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, May 26, 2013

Deadlines and obligations

Beautiful lilacs
Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. It's a big deal here in Bellingham, with the Ski to Sea race going on right now, as I write this post. The first leg of the seven starts at 7:45am at the Mt. Baker ski area, with the highway closed and the cross-country and downhill skiers all there and ready to go. Each participant in the relay has a timing chip that must be passed along to the next member of the team. After the skiers finish, they pass it along to the runners, then regular bikers, the canoe team of two, the mountain bikers, and finally the kayakers who finish the race in Fairhaven and get out of their kayak and run to the finish line to ring the bell. This is where I will be watching, at the finish line. It's a big party, and everyone will be having fun if the weather cooperates and it's not raining. We know how to have fun even if it is, what am I saying?

I have no obligations, no deadlines today, except for writing this post. As I sit here listening to the light rain falling outside, the incessant robin's call in the tree, and the white-crowned sparrow tweeting away, I ponder what feels relevant to share. Sometimes I have to wait until I've finished the post to find out what will emerge, especially on days like today when nothing particular is on my mind. There is a little bit of anxiety that I will fritter this post away, filling it with fluff because I'm unable to pull anything of substance from the cabinet of my mind.

I don't usually allow myself "free" days, those without a structure. I like having a schedule; it gives me a reason to get up in the morning, fix breakfast and head out the door. It's always been that way for me, and years of being in the office by 7:00am have morphed into my schedule of leaving the house around that time and walking to the bus. Tomorrow, Memorial Day, the buses aren't running and the Y is closed anyway. Although the coffee shop will be open, I won't be there. I could drive or ride my bike, but I will probably join Al and some other Trailblazers for an impromptu hike in the wilderness.

I've been retired for five years now, and the structure of my days is fully entrenched. It's only those pesky holidays when everything comes to a halt that I need to develop some alternate plan. I have plenty of books to read, but it's not my style to spend the day indoors. I like to be out and about, and then come home and read, watch TV, or visit with Smart Guy. I also spend a fair amount of time reading the blogs I follow and writing comments. I carry my laptop into the living room and stretch out in the recliner with it. However, I find that I get restless after awhile and need to get up and move around.

Some people like the free flow of their days, without a plan or obligations. To me, it would feel restrictive instead of freeing. That said, I am careful not to obligate myself to activities that aren't fun for me. I tried a bit of volunteering and found that it was more like work than I was comfortable with. I take my neighbor to the grocery store since she doesn't drive any more, but that's not on a rigid schedule. I go to the movies with my friend Judy, or we go out to dinner if it works out for the two of us. These are fulfilling activities and don't feel anything like work. I don't miss my Thursday hikes if I can help it, because I know they will be enjoyable and I'll be in the company of my friends. On Saturday mornings I meet the walking group for a brisk outing, but if I decide to go south to Snohomish to play with my skydiving buddies, nobody is going to be surprised.

When I was working, my life revolved around my career and my boss's needs. That is all different now, and weekends don't mean the same thing to me any more. What's a weekend when you are not tied to a job? It takes on a different character entirely.

The structure of my life is fully established here in the Pacific Northwest. I don't see it changing any time soon, unless I get sick or injured, and then I'll need to deal with that. But for now, it's smooth sailing. It's interesting to wonder what other retired people do with their time. Are you retired? What makes you feel good about your days? If you want to share, I'm curious to know: do you like deadlines and obligations, or do they make you feel restricted?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A full life

Me, Leo, and one of his toys at Avellino's
Sometimes I wonder if it's a particular inherited trait to get oneself overly involved in activities, or whether it's something I have developed over a lifetime. When I moved from my home in Colorado, it was partly because I knew that I would never be allowed to retire if I stayed in place. Although I had a job that was ending, I was quite aware that the tendrils of commitment and community could only be broken if I moved away. Not to mention my avocation of skydiving every weekend, all year round, which took up all my weekends and vacations. That needed to change so I could start the next chapter of my life.

When we first arrived here in April 2008, I knew no one except my husband. We moved into the apartment complex where we still reside, and I began to develop my day's routine. The first two things I did were to join the YMCA and get myself a bus pass. I am very fortunate to have these two wonderful resources; the Y has a full activity schedule, and I take maximum advantage of the classes and the exercise equipment. And the buses. As a senior, I can buy an unlimited pass for three months, which takes me from the Canadian border all the way south to Mt. Vernon, if I wish. All for $35 (half price). Although I have a car and use it regularly, I would much rather take a bus because of the social aspect and economy.

There are so many coffee shops in Bellingham that I first began to have a morning latte at the downtown Starbucks before my exercise class at 9:00am. But it wasn't quite the right place, and I asked the barrista if she knew of any coffee shops that had the old pull-the-handle type of espresso machine, and she directed me to Avellino's, just down the street. That's where I met Leo and his dad, my fisherman friend Gene, and another friend Bob. I arrive just before 8:00am and order my usual, and everyone arrives one at a time. There is free wifi, so I usually open my iPad until someone shows up and we start a conversation. Sometimes I am reluctant to leave at 8:45 for my class. Leo knows I will play with him or read to him, and he always opens the door for me to leave with an admonition to watch out for wooly mammoths or snakes, or some such thing. I leave, smiling, and walk to the Y.

I met my friend Judy a few years ago at exercise class. We went out for coffee afterwards, and it started our friendship outside of the Y. I have watched as her son and daughter-in-law went from having no children to two twin girls and a single daughter. These grandchildren are the light of Judy's life, and I enjoy hearing about them and seeing pictures on Facebook. Judy is my movie partner, as we both are married to men who are not interested in most of the movies that appeal to us. We share books and have dinner together occasionally.

I joined the Senior Center so that I could participate in the Thursday hikes it sponsors. I have been going out with the Senior Trailblazers for over four years, and now I not only know all the regulars quite well, I am also very knowledgeable about the different hikes in the area. In the summer we carpool up to the Mt. Baker Wilderness Area, a drive of about an hour, spend four or five hours in the wilderness, and drive home. This makes for lots of time together, and I know these people very well now, as they do me. All one has to do is show up, and as the years pass people come and go. At our age, there are often medical issues that keep us away, and sometimes an injury or illness will interfere with our ability to hike. The Center has easier hikes available also, and sometimes people will migrate to another group, and I miss their company.

Two of the women from the Trailblazers encouraged me to join them with the Fairhaven walking group at 8:00am on Saturday mornings. I was at first a sometime attendee, because the woman who leads this group, Cindy, is a retired race walker and we set a blistering pace of around four miles an hour for anywhere from four to six miles. At first I was lagging at the back of the pack, but now I'm much faster, walking as fast as I can go, sometimes having to take a few running steps. Yesterday, one of the women in this group asked me to have coffee with her, so we will meet on Wednesday for an early lunch. Another new friend.

The weather wasn't conducive to skydiving yesterday, but today looks much better, so I'll head down to Snohomish to join my friend Linny to get my knees in the breeze, fly my canopy around and hopefully make some fun jumps before heading back north to Bellingham. When I was in Colorado, I couldn't show up at the Drop Zone before being pulled in to help teach some newbie, and although I was willing, it's nice to have that part of my career behind me. All I do now is play; after all, I'm retired. Sort of.

Yes, a full life indeed, with a very full contingent of friends, some of whom I consider to be close friends. My sister Norma Jean and I also talk on video chat at least once a week, and our lives are intimately intertwined. If social activity, along with exercise, keeps a person happy, I think I've got that covered. Looking at my life like this, thinking of how I got to this place, I am filled with wonder at how it's come about. I chose this town, and now it's hard for me to walk down the street and not see someone I know. And then there's the rock-solid relationship with Smart Guy. We spend some time every day together, but our lives are actually quite separate. I'm a social animal (obviously), and he prefers to spend time alone, with me and my full life giving him just about all the social interaction he requires. He does have interests outside of the home, but they are different from mine.

And then there's blogging. I write here once a week, my Sunday morning meditation, and I write in my other blog three times a week, usually. I follow more than a hundred blogs, which takes up time every day and provides intellectual stimulation. My blogging friends are another universe of social activity, and I care so much about all of you. Your lives and your concerns are mine, too. My heart is filled with gratitude for the life I often take for granted. Right now, however, I can give thanks for it all. And thank YOU as well. Blessings of the season to you and yours, until we meet again next week.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

It's that day again

Me and my mama long, long ago
The family member who is not in this picture, my dad, was behind the camera. I sometimes wonder if the desire to take pictures is inherited, since I love it, and I remember him enjoying it enough to have a darkroom to develop pictures. This cheeky little girl and her beautiful mother are preserved for us to enjoy almost seventy years later, thanks to Daddy. Mama must have loved to dress me up, since I think I look pretty cool in that beret and outfit, which she might have made herself. And that old Packard in the background! You know when I was in that car, there were no seat belts or restraints of any kind, and I probably jumped up and down in the back seat or sat in Mama's lap in the front. Things we would never even consider allowing any more, not to mention it's against the law.

Yesterday was an unexpectedly beautiful day, with high clouds and abundant sunshine. I drove down to Snohomish and made another four skydives with my friends. We didn't know if it would be possible to make any at all because the weather forecast was iffy, but it turned out to be another perfect day. Last Saturday I made four and went home, but Linny and Christy came back the next day and made seven each, for a total of eleven for the weekend. I was that gung-ho once myself, but that has all changed, and I was satisfied with my measly four jumps. They told me that last Monday morning they were so sore everywhere from the activity that they could barely move! By the end of the summer they will be accustomed to it. I will keep to my less frequent activity and enjoy it for at least one more season.

It's been a very good week, with the unusual constant sunshine and people in skimpy dress out enjoying the beautiful May weather. Everything is in bloom everywhere I look; all the colorful rhododendrons are out, catching my eye as I pass by. I would take pictures of them, but I've done that every spring now and there's nothing much new to capture. Now I simply enjoy the riotous colors and take note of their beauty. Maybe today, Mother's Day, I'll wander around and take pictures of them with raindrops on them, since the rain has finally returned. The next week's weather will be wet and unsettled, and we will return to our normal temperatures again.

As much as I enjoyed the weather, I find that I don't mind the sound of the rain outside the window. It seems much more normal, and I won't have to water my garden today, as it will get a good soaking from Mother Nature.  My ears have finally recovered from the sunburn they received last Tuesday, when Al and I went up to the Mt. Baker area for a snowshoe excursion. It was completely sunny, and the reflection of the sun on the snow at altitude made sunscreen imperative. I wore a visor so that I wouldn't be too hot as we labored upwards, but I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my ears! They burned for a couple of days afterwards but seem to finally be okay.

I've been thinking of my parents and missing them both lately, especially Mama. And today's the day I think of all the Mother's Days I have had since she left, twenty of them. You only have one mother, after all, and she holds a very special place in the hearts of most of us. To reflect on the life of that one person who carried us under her heart and labored to give us the chance to draw our first breath, to grow up under her tutelage and then become independent of her. I see it everywhere in nature, with the first clutch of eggs hatched in birds' nests and the gaping mouths of the chicks waiting for their parents to feed them. I have belonged to the Whatcom Birders' listserv for years now and save pictures that I especially enjoy. Here's one that captures the day for me.
Taken by Douglas Brown, hummingbirds being fed by Mama
It's been a good week, one that found me enjoying being alive and healthy, giving thanks for having finally gotten over that awful illness that kept me down for way too long. Today I'll probably spend some time thinking about how to plant the remainder of my garden plot and maybe find some random act of kindness to pass along to some unsuspecting soul. I hope you have a wonderful week and we'll visit again next Sunday morning.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Unbearably blue skies

Me with my new Phantom helmet
Yesterday was the first time I got to try out my new helmet, which I bought at Skydive Elsinore when the weather was bad. The gear shop at the Drop Zone knows that when we can't skydive, we like to spend money on skydiving equipment. The only real problem I have with the new helmet is that I must take off my glasses when I put the helmet on, and then replace and reposition them correctly afterwards. But this is a small thing, meaning that I end up putting it on and getting everything all ready earlier than I would otherwise need to. Most people put their helmets on for takeoff and then remove them until just before exit. Mine is on the whole time, with the visor up until the airplane door is open.

I made four skydives yesterday with my friends at Snohomish. The owner of the Drop Zone, Tyson, jumped with us on two of the skydives, and Kevin, the musician, joined us for three. Linny, Christy, and I made all four, with Donovan, another friend, joining us for three. Today, another beautiful day, will find Linny and Christy making up to seven more! I will not be traveling down to Snohomish myself, having gotten my knees in the breeze and satisfied my desire to play in the air with my friends.

Today I will work in the garden, as those of us who need topsoil will be using a borrowed pickup truck to get several yards of soil. DeWilde's Nursery, a family-owned establishment, is not far away and sells two grades of topsoil. Last year we hauled in four yards of something called "five way" that has five different components that help to loosen and enrich the heavy clay soil that occurs naturally here. How much is a yard? I found this on line:
When people refer to a yard of some landscaping material, they most often mean a cubic yard: a cube three feet high, three feet wide, and three feet deep.  The retailer doesn't usually measure it exactly, but the scoop on the loader is approximately half a yard, and they give you two scoops for a yard. 
We will get at least three yards, each one weighing somewhere around 2,000 pounds, so this will qualify as plenty of exercise for the day. I want one yard all to myself but hopefully will have help shoveling it in. Although I've already planted some sugar snap peas, they are near the fence so they can climb and shouldn't be in the way of my new soil. Then I will design my plot and plant for the season. What to plant? This is my dilemma, since last year I learned some hard lessons about what I DON'T want to grow, so that I will not have to fight slugs and aphids until I am discouraged.

I learned that brussels sprouts and cruciferous vegetables in general are prized by all kinds of pests, while the green beans and zucchini didn't attract them. I'll probably plant half of my garden with pretty flowers and half with veggies. And this year I will weed much more often. I had the worst aphid problem of anyone in our garden because it was almost all cruciferous vegetables.

It's so rare for us to have blue, blue skies without a cloud for days at a time. Yes, we do have this happen for about a month to six weeks around the end of July through August, but this is a bit unusual. Yesterday reached the mid-70s and it will be even warmer today. A record-high temperature was set at the airport in Quillayute, WA, where the previous high of 76 was broken by six degrees (82 F)! I suspect more records will fall today and tomorrow. By Tuesday we should get a cloud or two, and those unbearably blue skies will begin to look more normal to my Pacific Northwestern eyes.

I'm a little sore from packing my parachute four times yesterday and hurling myself out the door of the airplane, as well as flying my canopy to the ground after each jump. I had good landings all four times, which is saying something for me. All in all, it was a wonderful day, and being completely well after having been so sick makes the beautiful sunshine all the more enjoyable. I can feel that my cheeks got a little pink from yesterday, so today I'll be sure to slather on the sunscreen before venturing out.

I know I'm fortunate to be able to enjoy the outdoors as much as I do, but I also know it's because I am dedicated to staying in shape and keeping my muscles tuned up for my active lifestyle. Not to mention eating right and watching my calories. It's interesting that I have no problem admitting my age to anyone who might ask, because I know that I am able to accomplish more today than I could when I was thirty years younger and took my good health for granted.

Well, after bragging unashamedly during this post, I guess I'll leave now and look around for my humility, which I seem to have misplaced somewhere. Maybe under my glasses? I'll keep looking. You know what they say about pride going before a fall...