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, January 26, 2014

A week before travel

Mt. Baker
When the date gets within a week of any sort of major trip, everything in my days begins to shape itself around the travel day. I'll be writing one more post next Sunday morning and then everything will be concentrated around getting myself the following morning onto a 2:00am shuttle bus to SeaTac. Yes, that's right: the middle of the night, really. My flight is at 6:45am and this shuttle is designed to get early morning travelers to the airport in time. I took it once before and was simply amazed at how many people were on the bus with me. I thought it would just be me at that hour.

I couldn't have found a place to retire that is situated much farther from my sister's home in Florida. I will travel from the northwest corner of the country down to the Gulf coast of Florida, not quite as far south as the Florida keys, but close. Between now and then, I need to pack and try to keep myself from getting sick. It seems that many of my friends have caught some kind of a respiratory virus that has them coughing and generally not feeling well. Often when I travel I end up getting a cold from stress and the proximity of lots of other people's germs. Not to mention that it wouldn't be much fun to arrive in warm and sunny Florida and be unwell. Norma Jean is looking forward to me visiting and not bringing any unwanted guests.

Last year I visited my sister during January, and this year it's a month later, but I am sure glad I'm not there right now. It's been unseasonably cold there, and when I talk with Norma Jean on video chat, she's bundled up and complaining about the cold. By midweek it will be even colder there, with the high temperatures in Florida actually forecast to be colder than it is here! It's been a really wacky winter so far, with us in the usually wet Pacific Northwest going weeks and weeks without any rain, and the northeast part of the country receiving storm after wintery storm. Some of my blogging friends who live in that part of the country have posted pictures that make me glad to be living here. As pretty as the snow is, subzero temperatures and wind do NOT appeal to me.

When I lived in Colorado, I loved to go cross-country skiing and sometimes could do it from my front door. There was a small park close by, and I remember times I'd strap on my skis and go out for a few laps around the park. It might have been very cold, but I didn't feel it because I was exercising, and I learned not to overdress, as I would be quite warm within just a few minutes. It's a little different here, since it's much more humid, and when my fingers get cold, it takes quite a lot of exercise before they warm up.

That's one thing I still haven't mastered: the art of keeping my fingers warm on our winter hikes. Yesterday it was around freezing when I joined the Fairhaven walkers, and I was cold when we began walking. It took almost twenty minutes of exercise before my fingers were warm. It's the same thing on our hikes: I can be warm and toasty everywhere and then we stop for lunch. By the time I've eaten, my fingers are frozen, and it takes quite awhile before they get warm again. I've tried mittens (which must be removed in order to manage my lunch), layers, but nothing really works all that well. Of course, this topic is discussed by all of us, as we are in the same predicament, and the only thing that seems to work consistently are hand warmers. These are little disposable packets that, when opened, generate heat for awhile.  I've tried them before, but I stubbornly continue to try to find a glove/mitten configuration that works. I know there must be one.

When it gets cold outside, I worry about the animals that must try to find shelter in order to survive. Many wild creatures have adapted to humans well enough that they take advantage of warm crawl spaces and other nooks and crannies. There are several feral cats that take advantage of our apartment complex's outdoor porches, and I've disturbed a few now and then when I leave in the dark. I've started leaving food for one of them, who always runs down the stairs when I approach, but if I talk to it, the cat will talk back for a moment or two before retreating. I think we have an understanding. I put a blanket out last night near a chair that the cat seems to have adopted, along with fresh water. Cans of tuna fish disappear, and although I have no way of knowing for sure that the cat is the one eating it, I like to think it is.

Since I will be gone for almost two weeks, of course I worry that the cat will miss me. But I must remember that it got along just fine before I discovered it, and it will be fine while I'm gone. But I do really wish that all the animals that don't have warm and safe places to stay could be looked after by those of us who are distressed by the suffering of our fellow creatures. I've seen enough pain in the world that being able to alleviate even a tiny bit of it affords me a bit of comfort.

I know this tendency I have to worry about things I cannot change is counterproductive. In order to distract myself I go about my life trying to focus on the positive aspects of the world around me, which is a pretty wonderful place, after all. I've got good books to read, movies to see with dear friends, and a social circle that sustains me. My virtual online friends also give me numerous different ways to look at the world, all of which enrich my life. Until next Sunday, I look forward to reading about your adventures before I take off on one of my own.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A week in the life of a busy Senior

At Squires Lake last Thursday
I asked Linda to take a picture of me in front of the lake on our hike last Thursday, and this is what she got. I'm wearing my hat, ear coverings, and my coat, because even though it was sunny, it wasn't all that warm when we stopped for lunch. The fog over the lake came and went, even at noon. Not that I'm complaining: it was a lovely sunny outing, once we got above the fog.

These Senior Trailblazer hikes every Thursday are the highlight of my week. During the summer we head into the High Country and enjoy some more difficult exertions, but in the winter we stay closer to home, with shorter drive times and easier hikes. I never miss these outings if I can avoid it. I'll miss one hike, the first in February, while I visit my sister Norma Jean in Florida. She will keep me on my toes, though, swimming first thing every morning at her local YMCA outdoor pool (a real treat for me), then going for a VERY fast walk around her retirement community with her. I actually must keep up a light jog in order to stay with her. She is a little taller than me, but it's her stride that makes the difference.

I had my annual doctor visit this past Friday, and he told me to keep doing whatever I'm doing, because everything looks good. My cholesterol numbers were a little higher than I was happy with, but he told me to concentrate on the ratio between the good and bad cholesterol, which was very much lower than average. My weight is stable from last year, but there is one thing that really disturbed me: I'm even shorter than I was last year at this time. Now I measure 5'2" and one-quarter inch, and last year that quarter inch was a half inch; the year before it was three-quarters. That means next year I'll be an even 5'2" -- a full inch shorter than I like to think of myself as being.

In the mid-1980s, I went to the Rolfing Institute in Boulder, where I lived, and received ten sessions of Rolfing. I wrote about my experience here, if you want to know more about what it actually is. Basically, though, Rolfing is a little like intense deep tissue massage. I gained height when I had it done back then, but I am not so sure I would gain any additional height now. In fact, on Tuesday of next week I will visit a Rolfer and ask her if she could maybe give me back any of that missing height. I'm not optimistic, but I remember that back then the effect was almost immediate. The session where the Rolfer worked on my spine released some barriers to correct posture. I didn't actually GROW any, but the connective tissue in my spine had been realigned to allow me to stand straighter.

I've been aware for a long time that I'm taller at the beginning of the day than I am at its end. That must be the spine reacting to gravity's effect over the course of the day. And there's the possibility that all those openings under my parachute over the years (more than four thousand of them) could have something to do with it. Going from freefall speed to being suspended under my canopy is rather an abrupt jolt to the spine. Usually it doesn't hurt because I've packed my parachute properly to lessen the impact, but sometimes things don't work as expected. I've experienced at least a dozen extremely hard openings over the years. They probably didn't do anything positive for my posture.

It's been three months since I last made a skydive, and it's funny how little I miss it. In the old days, when I was new in the sport, I wouldn't be able to go for such a long time without craving the experience of freefall. I know it's hard to imagine, but it's really addictive. Now that I've accumulated more than 67 hours of freefall time, it's no longer something I need to do every week. In fact, I can see the day coming when I will no longer jump out of airplanes for pleasure. I thought by the time I reached the age of 70, I'd stop, but circumstances have allowed me to continue, at least for awhile. I intend to get my gear in date and give it a try again this coming summer.

The main thing, for me, is to stay active for as long as I can, continuing to enjoy the social aspect of exercise with my friends, and continue the social aspect of belonging to that wonderful group of JOS (Jumpers Over Seventy) that I met last October when we tried to set a new record for the largest number of JOS in a formation. We didn't succeed, but I met some wonderful role models and had a wonderful time. I realized that I am not alone, and that's important for someone like me who needs to feel that sense of belonging.

Today I'm going to the movies again, this time to see "August: Osage County" with my friend Judy. Meryl Streep has been nominated for Best Actress for her role in this movie, along with Julia Roberts for Best Supporting Actress. We've got one more movie we need to see while it's here: "Inside Llewyn Davis," which is on many lists for Best Picture of the Year, although it was overlooked at the Oscars. I missed "12 Years a Slave" when it was here, but I'm hoping it will come back. I didn't go because I was afraid of all the violence, but people who have seen it have told me it's worth it. There are a lot of good movies this year, in my opinion.

And, of course, there's the do-or-die football game that will be played in Seattle today. I've got my fingers crossed for the Seahawks! I probably won't watch the game because I get too wound up in it, and what happens has nothing to do with whether or not my eyeballs are glued to the screen. I hope that you will have your own desires fulfilled this week, whatever they are. Until we meet again next week, I am sending you lots of good wishes from this part of the blogosphere to yours.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

More old memories

Granddaddy Leo
After having written last week's post, my family has been on my mind, and I wondered whether it would be a good idea to introduce you to my mother's side of the family. But first:

My father was one of four siblings, and all of them were alcoholics. Since I knew little about their parents, I don't know if they were raised in a household that had much strong drink in it. Knowing what little I knew about "Mommy," my paternal grandmother, I don't think they did. Daddy was the third child, and my Uncle Jack was the baby. I talked with my sister Norma Jean about my memories of Edith, which are spotty, and she also remembered that we never talked about her. And now that we are the older generation, nobody is left around to ask. I wish I had, though. Mama would have known, but we never talked about it, and now she's gone, too.

There is much more known about my mother's side. Mama was one of five siblings (or was it six?) that were born to Leo and Ernestine and raised in Trinidad, Colorado, moving later to southern California. They were called Granddaddy and Grandma by us, and I remember them both from my childhood. Mama was very close to her father and idolized him. My memories of him, though, are of his illness. He died at 62 of diabetes, and my memories of him are always of an old, old man. Now that I realize that 62 is NOT old, I know it must have been because he was in poor health for the last years of his life.

When we lived in California, with my dad stationed at Fairfield, we saw them quite often, as they lived in Bakersfield. My memories of their home are filled with pleasure. The carport had a grape arbor that seemed always to be heavily laden with fruit. The enormous back yard was also filled with fruit trees. Norma Jean and I made ourselves sick from eating plums once, and now we both have somewhat of an aversion to them. Grandma was the center of that home, with rose gardens and even a duck! Although there was no pond, she filled an old tub with water and that was Felix's own pond. It was a fine place to visit, and for a few months one winter we lived there and I went to school down the street. I'm not sure whether Mama and Daddy were having problems and might have separated for a short while (as kids we didn't know these things for sure). But I do remember both of my parents being there sometimes. I learned to count to a hundred and how to spell the word "orange" -- why these stand out in my memory, I have no idea.

Granddaddy was the manager of the Bakersfield Inn. When Mama and her sister were young teenagers, they worked as waitresses on roller skates serving the outside patrons. Remember when drive-ins had trays that attached to the cars? Her brothers also worked for their father, while Grandma worked in the kitchen. A true family venture, I guess. Mama would reminisce about those days, and I imagined what it must have been like to serve food while on roller skates!

In my memory, they lived there for a long time, but really I don't have any idea how long or how many years it was. However, when Granddaddy died, we learned that he had mortgaged that home to the hilt without ever telling Grandma, and she lost it and was forced to move in with us. We were just getting ready to move to Puerto Rico, where my dad was being stationed, so she joined us there. Grandma had lost everything and wasn't very happy during those days, but I was thirteen and involved in my own affairs. Mama and Daddy became very active with the Ramey AFB golf club, with both of them playing often. It seemed like they always had somebody coming over after golf, staying for dinner and drinks (not necessarily in that order), and our home was very much the center of activity. I can't imagine that it was easy for Grandma, but all I remember about her at that time was how nosy she was: she would go through my dresser drawers and even read my diary!

Grandma's other daughter, Quetita, and her husband Jack eventually arranged for Grandma to have her own home in Santa Monica, and she lived there for many years with her son, my uncle Joe, who had never married. She lived there until she died in the late 1970s. Grandma had come from a very good family and probably never imagined that her husband wouldn't take care of his responsibilities better than he did, but I suspect he had a serious gambling problem. Alcoholic addiction on one side and gambling addiction on the other: that's the legacy that we six siblings have inherited from our parents!

And you know, it seems none of us have a serious problem with alcohol, with the help of abstinence in some cases, and moderation in others (mine, for instance). I don't have any attraction to gambling, but I wonder if any of my other siblings might. Not that I know of, and nobody is having a problem with money issues, as far as I know. That would be one clue that perhaps there's a hidden gambling addiction. In fact, it's interesting to realize that all six of the Stewarts, and their offspring, are pretty darn successful in the world. We are all able to earn a living, with the first three retired after decades of employment. That's saying something in the context of today's difficulties of finding gainful employment and earning a living wage.

I miss my parents, still to this day, and just thinking back to my childhood has brought forth that old familiar ache of loss. One really wonderful aspect of blogging is thinking of my past and bringing it forth. My brother started a private Wordpress blog many years ago, which was eventually abandoned due to the advent of Facebook, but it is still available for me to access. He put many old letters from our ancestors on line. I spent some time this morning perusing some of those old letters, trying to get a feel for the world my grandparents lived in, and it was very helpful.

One thing I really wish I had done is to have had some heart-to-heart conversations with my elders while they were still alive, to find out some answers to questions that will never be resolved. Instead, those questions will join the rest of the past and fade away into the mists of time. If you have the opportunity to sit down with your parents or any from the older generation, I recommend that you do it, and ask those questions you wonder about today. I sure wish I had.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

My ancestors

My aunt Edith, grandmother Dorothy, her mother and grandmother
For some reason, I've been thinking about my ancestors, where I came from, lately. Could be the beginning of another year, 2014, one that seemed impossibly far in the future when I was a young woman. Just thinking about the turn of the century, 2000, when I pondered it from the vantage point of the 1960s, I remember wondering if I would still be alive then. And now it's 2014.

The picture shows four generations. I never knew my Aunt Edith, because she had been disowned by my grandmother years before I was born. I never learned the story about what happened, because my grandmother would never speak of it. I am named after her: she was Dorothy Billings in this picture. She also never allowed us to call her Grandma; we always called her "Mommy," which is what Daddy called her as well. If I had not been told that I was named after her, I would never have learned it from her, I suspect. She was a hard woman, and I don't think she knew the meaning of forgiveness.

My mother was afraid of her. I guess everybody was, now that I think of it. Mama didn't want to name me after her, but I was the first grandchild, and Mommy went into the hospital records office and wrote her name in on my birth certificate. You can see that it's written in at a slant in a different hand. Mama was going to call me "Jan" with no other name, but it gave Mommy a chance to correct what she saw as an oversight. You could say that my mother was furious, and it is the reason I've never been called by my first name. Years ago I decided to write my name using my first initial, in  honor of the cheeky woman who named me so long ago, and after awhile I simply removed the period and smooshed it together with my middle name.

I also never knew my grandfather. Daddy used to tell the story of standing at the window of their home, when he was twelve, and watching his father walk down the path, out of his life, knowing he would never see him again. Actually, he did see him once more: he and his brother Jack decided to find their father, who was living as a hermit in the hills of California. They learned that he showed up at the local bar every now and then, and they tracked him down. I think they spent some time with him, but the memory is hazy; who knows what actually happened? In my mind I see the three of them drinking together and telling tales, probably never talking about the one woman who bound them together.

My paternal grandfather died of exposure. Apparently he was found on a mountain ledge, having fallen and broken his leg, unable to get up or down. He was found long afterwards, I suspect. All of these memories are lost in the fog of time, but some things you don't forget. He must have been older, and who knows what really happened out there in the wilderness? Maybe he just decided his time had come.

Of course, "older" is now in a different category for me, now that I'm actually there myself. Funny how old seventy once seemed, and now when I read that someone has died who is in their seventies, I tend to think of their demise as premature. But the Bible talks about the length of our life as being "threescore and ten," (King James version: Psalm 90:10: "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.")

I am now older than either of my parents ever reached: they both died of heart disease in their sixties. Daddy was 62 and Mama was 69. I sometimes wonder how long they would have lived if statins were in use then as they are today. I and every one of my siblings take statins, and we have for many decades, having been born with a strong tendency towards high cholesterol. Just the other day somebody told me that longevity comes from having chosen the right parents; if that is true, I'm living on borrowed time. My sister Norma Jean and I both struggle to keep our cholesterol under control, even with statins. Our "good" cholesterol is high, though; Norma Jean's is higher than I've ever heard before: over 100! Mine runs in the mid-70s, with "normal" being 40–60. That kind of cholesterol is protective, so my doctor doesn't seem to be worried about the fact that the total numbers are a bit higher than he'd like. I'm glad he's not treating me with a higher dose of statins.

I'll be having my annual doctor visit this month, before I fly off to Florida to spend nine days with Norma Jean in early February. I carefully made sure I wouldn't be missing a favorite Thursday hike when I made my plane reservations. Because I will be going from one coast to the other, I'll lose three hours during my two flights, and I must catch a very early flight out of SeaTac. It will seem to be a very long day, even without those three hours. Of course, I'll get them back when I return home, and that WILL be a very long day. I find it's much easier for me to travel east than it is to travel west. Do you feel the same?

Well, I guess I've rambled on long enough, and it's now time for me to start my Sunday. I'm looking forward to "Downton Abbey" returning this evening, and I'm reading a really good book: "The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating." It's another one of those books that came from the library after putting it on hold, recommended by one of my blogging friends. It's really lovely, so I'll finish that today as well. I hope you will find yourselves surrounded by love and peace this week, until we meet again.