I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday morning ruminations

White-crowned sparrow
This is a picture I snagged from the Whatcom Birders' List, and I am sorry to say I have forgotten who took it. These sparrows have a lovely song and I've been listening to them for the past month, since they return here in the springtime and add to the musical cacophony of the Pacific Northwest birdsong. We have been graced with sunny weather for days on end, with a bit of rain now and then, just perfect for the birds and the gardens.

Today is the Ski to Sea relay race here in Bellingham, which starts in the Mt. Baker ski area in about two hours from now. It starts with a cross-country ski leg, changes over to downhill skiing, then running, road biking, canoeing, mountain biking, and finishes up with a kayak trip to the finish line in Fairhaven. There are seven people on a team; nobody is allowed to do more than one leg (the canoe leg needs two people, though). In past years, I have gone down to Fairhaven to watch the kayakers stagger out of the water and make their way up the ramp to ring the bell. It's a big party, with over 500 teams from all over the country participating, so it's also a very competitive event. If you want to see the course, I've provided a link here. I'll probably avoid the crowds today.

Thanks to everyone who commiserated with me last week and left helpful comments. I was moaning about the difficulty I've been having getting up and making this old body get moving after sitting for any length of time, or getting out of bed in the morning. Just when I thought that this would be my fate from now on, I began to notice a bit of a spring in my step after last Thursday's hard hike. We went almost ten miles and had twice the elevation gain and loss of the previous week, when I was sore and tired for days. For whatever reason, I wasn't as stiff this time, and the next day I felt great. Now I'm beginning to think that perhaps I had a low-grade virus that was sapping my strength.

That is not to say that I wasn't challenged on Thursday: my knee was not happy on the downhill sections, and I finally begged one of my fellow hikers for some ibuprofen and slapped on the knee brace for the return trip. I'll carry some drugs from now on, because it made a huge difference in my comfort level, just two little pills. I have resisted taking anything while hiking, because of the fear of overdoing it if I mask the pain I'm actually feeling. Maybe I need to start thinking differently about it. And although I didn't take any more pain meds, even the next morning my knee felt just fine, so off I went to the gym for my usual workout.

As my friend Judy is out of town, yesterday I headed off to the movies by myself. I went to see Belle, a British film set in the late 1700s, about the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay. She was raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield and his wife. Since little is really known about how Belle was raised, the film is a dramatization of what her life might have been like. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it highly, if one is not looking for a historically accurate account.

I still haven't been down to Skydive Snohomish since I returned home from southern California last month, but that's not unusual. The season here doesn't really start until after Memorial Day, which is tomorrow, and sometimes because of the weather it doesn't get going until July. June in the Pacific Northwest sometimes experiences what is known as "June gloom" as the marine layer keeps it cool and overcast during the month. I do watch the weather every weekend, but it seems lately that the weekdays have been lovely, while the weekends, not so much. Since I'm retired, I really don't think of weekends as being days to recover from the work week, but that's when the skydivers gather to play in the sky. Frankly, I don't seem to be in as much of a hurry to get down there as usual, but maybe that's because I am really beginning to move on to other pursuits. As much as I love it, everything has its season during this lifetime, doesn't it?

There was a time when I simply could not imagine my life without skydiving in it, as a regular weekend occurrence. Imperceptibly, we change and things move on. And I have been blessed with the ability and wherewithal to have had a very long skydiving career. Most don't keep going for twenty-five years, as I have; the usual average time that somebody spends jumping out of airplanes is seven years before moving on to other pursuits. I see several of my old skydiving buddies on Facebook, and many of them are no longer active. Soon I'll be joining them, just not right now.

I've got some good books to read, and a garden to care for. There's lots to keep me occupied right now, and the weather has been wonderful to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. I know that I am a fortunate person, and most of all, I have a circle of friends and family who complete my enjoyment. My Sundays always start with a cup of tea and my laptop, as I sit here and think about what the past week has brought and attempt to express it reasonably well. Sometimes it's easier than other times, and today has been a bit of a ramble through the corridors of my mind. I think I'm done now.

As always, I wish nothing but the best week ahead for you, my dear virtual friends. I enjoy your posts and keeping tabs with what's going on with your lives. We're quite a motley crew, aren't we? (Definition of motley: incongruently varied in appearance or character: disparate.) Yep, that's us!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rainbows over my head

Diane, Jonelle, me, Jacqueline
Rita took this picture of us last Thursday on our hike to Noisy Creek south of Bellingham. It was a pretty wonderful day, actually, and when I looked carefully at this picture, I saw that rainbows were captured from the cascading creek. You have to look closely right at the top of the picture, above my head. Rainbows. We also heard lots of birds, saw a couple of toads for wildlife, crossed several streams, and enjoyed a nice lunch before heading back. A good day.

I almost called this post "Taking Inventory," because I'm realizing this morning, in the middle of May 2014, that it's time to do that. But the idea of rainbows seemed much more interesting to me. On Thursday, the eight of us piled into two cars and chatted as we made our way back to the Senior Center, more than an hour away. After we arrived, I had difficulty getting out of the car: my body was so tired and sore after the ten-mile hike that it didn't want to work. I hobbled over to my own car and made my way home. Same thing: after parking my car, I had to gradually work my muscles into moving mode before I could make it up the steps to the apartment.

When I was young, I well remember watching old people walk, that careful gait as if something might break if they were to move too quickly. I'm in a much better place today for understanding what they felt. I can still pretty much do everything I want to do, but the aftermath is entirely different these days. Although it's humorous to think of old folks moaning and groaning as they hold their backs and lean on their canes (or hiking poles), it's part and parcel of the aging process.

The inventory I was referring to is the state of my condition. It's possible for me to begin to obsess on how much longer I will be able to continue to carry out my activities, or instead, I can think of the beautiful places and rainbows that I will be able to enjoy today. When we moved here six years ago, I had just entered into retirement from a career I enjoyed, and it never occurred to me that I might create a lifestyle that could be every bit as full and satisfying, but you know, it is.

On Friday, the day after the hike, I went to my usual exercise class, because I knew that the moving and stretching of the class would make my bones feel much better, and that's exactly what happened. I wasn't completely recovered, but yesterday morning I felt good enough to go out with the walking club. I knew it would be a hilly six-mile brisk walk and wasn't really sure whether I would be up to it. When I arrived, I decided I would walk at the back of the group and not try to keep up with the faster walkers. There were sixteen women, all well known to me now, and I knew which ones would keep a decent but not blistering pace. It worked out just as I hoped.

What amazed me is that I was able to walk almost as fast as usual. After gathering for coffee, I noticed that as I rose to leave, I had to stand up slowly to get things moving again. It's beginning to feel almost normal, to ease myself into movement after some strenuous activity. My left knee is still giving me problems, but it's definitely better than it was a few months ago, and I carry the knee brace but usually don't need to use it. It does make some rather disconcerting pops and clicks in the morning before I get going, but there is little discomfort any more. So that's a plus.

Today, Sunday, is my day off from exercise, and other than some gardening and perhaps a visit to the gym for the steam bath or sauna, I'll take it easy. The difference these days is that I don't ever expect to be pain free any more. If I need to take an ibuprofen or two, I don't figure that's too bad, but I really do try to keep the pain meds to a minimum. I know myself too well: if it doesn't hurt, I'll push myself too far, so I pay attention to the state of my physical self.

There are three parts to my state: physical (I've covered that pretty well), mental, and spiritual. Mentally, I am pleased to notice that I seem to be in a holding pattern as far as being able to remember names and faces, with no discernible decline in my ability to carry out intelligent conversations. Apparently physical activity is one way to keep the mind agile, even as the body becomes less so. That's another plus.

And spiritual? My spiritual life seems to be expanding as my physical life declines. I'm reading a couple of good books about end-of-life issues (Tuesdays with Morrie and The December Project), both of which are memoirs that discuss those aspects we must all deal with as we approach the final act of life. These are not books that I sit down and devour, but ones that make me pause and think, ponder what I really want to accomplish in the time that remains to me. Of course, both of the people who are the focus of these two books were much older than I am now. Those years will pass quickly, though, and I definitely want to make the best use of them that I can.

Okay, I've done it: a full inventory of the three aspects of my life that I needed to think about. And I'm pretty happy with what I found. Of course, another very important part of my life is completely virtual: this connection I share with you through the Internet, through blogging. My friends around the world touch me through this connection and enrich my existence immeasurably. Thank you for being part of my life.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothers and mothering

Me, Mama, Norma Jean
Looking through my old family photographs for just the right one to share for this Mother's Day, I realized that this one would fit the bill perfectly. Not only is my own mother looking very beautiful and lovely, but her children are also mothers today. Norma Jean is already practicing for that role.

Mama went on to have five more children, all of whom are indelibly engraved into my soul. My siblings. This is the first year that I will celebrate Mother's Day without my sister PJ. Mama also had one infant who died within a few days of birth because of being born two months prematurely. She was named Tina Maria and is the only one of my siblings that I didn't get to know. Mama gave birth to six girls and one boy during her lifetime. I was the first, the oldest in a twenty-year span of birthing children. She was 19 when I was born and 39 when she gave birth to Fia. Mama would live another thirty years and die when she was a young 69 years old. That was in 1993, and I still miss her presence in my life.

In my mementos drawer, I have a card she sent me one year that for some reason resonated more than others she sent. It has a simple message: "I love you." Underneath those words, in her handwriting, she wrote "I really do, you know." She sent it because I didn't always believe that she did really love me. Her youngest daughter, Fia, was her favorite and the apple of her eye, while I was the oldest, gone from the household long before Fia was born, and I was jealous of their relationship. When I would visit, it was very apparent that their bond was stronger than what I felt I had experienced with Mama.

Every family has its own dynamic; ours came about because my parents had three children in seven years and then stopped. Then, when I was sixteen, my brother Buz was born, and Mama gave birth to three more children in three years. Tina Maria was born after Buz, and then Mama had Markee and Fia, the last of her babies. Fia is now a grandmother herself. We are scattered now, but every few years we get together again. In February of this year we gathered to celebrate PJ's life of 63 years and to bid farewell to our sister.

Time has softened my memories of Mama, but there are moments when she is as present to me as if I could reach out and touch her face. Not long ago I had a dream in which she was convulsed with laughter (I don't remember about what now), but I woke up laughing, a huge smile across my face. It was a memory I cherish, even though she's been gone for more than twenty years, she sure didn't seem very far away just a few months back. Time is linear, but my memories are eternally preserved in my psyche. It's nice to know that I can still make new memories with those I hold dear in my heart.

My own two beautiful babies are also gone from this earth, but they are still not far from me. Unfortunately I don't get to choose when they will visit me in my dreams. It's been so long since Stephen died, fifty years now, that he doesn't appear very often. But Chris visits me regularly. Once you've become a mother, you don't need to worry about that status being taken away just because your children have moved on. You are forever marked as a mother. I had to come to grips with that fact, because when Chris died, I felt as though I was no longer allowed to have that title. But it's just not true: once a mother, always a mother.
Chris and me
This morning, as I sit here with my laptop and the birdsong pours through the window at first light, I think of mothers everywhere who are thinking of their children. And since we all have mothers or we wouldn't be here, many of us are also thinking of our moms and celebrating our connection. I wish you the very best of days, and may those whose mothers have passed on be blessed today with a reminder of the one who carried her child under her heart.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Our twentieth anniversary

Getting married in freefall, 5 May 1994
Well, tomorrow is a day I didn't think I'd ever see: the twentieth anniversary of the freefall wedding that Smart Guy and I celebrated—and we are still together! Happy, even. After having experienced three failed marriages by the time I was thirty, I had pretty much given up any thought that I would ever have a twentieth wedding anniversary. Guess I just had to find the right person.

I met Smart Guy through skydiving, and when we decided to marry a couple of years after we met, it was inevitable that it would be in the air. The picture shows us in freefall over Loveland, Colorado. I was wearing my wedding "dress" with rainbow grippers (those things skydivers grip in order to make formations). We exchanged vows before we got on the airplane, but in Colorado you can state when and where you will be married and you don't need an official to officiate. On our wedding certificate, we stated that we would be married when we passed through 5,500 feet while in freefall on May 5, 1994, and that's all we needed to do. And there we are, right then passing through that altitude. Our "best man" was the cameraman.

I was 51 years old on that day, and it seemed impossible to imagine that I would still be skydiving twenty years later, but I am. Smart Guy has probably already made his last skydive, and my last one is not far away, either. This is my last season, which I've decided for various reasons, not the least of which is that I'd like to choose to stop rather than being forced to because of injury. My knees are rather essential items for me to continue to be active, and they are not in the best shape these days. That's one reason, but there are others, too. While I still have the wherewithal, I'd like to pursue some other directions in life.

But that day twenty years ago, it was simply wonderful. We didn't have what you would call a traditional day, but it was just right for us. No cake, no reception other than the congratulations of our skydiving peers, who were around to enjoy the day's blue skies, and each other. It has been a very interesting and educational journey. I realize now that my previous marriages failed more because I didn't know how to compromise, and because I had been led to believe that if you weren't "in love," that first stage of infatuation, it was because the person wasn't right, and I went looking for that state again and again.

Now I realize that marriage should be a combining of two lives into another one altogether. Both of us think that we have changed more than the other, and that's probably true: I am definitely a different person today, but so is he. We do things for each other because we really like to experience the resulting happiness. What happens to one of us happens to the other. Although we are not likely to have a fiftieth wedding anniversary, we might easily have another decade or two together, enjoying our life from day to day.

Anniversaries are a time to take stock and give thanks for the past year, decade, or longer, don't you think? I am a healthier and happier person today because of my partner. All I have to do is look in the fridge at the wonderful food he has prepared for me to know part of the reason for that. He also doesn't tell me how to spend my days and supports me in my endeavors. We have stimulating conversations and other things we like to do together, but we also have our own pursuits. For example, my friend Judy is my movie companion because I like movies that don't interest him, or he would rather see it later in our home than be subjected to the crowds and extreme volume of the movie theater.

I am a social exerciser, and he is a solitary one. If I didn't attend classes and go hiking with a group, I wouldn't get much exercise, while he is self-directed and walks by himself. Occasionally we will go out together, and tomorrow is one of those days. I'm going to take him to one of my favorite outdoor places and we'll celebrate our special day together. As you can see, skydiving has given me much, much more than simply a sport. It really changed my life, because I met a wonderful life partner through it.
After our tenth anniversary skydive
Ten years ago, we jumped together again, although we weren't in Loveland but in Longmont, Colorado. We sure have had a wonderful journey to here, and tomorrow we'll enjoy the beautiful Pacific Northwest lushness together. Life just is never quite what one expects; although I never expected to enjoy sharing my life with such a great guy, I'll take it. I'm happy. Thank you.