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, March 30, 2014

Adventure week

Harry, Alton, me, Mark, on our first jump last April
When I write in here next Sunday, it will be from my hotel room in Lake Elsinore. This picture was taken by someone on the Elsinore staff and posted on their website last year. I snagged it from there and thought it would be a good lead-in to my upcoming week's activities. I will leave on Thursday and travel first by bus, then plane, and finally renting a car and driving an hour from the airport to my hotel in Elsinore. I've already begun to pack, and I'm excited to see all my friends, skydivers who are in their sixties and seventies, like me.

I had a wonderful time last April, except for the fact that out of the five days I had to skydive, only one of them was jumpable: low clouds kept us out of the air. Then when I returned there in October, I made eleven skydives. I'm hoping for that many, or more, again. Nice, fun, safe skydives with soft landings. And they will be my first skydives of the year. Although I hoped to get a jump or two at Skydive Snohomish, the weather has not cooperated. Every weekend has been rainy, and when you have to drive 75 miles to get there, you want nice clear blue skies. It's been the wettest March on record for Washington state.

Last night I heard the rain falling outside, which got me to thinking about those people working in the awful conditions where the mudslide buried the town of Oso, a few miles south of here. This morning I learned that the number of missing has been changed from 90 to 30, and that many of those people will probably never be found. The mudslide was caused partly by all the rain loosening the soil, as well as nearby logging activity. It happened last Saturday as we were driving down to Snohomish to get my parachute system after the reserve was repacked. We saw many emergency vehicles on the road, not knowing what had happened or where they were going. Now the whole country knows.

It just goes to show how fragile life is, how nothing is guaranteed, not even when you think everything is safe and sound. I am comforted by the fact that most of them, maybe all of them, didn't know what hit them. That they didn't suffer. The arbitrary timing of the slide, a Saturday morning when all the kids were home, people home from work... if it had happened the morning before, the number of lost would have been fewer. But that isn't what happened. Oh, I have to get off this before I begin to obsess over it, which accomplishes nothing except to work myself into a state.

Okay, something more positive. Yesterday I went to the movies with my friend Judy, and we saw a documentary called Tim's Vermeer. Tim Jenison, a Texas based inventor, made a movie about his attempt to solve one of the greatest mysteries in art: how did Johannes Vermeer ("Girl with a Pearl Earring") manage to paint so photo-realistically, 150 years before the invention of photography? It's a fascinating film, which I enjoyed very much. I think he solved the mystery, after ten years of research and study.

It also made me wonder what the art world thinks of his theory. Of course, there is no way to find what actually occurred in 16th-century Holland, but I wonder, if he is correct, whether Vermeer was really as good as his contemporaries. His art is definitely very different from other artists in the same era. If you want to read more about Vermeer and the controversy, here is a link. He was only 43 when he died, in debt and relative obscurity. He and his wife struggled to support 11 children. He produced relatively few paintings, and almost all of them were painted in the same room, which gives a little credence to Tim's theory. Anyway, it's a fascinating look at how one might use optics to create a very realistic painting.

What else is on my mind this Sunday morning? A little worry about the condition of my left knee, which is giving me occasional difficulty. I think perhaps I've got a bit of the damaged meniscus that catches and makes it difficult to walk without pain, because just as suddenly as it starts, it clears up as if nothing was wrong. Yesterday I started to walk with my walking group and decided not to continue, as it was hurting quite a lot. Then I went to the Y and figured I'd walk on the treadmill and see if it got worse, where I would be able to stop if it did: no pain at all. I'll be wearing my brace on all my skydives and treating my knee with care, so that shouldn't be a problem next week. But there's that nagging worry about it, still. If I mess up my knee, I'll be unable to hike and do all the other things that give me so much pleasure, so I'm being careful.

Of course, as we grow older these trials and tribulations of the body don't usually get better, as we just begin to wear out. I'm aware of that, so I will take it in stride. A short, careful stride if necessary. I'm grateful to have the health I now possess, and I will make the best of it. Ah, I hear the rain starting up again outside. It's a nice sound, if I don't have to be out in it without good rain gear. I do hope the coming week brings you some lovely weather so you can go outside and enjoy it along with me.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Living my life out in the open

Taken by Diane last Thursday
My friend Diane sent me this picture by email, and I smiled and stared at it with pleasure. I realized when I saw it that I am a very lucky person to live where I do and have the ability to enjoy the outdoors. It all seems so circumstantial. I only discovered the Senior Trailblazers because I needed to find a way to get sustained exercise occasionally instead of the hour-long classes I was taking at the Y. That was five years ago, and I've been fortunate to have learned about the trails in the entire area, and sometimes, in the summer, taking a longer trip and spending sunup to sundown, the entire day, with my friends.

And they are truly my friends. Cherished and special to me, they are not just acquaintances any more, people I spend so much time with, people whose lives I know quite a bit about, just through the inevitable chitchat as we walk. Last Thursday we had sixteen people join us; within that group there were three medical doctors, although one is retired the other two are still working. Fred is back with us after having taken two years off to help out his former employer; several retired college professors join us, and many retired schoolteachers as well. Even though you don't need to be retired to join the Senior Center, being able to have Thursdays free requires either a flexible schedule, or no schedule at all.

In addition to having formed deep bonds with these people over the years, there's also my blogging family. It was a complete surprise to me that my desire to keep writing after my retirement led me to create two blogs and all the connection that comes from them. On this blog I write once a week early on Sunday morning. It's become part of my schedule, whether self-imposed or not, I would not feel right if I didn't sit in the dark with my laptop and begin to compose. Sometimes it's difficult to think what to write about, since in looking back over the week nothing stands out as important enough or relevant. It does require me to take stock, think back and review what's on my mind.

And then I just... let the keys click away as I sip my tea and ponder. Sometimes I hit a snag or decide I didn't want to go in that direction after all, and I'll start over. Often I share more than I intend of the trials and tribulations of this or that, but that's really all right, I think. I'm not hiding my daily life but living it out in the open. I don't actually realize sometimes how open, until I'm walking down the street one day and someone will come up to me and tell me they recognize me from my blog pictures. We'll sometimes have a short conversation about it, but I will walk away and wonder why in the world a stranger would actually seek to follow some old lady's weekly ruminations.

But then I also think of all the blogs I follow, the lives I peek into and people I look forward to hearing about. My friend in Australia who shows me pictures of kangaroos and tells of the trials she faces with illness; the wonderful woman in Texas who feeds hundreds of whistling ducks and tells of her life on the ranch; my friends in Minnesota and Canada whose blogs run the gamut of indoor and outdoor activities; those on the East Coast who have endured weather events from incredible snowstorms to Hurricane Sandy—this list could go on and on, because I care about these people and their lives. And they care about me, too. I know this from their comments, and sometimes through private emails we have shared. I have visited Vashon Island twice now to have a retreat with five other bloggers who live nearby. They are cherished and dear friends, now both in the blogging world and in the flesh. It all started with blogging, though.

Before the Internet took over my life, I spent time perusing the morning paper, and I enjoyed the editorial section. I had favorites I wouldn't miss. I read many political editorials, some folksy ones like Erma Bombeck, and I looked forward to hear what they would have to say. That activity has been replaced with my morning perusal of favorite bloggers and what they have posted since I last visited. Since we are not professional writers, there are times when I might skip through some parts that aren't all that interesting to me. I'm sure my readers do the same. But I always visit. They, too, are living their lives out in the open, with a window into their thought patterns, their homes, their interests, likes and dislikes. It's a wonderful world that didn't even exist a few years ago, and it satisfies my need for connection in ways I never could have imagined.

It also makes me vulnerable to criticism. Although I've got some pretty strong opinions about almost everything, I try very hard to avoid hot-button issues such as politics and religion (to name a few). I have blogging friends who had to shut down their blogs because of the vitriol some unkind people have unloaded on them, just because they expressed opinions someone didn't agree with. You can moderate who can comment on your blogs and remove offensive comments, but sometimes it can hit a person hard to learn that there are people out there who are angry and hurtful and will do whatever they can to make you suffer.

I get my share of comments I delete, but most of them are spam, not angry and filled with hate. But I do get those occasionally; it jolts me and makes me wonder if it's worth attracting people like that into my sphere, just to have this window into my life that has no real purpose. But then some kind and dear friend will leave me a comment that makes my heart soar with gratitude and love.

It's worth it, all right. I'll continue to live my life out in the open. Remember that we are all in this together and let's concentrate on the good parts. I hope your coming week will be filled with trees in blossom and daffodils peeking up through the earth, just like I've got happening here in the Pacific Northwest.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Last week of winter

This is a picture of the pretty boy I have been feeding. As you can see, he's not starving or anything. But it sure makes me happy to watch him eat and then clean his face before hopping up into my lap and purring away as I pet him. He often is waiting for me when I come out the back door to feed him, which pleases me, even when he's too skittish to get into my lap for a pet or two. I have also stopped feeding him milk or cream, since my blogging friends informed me it's not good for cats. Who would have guessed? Certainly not me.

My neighbor Carol works late and odd hours, and she told me that when she gets home late at night she'll go out to the back porch and he will come when she calls. So he's quite a well socialized kitty. I've been told he's also been neutered, which is a good thing, considering the large number of feral cats around here. It should keep him from getting into cat fights. That's my hope, anyway.

The first day of spring will be this coming Thursday, with the Spring Equinox happening at 9:57am PDT. I know this because of one of my favorite websites, timeanddate.com, which I use fairly often when wanting to know something like the time of the equinox, or how many days there are between events, and other interesting tidbits. You might find it useful yourself. I'll be out hiking with my friends when the equinox occurs.

It's raining here right now, but the signs of spring are everywhere. We're accustomed to rain in this part of the country, and the temperatures have been on the mild side. I've been reading on my blogging family's sites that even in frigid Minnesota and North Dakota the temperatures (and snow levels) are moderating. As the days get longer and the nights shorter, as well as the rays of the sun become stronger, it's inevitable. Even though each season is only three months long, it sure does seem as though winter takes up more of the year than summer does. Maybe it's because during the summer months, we have the doors and windows open and we don't have to bundle up before going outside.

I'll be leaving for southern California in a little more than two weeks from now. I've been starting to plan for the trip, making shuttle reservations to the airport, getting my parachute down to the Drop Zone to have the reserve parachute repacked and inspected, renting a car and the like. I found out from my friend Gene at the coffee shop that Costco has a travel section and that I should be able to get a rental car at a cheaper rate. He was right! I saved myself almost $50 over the original price I was quoted through Orbitz, so that was a good move. This will not be a cheap vacation, but I figure since it's likely to be my last visit to Elsinore for a skydiving vacation, I won't worry about costs. My friend Frankie, with whom I shared expenses last year, is not going to attend, so I'll be paying for everything. I decided I didn't want to share a room with a stranger, even though last year meeting Frankie (who doesn't snore and was a perfect roommate) was a good experience. No sense pushing my luck.

I know many of my blogging family don't believe that I'm actually hanging up my skydiving gear, but it's true. I can feel it happening, and it's appropriate and even a bit of a relief. There's no doubt that skydiving is an extreme sport, and although going to places where I can skydive with my older peers is fun and exciting, everything needs to be allowed to fall away when the time comes. It's taken quite a few years for me to come to this place, and I've been skydiving for 24 years now. Starting when I was 47, I never would have believed I would STILL be indulging in this habit today. And it truly is an indulgence; when you are living on Social Security, you're not usually trying to figure how to eke out enough money for a skydive or two. That is part of what makes going to these Skydiving Over Sixty events so much fun: I realize that I'm not alone.

One of my blogging friends, Arkansas Patti over at The New Sixty, suggested when I wrote about all my recent health issues, that I'm in a period of "boils and sores," which we go through sometimes in life. It really resonated with me, after having lost my sister, caught a terrible cold, then developing a sinus infection and an infected finger. A period of difficulties, that's for sure. Now that I am on the upswing, I can see how tough the last six weeks has been. It also helps to see the days increase in length. The garden is beginning to call me, although the last nice day we had I was hiking in the woods with the Trailblazers. Today it will rain all day, so I won't be heading out there, but it's coming, I can feel it calling me.

Once I get my knees in the breeze, I might forget all about the garden. But I just don't think so. There's a shift happening within me, and it feels just right. I do hope that the weather is beginning to release its winter grip on your part of the country and that you are feeling that sense of spring renewal. And oh yes, don't forget to wear some green tomorrow, St. Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Missing an hour of sleep

Skydiving women at Safety Day
Yesterday I drove in the rain down to Snohomish, the first time I've gone there this year. Since there is no skydiving on Safety Day, it was fine for it to be raining. Last year it was sunny, and there was a lot of grumbling that we couldn't be outside playing in the sky, but were attending seminars instead. The Skydive Snohomish staff provide a really wonderful day for the skydivers, and after the layoff that most of us take over the winter, a refresher is in order. I needed to be put in a harness with handles to pull that simulate my own, be reminded about how to service my own gear in between their mandatory visits to the rigger every six months, and canopy control. I enjoyed myself, but I didn't stay for the dinner (provided by the owners), and instead drove back to Bellingham in a driving rainstorm.

 I am uncomfortable driving in the rain on a freeway, surrounded by cars traveling much faster than me. The windshield wipers were barely able to keep up with the rain. We've had much more rain in our part of the country than usual; I read somewhere that SeaTac (the airport south of Seattle) has set a record for the most rain in March, and we're still only a third of the way through the month.

Anyway, I made it home without incident.  It was good to be home after a long day, and I settled into my favorite chair to share my day with Smart Guy as I drank my much-needed glass of wine. It was a long day, and now I'm missing an hour of sleep because of this pesky Daylight Saving Time. If you cut a piece of fabric from one end of a blanket and sew it onto the other end, you wouldn't have a bigger blanket, now would you? And these days we only experience Standard Time for four months out of the year. Why do we do this? The clock says it's after 7:00am, but it isn't really, not according to my internal clock. It will take me a week to get accustomed to the time change. Do I sound like I'm grumbling about it? You would be right.

I finally went to the doctor about my infected finger. He drained it and gave me a topical antibiotic to apply to it, and it's now much, much better. There is only the residual damage and no new areas of pain or swelling. It was not until I went on my hike this past week with the Senior Trailblazers and Al thought it was taking way too long for it to heal that I finally agreed to see the doctor. I still think it would have gotten better on its own, but he was right: it was taking too long.

That's one thing that bothers me about getting older. I don't bounce back from things like I once did. Since I am one of those people who takes good health for granted, when I don't have it, or if I don't recover quickly from an illness or an injury, I think there's something wrong. And it's only that people tend to slow down in every aspect of life as the decades accumulate. It's normal, I tell myself, to take longer to heal. It's rather disconcerting, however, to be sidelined by a hangnail.

I have taken the advice of my commenters and stopped feeding the sweet kitty any milk. Now it's only dry food, which he seems to like, and a little treat once a day. He waits for me now. Yesterday after I got home from the Drop Zone, I went outside to fill his bowl, and there he was, with his welcoming meows and anxious to see what I might have brought him. He wouldn't let me pet him for long, but that was all right. He has his own life to live. I'll try to get a picture or two, so I can share him with you as well.

The robins have returned to the area and are everywhere. Now that is a true sign of spring, isn't it? Last Saturday when I was at Lake Padden, dozens of robins covered the grass and were busy pulling up any poor worms or other critters that emerged in the early morning light. Today I'll putter around my home and later, go to the YMCA to work out. I did nothing yesterday but sit in a chair, or sit in a car, so I'm anxious to get a sweat going. Funny how much I miss it when I don't have the chance to exercise. Now that is a good addiction to have, I think.

This post seems a little rambling, but it was hard to think about what to write this morning. My Sunday is marked by this activity, first thing, but since I was not at home yesterday, I didn't have a chance to ponder what I would write about. Sometimes it will come to me in the middle of the night, but that didn't happen last night. I was just tired and slept well. No periods of wakefulness when I reflect about my life, just blissful sleep. Except for that missing hour.

I do hope the coming week will bring you some good weather, some respite from winter at least (unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere and need respite from summer). Skydivers often sign off with my wish for you this week: blue skies! And fluffy white clouds, if that's what you like.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

In like a lion, out like a lamb

Two Sundays in a row
I took this picture last Sunday, thinking it would be the only snow I'd see here in Bellingham this winter. But no, today it's snowing out there again. As I sit here in my warm bed, the snow is falling outside yet again. It shouldn't be as profuse as last Sunday's, but you never know. We have the same situation: cold air from Canada and warm, moist air coming up from the southwest. At least I don't have anywhere to go, so I can stay inside and avoid the streets.

March is that transition month between winter and spring. I will be glad, along with most of the country, to see spring come in its full beauty. I just learned from Red the meaning of that phrase about March coming in like a lion and out like a lamb. He explains it here. It has to do with astronomy; I didn't know that.

Two things have been on my mind this past week. The first has to do with a strange phenomenon called paronychia. I never heard of this before last week, but my sister was able to diagnose the problem I was having with my finger during our video chat. Paronychia is a infection of the skin around the nail, or more commonly known as an infected hangnail. It's often caused by excessive hand washing, which I had been doing to help protect myself from germs, and others from catching my cold. I was successful in that Smart Guy didn't catch it, but boy is this a painful situation: my index finger on my right hand began to throb and swell. I took a couple of ibuprofen just to be able to sleep a few nights ago, and when I awoke in the morning a small pustule had formed on the outside of the nail. After a few uncomfortable days where anything that touched the area caused pain, it began to subside.

I went to the health food store to see what they suggested to treat it, and I was advised to soak it in warm salt water, which certainly seemed to help. I didn't want to take an antibiotic if I could avoid it, and I am confident now that I am definitely not going to have to see a doctor for a hangnail! The swelling has gone down but is not completely gone. I'll do a couple soaks today and think by tomorrow it should be in the past.

The other thing on my mind is a cat that has become a friend. We are not allowed to have any pets in this apartment complex, but the lady who moved in downstairs a few months back, Gretchen, brought her two cats along with her. The manager doesn't know and hopefully doesn't read my blog (I really doubt it). One of them is an "outside cat," she tells me, and this is the one I've made friends with. He hangs out on a chair outside another apartment dweller's area which I must cross in order to go down the back steps. When I was heading downstairs early one morning, in the dark, the cat meowed and disappeared ahead of me. This happened a few times, and I got the cat to let me pet him, although he was very skittish.

Carol, the owner of the chair, told me that she had also made friends with the cat. She sits in that chair periodically, and the cat came up to her and eventually sat in her lap, purring and kneading her the way cats do. Carol said it made her feel much better, since she was depressed before the interlude. I've started leaving milk and cat food outside near the chair, and I check every morning to see if anything has been eaten by the young tomcat. Gretchen says he's been neutered and has never been happy indoors, so she lets him stay outside.

The cat knows me now, and is sometimes waiting for me. The other morning I heard a meow outside the window, just before daylight, and I went outside and sat in the chair. Before long he was in my lap, and we had a half hour of really enjoyable communion. He purred and I was able to pull a blanket around us so we could be nice and warm when I watched the stars disappear as the sky lightened. I'm afraid I've fallen in love with this guy. Now I worry about him, wondering how he's doing outside, and listen for his meow.

We have raccoons around here, and they are definitely going to eat any food that is left outside for any pets, but they have not yet come upstairs. After last week's snow, I saw evidence of them all around the apartment complex on the ground floor. I decided that if I see any signs of them upstairs eating the food, I'll have to find another way to feed him. He is so sweet and now has three "cat ladies" who care about him: the owner Gretchen, Carol, and me. I'm glad spring is on the way for his sake, too.

Those are the two new things that have occurred since I wrote in here last week: an infected hangnail and a love affair with a cat. I do hope there is something that can be done about keeping the tom around my neighborhood. Why would it be a bad idea to have a loving outdoor cat around? He would not be doing any harm, would he? And now I'm not sure whether Gretchen will be ousted or told to get rid of the cats if she is discovered. I would hate to see the last of my furry friend. I'll keep you posted on developments in the cat department.

The days are definitely getting longer, since here it is 6:30am and the sky has already begun to lighten. In three more weeks, the days and nights will be of equal length again as we move into spring. In the darkest days of winter, the days here are only eight hours long, and now we've crossed over into more than eleven hours of daylight! The cycle of the seasons continues to give me great pleasure as I observe the changes from winter to spring, especially in this part of the world.

I hope the coming week will bring you pleasure as well, as you observe the grip of winter's talons beginning to release. Surely those of you experiencing such frigid temperatures as -30F will be seeing some changes soon! It's inevitable. Until next Sunday, be kind to yourself, since I care about you, too.