did. Norma Jean and I have exactly the same amount of wine at the end of each day, and I only occasionally drink beer these days, since it tends to be more fattening than wine. One sister doesn't drink at all, and the rest of them imbibe at special occasions but not every day. I think Norma Jean and I are the only daily drinkers. None of us drink hard spirits like gin and vodka.

I asked Norma Jean the other day if she knew what happened to that bar, a particular focal point in our daily lives over many decades. She doesn't remember. When Daddy died, Mama moved out of the house on Windswept and built herself a home in Texoma. The bar wasn't there. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd think perhaps it was cremated along with my father. In my mind, it stopped existing when he did. All those years of entertaining guests and sometimes watching my parents getting really tipsy, it just seemed normal to me.

I have overindulged in alcohol myself at parties and even sometimes in my own home. I don't do that any more, because I've found that when I drink more than my self-imposed allotment, I don't sleep well and I feel sick, hung over, the next day. It's just not worth it, and I've learned that a second glass of wine will NOT give me what I'm looking for.

These days, my contentment comes from many other sources, but the ghost of my parents laughing and singing along to their favorite melodies still echoes in the corridors of my mind. Perhaps it's the corridors of my heart.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Peace and quiet

From Nicolya Christi
Is there anyone who doesn't look forward to having some peace and quiet? I remember my parents when I was little asking their rowdy children to let them have a little "peace and quiet."

I wondered what I would write about this morning, and several times during the night that phrase kept coming to me. In the summertime we usually have the bedroom window completely open, and the sounds of the night sometimes includes the sound of a barking dog. Incessant, sharp yaps, which utterly destroys my peace and keeps me awake. Last night I fell asleep at an early hour, as I usually do, and that sound brought me back into consciousness. I tried to ignore it, but of course I couldn't.

Here in Bellingham within the city limits, dogs are not allowed to destroy one's peace and quiet like that, but that would mean getting up, finding the telephone number to call, staying on the line while I am connected to the police station, and making a complaint. That was going to make it even harder to get back to sleep. But as the sound continued, I got up and put on my robe and slippers and went outside to follow the sound to its source. At midnight, I was amazed to see how much activity was still going on: two people rode by me on bicycles in the dark, several apartment dwellers were watching television with all the doors and windows open.

I found the source of the barking in a house on the other side of the driveway, and as I approached, it stopped. The barking stopped. The only sounds I could hear were of faraway traffic and crickets hidden somewhere in the grass. A conversation from somewhere between two people wafted out of dark, so I crept back up the stairs to my own apartment. I climbed back into bed and snuggled back into my covers. As I drifted back into sleep, it started again. Same dog barking. This time, I was determined to get back to sleep, find my peace and quiet and contemplated ear plugs. But then it stopped, this time for good. The dog's owners had apparently taken him inside. My peace and quiet was restored and I fell asleep.

This morning as I sit in bed, tea beside me and my laptop in its usual place, the sounds that I hear all contribute to my morning peacefulness, rather than bother me. First, the distant sound of the rooster who crows from an hour before first light... somehow that sound is not annoying but rather restful. The birds chirping in the trees, an incessant trill alongside the familiar sound of my goldfinches, and the sound of the keys being depressed on my laptop. It's Sunday morning, and after having most of my sleep uninterrupted, I'm in a particularly good mood.

The world we live in has become very noisy, and as population pressures mount, finding some peace and quiet has become problematic. I don't think I'm the only person who needs it. Some people may thrive in a chaotic environment, but I sure don't. I am bothered by certain sounds and too much light. Sleeping on a plane is impossible for me, or anywhere that is unfamiliar or doesn't give me the ability to stretch out and turn onto my side. My own bed is the best place for me to sleep, with the temperature cool enough to allow me to have a light covering, more for the ability for me to burrow into it than for warmth, at least in summer. And I need relative quiet, which most nights I get plenty of.

But as I sit here thinking, wondering where I'm going with this post, I realize that the state of my mind is what contributes the most to my inner peace. If something is bothering me, it continues to roll around inside my head, interrupting my sleep and invading my dreams. When my thoughts are peaceful, I sleep incredibly well. It does make me wonder if I could somehow rise above the sound of the barking dog and fall asleep anyway. No, somehow I cannot picture that happening, but then again... imagination is a powerful tool, and maybe I can transmute that annoyance into acceptance. Maybe, but taking action and making a complaint might be the right path, too.

The gloomy skies and rain of yesterday seem to have lifted, and today might actually allow us to make a few skydives in Snohomish; I'm hopeful. Last Sunday I was able to make two and play in the air with my friends. I came home from the day's activities rather early and spent all day Monday hiking with some other friends. My life is very full, it seems, and I look forward to every day that I am given with gratitude. I am grateful for all the peace and quiet I have, inside and out.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A mixed bag

Peggy took this picture of me on Thursday while we were on our regular Trailblazers hike. I like it for several reasons, the first of which is it looks like me these days. My hair is getting very white, and my face is clean of any makeup. The expression tells the story of how I've been feeling this week, along with the title of this post: a mixed bag.

The last two Thursdays we have driven up the road to the Mt. Baker wilderness area, leaving Bellingham's sunshine behind and ascending into the clouds. Although it makes for nice cool hiking weather, there have been little to no views. I miss seeing my beautiful mountains. I did get to see them last Tuesday, since it was sunny and four of us took off for a new trail. Our big problem this year is the snow. You can't get anywhere above 4,000 feet without walking on snow, and several of our favorite hikes will be inaccessible all season long.

It was beautiful here on the Fourth. Being retired, I find that holidays no longer carry the excitement I felt when I had a day off from work. The buses don't run, the Y is closed, and my entire day's schedule is thrown off. There was no reason to get up at my normal time, but I did anyway, sitting up in bed and reading my blogs while drinking my tea. I buried myself in a book for most of the day and spent some time with Smart Guy. Other than that, I simply waited for life to return to normal. The fireworks went on and on, and I didn't get to sleep until very late. I watched from the window as they exploded over the bay, until I got tired of the noise.

Wednesday I spent hours in the dentist's chair getting prepped for another crown. I don't know when I became so anxious when having dental work, but I dreaded it and was tense the entire time. Olivia (my dentist) told me that next time, if I have someone drive me there and pick me up, she will give me a prescription for valium, so that I can relax a little and not be such a wreck. That made me feel better, although she offered nitrous oxide right then if I was willing to pay $50/hour for it. I declined. Just the possibility of having some relief made me feel better.

The day that the above picture was taken, I was suffering from discomfort as the new temporary crown, put in place the day before, needed adjustment. It was impossible to tell while I had all that novocain in me, but I knew that it wasn't right and that the office would be closed on Friday. Reconciled to the pain, I figured it would be next week before I could get it adjusted. However, on the way back down from the hike, once we reached cellphone reception (there is none in the wilderness area), I called to find that if I could get there by 4:00pm, they could see me. It was 3:00 in the afternoon, and I made it there with minutes to spare. Olivia was waiting for me, and with just a quick adjustment, all the pain went away! What a difference just a tiny little bump made in my mood! Olivia thanked ME for coming in. I walked out of her office feeling much better.

Yesterday was a really good day, which I wrote about here in my other blog, and today we will head down to Snohomish to play in the air with my friends. That's why this week has been such a mixed bag. I have spent a bit of time on iChat with Norma Jean, who is finally getting her life together. She leaves on Wednesday in her brand-new car for a three-day trip to Michigan, where she will spend some time with her son. This is her first new car since she graduated from high school, and it is one she wished to buy for years, a Mini Cooper. Pete wasn't a fan of small cars. It makes me happy to see her stepping into her own life, one that has a quite different flavor without him. She's through the hardest times, I suspect.

And now I sit in my bed, propped up as usual with my laptop, listening to the young flicker pounding away on the suet feeder and the rooster across the way that starts crowing at first light and doesn't stop for hours. The sound doesn't bother me, as it blends well with that of all the birds in the trees that serenade the dawn.

It's definitely the beginning of an interesting mid-July summer's day. I hope your Sunday is a good one, and I'll be back in a week.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

How the past lives on

Even though in this picture I am just a little girl, I remember this moment, I even remember the feeling of the sand and how scared I was because I couldn't move; I couldn't climb out by myself. That's Norma Jean behind me, and Daddy's bare knees on the right. There is something about emotion that can freeze a moment in time and make it live in the mind forever. People talk about what they were doing when they first heard about 9/11, or when President Kennedy was shot, or when some defining moment in their lives occurred. It's what our minds do.

When I woke last week and wrote my usual Sunday post, I could not have predicted the response; many of your comments made me cry with gratitude. And when Whitney even provided me with the quote reminding me of the reason I began this blog, I was, quite simply, humbled to realize the power of the blogosphere, of the connections we make with one another, and with ourselves. As a writer, most of the time when you write something, you get little to no feedback about how the words affect others, because until recently unless you became a published author, found someone to publish your work and later read the reviews, you couldn't know how people would be affected by your thoughts, your words. It's a new world, brand new.

Going through the past week has given me time to allow the lingering places in my heart that remain unhealed to percolate up to the surface. Dreams help, too. I overslept this morning, waking from a dream of struggle. As I made my way into the waking world, I realized I was hearing a squirrel on the front porch screeching at something out of sight. After shooing him off the porch, I noticed that it rained again last night, after a brilliant blue cloudless day yesterday.

Everyone has those defining moments. The one in the picture might have been one of my earliest. Fear made me remember being buried in the sand deep enough that I couldn't get out without help. Daddy was roaring with laughter at my fear, providing a sound track that also lives on in my brain. My cries and his laugh. He dug me out, but not before someone, probably Mama, took a picture and preserved it for me to relive that moment. Even though I now know that there was no real danger, it existed so perfectly for me in the moment that the cold sand felt like cement, entombing me there forever.

I carry a coin in my pocket that belonged to Chris. It's one of those commemorative ones that are given to put on a desk or display in some place in order to remember a moment in time. It's got the Big Red One on it, among other things, the symbol of his unit and it says "In Recognition of Superior Performance." I asked his commanding officer when I was in Germany for Chris' memorial service if he knew why it had been given, but he didn't know. Nobody seemed to know, but I carry that large coin to give me a reminder of Chris. Since it's been almost nine years ago since he died, I rarely take it out and study it, just reaching past it to find spendable coins. It's become something I would feel strange not having with me. I don't think about it and usually leave it behind if I reach in to pull out a handful of change. It's personal, and I don't like the interest it attracts; it's my own private talisman and I keep it to myself. Unless, that is, I choose to share it with loved ones as I am doing today.

Positive life-changing events also define before and after moments for me, too. Skydiving was a big deal, which I began at the tail end of 1990, so when I think of something in the past, I recall when it occurred by whether it was before that time, or after. Since almost every single moment of my first decade of skydiving was spent either jumping, thinking about jumping, or waiting until I could get to the Drop Zone, it makes sense. It's not that way now, though. Yesterday I went to Snohomish and made a couple of skydives, playing with my friends and having a really good time, but no single thing happened that will make that day stay in my mind forever. It will blend into memories of a summer of great beauty and happiness at being alive and vibrant in a wonderful part of the country. Unless, that is, some life-changing event occurs that will put a marker in my brain recalling it in vivid detail. I hope not.

I'm ready for some time to allow my life to settle into what passes for old age in my world. Oh, I know that old ladies don't usually jump out of airplanes and hike every week for ten miles with a backpack, but times are changing. And who knows how long I can continue to do it? For as long as I can, I will.