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, April 27, 2014

Going outside to play

I was walking to the Y on Friday after having my coffee, when I looked up to see what the racket was all about. The crow in this tree was complaining loudly about something, probably to her mate. If you enlarge the picture, you can see that there is a stick in her beak, so she (or maybe he) is building a nest, anticipating new life. The beautiful blue sky and wispy clouds behind the illuminated tree caught my eye as well, so I whipped out my ever-present cellphone to take this picture.

The weather is supposed to reach 75 degrees (24C) by Thursday, the next time we go hiking. It's really springtime here, with a day or two of rain and then a day or two of sunshine. The last two Thursdays have been on the wet side, with the need for rain gear and trudging in puddles and mud. So I'll be happy to have what's coming up this week for a change.

But for now, it's Sunday morning. I actually slept in a little longer than I usually do. I woke in the middle of the night for awhile, thinking that it was time to get up. When I realized it was only 3:00am, I thought, well, I'll lie here for a bit and if I don't go back to sleep, I'll get up. Before I knew it, I woke to the daylight streaming through the window. It was almost 6:00am. I know that doesn't sound like sleeping in to most people, but I wake at 5:00am without trying. It just happens, since I've been doing it for so many decades. It's my normal waking hour.

The weather hasn't been wonderful on the weekends, either. I've been watching to see when I might be able to get down to Skydive Snohomish for a few jumps with my friends, but it's not been sunny and warm enough to make the trip. I'm sure if I were really anxious to make a skydive, I'd go anyway and sit around and hope for the weather to cooperate, but I'm not feeling that way. In fact, now that I've made the decision to have this be my last season, I'm spending my time doing other things and not missing the activity. I miss visiting with my skydiving friends, though.

I just realized that I don't have any upcoming travel, no visits with family scheduled, no trips to go skydiving, and no plans for even a trip across the border to Canada. That is rather unusual, and unexpected. Maybe I should talk with my friend Judy about remedying that situation, except that she's in the opposite mode: she just returned from a trip to southern California and is getting ready for another long trip to visit family in Arkansas. Smart Guy is just now recovering from a bad cold (which I seem to have avoided catching) and is not anxious to make any plans. I'm in need of another traveling companion, it seems.

Or maybe I'll just putter in the garden and plant flowers, read some good books, and enjoy the lengthening daylight. Or not. I am reminded of a line from an Emily Dickinson poem, and I think it says it all:
    A little Madness in the Spring
    Is wholesome even for the King,
    But God be with the Clown –
    Who ponders this tremendous scene –
    This whole Experiment of Green –
    As if it were his own!
I'm looking for a little Madness to clean out the dusty corridors of my brain, a little spring cleaning, if you will.  I've certainly been treated to some Experiments of Green lately. The rain in these parts has helped to create an incredible variety of fifty shades of green, at least. And I do want to remember that I didn't have anything to do with it and give thanks to the Invisible Hand that did. I don't proselytize and don't appreciate others who do, who try to change what I believe to what they believe. We've all got the right to our belief, or lack of it, but every now and then I realize how deeply my own love of what I call God reaches into every fiber of my being.

There, I said it. It feels a little Mad, to have expressed it right here in print. The rain is drumming on the roof right now, I can hear it, but the sun is also shining. That means there will be rainbows, right? I'm feeling a little Spring Madness and maybe I will just finish up, get dressed and go outside to play. Do you remember when your mother admonished you to just "go outside and play"? Why, it's been forever since I've thought about doing just that. And maybe that's why I need a companion: when I was growing up it was always me and my sister who went outside to play. I need more sister substitutes, it seems. Or maybe I'll just take ahold of that Invisible Hand.

Enough rambling. I'm feeling the need to finish up and get some breakfast. But first, I do want to wish my readers a super wonderful spring (or fall, if you're Down Under) week ahead. For whatever reason, right this minute I'm filled with gratitude for the life I have been given, and for the wonderful companions I share it with. That includes YOU. May many rainbows be in your future.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014

Norma Jean and Jan in Easter finery
Last night I thought about this Easter post, and this picture kept popping into my mind. After a quick search in my archives, I found it. Daddy took it decades ago in Kodachrome, and it was shown at home in one of those old Carousel slide projectors for years. I think it was my sister Norma Jean's husband who eventually scanned the old photo.

I just spent a few minutes looking to see if I could find out what kind of car we are standing in front of, and I think it's an old Studebaker, looking at the grill and those two headlights, one on top of the other. You don't see cars like that any more. You can be sure there were no seat belts or car seats inside, no air bags or other safety features. Those didn't evolve for years after this picture was taken. I look to be about seven, and Norma Jean about five, so I suspect Mama was not in the picture because she had recently given birth to PJ, who was born in 1950. Or perhaps it was taken the year before, since we are in those pretty matching dresses and our hair had been curled and styled beautifully. Mama was busy creating our finery.

Daddy took the picture of his girls, in front of what must have been his pride and joy, that car. Our home is in the background, the old tar-paper covered building, which also places this picture on Travis Air Force Base, where Daddy was stationed and where we lived in these temporary shacks along with other enlisted military families. We eventually moved into a ranch home off base, and for some reason that home is one of the few that remains strong in my memory. But just the look of that old tar-paper shack brings back strong memories.

I cannot for the life of me remember why we dressed up at Easter. We didn't go to any church during my early life, although every year we got Easter baskets and new dresses. I do remember going into a church service as a family, once long ago, but I suspect we attended gatherings of other families and had an Easter egg hunt or something similar. I never knew what Easter was celebrated for, it just was another holiday.

It's been more than a half century since that picture was taken by my father. He died in 1979 at the age of 62. That was the year that I started working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, which ended up being the job from which I would retire in 2008. Now it's 2014, and so much has happened since those two little girls stood in the sunshine, smiling at our daddy, proud and straight in their new Easter dresses.

Today I don't even own a dress. Today I will pull on a pair of pants and an old sweatshirt and will go out to talk to my plants in the garden, weed a little, and maybe go for a walk in the sunshine at a nearby park. I'll think of all those family members who are gone, all those dear friends who have passed into a place where I cannot visit.

Life goes on, change is inevitable, but you know, Easter will still come around once a year, to remind me that maybe, just maybe, we'll be together again. I no longer care for jelly bean eggs and chocolate bunnies, but I have learned about the promise of Easter. Be well, my dear blogging friends, and don't forget to hug your loved ones, if you can.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sure feels good to be home

Ward, Linda, Karen, Carol, Diane, me, Peggy (Al's photo)
A week ago I was sitting in my hotel room at Lake Elsinore, halfway through the Masters Skills Camp and with the World Record attempt to make the largest formation of women skydivers over sixty (WSOS) still ahead of me. We did make that record, nine of us, and we had a great time doing it, too. It was a fine way to finish last week's skydiving. But it's just wonderful to be home.

I spent Tuesday at the hotel just resting up from my exertions, and I discovered the hotel had a laundry I could use. It was nice to be able to wash all my clothes before packing them for my return trip. Everything was covered with a fine layer of dust. Although my landings were much better than I experienced last October, I still had grit on my clothes and sand between my toes. And it was so hot! That last night I went out to dinner with my friends, new and old, and when we parted, I wished them all well in the larger formation record attempts they were beginning the next morning. The SOS record is sixty, and as of this morning they have still not broken that record. Today is the last day they have to try. I can barely imagine how tired they all must be; they have made four attempts daily to join up 72 skydivers for the last four days. Each time something happened to keep them from the record.

For me, I only made 11 skydives and I was very tired. I've got my fingers crossed that they will make it today. But for me, I'm happy to be here, picking up the threads of my own life. I arrived home Wednesday evening after a day of travel, and the next morning I drove to the Senior Center to join my friends for a hike up to Oyster Dome. Although this is a hard hike, 11 of us were up for the challenge. It was simply wonderful to be back with my friends again. Al took that picture of us as we basked in the sunshine at Lily Lake. You can see from the way we are dressed that it wasn't warm, but that sun felt just wonderful. I was just happy to be getting back into my old routine.

Yesterday was another sunny day, with the temperature getting up to 60 deg F (15 C). A light jacket was all I needed to be very comfortable as I joined 18 other women for our early morning walk. I couldn't help but smile and grin as we kept a brisk pace; we walked more than five miles and then sat around the coffee shop and visited. Peggy and Linda (from the Senior Trailblazers) got me started with this group, and they were both there yesterday, too.

Afterwards I went off to Joe's Garden to buy some starts and seeds for my garden. It was packed with like-minded gardeners as I perused what was available. I bought garlic starts, since I didn't have any planted. They will be available to eat in midsummer. Also broccoli, beets, mint (for the community garden), and two kinds of lettuce. I also bought purple carrot seeds. They will go into the ground today, another sunny day. The weather here right now could not be better, but the rain will return Tuesday, which should be perfect for my garden.

Do I sound contented? Well, I am; I wake every morning with a smile on my face, glad to be home and enjoying the natural air conditioning of the Pacific Northwest. I guess I'm a bit like a flower that thrives in cool conditions. When the plane took off from southern California, I looked down at the brown landscape and the smog over Los Angeles. In a few short hours, Seattle appeared as we descended through fluffy white clouds, and I saw the incredible green of my home, with the sparkling water of Puget Sound in sharp contrast to the dry desert I had left behind.

Yes, this is where I belong, where I am thriving and enjoying life to the fullest. It's nice to visit other places just to come back home and appreciate the natural beauty of this area. The only reason everyone is not flocking to this area relates to the long wet, dreary winters. If it were not for them, however, I couldn't afford to live here. And so far, I seem to have adapted; I don't suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but I do find it difficult to go hiking in the rain, week after week. But then the days begin to lengthen and the sun returns to remind me why I love it here.

This very minute, as I sit here with my laptop and tea, the sky is beginning to lighten. As we move towards late June, the morning light will be coming through my window before I awake and the birds will start their morning sounds very early indeed. Right now they are all seeking for mates; the chickadee's two-note call, the white-crown sparrow's magnificent song, and the robin's unmistakeable trill. Together they make a symphony of birdsong that adds to my enjoyment, not to mention to attract someone to make babies with.

I would be remiss if I didn't also add the enjoyment of being back with my partner, who had prepared my favorite foods in abundance for my return home. Not one steamed veggie did I find while traveling, and now I have had three days of them to remind me of how much I need them for my own health. Life is good. I am sending out my sense of contentment to you, my dear blogging friends, and sharing it with you, until we meet again next week.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A little sore but a lot happy

Me being a skydiver
Here I am at Skydive Elsinore with the old farts (SOS, or Skydivers Over Sixty). It's Sunday morning, still dark outside as I sit here thinking about what to write. Unfortunately, the picture I wanted to use is in my cell phone, which is locked inside my friend John's car. I was just too tired to care last night when I came into my hotel room. I'll explain.

I ran into my friend John in the breakfast room on Friday and decided to go to the Drop Zone (DZ) with him and his roommate, Gary, instead of driving my rental car. It gets really crowded and I was anxious to take as few chances as possible that it would not be damaged in the parking lot. He has a big SUV, so it was perfect. We hung out all day on Friday, and yesterday, Saturday, we did the same, as we needed to be at the Skills Camp well before 8:00am. There are more than sixty people signed up for the camp, and we gathered and learned what groups we would be assigned to for the first day.

There are only a few women among all these men, and I was the only woman in my group of 15, other than the organizer, Carol Jones. She is not actually old enough yet to be in SOS, but this camp is designed to make sure that we are able to learn skills that can be used for the larger formation, which will begin on Wednesday, the day I return home. Most of the people in the camp will be staying for it, but I really have no interest in being on a huge formation. It usually takes at least 8 or 10 tries before they are accomplished, if they ever complete. There are five airplanes in formation, and everyone must leave at the same time from each plane and the formation builds from the inside, or the base, and each person must attach to that formation in the right spot, with the right grip, and everyone must be there for it to count as a record. You have only a little over a minute for this to happen before it's time to break.

I've learned from many earlier times I was on big formations that I don't do well with that kind of pressure. Each plane has a separate camera person, and the organizers get together after each attempt and analyze what went wrong, or, more accurately, who messed up. They do what they can to change things so that the next attempt is likely to succeed. This takes time and effort. I was told to stand down many years ago because I didn't do well, and I was crushed. I want to have fun doing this, not stress myself out!

Well, the Skills Camp is designed to allow you to improve your skills and no pressure is applied about performance. Of course, the organizers are also looking to see who is likely to be allowed to start on the large formation and who will be "on the bench" to be in smaller skydives while the others attempt to set a record. Yesterday I made four skydives with my group of 15. We started with two no-contact skydives, where we were told to fly in a particular spot and not take grips. The first one was pretty spread out, as we were supposed to be "five feet up and five feet back" from the person in front of us. The next skydive we were to fly within a grip's length but not touch anybody. It was really fun and I was pleased with my performance, and with those of my group. We looked good on video.

So on to making a formation of fifteen! The next two skydives were attempts to link up, although we didn't complete either one, I felt good about the progress we had all made from the first skydive earlier in the day. By the time I was finished with that last skydive, I was sore, tired, and ready for dinner, as it was almost 6:00pm. A dinner was scheduled at the DZ at 7:30, so John and Gary decided to go back to the hotel to freshen up. I went with them, but with an ulterior motive: I wanted to pick up my own car so I could head back earlier than them, as I knew that once I ate dinner I would want to just climb into my bed and sleep.

That's just what happened. There was a lot of festive beer and wine shared amongst everyone, and dinner was very good, as they had the sausage hot dogs separate from everything else, so I was able to have pasta, salad, and vegetables, even if they were a bit overcooked for my taste. Once I had dinner, I didn't even say goodbye to John and Gary, I just went back to the hotel. I realized that my cell phone was in John's car in my gear bag, but frankly, I just didn't care. I needed to sleep, so I lay down on my bed and didn't even open by computer to check my email. It was not even 9:00pm when I was fast asleep. Now it's almost 6:00am in the morning on Sunday, and I am so glad to be well rested, since today we will make another four skydives.

They will probably mix up the groups, but I had so much fun with Carol yesterday, and I learned a great deal, too. The other three organizers are male, as are almost all of the SOS crowd, but among the sixty or so in the camp, there are five other women. I talked with them and everyone was pleased with the way the camp is progressing. We will then have up to four attempts to make a new record on Monday of all SOS women. Eleven women are signed up for it, although not all of them are in the Skills Camp.

By the time I get to Tuesday, if I want I can either make some more skydives or just rest up for the journey home on Wednesday. The way I feel right now, I can almost guarantee that Tuesday will not be spent skydiving. Although my shoulders are a little sore, I am really pleased to be here, enjoying being with my older skydiving peers. I thought I was the only one worried about my knee, but it turns out I've seen some really interesting knee braces, and every one of us, being over sixty, has some sort of infirmity. John took out his hearing aids before donning his skydiving helmet, and I hadn't even realized he uses them. He said they are way too expensive to lose one, and he doesn't need to hear on a skydive!

Of the four jumps yesterday, all my landings were good, and I didn't stress my knee at all. I'm hoping for the same today. And tomorrow. Lordy, I know how tired I'll be tonight, but it's all good, and I'm pushing myself to the limit. And having fun. Now it's time to shower and get downstairs to the breakfast room before heading off to the DZ. Until next Sunday, be well and thanks to everyone for your good wishes about this adventure of mine!