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, December 30, 2012

Bringing the year to a close

When I was a little girl, the progression of one year to the next seemed incredibly long. Each of the four seasons was filled with enough adventure and change that I would be thrilled to have another new year's eve come along. Norma Jean and I would beg to stay up until the year changed over, banging pots and pans to celebrate. Truth be told, I don't remember many years that we actually made it all the way to midnight. But I do remember a few, and the sound of us banging wooden spoons against our pans reverberate in my memory right into this early morning, one of the last of 2012 before the calendar begins yet another year. Amazing these days, how quickly the years pass. It seems just last week that I said goodbye to 2011 and began 2012.

It was a year ago that I was still mourning the theft of my purse on Christmas Eve. It's amazing how devastating it was, as I look back a year later. The car window was smashed, so I couldn't drive my car until it was fixed, and since it happened during the holidays it was a while before it could be fixed. My credit cards, wallet, driver's license, all needed to be replaced, so it wasn't until long after the event that I was able to resume my normal life. I did spend some time wondering what kind of thieves were hanging around the Lake Padden parking lot early on the morning of Christmas Eve. Considering the speed with which they managed to use my credit cards, I figured they had done this before. Today I don't consolidate all my cards and license in one place but carry the important stuff in my back pocket. I notice that I will often reach for it, patting the slim wallet to reassure myself that all is well.

One very useful part of keeping a blog is looking back to see what actually happened a year ago, what was on my mind, what I wrote about. I just checked to see what I found blogworthy and find that I was patting myself on the back for keeping the extra weight off that I had gained during 2010. I had quite the wake-up call in January 2011 when I realized I had gained ten pounds in one year, without thinking about it. I knew I had been avoiding the scales and that my clothes no longer fit; it was then that I began to use a calorie counter, only to learn that I was just eating too many calories. Not enough to make a noticeable difference day to day, but I determined to lose the weight and started keeping track. Just the act of recording everything I ate was enough to make me realize that it wouldn't take much of a change to lose the weight. It's been two years now, and I have managed to keep the majority of it off. It certainly helps to avoid wheat and refined sugar, since those two ingredients seem to be responsible for much of my mindless eating.

We were also blessed this past year with a beautiful summer filled with lots of blue skies, so I enjoyed the outdoors with my Senior Trailblazers every Thursday, hiking anywhere from seven to ten miles. Our winter hikes around town are not as long or quite as satisfying, but we still go out every Thursday. I love those guys; they are part of my life now.

I also got to spend one day of almost every summer and early fall weekend at the Drop Zone in Snohomish, making many more skydives than usual before the rain started. A year ago I thought that the summer season of 2012 would be the last season I would spend playing in the air, but I can tell that I'm not ready to give up that activity quite yet. Maybe this time next year I'll have had my fill. My skydiving gear is beginning to get old; my harness and container system was created in 2000 and has been used quite a lot in those twelve years. My body is beginning to get all creaky and old, too, but when I began skydiving at the age of 47, I never ever believed I would still be an active skydiver at 70! Well, not quite: I haven't made a skydive since my birthday, but in this part of the country skydiving tends to be seasonal. I'm looking forward to my first skydive as a septuagenarian.

One thing that I notice as the years pass is that I am able to appreciate and be grateful for each day, each month and year that goes by with my life partner, and with my family members who are so much more present in my life because of the advances in technology. Between my smartphone and my laptop, I don't have to feel separated from my loved ones because of distance. We talk "in person" often, text, and share pictures in ways I could never have imagined a decade ago.

I also know that all of this contentment can change in the blink of an eye. So I am filled with gratitude because as I bring 2012 to a close, I can look back and say that it was a good year, a very good year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A decade of Christmas Eves

Christmas Eve 2002
It's been ten years since Mike McGowan took that picture of me. Every Christmas Smart Guy and I would spend in Eloy, attending the Holiday Boogie at Skydive Arizona. I started going a couple of times every year to Arizona when I lived in Boulder, Colorado. It was just short of a thousand miles away, a couple of long days driving. If the weather looked iffy, we took the southern route; otherwise we drove north to I-80 and then south through Flagstaff on our way to Eloy, which is situated off I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson.

My boss Mickey knew I would want two weeks off during the holidays, and every year before I took off he would hand me a check for $500, knowing full well just where I would spend it. This was out of his own pocket, as we didn't get any kind of bonus at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Mickey is a very generous person, and I took full advantage of his largess over the years. (Of course, thirty years of working together meant that he also took advantage of me at times.)

That year, 2002, was momentous for me. My son Chris died in August and I had spent the previous three months grieving for my loss. And then earlier in December I turned sixty, which seemed old, very old to me, especially since I was involved in skydiving, which most people think of as a daredevil sport designed for youngsters. (There are plenty of older skydivers, by the way.)

The night before this picture was taken, I had been sitting in the Bent Prop, the local diner at Skydive Arizona, and Mike McGowan and I talked for awhile about life and loss. He's no stranger to loss himself, and he commiserated with me over Chris' sudden passing. Mike has his own photography business, FunAir Productions, and he spends his days during the boogie getting on loads and taking pictures of various skydives. At the end of each day, we would gather in the hangar looking at the proofs he posted for any interested customer to purchase. I bought many from him over the years, when I would want to have a keepsake of a particular skydive.

I don't remember the skydive I had just completed when the picture was taken, but I do know that Mike was not on it. He had just landed from another skydive when I saw him on the ground in front of me. He used a flash and I saw it light up but thought nothing of it. He's a professional photographer, after all, and I thought he probably took pictures every chance he got. It was Christmas Eve, and the sunset after a beautiful day spent in the Arizona sky was a perfect way to end the day.

A few hours later I was again sitting in the Bent Prop when Mike came over and sat down across from me. We spoke of the beautiful day we had just experienced, and we wished each other Merry Christmas when he handed me a 9x12 brown envelope. Mike waited while I opened it to see the picture. Then he left me speechless, as both of us teared up, no further explanation needed. A gesture of love and a Christmas present like no other I have ever received.

I'm sure Mike is still out there in Eloy taking pictures and posting them every evening in the hangar, but it's been five years since I last attended the boogie. Now that I'm living in Washington state, it's no longer a short drive, and living on a fixed income doesn't give me the same chance to spend money like I did a decade ago. But I still have my memories, and I'm still skydiving seasonally when the weather cooperates. Friendship doesn't go away, and I know if I saw Mike again it would be like old times.

For some reason that James Taylor song Fire and Rain has been going through my mind the entire time I've been writing this post. You know the one I mean:
I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again.
Who knows what the future holds? Another Christmas Eve is upon us, isn't it?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

When the sun returns

Young mother with her young son
It has been really dark and rainy in my part of the country lately. Although many of my blogging friends are complaining about their weather being warm and dry right now, it's not that way here in the Pacific Northwest, believe me! I can hear the rain drumming on the roof right now, and the days are so short that it seems the sun seems to barely come up before it goes down again. It's that time of year, but in a few short days the light will begin to return and the days will grow imperceptibly longer. By the end of January, I'll notice the lengthening of the days until summer, when the nights are barely there. It's all part of the circle of life.

I've used that picture before. It was taken by my then-husband Don of Chris and me on one snowy day in winter in the early 1960s. We lived in Michigan and took many walks together back then. Don has since passed away, and those two people in the picture are also long gone. One of them is me, but I am no longer a young mother, and Chris died when he was 40. But I still have the picture and the memories.

MerCyn of Six Decades and Counting gifted me with a blog award, after she herself was so honored. The link will take you to her post telling you about the award and why she has passed it along. Back in my early days of blogging, these awards went around quite often, and now I find that although I am happy to play along by telling you seven things about myself, I am not willing to single out five of my fellow bloggers. I did that for awhile, though, being someone who follows rules, even arbitrary ones. If you wish to have this award, I would be happy to send it along to you! Just let me know.

Let's see: seven things about myself that you are not likely to know already. That limits it, doesn't it, because I've told so much about myself in the blogosphere, but here goes:
  1. I've made 4,150 skydives in the past twenty-some years. You probably already knew that, but I still find it rather astounding myself.
  2. I was married and divorced three times by my thirtieth birthday, but now I've been married to Smart Guy for longer than all three of those earlier ones combined. This one took. 
  3. During my lifetime, I have colored my hair every shade imaginable, from champagne blond to jet black, with red and even blue in the mix. Now white hair suits me quite well.
  4. I have a collection of teddy bears. My favorite one belonged to my mother and is very well worn, missing an eye and a few other parts.
  5. I haven't carried an actual purse in three decades, using a backpack instead, but I call it my purse. That is what was stolen out of my car last Christmas Eve.
  6. Even though I experience some daily discomfort, I consider it normal to have aches and pains and take no medication for it on a regular basis. If it gets bad enough I'll take something, but I know that none of those medications are without some cost to my body.
  7. I wake sometimes with the most amazing dreams and could be a best selling novelist if I would ever write them down. 
Whew, that was fun, but it was also work. I had no idea that those items would be the ones I would choose, and I'm positive that now I will think of others and wonder why I didn't choose them! It's funny to think of myself in the abstract like that, figuring that my regular readers probably know most of these facts about me. It's a good thing I'm an extrovert. Of course, this blog is all about me and my life anyway.

Thank you, MerCyn, for the opportunity to fish around in my psyche and come up with some items you might not have known about me. It was quite a good exercise, so if any of my readers want to do the same, I can recommend it as an interesting activity, spending some time searching around for seven obscure things about yourself to share.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Some Texas lessons

Granny Janny
On Thanksgiving Day, my sister PJ brought all of us these interesting neck warmers. You can also stick your head inside the whole thing and get an effect like the one in this picture. We laughed and played with them in various ways, and I found that they are also very warm, so I can use it here during the winter, maybe not quite like this, though. I had to take it off right after the picture was taken, it was so warm!

During the eleven days I was in Texas, I stayed at my brother's house. I thought it would be fine for Norma Jean and I to share a bed in their spare bedroom, but after two nights I ended up sleeping on the couch instead, ceding the room to Norma Jean and her rather loud, um, breathing. She also wakes in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. I, on the other hand, usually sleep soundly most of the night. So we couldn't share a bed like we did when we were girls. I don't know if I snore; Norma Jean didn't realize that she does. My partner doesn't seem to be bothered by it if I do. I'm a side sleeper and it's usually people who sleep on their backs who snore the most, it seems.

One day Norma Jean and I went out for pedicures. This is something I hadn't done before (she lives in Florida and wears sandals often, so it wasn't new to her) but I find I absolutely adore seeing my sparkly pink toes when I pull off my socks. Not to mention the nice job that was done on my toenails, much better than I could do myself. I will continue to treat myself to a pedicure now and then. I also enjoyed the leg massage and application of lotion. Now that I've done it once, I have noticed plenty of places around town that offer such a service.

Norma Jean and I walked together most days, if you can call what she does "walking." She doesn't run any more because of her ankles, but she walks at a 4.5-mile-an-hour pace. I had to jog alongside her to keep up, but I did it because she doesn't seem to know how to slow down and I wanted to be with her. While we walked together, we talked (when I could manage it), but when she's alone she listens to music or a podcast. It's not my thing, but I notice that most people on the bus or on sidewalks have earbuds or wear headphones. It makes me feel removed from my environment when I do that; maybe that's the point.

My sister Fia also took me to her hot yoga class in Texas and I enjoyed myself much more than I expected to. Many years ago I attended Bikram Yoga regularly and stopped when I realized I wasn't enjoying it any more and was forcing myself to attend. There's a Bikram studio right next door to my coffee shop, and I went a couple of times. It wasn't quite right back when I first moved here, but I'm going to give it another try. I enjoyed the experience in Texas and want to give it another chance. The heat certainly makes it easier to stretch. I miss the flexibility I had when I was younger.

Now that I have an iPhone, I am enjoying learning all the features that a smartphone offers me. Yesterday I left my regular camera behind and took pictures with the phone, which are much better than I expected. I also ordered an Otterbox for my phone, since it's so wet here in the Pacific Northwest much of the time. Last Thursday on our very wet hike, I worried about my phone constantly, moving it from one place to another, hoping to keep it from getting damp. Now I'll feel more more comfortable taking it with me everywhere. One woman on yesterday's walk told me that she accidentally spilled coffee on her phone and now the microphone doesn't work. I didn't buy one of those plans to cover things like that for my iPhone, so I'll try to be careful.

My routine is now back to normal, but the excursion over the Thanksgiving holiday has permanently changed some parts of it. I guess it's important to take a step outside of one's normal everyday life in order to add some spice to it. I'll be spending Christmas here in Bellingham, with a few parties to attend, and Christmas chorales if I choose. It's a nice time of year to stay warm and enjoy the few times the sun breaks through the clouds. Getting wet isn't too bad when you've got the proper gear, either!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I don't feel any different

Birthday portrait
I'm not a girl any more. In fact, I'm not even officially middle aged any more, but the onset of old age has begun. Yesterday I celebrated my seventieth birthday and wrote about the taking of this picture here. If you look closely, you can see that I'm covered with raindrops, and I am in the middle of a bunch of other women who are also out early on a rainy Saturday to exercise.

I don't feel any different inside than I did when I was a young woman on the threshold of becoming an adult. So much has happened to me in the past seventy years, but nothing I knew then could have prepared me for this time in my life. I got here one day at a time, one decade followed another until I woke up yesterday with a smile on my face, realizing I made it all the way to old age. I am a septuagenarian now!

In a way it's freeing. I read an article not long ago by Dr. Andrew Weil, who turned seventy last June and what it meant to him. A video link to the interview is here. He says we must acknowledge that we are older, but that doesn't mean the opportunity to grow and change has disappeared. It's different now; this decade of life is one of inevitable physical decline, but we have an opportunity to meet it with grace and equanimity if we so choose. Oh, I do, I do!

When I turned sixty, I told few people, since I was working full time and teaching skydiving every weekend to myriad students. I felt a little embarrassed to still be doing what I was at such an advanced age. Since then, I have retired from my job and stopped teaching skydiving, moved from Colorado to Washington state and began a new phase of life. I still spend the summers here jumping out of airplanes for fun, but whereas a decade ago I made hundreds of skydives every year, now I make fewer than fifty. The desire to teach left me long ago, and as I watch new jumpers at the Drop Zone with their instructors, I'm glad that others are still interested in doing what once seemed like a necessary part of my life.

It's a good thing to realize that the old saying about when one door closes, another opens, is real. I've found it to be very true throughout my life. Once upon a time, I could not have imagined my life today being fulfilled without the parts of it that seemed essential back then. I have no living children and no grandchildren. In my twenties as a young mother of two, I could not have imagined being happy today, but I am.

I realize that the world of blogging is essential to my happiness today. Although I have no grandchildren, I have a grandniece I love very much and am close to my siblings and their children. My blogging friends show pictures of their grandchildren and I cherish them, hold many of them close to my heart and and marvel at their precocity. Sometimes I will stare at a picture of Hope, one particularly beautiful and radiant being, and give thanks to the universe that I get to share in her life. Thank you, Dianne (Forks Off the Moment), for being willing to blog through the ravages of Hurricane Sandy and showing me how you and Hope are making it through.

Without the connection of the blogosphere, my life would be diminished. A decade ago I didn't have a clue that it would become so indispensable to me, or even that I could love and cry over people around the world whom I will never meet but who have become as important to me as family. As the world grows more and more connected, we become part of each other's lives in ways never before imagined in the course of history. My family has expanded to encompass the entire globe.

As I sit here in my usual place, rain drumming on the roof and my partner fast asleep next to me, I realize that my septuagenarian years will no doubt hold many wonders I cannot possibly anticipate, along with the inevitable decline of physicality. My spiritual self has no boundaries and I feel my heart swelling with the possibilities! Reminds me of a favorite Emily Dickinson poem:
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
Isn't that just the most beautiful expression, "spreading wide my narrow hands to gather Paradise"? Oh, yes! Until next Sunday morning, I hope you will spend some time with me in that gathering.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Family matters

Norma Jean, Fia, me, Markee
The Thanksgiving gathering of the Stewart clan is winding down. Norma Jean flew home to Florida on Friday, Markee left for Canada yesterday, and I will leave on Tuesday to return to the rainy Pacific Northwest. I would be there now, except I couldn't find a reasonably priced ticket any earlier, and I'm very much enjoying being the only traveler left in town, since I get to have Phyllis and Buz all to myself.

It's been my habit to stay with my brother and my only sister-in-law Phyllis whenever I come to town. It started decades ago and now has become my home away from home, taking the place in my heart that my mother's home inhabited while she was alive. It never mattered where she lived; wherever it was, it was home. Now that she has been gone for almost twenty years I realize I've transferred my affections to this place, wherever Phyllis and Buz live.

Mama died in March of the year she would have turned seventy (in July). I marked the day when I realized I had lived to be older than either of my parents, and this coming Saturday I will make it to the magic birthday. It has been remarked on by most of my siblings, so it is not a small or insignificant moment in our family history. We have also discussed our absent parents, whose characteristics are quite present in us, all with slightly different flavors. As we age we are beginning to take on certain attributes more prominently that we once associated with our parents.

There have been moments of strain when we have all been together, which is inevitable I suppose, but the hurtful comments never feel right. I've been the recipient as well as the giver of them, and for my siblings who might be reading this, I wish to say that whatever rough waters we have navigated this week, you are my family and you matter to me. I love every one of you with my whole heart and am grateful beyond words for the time we have had together this week.

To mark the occasion of Fia's fiftieth and my seventieth, we have received presents from our family as well as given ourselves a couple of things to mark the event. Fia decided to give herself a tattoo on her birthday that will be with her to help her remember to walk with God.
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."
This is not my sort of thing; I'm not of the generation that finds tattoos appealing. She said it felt like little razor blades as she was being tattooed. They started near her big toe and worked backwards. I shudder when I think of that area under the ankle bone being tattooed! She is very happy with it and says it's no longer painful. She's returned to her usual activities. In fact, she took me to her hot yoga class yesterday, and we "enjoyed" being together in a super-hot room while we twisted ourselves into pretzels.

Years ago (I just realized it's been almost two decades) I attended Bikram Yoga classes, which are also conducted in a very hot room. This version is called Sumits Yoga and incorporates both Bikram and Vinyasa style yoga along with music! Never before had I ever attended any sort of yoga class that had music as part of the experience. It was... different, but this morning I am feeling quite good and not nearly as stiff and sore as I thought I would be. I think I might start attending the Bikram Yoga classes in Bellingham now and then, as it was a reminder of how wonderful it feels to sweat like that, while bending in ways I couldn't possibly achieve otherwise.

For my own self-administered present, I am now the proud owner of an iPhone! It seems that every single member of my family owns or has access to one, and I was the only one of us with an old-style flip phone. I figured that if I was going to take the plunge to a smartphone, I might as well do it while I have people around who know how to use it. It turns out, though, that it's very much like my iPad, with almost all the same configurations AND a phone.

There is at least one thing I have to learn to use efficiently: Siri, the voice software that comes with the phone. I had seen the advertisements with John Malkovich carrying on a "conversation" with his phone, and now I've done it myself! With Buz's help, I "introduced" myself to my phone and asked her to call me DJan. I spoke into the phone and said, "call me DJan," and she responded, "Okay. I will call you DJan. It has a nice ring to it." I am quite pleased with the phone, and yesterday I talked to Norma Jean and sent her a photo at the same time! Having multiple functionalities available at the same time is also something I will also need to get accustomed to having.

Well, it's that time again, early in the morning with my partner still asleep but not next to me, as he is back home in Bellingham. I sit here in bed composing before sunrise with a cup of coffee next to me in my home away from home. The Texas sunrise will be sunny and bright, and I'll appreciate it while I'm here. But I miss my partner and look forward to seeing him soon. Until next week, be well and take care of yourself.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In the Lone Star state

Taken from a moving car yesterday
Look at that beautiful sky! It's sunny and warm here in Arlington, Texas, while at home in Bellingham it's raining like crazy. In fact, I just found out through the Cliff Mass Weather Blog that there is a very serious possibility of flooding in Washington state by Thursday, which happens to be Thanksgiving. Although I won't be there, I am really hoping it doesn't occur. He says in that post, "If you live near any of the major rivers around here, you better stay tuned. FEMA should watch this as well." Although I will be out of harm's way while I'm here, this could be a major disaster. Oh, I hope not!

Last night I got a chance to see all but one of my sisters for the first time since a year ago last March. Markee arrived from Canada yesterday, and Norma Jean and I flew in the evening before. Whenever we have a gathering, it's here in the middle of the Lone Star state, since three of the six siblings live nearby. My sister PJ wasn't there last night, but the rest of us went to my niece Megan's home for an impromptu birthday party. We'll be celebrating my seventieth and Fia's fiftieth for the entire week, it seems. Tomorrow we will all go to see the movie Lincoln and today we'll have another gathering, with all of us in attendance.

It seems we only have family reunions these days because of somebody's death. Last time it was to honor  the passing of Norma Jean's husband Pete. In order to keep the entire family from descending on her little mobile home when he died in February 2011, we agreed that Norma Jean would come to Texas, and I flew in from Washington, so we had a wonderful gathering. I wrote about it here. I had barely recovered from spending three weeks in Florida before heading to Texas, so it was a particularly disruptive time in my life. But as a result of spending all that time with Norma Jean, we got into the habit of talking to each other two or three times a week on video chat. It seems incredible to me that we never ever run out of new things to talk about.

Because of our close interaction, we have changed each other's lives quite a bit. We read the same books, she takes the same fish oil I do, and we discuss the programs that we both watch. And before I know it, two hours have passed. It's a bit of an addiction, but now I get to see her in person, and we are even sharing a bed. She climbs into bed, turns over and doesn't move a muscle for hours. I feel a bit intimidated so I curtail the tossing and turning I would normally be doing, and so far it's been fine, I've fallen asleep without a problem.

We are in the living room right now, me writing my post, her reading the news on line. Usually I'm sitting up in bed with a cup of tea and Smart Guy asleep next to me. It's almost 7:00am but not even 5:00am at home. I haven't had any problem adjusting to the two-hour time change; I will probably have more of an issue when I go back home. As I get older, I notice I have become less resilient and less able to adapt to any change at all in my routine.

The first night I was here, Norma Jean, my brother Buz (who we are staying with) and I all celebrated being together by having a couple of bottles of wine. That's TWO bottles for three people. I was getting tipsy and drank more than I realized. Usually I limit my consumption by measuring it and not having more than one glass. I got into the habit of doing that when I was dieting and wanted to count calories, and I guess my body got accustomed to it as well. If I deviate and have TWO glasses instead of ONE, I feel it the next day. Yesterday I woke feeling pretty awful, and I didn't have that much extra wine. But it was enough to make me drink ginger ale instead of wine at the party last night. I didn't miss it one bit, and it was interesting to watch everyone else as the wine took effect.

We reminisced over the pictures I had on my iPad, pictures of all of us when we were young, our parents when they were young, and times, people and places long gone. One nice thing about the iPad is that pictures are large enough to share with an entire table, and we all remembered, laughed and cried together. This was the first gathering of many. Norma Jean will leave on Friday after Thanksgiving, and I will leave the following Tuesday. Until then, I am soaking up all the family I can, and my camera will be busy snapping pictures right and left. These will be added to our memories, but it will take awhile before they fade into the past. The imperceptible passage of time will change us from where we are today, and I won't notice it until we get together again.

We have been very fortunate to have all six of us able to have these reunions. There is no assurance in life that we will be able to have another, since the inevitable changes that come to us all may make it impossible. Thinking of that, I feel my heart swell with gratitude for the time we have together this week. I love each and every one of my siblings and our extended family. I'll still be here next Sunday and I'll have plenty to write about then, too.

Until then, I will be posting on my other blog. I want to say how thankful I am during this Thanksgiving week for everything in my life, including you, my dear readers. Many of you have become as precious to me as family, although we may never meet in person. Isn't life wonderful?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What a week that was

Leaves outside my door
Does anybody else remember a TV show that was called "That Was the Week That Was"? I remember it very well, but I'm not sure why. I just learned from that link that it was originally a BBC program in 1962-63 with David Frost, and then it came to the US in late 1963, running for the next two years. I remember it as a satirical and rather amusing take on the previous week's news. Since I was a young, impressionable woman at the time, I must be remembering it because it was so novel. I wonder what the program would have done with the past week.

Election Day last Tuesday I watched the returns coming in and since I expected that the polls were accurate, I presumed it would be very close. I spent the evening changing the channel between Fox News and MSNBC, and as you can imagine, I observed very different reactions to the results. As a lifelong Democrat, I was very happy that things went the way they did, but I began to get a little uncomfortable with the over-the-top reactions from both sides.

We are a very divided country, and I felt bad for my Republican friends and family, while still being very glad to see that many issues that mean a great deal to me have been upheld by a majority of the populace. The fact that we will have twenty women serving in the Senate next year is really groundbreaking, and every one of the men who made remarks about rape was defeated. Women stood up and voted their conscience. Even I had an opportunity to vote against one of them here in Washington state. That said, it's time to move on to governance and stop with all the recriminations and gloating. Please. I had to unfriend a couple of people on Facebook because of some really hateful remarks.

Moving on to the rest of the week now. It's Veterans Day here in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada and the UK. I have so many veterans in my own life, and I would like to take a moment to remember and thank them. I have one of these flags displayed in my living room, in a very nice box. It was presented to me by my son's Commanding
Officer at his military funeral. Although he did not die in combat, it didn't matter: he still received a flag with three spent shells folded inside, representing Duty, Honor, and Country. Chris' birthday was yesterday, so he has been very much on my mind. He has been gone for ten years now, and the pain and suffering that I had to deal with then have become a memory, and those things I remember about Chris are now softened by time. But he will always be my son and will always be present in my heart. I was hoping he would visit me in a dream, but it's been a while now since that has happened. I still miss him. I will always miss him.

My father was in the Air Force, and I have so many memories of him in uniform. He was such a wonderful man and was only 62 when he died of a heart attack. Now that I am pushing seventy, it seems like he was so young when we lost him! He entered the military as a young enlisted man and retired as an officer, holding the rank of Major. When my niece Allison (who is a Lt. Colonel in the Army) was promoted to that rank, she asked my sister Norma Jean and me to be present to take my dad's Major leaves off her uniform and replace them with her Lt. Colonel leaves. It was a very moving ceremony, and in some ways my father was there with us. Allison is still in the Army and has been to Iraq and Afghanistan several times. We are all grateful for her coming back unharmed!

My nephew Joseph (Joey to me) has been in the Army for several years and continues to serve. My brother Buz was in the Air Force, and I'm sure I have several other nieces and nephews whose service I am forgetting, but I plead old age for not remembering exactly. So you can see I have plenty to be thankful for today. My childhood was spent living on military bases, and my first husband was also in the Air Force. The military has shaped my life in many ways, so today I can look back and give thanks for my wonderful family.

I finished my jury duty summons by being excused from serving, although last Monday I had to report and go through an orientation session. There were many more prospective jurors than were needed. While we were receiving our briefing, one of the two trials was dismissed. I was among those told to call back that evening to see if we might be needed later in the week, but when I called I was told my jury duty service was over. Perhaps next time that I'm called I will serve on a jury. It became obvious to me that the lower your juror number is, the more likely you are to be on a jury. Mine was 358, so there was little chance I would serve.

The weather has turned really cold, and a brisk wind made it seem much colder yesterday. I wandered around the dwindling Farmers' Market after taking a walk with the Fairhaven walking group and then headed home. Smart Guy cooked up the wonderful organic veggies that I bought at the market, and I settled in to watch a couple of my favorite shows I had missed during the week. We've got cable, and On Demand gives me a chance to view those shows without having to remember to record them, as we did in the old days. At one time we had tapes of previously recorded shows; how much the world has changed in just the past few years. Nobody has tapes any more or owns a VCR! Even DVDs are going away, as everything is becoming available through other means.

Yes, life moves on, things change, and our world continues to evolve. But what a week we just went through! This coming Friday I will fly to Texas to be with my family and celebrate Thanksgiving together, along with my sister Fia's 50th  birthday and my 70th. Norma Jean will be there, and I'm looking forward to seeing her in person. Since we talk on video chat several times a week, she said she would hold a picture frame around her face so I would recognize her! Have a wonderful week, and I'll be checking in next Sunday from Texas. Until then, I will be sending you lots of warm fuzzies.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Time change musings

Taken from the front walkway
My first week of having been summoned for jury duty was a no-show. I called last Sunday night and was informed that my juror number would not be needed that day and to call back the next night. When I called on Monday, the recorded message said that those who were serving on a jury should follow their judge's instructions, and the rest of us should call back the next day for further instructions. On Tuesday, we were all excused until our second week. I'll call tonight to find out what might happen this coming week.

I was a little disappointed that I didn't even need to report for an orientation session. I suspect that one or two juries were seated last Monday. They apparently summon many more possible jurors than they will need here in Washington state. I'm actually hoping that I will at least get to see the inside of the courthouse this coming week. However, if I get seated on a jury, hopefully it will not keep me from visiting my family in Texas over Thanksgiving. We'll see what happens.

The time change last night has caused me to wake earlier than I wanted. I really tried to stay in bed longer, but I wasn't all that successful. I lay in bed an extra half hour and then finally got up to make my morning tea and check all our radio-controlled clocks to see if they made the change. One of them needed batteries, since it didn't "catch" the change. Once I put in new batteries, it only took a few minutes for everything to show up properly in the display. I love atomic clocks!

When I wrote last week's post, my sister was traveling to the East Coast to be with her daughter Allison and granddaughter Lexie. In Arlington the winds and rain were not severe, but they lost power for half a day. They were all prepared for the eventuality, and everything returned to normal quickly on that part of the East Coast. The only problem I had is that some of my video chats with Norma Jean have been put on hold. I'll talk to her tomorrow before she heads back home on Tuesday. She had already voted in Florida before she left, so she'll be reunited with her sweet little dog (who she misses terribly) and her life will also return to normal for a little more than a week, before she also flies to Texas for Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward very much to visiting my siblings, but I am not at all excited about air travel. Once upon a time it was fun, but these days I find it extremely taxing. Security lines, removing shoes, liquids in small containers... and then being crammed into a small seat for several hours with the inevitable screaming infant nearby.

In less than a month I will begin my eighth decade of life. More and more often I am reminded of my age. It's not only the aches and pains in my body, but the fact that memories of my youth belong to a period that no longer exists. I love the series "Mad Men" set in the 1960s because I wore those shirtwaist dresses and remember when people smoked everywhere. I was one of them. I smoked at my desk in the office, with my fancy cigarette lighter and ashtray part of my everyday life. The click of the lighter when I flicked it open, the faint smell of lighter fluid as it sprang into a flame. And the sensation of taking a long drag on a newly lighted cigarette.

I gave up cigarettes when I was in my early thirties, because it became obvious to me that I was unhealthy and overweight and needed to change my ways. Not long after I quit smoking, I started to exercise regularly, taking up running for many years, and then hiking up several of the Colorado mountains. Exercise became part of my life just as firmly as cigarettes had once been. That first moment when I stepped out the front door with a brand spanking new pair of running shoes is imprinted in my memory as the beginning of a sea change.

And now as I am turning seventy,  I can walk faster and more vigorously than I could fifty years ago. Because of positive life decisions made in my youth, the journey into the future continues to be bright.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A break from my routine

I received a summons for jury duty here in Washington state, beginning tomorrow, which says it will be for two weeks. This is the first time I've been summoned since moving here, but I was summoned three times over the years I lived in Colorado. Twice I was dismissed in trials for people who had been arrested for driving while impaired and were fighting it. I told the attorneys that I felt they were already guilty and could not offer them a fair judgment, since they had already admitted they were driving under the influence of alcohol. I was summarily dismissed.

And once I sat on a jury for three days. A woman was suing a man for an alleged rape, and I listened to the presentations of both the assertion of rape and the arguments in the man's defense. These took two days, one for the witnesses and aggrieved party to testify, and the second day for the defense to make their case.

The hardest part for me was to listen to everything and not be able to discuss it with anybody: not the other jurors, not my partner, simply nobody. I had some very strong opinions about what was going on here, and it was my duty to keep those thoughts to myself. Were the other jurors feeling like I did? Was I wrong in thinking that this woman was making it all up in a fit of pique? That's what was emerging in my mind as I listened to the arguments.

I am not sure how I would have fared in a long trial, because just in those two short days I was having difficulty letting myself get involved in any other activity. I was obsessed with the trial and couldn't read or otherwise distract myself. If I went for a walk, my thoughts turned constantly to the arguments that had been presented to me, and I couldn't talk to anybody about it!

Fortunately, we were given our final instructions on the third day and went into jury deliberations. What a relief to finally be able to talk about it! And interestingly, all but one other juror felt as I did. Since we had one holdout, a social worker who also acted as an advocate for rape victims (how did he ever get on this jury?), he brought up some interesting theories of the possible reasons this might have actually been what the aggrieved party said it was. But it was a stretch, a real stretch.

 It turned out that most of us were in total agreement about the woman's real intentions in this trial, to make the young man suffer. We finally all came into agreement, and within a few hours after we began our deliberations, we were able to deliver a "not guilty" verdict. When I walked out to the parking lot, the young man was walking out a free man after being in jail for something he did not do. Not to mention the time and expense involved for all parties.

Now I will find out whether I will end up on another jury, or if I will be dismissed or not needed during this two-week period. Since I'm retired and have no job to worry about, you'd think I would be excited about this break from my schedule. But frankly, I'll miss riding the bus to the coffee shop and hanging out with the regulars, attending my regular classes at the gym, and basically having my daily routine disrupted. I am also planning on a trip in mid-November to visit my family for Thanksgiving. I wonder what happens if you end up sitting on a long trial: do they break for holidays? (Probably not.)

It's been raining here all day and all night, for several days in a row. I walked with the Fairhaven walkers yesterday anyway; we only had a few sprinkles as we made our way through Whatcom Falls park. Thirteen of us showed up on a dreary day, and we walked through wide avenues covered with leaves, painting a colorful tapestry of gold, yellow and browns. Even when it's raining, it's really beautiful here in the Pacific Northwest. I would have taken some pictures but I was afraid of getting my camera wet, so I left it in the car.

So begins another Sunday morning as I sit here in the dark, partner sleeping lightly next to me, and the day about to begin. Tonight I'll call the juror telephone line to find out what tomorrow will bring. In Colorado, I was required to attend at least the first day for orientation, but this is Washington state and things might be handled differently. I'm glad I visited my previous experiences as a juror in today's post; my feeling about the situation has shifted to one of curiosity and a possible new adventure.

Have a wonderful week, dear readers. Until next time!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Looking at clouds

Taken from a moving car last Thursday
I love to look at clouds. It comes partly from seeing their amazing variety, but also because I really HAVE seen clouds from both sides: from being above them looking down wondering if I can avoid jumping through them, and from looking at them here on the ground, wondering whether I need a raincoat. Clouds are really beautiful. Could anybody be bored if you love clouds?

Sitting here in the dark on this cloudy and cool morning, I've been casting about for a topic for this morning's Sunday post. Several things are on my mind, but one keeps coming up for examination: how to create useful and satisfying activity in my daily life. Last Thursday twelve of us seniors headed up to the mountains for what seems to have been our last excursion to the High Country for the season: last night it snowed up there and the weather turned much colder. Yesterday I spent some time going through my warm-weather gear to make sure I have the proper items in my backpack so that I can continue to enjoy going outdoors. Back to the Low Country hikes.

I don't usually suffer from boredom, but I know there are many people who think retirement would be boring, that there would be little of interest to occupy one's time. Is boredom a state of mind? I would worry about it when I was working, since I knew that the way I occupied my days would be gone. One of my solutions was to move away from the place I had lived for more than three decades. No triggers or old habits were possible when the act of finding a new home, a new place to live, and going through our possessions and discarding much of the old life had to be accomplished.

Some people need structure, a routine for their days. I am one of them, and work provided that. I was always the first person to arrive at the office, make the coffee and get things started before the rest showed up. It was a good feeling, and I also could leave the office before everyone else. In the summertime it meant I had much of the day to do other things. I've always enjoyed exercising and being outdoors. I could go for a bike ride or run errands. Today, those things are still part of my routine. Frankly, I have wondered lately how I ever managed to fit a full-time job into my busy life.

One reason this is on my mind is that my old boss has asked me to take on an activity with him that I can do from my computer. It sounds interesting, but the real clincher is that I realize he needs my expertise if it is to succeed. He's calling it his swan song before he retires for good, and he'd like it to be a quality product. I said I would consider it, but as it gets closer to fruition, I find myself looking around at what enjoyable parts of my daily life will be curtailed until the job is done. Will I be sorry I agreed to do this? Can I still say no?

No, I'll bite the bullet and get the job done. It will be an adventure, if I approach it the right way. And it's got an end date. Winter might be keeping me indoors more often anyway. It's really funny to think that my daily life doesn't have much room for even a part-time job. I will figure out some way to enjoy the experience.

Just writing this all down, getting it shoehorned into my mental real estate, has helped me. It might not be very interesting to read about from your point of view, but it was a valuable exercise for me. I feel better now.

Sundays tend to be the least structured of my days, with nothing other than this post on the agenda. I'll be getting up soon and getting dressed, however, so I can drive to the cafe for my morning latte. If they have a good breakfast, I'll bring two of them home and share a nice Sunday morning with my partner as I read the Sunday paper. It's the only day of the week that I actually buy a paper and enjoy reading through it, rather than perusing everything on line. Then I'll consider whether the weather will allow a walk or if I might go to the gym and ride the elliptical. Or maybe I'll just hang out at home.

I hope that your day is filled with exactly what you desire, whether it be knitting by the fire, playing with your grandchildren, or looking at the clouds.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A change in the weather

I pass the ivy growing on the side of this building every day when I walk from the gym to the bus. Even when the sun isn't shining, the color is intense right now. I've taken pictures of its brilliant color before, but this year it seems especially red. The skies are dark, spitting rain, and the wind is blowing. Our long stretch of beautiful weather has come to an end. Now that I don't have a cold and could go skydiving, the weather is not cooperating. I'm just not ready to say that the skydiving season is over, but it probably is.

Last night I kept thinking about a video I watched yesterday. It is from the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, about a bunch of ducks mistreated by their owner and rescued by the sanctuary. They were all adult ducks and had never been in water before. It's less than two minutes long, and I've now watched it several times, each time with feelings I can't quite identify. (You might want to make it full screen since I can't seem to figure out how to get it to fit into my existing column. The sound is nice but not necessary.)

The birds were terrified of the water and had to be reintroduced to it several times, until finally one of them realized that it was, well, fun. Before long all of them had taken to the water and were enjoying themselves immensely. It made me realize that all creatures know little of life except what we experience at birth. How would a duck know that it belongs in water if it never is around it? How would any of us know how wonderful life could be if we are mistreated when we are born? That is all we know, and that's what we expect as we go through our days.

I guess that's what the feeling is: a mixed one of sadness that some of us are not given our birthright, and gratitude that there are people like those at the sanctuary who help creatures to have a better life. Adding value to any life is worthwhile, and it makes me hopeful that we humans will one day tip the scales towards compassion rather than neglect. I realize that this might be a bit of a pollyanna point of view, but it's the one I choose. I'd like to think that we are evolving towards kindness and the comprehension that we are all in this together.

Although it's dreary outside, I'm enjoying the change in the weather. I have a warm safe apartment to share with my partner, and we can stand inside and watch the trees bend in the wind and listen to the rain. I don't need to go out in it until I have girded myself with appropriate gear. It's hard to believe that only a few days ago I was in full sunshine in the High Country with my friends, sweating and slathering on sunscreen. Yesterday I pulled my expensive eVent raincoat out of the closet and used it for the first time in months. It will get a workout for awhile now.

I have looked at the long-range weather forecasts, however, and I have learned that we are expected to get a bit less rain here in the Pacific Northwest than usual. For the past two winters, we've been inundated with higher-than-normal snowpack, so it might make for a nice change. In fact, I might even get to skydive this winter, if the weather cooperates at all. The only thing I need is sunshine, even if it's cold. You go up in the plane and jump out, having only a few minutes to deal with the cold. In Colorado where the sun shines most days, I jumped year round; any time it was above freezing on the ground you would see crazy skydivers loading the plane, swaddled in enough clothes under their jumpsuits to look like overstuffed teddy bears. I was one of them.

Now that I'm thinking of it, I remember one day when we had a heavy snowfall all day long on Saturday, nice fluffy Colorado powder. On Sunday morning I woke to see that the sky was completely blue! I packed up my stuff and headed to the Drop Zone, knowing that there would be others who would want to jump, once they cleared the runway. And sure enough, I made three or four skydives that day, landing in soft powder snow. It looked odd to see steps in the snow that seemed to start from nowhere heading to the hangar. I suppose I wouldn't do that again today, since I have so many more skydives now than I did then. But then again, I also know now what I might miss out on!

One thing that we can all count on: whatever weather we are having right now will change. Every season is ostensibly only three months long, and the years flow by, giving us everything from rain and snow to brilliant blue skies. I wish you many days of whatever weather makes you happiest, with just a little bit of the other kind to remind you how nice it is when you have your favorite weather.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A weekend to remember

Deb, me, Sally, Sandi, and Jann at Vashon Island Farmers' Market
This is the weekend of the bloggers' Vashon Island getaway. I'm starting my Sunday morning from the farmhouse here on Vashon Island where we have been staying since Friday afternoon. I wrote about some of it yesterday on my other blog. But the story of how we decided to get together here is worth telling.

Linda (missing from the picture above, since she was busy checking out the booths at the Vashon Island Saturday morning Farmers' Market), who writes the blog Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting met Deb one morning at a Starbucks in Vancouver, Washington and discussed the possibility of having a gathering of some bloggers that they both follow. They emailed five of us about it, and all but one person accepted the invitation to investigate the feasibility of getting together somewhere. Linda researched some possible locations and dates, and we decided on this weekend and chose Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island. After some difficulty finding the ferry (covered pretty well in those two previous links), we have spent the last few days together, getting to know each other in person rather than as virtual entities in the Blogosphere.

We have discovered many things about each other that we didn't know, but mostly there have been only a few surprises in personalities. It makes me realize how much of who we are comes through in the words we write on our blogs. I have been taken by surprise by the dry wit of one, the elegance of another, and the sheer generosity of spirit in every one.

Although I am a bit saturated by all the interaction of the weekend, I am filled with an amazing sense of camaraderie that has developed between us. We've shared, we've cried, and we've laughed until we were holding our sides in pain. Last night I had to pull myself away from the living room and make my way to bed so that I would have time to write a post this morning.

I am the oldest of the group, with the youngest, our baby, nine years younger than me. We are all in our sixties, all committed bloggers, and two are still working as teachers and knew each other before they started blogging (Deb and Sandi). I will write one more post about this weekend on my other blog before I will move on to other things. As I sit here with a cup of coffee, in the living room so I can watch the sun rise and illuminate Mt. Rainier, I am feeling introspective and wondering what I've learned from this weekend.

One thing I've learned that surprises me is that I have actually become less extroverted, and for the first time understand the need for quiet introspection. Since I retired, I haven't been exposed to such a concentrated dose of interaction and find myself looking forward to pulling out my meditation pillow at home and sitting for some time. I miss Smart Guy and the connection that has developed between us since we've moved here. The past five years have changed me. In any group, some people talk more than others, and I've always been one of them, but this weekend taught me that I no longer have a need to be the center of attention for extended periods of time; in fact, it's a bit daunting.

In a group of bright, articulate women, I fit right in. In retirement I've continued to grow and change, and it makes me happy to learn that. I guess I thought that once I no longer had the stimulus of productive work, I'd stagnate and become someone less interesting. That's not true, not for me, not for any of us who have retired. Linda is extremely active, traveling all over the world on a shoestring, marking things off her bucket list, and learning to be certified as a mediator. She performed her magic on me when I got an email about a possible contract job I might (or might not) take on. In a half an hour, all the different aspects of the situation had been examined in terms of what it means for me, and what I want out of it. I am impressed and grateful for her expertise.

There's just the tiniest bit of light in the morning sky, and I m looking at Mt. Rainier on the horizon, thinking about this amazing weekend and what I've learned. It's been an education in more ways than one.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Best laid plans down the drain

Walking into the grocery store the other day, I saw that they have put these pumpkins out on display, a sure sign of fall. A couple of pigeons were wandering through, looking for something to eat. It was on Friday, and I was looking forward to a another weekend of sunshine and activity.

In the middle of the night on Friday I awoke with a sore throat. Uh-oh, I thought. I'm coming down with something. It wasn't too bad, but I had plans to go on the five-mile walk early Saturday morning and then go skydiving on Sunday with my friends. Not too many more beautiful days like we're having right now in the Pacific Northwest, with the rainy season right around the corner.

By the time I got out of bed, I knew I had a cold. Sneezing, aches, dripping nose, and continued sore throat. I grabbed the Zicam and zinc lozenges and figured I might be able to go on the walk after all. But considering the way I felt, it was obvious, even to me, that it would be a mistake, so I reluctantly let it go. Maybe I could simply lay around all day on Saturday and then Sunday I could go skydiving after all.

It's now dark outside on Sunday morning, and I spent a very uncomfortable night, even with Nyquil and Benadryl in my system. No way will I be venturing out of my comfort zone today. I'm really sick, but the sore throat has diminished and my stuffy nose (even with another dose of drugs) is enough to make even me stay down. I'm not very good at being sick, and I know that these things come to all of us now and then... but I fight it until I finally succumb to the inevitable.

So here I sit in the dark, laptop and tea next to me, this morning with the addition of tissues and pill bottles. Thinking of this post, I wondered about why I fight so hard against what any normal person would realize is just a cold, a short setback in an active life. What am I afraid of?

It's obvious that I cherish my active lifestyle and I guess I am fearful that if I let anything get me down, I'll never again be able to jump and play and walk with my friends. That what is happening right now is all I've ever get to experience, now that I'm sick. Advertisements on TV show someone looking like I feel right now taking some magical medicine and then looking perky and bright, no sign of being sick. Maybe that's part of it: I've absorbed the message that it's not okay to lay around letting myself wallow in misery.

I've had my share of illnesses over the years, and you'd think I would realize that nothing ever stays the same. Life is a dynamic process that takes us all from one state to another; nothing in life is static, as much as I'd like to forget that inconvenient truth. Even if I eat right, exercise just the right amount and keep a positive attitude, life's circumstances will just not hold still.

I am aware that there are people who are able to have a full life, even without all the health and vitality I possess in abundance. I'm sure that if I were suddenly housebound, I would find some way to continue to live a full life. But it would not be my first choice. Sometimes we are forced into avenues that cause us to become transformed, and it can be a positive direction.

Do you remember Maggie Kuhn? She founded the Grey Panthers movement in August 1970, after she was forced to retire from the Presbyterian Church. She had just turned 65, and she wanted to show that she was not ready to be put out to pasture. I found a quote from her that says it all: "Old age is not a disease. It is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses." She continued to be an activist for another 25 years or so.

I really like that word, "survivorship." It is an important concept to me, to realize that as I ride the waves, the ups and downs of life, that I am a survivor. I've made it through to old age and need to take the longer view. Pardon me while I blow my nose. Again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Living my life in public

Terry took this picture of me last week when we went on the hike to Cascade Pass. I like it very much, so I thought well what the heck, I'll just put another picture of myself on the blog post for today. In both of my blogs I've got lots of pictures of myself plastered everywhere. Once in awhile I get a little embarrassed that I am such an extrovert and try to tone down my natural proclivity to attract attention to myself.

As I sit here sipping my tea and thinking about what to compose on this early Sunday morning, that tendency toward living a public life keeps coming up. If someone wanted to know what I've done with myself this past week, I've got two blogs that tell all about it. I follow other people who are even more out there than myself, writing a post every single day about their daily lives, and I look forward to finding out what's on her (or his) mind. Some are gentle compositions interspersed with pictures to illustrate; others are mostly pictures or poems that bring some beauty to my day. It's what a web log (blog) is all about, and it's a new phenomenon in the world today.

Because of the blogosphere, I have virtual friends who mean as much to me as what I think of as my "skin friends," those I visit with and see regularly. Some bloggers are shut-ins with health problems; others are active. Most of the bloggers I follow are females around the same age as me, retired from the world of work, but not all of them are. Some write about the struggles they have in retirement, or the struggle to find a way to retire in relative comfort. The Great Recession we have all had to navigate in the past few years has touched each of us in one way or another, and we share our coping strategies with one another.

But it has occurred to me that I probably have followers, or people who read what I write and don't leave comments, who don't let me know in any way that they are out there. One person wrote me a year or two ago and told me her father reads my blog and never misses it. If she had not told me, I would not have known, but it touched something inside me, knowing that there are people to whom I matter, to whom my life matters, and I know nothing about them, or about why they even care.

When I read a post that I enjoy, I almost always leave a comment, even if it's a short one to thank the person for taking the time to enrich my day. We are joined in a way that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Many people create blogs and find it's not for them; it's not something they either enjoy or find it difficult to keep coming up with "blog fodder." Usually I have no problem thinking about what I want to say, but then again, I'm a cheeky extrovert who figures somebody will enjoy it. If I have a good time writing it, then somebody will also enjoy it, right?

Right. Blogging has given me the opportunity to indulge my desire to expound to a small audience. I am possessive of my group of followers and am always pleased to see when the number increases by one or two and dismayed if somebody leaves for whatever reason. Because Google Reader gives us the opportunity to be alerted when someone writes a new post, it's possible to follow someone anonymously, but I suspect that most of my followers are also people whose blogs I also follow. Once I write a post on Sunday morning, I will then check back often to see what responses it has garnered. The most satisfying comments are when I realize that I've said something that resonates with my reader, and you tell me so, giving me your viewpoint or affirmation.

There are plenty of aspects of my life that I do not share in this public forum. I am married to a very private man who cannot fathom living a public life, but he reads my posts and tells me what he thinks about them. Although I shy away from controversial subjects, I have my own opinions, sometimes strong ones, but I will usually leave comments indicating what I think on posts that bring up those subjects. We probably know many things about each other that is revealed between the lines of our posts, but it only seems courteous to give one another room to disagree without rancor. If someone is snarky or impolite in a comment, I will remove it.

Who could have imagined this universe twenty years ago? We are connected in a way that is immediate and vital. Later today I will find out what you think about all this, if you are so inclined. And in the back of my mind I also think about the silent readers, the ones who don't let me know of their presence, wondering about who else out there in the wide world shares my very public life with me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Living with pain

Smiling in spite of the pain
This picture was taken this past Thursday when I and sixteen Senior Trailblazers headed up to Skyline Divide, my second hike in one week. With only a day in between, for a total distance of 16-17 miles, I was hurting. My lower back was on fire with pain, and I almost decided not to go on the hike because of it.

This particular pain happens to me occasionally, and it's usually exacerbated by moving in a certain way that causes the sacroiliac (SI) joint to get inflamed. It's almost always in the right section of the sacrum that was damaged in my accident in 2000. As I sit here early on Sunday morning, I can feel the pain, but it's much, much better than it was earlier in the week. I remembered that the last time this happened to me, I wrote about it on my other blog. I was so happy to have found that a chiropractic adjustment would help with the pain. It was a year ago, and the funny thing is, I had forgotten about how much the adjustment helped until I read what I wrote.

The main thing I wanted to write about this morning is how much physical pain alters my experience of daily life. Giving birth to my son many long years ago, I experienced considerable pain and suffering, but I don't recall any of it. Every woman knows that we forget pain when the result is such a reward as our beloved infant. But what do we do with the inevitable pain and suffering that comes with age? Some of us move through it, and others simply get grumpy and crotchety. I had to make several pain-related decisions this past week.

The weather this week couldn't have been better, after a wet and unsettled day last Monday, so the Trailblazers had an extra hike on Tuesday instead. I didn't mention to anybody that my back was bothering me, because someone might suggest that I stay behind. I noticed that because of the trekking poles, I was able to relieve some of the discomfort by leaning rather heavily on them during the downhill sections. By the time we reached the car, I was in serious pain, not only in my back, but spasms were coming and going above my waist. As we drove to the pizza joint for food, I finally complained about the pain and was given some ibuprofen, which helped a great deal.

The next morning, Wednesday, I walked the usual half-mile to the bus stop to take my regular morning class, an hour-long aerobic session that always makes me feel better afterwards. I noticed I was having trouble walking normally and could have used a cane. I slowed down and adjusted my stride to keep my hip from seizing up. The pain in my lower back radiated down into my hip, and I was heading to an exercise class! What was I doing?

Not knowing how to do anything else, I went to class and worked out as usual, and you know what? I did feel better and was in much less pain than before. But we were intending to go on another hike the following day, and I was in a quandary. Any sensible person would not have gone but would have rested instead. But no, I was afraid to stay behind because my friends might have fun without me, and then I would be in a considerable amount of psychic, as well as physical, pain.

So I went on the hike in spite of myself. Again, I noticed that the uphill was not much problem, but the downhill! Ouch! At least it was a shorter hike, but my back pain was a constant companion the entire time. I know I shouldn't have gone, but I did notice that my back didn't bother me quite as much as it had earlier in the week. I also knew I was scheduled for a massage on Friday. I hobbled home on Thursday and climbed into bed very early.

I told my massage therapist about the situation and she spent a long time working those muscles surrounding the source of the pain, which have a tendency to tighten up. When I walked out of her office I felt better than I had in a week. Okay, I'm on the mend, I told myself, and now I need to make a decision about Saturday. I had told my friend Linny that I would join her in a skydiving day.

Well, you probably already know what decision I made: of COURSE I went skydiving yesterday! It was another beautiful day, and if I was in too much pain, I would just turn around and come home. But how would I know if I didn't at least try? I made four skydives in all and found that the only part that hurt at all was packing my chute. After the first jump and the resulting discomfort in packing, I hired a packer, a nice young woman named Katie, and she did the hard work for me. I could get used to this; instead of wrestling my parachute into the bag, I lounged around and chatted with my friends. And these were such good skydives and I had such an excellent time that I couldn't imagine having stayed home and missed the fun.

So here I am now, early Sunday morning, sitting in bed with my laptop as the sun comes up, another sunny day. Yes, I can feel the pain is still there, but I made the decision to live with it, move through it rather than let it dictate my activities. And these were all good activities, ones I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on.

I remember years ago when I got sick with Hepatitis A. I was really, really sick, and the doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I must not try to move through the pain and discomfort, because it would only cause me to end up with chronic hepatic failure. I was forced to lie around and allow my liver to heal. For ten weeks the only exercise I got was walking up eight stairs from my bedroom to the living room, once a day. I couldn't go to work, I couldn't do anything but read, nap and rest.

Our bodies are resilient, but listening to the right way to deal with our pain is completely individual. My stubbornness and unwillingness to miss out on the last week's activities was correct for me, for this week, but it's just not always the case. I hope I have the wisdom to know the difference when the time comes. Because it will come, again and again, as long as I'm alive and kicking.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The power of habit

Me under my beautiful canopy
My life has returned to normal. After a couple of stressful weeks, I was able to hike with my friends on Thursday, as usual, and yesterday I spent at the Drop Zone making four wonderful skydives before heading back to our new apartment. Finally I am sleeping and waking at my usual time, rather than struggling to relax into sleep after being bone tired day after day.

Several times this week I have turned the wrong way to head into the bathroom, or reached for the wrong drawer in which to take out a piece of silverware. You see, our new apartment is exactly the same as our old one (in the same complex), but it's mirror image. Everything is backwards from the way I have become accustomed to it. After almost five years of habit, I am reminded of how much of my life is usually on autopilot. I don't think about where things are supposed to be; my mind is on other things. And when I open a drawer and realize it's the wrong one, I am brought back to the present.

Over the more than twenty years I have been jumping, I've developed several habits that I should examine. I carry a small suitcase with all my skydiving gear in it to the Drop Zone, and I know that everything I need will be in there. My rig (parachute harness and container system) is as familiar to me as my own skin; I've been using the same rig for twelve years now, with only the main parachute being changed several times. It should last me for the rest of my skydiving career.

When I am packing my main after a jump, there are several things that need to be done correctly in order to have the next canopy ride be perfect: I must stow the brakes, un-collapse the slider, and cock the pilot chute (that small thing following behind the canopy). I cannot tell you how many times I have obsessed over those details while riding up to altitude in the plane. It's because of the power of habit: did I REALLY do what I thought I did? If any of those three things were missed because I hurried or wasn't paying close attention, I could really get hurt. Or worse.

What I have done to keep that from happening is to accomplish those three tasks and then look at the parachute lying there ready to be folded up and say it out loud: "Brakes stowed, slider open, pilot chute cocked." Then I can let it go. It takes me about twenty minutes to complete the entire job of packing before I'm ready to go again. Yesterday, my friends stayed after I left and probably made another three skydives before heading home, but I know my limits. I was already tired after four jumps and would have been way too tired to make the 75-mile drive home safely if I had stayed.

At home, I am finding that the process of living in a mirror image of my old habits has been a good wake-up call. It's easy to fall into the same habits I had before without thinking, if everything is exactly the same. Now I have the option of change, of examining what I do and assessing its relevance to my life today. Several things have been altered already, and I suspect there will be much more.

Smart Guy is not one who goes through an unexamined life. His perfectly functioning kitchen is arranged for frequency of access, and many things were pitched when he realized he didn't use them any more. Items used occasionally are tucked away in the back of cabinets. It is amazing to me to see him in action, and I don't interfere with the process. We discussed the mirror image concept and he made some changes that made sense to both of us. It's like being in a better version of our lives, and I am content to have him make these decisions.

We finally have a place for me to set up a meditation area, which I fully intend to begin again. It's been years since I was a daily meditator, but it's been on my radar to get back into the habit. Strangely, the ability to meditate has never left me, and those few times I have meditated have reassured me that it will simply be added into my life, once it becomes a habit. The power of habit will take me to a more serene life.

The incessant sunshine that we have enjoyed here in the Pacific Northwest is gone today. As I sit in my bed with my laptop, facing north instead of south, I can see out the window that the sky is grey and cloudy for the first time in weeks. It is a welcome change. Everything is falling into place as we begin our journey into another season. I hope that life today is satisfying to you, my dear reader.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

High stress week

Judy and I at Manresa Castle in Port Townsend
Last Sunday, when I wrote my last post, I was not looking forward to this week, but it's been actually much more stressful than I anticipated. For one thing, I am almost five years older than I was the last time I moved, and while my blogging buddies reminded me that it's always a stressful time, I expected that I would breeze right through, the way I have in the past. The new places to live seemed more like an adventure than something to dread. Here's how the week has shaped up:
  • Monday I went on a hard hike that lasted thirteen hours from the time I met my hiking friends until I returned home. It was hot and I found I could not go as far as I had hoped. I had to turn around before reaching the summit.
  • The next day I was tired, but Judy and I had already made plans months ago to attend a Senior Center excursion to Port Townsend. It was brutal, as the bus was late and we waited almost two hours to board, and then two hours after the museum visits, lunch, and shopping to get the 50-person bus aboard the return ferry. I didn't get home until another twelve hours after I had left. I was already tired from the previous day's efforts.
  • Then, the move scheduled to begin Wednesday was delayed as the new apartment was not cleaned, so we had to make do with packing in our old apartment, getting ready but not yet able to get the keys to the new place. It's just on the other side of the same apartment complex, but it's about a football field's length away. Lots of trudging to and fro.
  • Finally we gained access and started the ordeal of taking personal items to the new place. Tomorrow two high school seniors will be here to do the heavy lifting. I've been washing windows and packing, packing. How does someone accumulate so much STUFF in just a few years?
  • The internet stopped working this morning instead of tomorrow. I spent hours on the phone with Comcast trying to restore internet and cable for one more day here. The windows sparkle, but I'm so tired and frazzled that I begin one task and start another before it's finished.
  • I've got one more day before I will turn over the keys to this place and am anxious that everything will work as advertised, and that this move is actually a step up. 
Today is Smart Guy's fiftieth anniversary from his first jump ever. He made a static line jump when he was twenty, from a Piper Cub no less, just him and his jumpmaster who was flying the plane. Fifty years ago today! And on September 3, Labor Day this year, it will be twenty-two years from the day I first made a skydive. Mine was a tandem jump. Our move will be accomplished on the day in between. It's a fortuitous juxtaposition, completely missed until now. My friend Trish would call it a synchronicity, and I guess it is. She said to keep my eyes out for them.

There's change in the air, I can feel the crispness in the mornings, and a few leaves are already beginning to turn and fall from the cherry tree in the front yard. Our view will  be different, but my garden will remain the same, and my apartment friends will also be around to help return some normalcy to my life.

I'm going to schedule this to post tomorrow morning, Sunday, although I'm writing it in the afternoon of Saturday when I have internet. Hopefully by next Sunday my life will be back to a semblance of normal. I wish all of my dear blogging friends a very safe and happy Labor Day, or Labour Day if you're in Canada!