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, August 26, 2012


I purchased a new piece of software this week, an app called "TurboCollage" for making different kinds of collages without much work. I put together this one in a few minutes, dragging pictures from the vintage pictures section in the iPhoto library on my laptop. It does a half-dozen different layouts, and each picture's position can be changed or enlarged. This one is called "Pile" (simulating the way it looks when you stick pictures onto the fridge with magnets). I can put in a background if I want, but I just felt like sticking together a few photos of my life for this post. Doing this quick and dirty like I did, I found that the original size of each picture is preserved, and I couldn't shrink it as small as I do for most pictures I put on here. I can fix that, but not today. It serves its purpose just fine, and that is to make a collage to illustrate some of the lives I've already lived and that are gone forever.

Yesterday I spent the day at the Drop Zone, making three skydives with my friends. When I came home and discussed the day with Smart Guy, we talked about how normal it is to have changes occur gradually, but sometimes those changes come all at once. This is happening right now with our move. Boxing up your possessions and considering whether you still need something that was once indispensable; finding items of value to pass on to others; discovering something you thought you lost—it's all part of moving. And that is after only five years of living here.

There are myriad ways to go through change in one's life, and I much prefer those that come with a conscious decision to alter a situation in order to make it better. Those are not the only ones I've experienced. As I gathered those pictures, I remembered the tumultuous years of my twenties, when I had two small children, lost my little Stephen overnight to spinal meningitis, the horror I lived through for the next several years, just trying to survive. That is long, long ago, and when I think of it, those memories are softened by the passage of time, but I could probably dredge up the awfulness of those years if I wanted. I don't.

My thirties were also years of change, but I finally found the place I wanted to live in: Boulder, Colorado, and I think of those years with pleasure, mostly. My son Chris grew from an adolescent into a man; I found a job I loved and kept for the next thirty years; I learned that I was a valued member of society. The contentment of those years became my reality and the pain of my twenties receded into the past.

During the decade of my forties, I gained more responsibility at work and simultaneously became an outdoors person. The friends I made at the time introduced me to backpacking and hiking in the beautiful Colorado Rockies. I became a Forest Service volunteer in my spare time, which continued for years, until I was 47 and discovered... skydiving. That was one of the sudden changes that I still cannot believe happened to me. It was a positive thing, and I was madly and completely in love with the experience. All my spare time was dedicated to it, and my friends became fellow skydivers. When someone is as enchanted with it as I was, your non-skydiving friends eventually fall away. They get tired of hearing about it.

The decade of my fifties began with meeting Smart Guy. While I was going through my books and bookcases, I found the binder that contains our original emails to one another. In those days (it was the early nineties), the Internet as we know it today was in its infancy. There were various newsgroups for like-minded people, and I had discovered one in the recreation category: rec.skydiving. It was a place where I met skydivers from around the world, and one of them was Smart Guy. We met in 1992 and married in 1994. I wrote about our freefall wedding here. By the time I turned sixty, I had been a skydiving instructor for six years and spent countless hours at the Drop Zone.

My job changed, too, and I began to travel all over the world with my former boss, traveling internationally to China (six times), Vietnam (twice), Bangkok (four), France, Switzerland, and many other foreign lands. I had to organize trips for dozens of scientists from all over the world and make it possible for them to get to the venue easily. When I think back to that period of time, I cannot believe how much I accomplished. It wore me out, literally. By the time I turned 65, I retired and moved to Washington state. Now that has been almost five years ago.

What I notice, thinking about all the changes I've been through, is how sometimes a change will occur without me noticing, and I'll simply realize that what had been an all-consuming passion (such as my job) is no longer at the center of my universe. Hiking and backpacking simply fell away when I began to skydive, although I looked forward to hiking with intense joy at the time. Today, I am again hiking with my Senior Trailblazers and have learned so much about the incredible Pacific Northwest. And I am still skydiving seasonally, starting in the springtime and ending when the rain starts up again.

Yesterday at the Drop Zone I chatted with a fellow skydiver who was packing his parachute alongside me, and he told me he's been teaching now for nine years, while holding down a regular job during the week. He does it for the pleasure of it (and getting his skydives paid for) and will be turning fifty soon. He wondered when he should stop teaching, and I told him I taught for twelve years, with more than a thousand students, beginning at about the age he is now. I said that the time will come when it's appropriate to let it go, but it's not today. It's a different kind of change when something is truncated, wrenched away from you because of life circumstances. When you can make the decision yourself, it's painless. Or almost painless. Realizing that life moves on whether we like it or not can be a lesson in itself.

I guess what is coming to me is the hope that whatever changes I still have ahead of me are ones I choose to make, or ones that have fallen away because they don't fit who I have become today. The hope is that when the day comes that I can no longer do something that gives me pleasure today, it will be because I've chosen to move on.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Moving at end of August

Our upper corner apartment
This fine little apartment has been our home for the last four-and-a-half years. After realizing that we would indeed be forced to move in order to maintain our sanity, we began to look for another place. As I mentioned in last week's post, we looked at two places last Sunday and were encouraged to realize that both of them would have worked for us. However, the one I loved wasn't Smart Guy's favorite: it's an upstairs apartment in a triplex, with attic type ceilings (which I adored) and unique and quaint little nooks and crannies. He's taller than I am and hit his head twice on the low ceiling. Plus it's 200 square feet smaller than what we have now.

The other one was in the part of town known as Happy Valley, and as we drove over to look at it, we descended into a valley, giving us little ocean breeze and no views at all. It was adequate but not as good as our present place. The large pine tree in our current front yard shades our apartment and has been filled with birds of all kinds. My first step towards moving was to stop feeding the birds, since summer is the very best time to do that anyway. I was surprised to find that it wasn't as hard to let it go as I thought it would be. I don't miss the house sparrows or squirrels one little bit! And they are still around, as other tenants also feed them.

I had learned that Roger, one of our community garden tenants, is moving at the end of the month, and he is in the equivalent apartment to the one we have now: the other end, thirteen apartments to the north, upstairs. He was kind enough to let us look inside and we realized it is exactly the same as our present apartment, but mirror image: everything is backwards to what has become my normal layout. We negotiated with the owner to move there and learned that I will need to pay for the rug to be steam cleaned here, and I plan to do all the rest of the cleaning myself. The deed will be done. It means I will need to arrange for the cable and internet to be switched, the electricity to be changed over, and to change my address for voting. Funny that simply changing an apartment number means a complete address change.

It's also time to lighten up my possessions. Smart Guy and I have decided to change the way we are living in the apartment to reflect our current state of affairs. When we first moved here, I was very attached to my iMac and set it up in the living room to look out the front window at the view. Today, the portable MacBook Air is my new best friend and I realize I am moving away from using the iMac as my main computer. With an iPad and the Air, I could easily get along without the iMac. Smart Guy reminded me that I can get a big screen if I want to expand my view. I'll think about that once the iMac is toast.

Yesterday I went through my closet to donate the clothes I haven't worn. For some reason I brought along all my clothes I wore to work: suit jackets, dress pants, and many dressy blouses. They simply gathered dust in the closet, not having been worn in five years. I guess I wasn't quite ready to realize my work life was behind me, so yesterday they all went into an enormous pile, with their concomitant memories of times past. The clothes no longer belong in my present life, but I'll keep the memories. It felt good to let them go.

A move also gives me the possibility of rethinking the way I use my environment. Since the community garden has become such a pleasure, I really didn't want to leave it behind. The triplex apartment had a box garden outside I could have used, created by a previous tenant and abandoned at present. I have learned that digging around in a garden is very satisfying, not to mention the actual food that is produced. Last night I woke wondering what one does with a garden in the winter. Do I pull up all the spent plants and amend the soil in preparation for next spring's planting? I'll find out from the internet and my garden neighbors. It will be another learning experience.

Yesterday I didn't get to go skydiving as has become my usual Saturday habit. The heat wave finally broke, bringing in low clouds with the much cooler temperatures. Although the skies in Snohomish were expected to clear by 2:00 in the afternoon, I decided to pin my hopes of making some skydives this week on today's forecast: overcast in the morning and partly cloudy in the afternoon. I counted up the number of skydives I've already made this season, and it's more than thirty already, more than I've made in previous years living here. We can usually jump right into late October, with September being either really spectacular or rather unsettled. It was 88 degrees F here on Friday but only 66 yesterday. The chill in the air was very welcome, as I hardly know how to cope with the eighties and nineties any more. I've become acclimated to the Pacific Northwest.

It was hard to make the decision to move, since I cannot seem to help getting attached to my humble abode. Renting seems the best option for us, since we have no money for a down payment on a home, and we have also become accustomed to being able to pull up our roots and move on. I learned over the past week that there are many places to explore here in Bellingham that we had neglected to consider, and many options for the future.

Even with the best of intentions, I accumulate stuff. Although Smart Guy doesn't accumulate like I do, I seem to want to "nest" and have little places where my stuff surrounds me: the recliner in the living room has everything I need within reach on both sides, with a lamp overhead. I do the same next to my spot in the bedroom. Time to rethink everything as we pack up and get into "motel mode." Consolidating all the important things into one place and rethinking all the unnecessary detritus of the past: that's my task for this upcoming week. We will be in our new place by Labor Day.

Labor Day! It's two weeks from tomorrow! Falling early this year, but still. It marks the end of the summer season for many of us. Kids go back to school, the leaves begin to turn, and the migration of so many birds to the south will also begin soon. At present, we are losing more than three minutes of daylight every single day as we move towards the autumnal equinox on September 22, at 7:49am Pacific Daylight Time.

Before I know it, it will be here, with the three months of fall gently moving us into winter. The seasons change, people move on, and I will continue to delight in the wonder of it all.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Living lightly on the planet

Planting the garden in early June
I am a pretty lucky person, living in the Pacific Northwest and having enough health and wherewithal to pretty much do what I want during these very full years of my life. Yesterday I was able to drive in my ten-year-old car down to Snohomish and spend the day with friends, playing in the sunshine as I made four separate skydives with my friends. Then I came home to spend some time with Smart Guy and discuss our upcoming plans.

When we packed up to move here from Boulder, lightening our possessions and putting everything we wanted to keep into a U-Haul, we got rid of at least half of what we had accumulated during the fifteen years we had been together. We are both minimalists, and it's one thing I appreciate so much about him; he's not one to want lots of "stuff" around him. We got rid of much of our furniture and have perched lightly here in Bellingham, preparing for a day like today.

Our rented apartment has been mostly very satisfactory, an upstairs corner unit, one of 26, with an enormous tree outside our front porch that shades us from the sun. Of course, here in this part of the country close to the Canadian border and the Pacific Ocean, we don't actually have a lot of sun most of the year. Right now, however, it's been sunny and warm, with lots of sunshine and the tree has been doing its thing. I will miss it.

In the time we've been here, we have had several tenants around us come and go. When we first moved in, we had a divorced man right next door who occasionally had his three kids, ten-year-old twin boys and their younger sister. They could be pretty rambunctious, but they were amenable to bribery. I told them I would reward them handsomely come Christmas if they would keep the noise level down, and when they did, for three holiday seasons they received gift certificates from me. They were at the time the only kids around. They grew up and spent their time glued to their electronics after a while and the problem was solved permanently. When they moved last year, they all thanked me for being such a good neighbor, and I too felt grateful to have known them.

Then a three-year-old moved in last fall, right downstairs and one apartment over. He is a normal little guy, liking to play in the yard with his tractors and trailers. He's also a good kid but very vocal and loves to scream. This has only impacted me in the summertime when we all have our doors and windows open, and I've grown accustomed to his play and find it rather comforting; he's a happy child and always notices me and talks to me when he sees me.

The apartment directly below us has had two sets of tenants since we moved in. They have never been a problem. And then... a month ago new tenants moved in, a mother with her two kids, six- and nine-year-old boys. They are not small children; I was amazed when I saw them the first time and wondered how it would be with them below us. It's been an education. The noise is not the problem, but the vibration: when they roughhouse, which seems to be most of the time, the dishes in the cupboards shake. It's impossible to deal with, since we have no idea when the next crash is coming, and it has put me on edge all the time.

When I went downstairs one afternoon last week to ask the kids to take their roughhousing outside, I found it was the mother and her sister dancing an Irish jig in the living room, it wasn't the kids at all. We had a conversation that wasn't exactly friendly, with the two of them saying they had every right to dance in their own living room in the middle of the day, and me saying that I couldn't concentrate, read a book, or block out the feeling that I am living inside a base drum.

So we are moving. This morning we will look at two possible apartments in a different part of town, and we are also considering moving within this same complex, to the upper corner unit on the other end. This section has us completely surrounded with young kids, whereas the other section has no kids around that apartment at all. Of course, there is no guarantees in life, but I'm hoping that it will be better than this situation.

All this has happened right at the time that I've planted my first vegetables ever in the community garden behind the apartment complex. I've already harvested some kale, green beens, zucchini, and am looking forward to having collards, cabbage and delicata squash, if we stay here anyway. The collards will be ready to eat any time now. Because of the garden, I'm hoping we will stay here, but I'm also looking forward to seeing what the rest of our adopted town has to offer. I've learned over the years to let go of expectations.

It makes me very glad that we are living lightly, not having accumulated much in the way of heavy furniture and keeping our possessions to a minimum. It will make the move easier, and I'm thinking I'll hire some young men with strong backs to do the heavy lifting, saving us from more than the usual thrash of packing everything in boxes. But it's an upheaval, and my dreams have been filled with difficult predicaments, reflecting my current dilemma.

This morning, however, as I write this post, I realize I am filled with optimism about the future and wondering what will come next. It took a few days of agonizing over what to do about the situation, but now that I have a plan of action, the future will unfold and take us to the next adventure. To me, a move is a disruption, but it also gives me the opportunity to remind myself that nothing is permanent, and living lightly on this planet is the very best choice I can make for myself.
My garden in August

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Growing up without roots

Taken last week in the mountains
Many of my blogging friends have lived in the same part of the country for most of their lives. I had to choose a place to call my home, since my dad was in the Air Force, and we moved around the entire time I was growing up. The longest we stayed anywhere was in the early 1950s, when Daddy was stationed at Travis Air Force Base for around five years or so. When I think of my childhood, that is the place that I think of before any others.

My sister Norma Jean and I had each other as constant companions, and when I was seven my sister PJ was born into the family. However, there was enough difference between her and the two of us (two and a half years apart) that we never brought her into much of our play. There was just enough distance in years to make her a baby while we were growing older. And then when I was sixteen, my parents decided to start another family, raising another three children, two of whom were born after I left home.

Isn't that an interesting phrase? "After I left home." What happened to us, and I suspect to most migrant families, is that wherever my parents happened to be was "home," even if that wasn't a constant place. I remember when my dad finally retired and they bought a home in Fort Worth, Texas. It meant that my three youngest siblings would grow up entirely differently from the three earlier children: they went to the same schools and had the same friends as they grew up. It's almost as though we were two different families, but we had the same parents.

However, that home in Texas became "home" in a different way, one in which my siblings and parents established roots that I didn't feel were my own. Since my first husband and father of my sons was in the Air Force, my life continued on in the same way as in my childhood: moving from Georgia where we were married to Puerto Rico to Michigan, where my husband's family lived. We moved there after he left the military.

There were only short periods of time in my adult life when I wasn't working. My years as a young mother were just about the only time I wasn't actually holding down a full-time job. I sometimes think of how different my life would have been had I grown up like my mother, having babies, raising them, and working in the home rather than out in the world. That was what I expected to happen in my life; it was all I had ever known.

Growing up while moving around from place to place was completely different for Norma Jean and me. She was shy and introverted and it tore her up each time she had to leave her hard-won friends behind. It made her become more introverted and more dependent upon me as her big sister. We usually shared a room as young kids, and when I think of our childhood, there are few memories where she was absent. I am just the opposite: I am extroverted and make friends easily, so I didn't mind moving around.

The persona of the "new girl" became familiar to me, and I liked it. What happened so gradually that I didn't even realize it, is that I stopped knowing how to be a real friend to anybody except my sister. I developed an external habit of relating that put me in the middle of my drama, and everybody else was a bit player, easily replaced by someone else. Why should I invest in friends when they would be left behind in a short while?

How much of this lifestyle is responsible for the chaotic years I spent in my twenties? By the time I turned thirty, I had been married and divorced three times. Those years now blur together as a time of pain and struggle. You can just imagine how my son Chris' life was: when he turned ten, his father convinced me that it would be better for Chris to live with him and have a more stable upbringing. By that time Derald had remarried and had a much better situation, so I agreed.

Then I was totally unmoored from any responsibility to anyone except myself. I traveled around and finally settled in Boulder, Colorado. I remember the first time I visited that place. It felt different to me, and I realized that I had no home and could choose one for myself. Boulder became my "home," except the place where my parents lived was my childhood "home." After Daddy died, wherever Mama was became home.

And then Mama died in 1993. Now I really had no home except the one I had made for myself. For more than thirty years, I lived happily (and sometimes not so happily) in Boulder. I met Smart Guy when we were both fifty, and we married. Now it has been twenty MORE years, and he and I have retired to a new "home." We moved here from Boulder more than four years ago, and I call Bellingham home, where he is, where my life is.

That picture of myself that I put in this post (I always feel I need at least one picture) shows a contented older woman, living her life. I've learned over the years to value friendship and partnership, and I owe the healing I have gained during the past twenty years to a partner who showed me how to become a real friend. His wisdom and maturity brought me, a little at a time, to wholeness.