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, 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.