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.