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, October 27, 2013

Vashon Island gathering

Lavender Hill Farm
As I wrote yesterday on my other blog, the six of us bloggers who gathered here last year have come together a year later, to enjoy the wonderful farm house at Lavender Hill Farm and see each other again. Linda was the one who started this whole thing, and we cast about to find the place we wanted to meet. This wonderful farm house is rented out to people like us before it becomes a home again. It is our second time here, and it felt like coming home when we walked through the door on Friday.

We are all a year older, but knowing each other through our blogs means we are aware of much more about each other and how we have fared through the past year than most people do. I guess I'm the most prolific blogger, having two blogs and writing several times a week, while a couple of the others struggle to find time to write in their busy lives. Three are still working, all as teachers or school administrators, and they will be back at work tomorrow morning. They will leave first, while the other three of us will make our way back to our homes at a more leisurely rate. We will probably leave around noon to catch the ferry back to Seattle.

This is the only island I have ever visited where I think I could live here without feeling cut off from the rest of the world. According to this link, it's only 37 square miles with a population of around 10,000, with no bridges to connect it to the mainland. But it's certainly a thriving place, with a Farmers' Market and plenty of places to visit. We explored more of the island on this visit, and I'm hoping that next October we will return to discover even more of it. I would never want to live in a city as large as Seattle, but this nearby little island has won me over.

It's raining outside on this dark morning; we were very fortunate yesterday and during our travels here on Friday. It's nothing like the beautiful weather we had last year, with clear blue skies and views of Mt. Rainier, but it's been so nice to gather inside and share our lives with each other. Sometimes I marvel at how much my life has changed since I retired, although I certainly am busy. Two out of three of the last Sunday mornings I've been elsewhere than my own home to write this early morning meditation.

The other early morning riser, Deb, is sitting in one of the chairs across from me reading, while I write this post. We are in the living room with one of those gas fireplaces that looks so much like a real fire that I want to poke the embers. Last night I laughed as we sat around the room, each one of us with our tablet or laptop. Last year Jann was the only non-Apple person, and this year she showed up with a MacBook Air, just like mine! She loves hers almost as much as I do my own.

Everyone else is asleep and will make their way slowly into the common room, and Sandi will fix us a wonderful breakfast before we start packing up and heading home. Sally has the longest trip back, since she lives in Colorado and will stay in a hotel tonight before catching her plane in the morning. I'll be up at my usual time tomorrow, getting ready to head into town on the bus to visit with my coffee shop friends before going to my exercise class at the Y. And this weekend will become another wonderful memory.

Each of us will no doubt write about our experience on our various blogs, and I'll try to make sure that everyone who is interested can read what we all have to say. One very important lesson that I've learned is one I've learned (and forgotten) before: I cannot eat sugar and not suffer from it. Last night we went out for dinner, which was just right, but two diners decided to bring home desserts. Once we got back, the forks came out and we shared a chocolate brownie with ice cream and a piece of banana cream pie. Although it all tasted incredible, I woke in the middle of the night with my heart racing as if I'd run a marathon. My stomach was also upset, which continues right to the present moment. I didn't think I ate that much, but I don't usually eat this kind of food at all, so I was reminded that a clean diet, free of sugar and wheat, is what will keep me healthy.

Sometimes I think I'm lucky not to be able to indulge without paying a penalty, because it cannot be denied that what I eat has as much to do with my health as does my penchant for exercise. Yesterday Deb and I went much farther on the trail we explored than the others, as we are the only ones who exercise daily. We were like little kids rushing on ahead, afraid that the grownups might require us to return before we were ready. We didn't make it to the end of the trail before we turned around to join the others, but next year we will! Last year Deb was in quite a bit of pain from her hip, which has now been replaced and she is strong and vigorous. She said she must exercise daily to keep her hip working well. I exercise daily because I love the way it makes me feel.

My heart is full from having found this wonderful group of women and having the opportunity to become "skin friends" out of the blogosphere. Each one has mannerisms that have become dear to me and enhance the words they write on their blogs. As I read Sally's blog, I now think of her peering over her reading glasses and lifting her eyebrows the way she does. Jann's sense of humor is very present in her blog, but now I can see her face as she dissolves in laughter. Sandi, the quiet one, flashes her brilliant smile at me and I cannot help but smile too. Linda's mobile facial features punctuate her speech in a very unique way; she will purse her lips to make a salient point. Deb throws her head back as she laughs. As you can imagine, we've had some rollicking good times this weekend. I am always thrilled when one of them writes a new post, so I can get another "hit" of a Vashonista. But right now I'm in heaven. Tomorrow will come soon enough. I'm off to enjoy my friends.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Happy to be home

Taken by Diane on the Keep Cool trail
It's Sunday morning again, and I'm sitting in my usual spot, partner asleep next to me, tea on the bed stand, tapping away on my laptop. It's dark outside, with the heavy fog that never left us yesterday still around. Although the weather has been forecast to be blue skies all day, the persistent morning fog has hung around to keep temperatures in Bellingham below normal. It didn't even make it to 50F (10C) yesterday.

On our Thursday hike, however, we left Bellingham in fog and before we had traveled upwards more than a thousand feet, we were above the clouds. I suspect the same thing will happen again today: going into the mountains will be the only place the sun will be shining around here. And I was so hoping to get a chance to make it to the Drop Zone in Snohomish to air out my gear. The one thing about jumping in the desert is all that dust sticks to everything, not to mention having a few landings that caused me to eat dirt. One landing I tried unsuccessfully to run out ended up with a face plant. Not much fun, and no matter whether my landings were good or not, my canopy was covered with a fine dust anyway. I'm hoping that today I'll get a chance to blow the dirt off by making a skydive at Snohomish.

It will be the last weekend of the season for me, since next weekend I'll be traveling down to Vashon Island for my second annual retreat with five other fellow bloggers. We didn't know each other except through our blogs, but last year's retreat was so successful, and the place we stayed was so spectacular, that we are gathering there again. The Drop Zone will close for November and December, so it will happen today or not at all.

Whether or not I get a chance to go today, I've had the best skydiving season yet since I moved away from Colorado. More skydives, more blue sky days, and lots of new friends. I'm already thinking of going back to Elsinore next year. I'll see what the winter brings before I make any concrete plans. I will soon be hiking in the Chuckanuts with the Senior Trailblazers rather than in the High Country, but every Thursday I'll be out there with my friends, rain or shine. And hopefully we'll have a snowshoe outing or two near the ski area, which takes us back up the Mt. Baker Highway to gaze at our favorite mountains. It's a good place to live, if you can deal with the dark days and rain during the winter months.

I don't suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) that causes many people to leave the area during the winter months. My friend Jonelle left last Friday for her winter home in the Palm Springs area. She leads hikes there with other seniors all winter long. She kept stopping last Thursday to soak in the view, which is so different than where she is now. But the upside is that the sun shines almost every day in the desert, so being outdoors is much more pleasant than having the rain dripping off your visor as you hike.

Travel always reminds me about how nice it is to have a home base, somewhere that I can come to and find my daily routine uninterrupted. A bed that I can sink into at the end of the day, knowing that it is just right for me. My favorite chair with books to read on the table next to it. The fridge stocked with food that has been prepared just the way I like it by my partner. My classes at the gym, with people welcoming me back, feeling like I was missed while I was gone. And to think that I have made this place for myself in the five years since we moved here. I am counting my blessings and finding that I haven't even scratched the surface.

I signed up for Netflix's streaming video feature, and I have already watched several series I would have otherwise missed. It's a good deal for $8/month. I spent more than that last time I went to the movies. The other day I watched a documentary entitled "Happy," in which I learned how happiness is as much learned as it is a function of one's environment. There is a strong genetic component, though; many people are just generally happy no matter what is going on around them. Others are generally gloomy. Only 10% of our happiness, or lack of it, is situational, and the rest is up to us. One of the best ways to increase your happiness, according to this documentary, is to meditate on the positive things in your life, and I have been doing just that since I got home.

Which reminds me: tomorrow I will see that retina specialist and find out whether my macular degeneration is any better or worse. I've been taking all those vitamins he prescribed for me six months ago and researched it thoroughly. I suspect that there will be no change, since my eyesight has not gotten any worse, and my night vision has improved since I started the regimen. I will stay positive, as much as I can, and continue to be thankful for my life right now, right here in this precious moment.

I almost forgot about one of my very special blessings: you! Blogging has brought me friendships from around the world, and I cannot tell you how much it means to me to read about your own trials and tribulations on your blogs, and to hear your "voice" when you comment on mine. What a gift blogging has brought to me! Thank you for being part of my life.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Learning hard lessons

The three JOS minorities: DJan, Bob, Frankie
Sitting in the hotel room in Elsinore, after two days of skydiving with my peers, other JOS (Jumpers Over Seventy). There are 21 of us trying to make a record by making a formation together of the largest number of skydivers over seventy. Yesterday we used two separate aircraft to jump from so that we wouldn't need to spend so much time diving toward the formation. We are definitely old, after all.

And that has been the hard lesson to learn for so many of us. All of us, every one of us, has been on numerous formations this size or much larger, but they were not all comprised of the elder crowd. We haven't been closer than getting 14 people connected, and the record won't count unless every single one of us is in the formation, and in the correct spot. Today is our last day to attempt the feat, and I am not optimistic.

That doesn't mean it hasn't been fun and instructive. I didn't think I would be skydiving any more after I turned seventy, and here I am with 21 other peers who are still going strong. And four of our number are over eighty. The oldest one, Bud LaPointe, is 87. He is amazing and very inspiring to see. He is limping, along with all three of the people in the picture. I tweaked my knee on the first day while trying to run out a landing in low winds. Bob stepped off a ladder (a non-skydiving injury) and hurt his foot. Frankie had a bad landing yesterday and landed very hard on her knee. But we kept going, because the injuries can be worked around. This means less than perfect landings. I favored my knee all day long yesterday and today it feels much, much better. I am pretty sure it won't interfere today. Frankie found another jumper who had a knee brace and she wore it all day and is better. Bob is limping badly, but he's just landing on his butt with his foot out in front of him. It's working, because we don't want to let our friends down, we keep going, and the mood of all the skydivers is very upbeat, although the attempt to complete will probably not be successful.

Many of us are filled with hardware. The knee I tweaked has an ACL replacement, so there are two screws in there permanently. One guy has two knee replacements, a hip replacement, and hardware in his back. He's 82. He just doesn't want to stop skydiving, and he isn't as good as he used to be and won't admit it. I've observed him not doing well in freefall,  sometimes blaming other people instead of himself. I suspect he knows inside that it's his own errors, but since he was so good for so long, he cannot bring himself to realize that there is no replacement for the skill he's lost. What needs to happen in formation skydiving is each of us needs to approach the base formation easily and softly, not disturbing it when we fly into our place in the skydive. The first jump yesterday, he had so much momentum as he approached that all six of the base formation were unable to maintain their grips. And that was the end of the skydive, although we still had plenty of time left to build the formation, it was destroyed right in front of our eyes.

But we went up again and tried again, and yet again. By the end of the day, we were getting a wee bit discouraged, but I think what will happen today is we will keep trying for the next four skydives and then sit around afterwards and celebrate anyway. Tomorrow I will hopefully return home to Bellingham, if the plane I am flying to Portland in is on time. Whatever happens, we will deal with it, we always do. One thing we have learned is that life is not always predictable.

We need to be at the Drop Zone bright and early, at 8:00am, and I need to get breakfast and take a quick shower first. Frankie is in the bathroom first, doing all that herself right now, and I need to get this finished before it's my turn. That means this particular Eye on the Edge post will be a bit shorter and not as contemplative as usual.

I do need to say that the hardest lesson I am learning here in Elsinore is to give up any expectations I might have had for success in this endeavor. It's not the reason for this gathering, but instead it's an opportunity to be inspired by each other. And to watch those I've admired for so many decades being humbled by time's inevitable ravages on our bodies and minds. But not on our spirits: they are stronger and more beautiful than ever. I am so proud to be a part of this group.

Not to mention I've already made eight skydives in two days and will probably make four or five more again today before it's all over. I hope we all stay safe and with a minimum of injuries before we head home. Next Sunday I will be back in my old groove, with my partner next to me as I write. It's 5:55am as I finish this. Until next week, stay well and happy. I insist.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Travel week

Toddlers out for a walk
One of the scenes I never tire of seeing is this one, many small children out for an excursion hanging onto this ingenious little rope. There are handles on the rope, giving the kids something to hold onto instead of a hand, and two adults, one in front and the other bringing up the rear. They can take as many as ten or twelve toddlers safely out for a walk. They never fail to elicit smiles from passersby.

I wish there were some little handle for me to hold onto this week, as I venture out into the world again. Once upon a time, I loved to travel and looked forward to it with anticipation. Now I am filled less with anticipation than I am with anxiety. I will miss my routine, my partner, my nice comfy bed. It's Sunday, and this Wednesday I will board a bus to travel south to Portland to stay with a fellow skydiver. The next morning we will fly to the Ontario, California airport and rent a car, drive to Lake Elsinore and check into our hotel. Then we will go to the Drop Zone and register for the event that has been arranged by a fellow JOS (Jumper Over Seventy). All over the west coast there are other JOS members who are doing the same thing we are doing, traveling.

Last April I traveled to Lake Elsinore for an SOS event (Skydivers Over Sixty) and expected to have four full days of skydiving with my peers. But the weather didn't cooperate and I was only able to jump one of those four days. Those turned out to be very expensive skydives, if you consider how much it cost for me to get there and watch the low clouds day after day. But I met many wonderful people and Frankie is one of them. We ended up sharing a hotel room and when I learned that she lives in Portland, we decided we could just share all our expenses, such as the car and hotel, which will make this trip much less expensive for each of us. I hope we get to skydive to our heart's content this time.

Travel is stressful for most of us, but I managed to catch a bad cold during my travels in the springtime and spent a week coughing and sneezing after I returned home. I didn't sleep well while at the hotel and worried about whether I would be able to perform adequately in the air, since I had just finished a six-month winter break. As it turned out, I didn't need to worry because I did just fine in those four jumps I actually accomplished, and we even managed to set a record for the most SOS women in a formation (six, which has already been broken). Frankie and I are the only two JOS women who will attend this event, so if we get together in a formation of two, we will set a record as well. Frankie was in the previous SOS formation.

I am also going to be eating food that I don't usually allow myself, restaurant food that is more calorie-laden than my usual fare. Ever since I gave up wheat and sugar, I've gotten into the habit of eating much the same thing every day. Both of those items have crept back into my diet in small amounts, and if I end up having a pizza while traveling, I will enjoy it and won't even worry a little bit about the calories. I will enter them into my Lose It app on my iPhone and keep track of what I eat. It has become a real lifesaver for me, since it allows me to be aware when I get close to my daily limit, and I will either stop eating or make a decision to go into the red zone for the day. I have managed to maintain my weight at the lower level for two years now. I have about two or three hundred calories to "spend" any way I want daily, which is often a nice healthy dessert after dinner. But sometimes there are no extra calories left, so I go without. It works for me.

My dreams this past week have been filled with struggles, too. I dreamt that I had forgotten to print out my boarding pass for the plane, and when I went to the desk to get help, the woman disappeared while I waited anxiously. I heard over the loudspeaker that the plane was boarding, and then I realized I had left my purse in the other room. I woke up filled with anxiety but glad to realize it was just a dream. I'll be at Frankie's Wednesday evening, and I'll have company for the entire trip except for the bus ride to Portland. That helps me with my travel worries.

Next Sunday I will be writing a post from my hotel room in Lake Elsinore, probably propped up in bed with this same laptop and writing in the dark while Frankie sleeps in the other bed. I'm a much earlier riser than most people. The sun won't come up for another hour and a half, and this is the time of day I enjoy more than any other. It's dark and quiet, my partner is sleeping next to me, and I've just finished my tea. After I complete this post, I will pack up for a Sunday trip into the High Country with Al and two others. We have been having an every-other-Monday "extra" hike all summer long, but the weather looks pretty awful tomorrow, so a few of us are going out today to check out the condition of one of our favorite hikes on Goat Mountain. I'll miss the usual Thursday hike so I'm glad to be getting outdoors today. We might be turned back by snow, since we just finished a very wet period here in the Pacific Northwest. I'll have my camera and will document the day, as is my habit these days.

Until next Sunday's missive from Lake Elsinore, be well and have a wonderful week. I am hoping I will too, travel and all!