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, December 27, 2015

Nadir of the year

Random forest path, taken in summer
Here I am again. Sunday morning, nothing much on my mind except the dark, dark days of winter that press on me, and I am dreaming of summer again. I had a very vivid dream last night and woke wishing I could return to it. I was hiking with my friends, and we were going to a place we hadn't been before. Although I was aware that the elevation gain and loss would be a lot of work, we headed downward on the path, only to discover that it led to a high school, which was strategically built onto ledges and the few flat places on the side of the trail. One of the students, a sophomore named Santiago, became our guide through the school, which went on and on forever. At one point we were close to the ocean, and I saw a huge wave build up and up, and then it crashed onto the land. We got wet and I could taste the salt water on my face, but we were in no real danger. The blue of the ocean, vibrant sunlight and colors permeated the dream.

Then I woke up, and I wanted to return to the dream to find my friends and help them navigate through to the other side. There was a bit of the feeling of things spiraling out of control, but Santiago was there, always, to help. Sometimes I wonder about people who are in my dreams that I've never met. He was so real that I can still see his face.

Perhaps the dream was triggered by a movie I saw last night: Youth. When I left the theater, I was struck by the mood of the crowd, which mirrored my own, dazzled and a little unsure of quite what I was feeling. It is a movie about old age and is filled with meditations about love, loss, friendships, and the bizarrely beautiful and gross. It takes place at a luxury spa in the Swedish mountains with two old men, played by Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine, whose friendship forms the core of the movie. I can't say I loved it, but I'm glad I saw it and would see it again, if only to make a little more sense of it all. Many reviewers were reminded of the Fellini movie 8 1/2, which I never saw. Maybe I should. It certainly garnered plenty of awards, and I suspect there will be a few for this one. If nothing else, the cinematography is incredible.

I have been watching the weather website to see how much time the day gains each day. After we reach the winter solstice, when the days are the shortest and the nights the longest, the days begin, almost imperceptibly, to lengthen. At first for a second or two, and today we will gain a full half a minute. It's not until we reach the end of January that I really notice the light in the morning when I walk to the bus. These days I'm walking in the dark, with my trusty headlamp to light the way ahead and make me more visible to vehicles.

Yesterday when I drove to the starting point for the walk with the ladies, I had to drive in the dark but watched the sky turn pink as I arrived. Since we meet at 8:00am, and this particular meeting place is a bit of a drive, I didn't expect many of us to show up. But we did; there were eleven women and one dog for our six-mile walk. It felt really cold and took me awhile to warm up, but I finally did and was happy to be there, outside walking briskly with my friends. It's been six years since I first started walking with them and value the friendship and the exercise. As I've said before, I am definitely a social exerciser. If I didn't have the group, I wouldn't be going.

Which reminds me, for the first time in over a month, our regular aerobics teacher will return tomorrow. Just before Thanksgiving, her mother passed away, and as she was her last remaining relative, it fell to Joanne to take care of the estate. Since her mother lived in Seattle, Joanne traveled there often and probably had to stay overnight as well. I ran into her husband a couple of times and learned that Joanne was having a hard time of it, so it will be really good to see her getting back into her routine. She has taught that same class for over twenty years, three times a week. Our temporary instructors were just fine, but it's not the same without Joanne.

By the time I write in here next week, it will be the year 2016. I am constantly surprised by how quickly the years pass; it seems like I just got used to 2015, and now it's over. We will be more than halfway through the teen years of the new century; how did that happen? I remember the hoopla on the way toward Y2K, and here we are, sixteen years later. In China, the new year will begin on February 8, the year of the Red Fire Monkey. I just looked up my horoscope for the coming year on that link, and it says it will be "Achievement After Hardship." Do you know which animal was named the year you were born? Chinese horoscopes have 12 animals, and I was born during the Year of the Horse. Of course, I don't follow this stuff very often, but there's definitely a superstitious bone or two in my body, so I read it. Humph. I'm not sure how I feel about achievement after hardship. That means I have a trial or two ahead of me.

The older one gets, the more hardships one faces. That's because I am now 73, and as I like to think of it, I'm making my way through the human life cycle one day at a time, and they accumulate as my body begins to wear out. Therefore, my pursuits turn more introspective and my easy chair begins to be a friend I spend more time with. I love to read and ponder and write and... all those things will continue no matter what happens with my physical self. Right now I'm good, even with all the aches and pains of old age.

Which brings me to the end of this Sunday's meanderings. Again I sit here with my tea gone, my hubby almost asleep next to me (I don't hear any snoring so I'm not sure), and my day about to begin. I can feel my consciousness reaching out to my dear readers, thinking of you in all your various daily activities, taking the time to stop for a moment and feel our connection. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas that surrounded you with love. Until next week, then.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Being elderly is in my future

A flower shop display yesterday
I was walking around downtown Bellingham yesterday, having parked my car quite a ways from the Farmers' Market so I could get some extra steps in, and I walked by a florist shop with a fabulous display outside. These are all hothouse flowers at this time of year, of course, but it simply amazes me how good this eye candy made me feel.

The walk with the ladies (plus one man, a husband) was very pleasant, too, with the sun actually shining for a change. It's always nice when my regularly scheduled outdoor activity is in the sun, or at least not in pouring-down rain. I recently learned that every day in December so far has had some measurable rain. Not surprising, plus the snow that was absent this year is piling up in the mountains, where it belongs. When it rains here, it's usually snowing a few thousand feet up in altitude. I much prefer dealing with rain rather than slippery walking conditions. I'm just not as steady on my feet as I used to be. Perhaps my new gentle yoga class will help with that; I start it in two weeks. In my quest to find a yoga class, I have reluctantly realized that I cannot tie myself in pretzels any more. My knees and back need a more gentle approach.

Yesterday after the walk while drinking coffee with the ladies, we were discussing our concerns about aging. Although many of the women are retired, there is no age limit (in either direction) for the walking group. All you really need is a willingness to meet at 8:00am on a Saturday and walk at a brisk pace with the others. One of the really nice things about keeping a blog is being able to look back and see how long it's been since I started walking with them. I wrote a post about the group on January 1, 2010, my first time. On the first day of the year, Cindy schedules a walk to start an hour later and always holds it at Lake Padden, one of our usual meeting places. After one time around, we share coffee and goodies with each other. This New Year's Day will mark six years since I started walking with them.  At first I skipped the times when it was raining, but gradually I began coming every single Saturday, no matter what the weather.

As we sipped our coffee after the walk, we talked about the term "elderly." Who is elderly, really? Is it a set number, and if so, what is it? Or is it a state of mind? We laughingly decided that the term should only apply to those in their nineties. Upon checking the internet, however, I found that there is no set number that defines elderly, and the older one is, the later one thinks it should be. I found an interesting article on NPR that discusses the dilemma. Apparently at one time the New York Times referred to a 69-year-old woman as elderly in a story and readers complained. From that article by Linton Weeks:
"Nobody likes to think of themselves as old, let alone very old," says Michael Vuolo, co-host of Slate's Lexicon Valley podcast. " 'Elderly' often carries the connotation of feeble and dependent. Which is offensive if you're not and condescendingly euphemistic if you are."
Most developed countries define elderly as "being past middle age," around 65. That's also when the last of the senior citizen discounts usually kick in, too. I am able to buy a bus pass for three months here in Bellingham at half price since I'm older than 65. Once I reach 75, I won't have to pay for a bus pass at all, as I'll receive a Gold Pass and can ride unlimited for free. That's because I will definitely be well entrenched in old age by then and, as I've mentioned here before, I'm aware that my reaction times and many other marks of aging are definitely present. Wikipedia, as usual, has a very good page about it; I like the part about old age being defined as "nearing or surpassing the life expectancy of human beings, and thus the end of the human life cycle."

Sometimes I'm just fine with being old, and other times I simply forget. I've got a couple of friends in their fifties, and I think of myself as their contemporary, and suddenly I'll remember that I could be their mother and am in another age bracket entirely. Oh. Yeah. That's right; I've got every right to my aches and pains, as I'm nearing the end of the human life cycle. I've been a babe, both a little tyke and a gorgeous young woman, a mother, and although I have no grandchildren, I am a great-aunt to many. I had a great career and retired from it eight years ago now. I've managed to stay active and eat right (most of the time) and keep my weight under control.

So I'll go ahead and consider that being elderly is still ahead of me, in the future somewhere. But not that far ahead. Every birthday reminds me that life is finite, it's the way it works. And partly because of this blog, I get to see myself on the arc of aging. I've discussed all this before, but it is often on my mind these days as I wrestle with balance problems and with my back and knees going out on me now and then. When I remember that this is perfectly normal for someone my age, I cut myself some slack and relax about it. Plus I get to talk to you, my dear readers, about it and will have the chance to hear your comments. I look forward to that more than I would ever have thought. Blogging gives me the chance to remain mentally active, another great benefit of sitting here each Sunday morning, pecking away at the keyboard and arranging my thoughts.

I can hear rain pounding on the roof again. But I can be thankful that yesterday was simply lovely, and the sun will return again. Some day. For your amusement, here's our weather forecast:

From Weather Underground
Until we meet again next week, I hope you will have a Christmas filled with love and light and that you will remember than after tomorrow the light will begin to return, a little bit at a time, until by the end of January we will actually notice that the sun comes up earlier and goes down a little later. The winter solstice will be behind us. I wish you all good things until we meet here again next week.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dashing through my dash

The Church Mountain trail
I slept very well last night, partly because I had such poor sleep the night before. I can never tell if I am going to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep, or whether I'll wake feeling refreshed and having some good dreams to ponder. Sometimes I like to lay awake for those last few moments before I get out of bed and think about the dreams that are still rolling around in my mind. I am fortunate to have interesting ones that sometimes linger long enough to consider their meaning.

About the title of this post: a while back I wrote about living one's dash, the length of the time between the year of your birth and the year of your death. That's the time I'm talking about, the only time I have, as far as I know. We don't know the second date until we're either there or almost there. And sometimes we never know it at all; if one dies in an accident, the time on this beautiful planet is over and the victim never got a chance to think about that second number.

There are few ways to mark the passage of time that are as unsettling as watching an old movie and thinking about the actors. Yesterday I started to watch "The Wrath of Kahn," an old Star Trek movie that I saw in the theater when it first came out in 1982. That's 33 years ago now, and most of the actors are either dead or unrecognizable today, like William Shatner, who was fifty then and is now well into his 80s. I tired of all the commercials so I turned off the sound and let the images on the screen entertain me. I was only forty myself, and I remember thinking of myself as middle-aged. Little did I know what lay ahead of me, some good times and some bad ones. That's what happens to everybody, but I also remember making a decision to live my life as fully as I could so that I wouldn't end up on my deathbed wishing I had spent my life differently.

Of course, I'm naturally a bit of an adventurer. By the age of forty I had traveled by myself to Peru for six weeks, taking a leave of absence from my job, one that I would end up retiring from in 2008. In 1990, I made a tandem skydive and ended up jumping out of airplanes for the next 25 years. I've been fortunate to travel to many parts of the world, thanks to my old boss Mickey. He took me along not only for the company but also to work for him. It was so worth it, and it's one reason why I don't have much wanderlust left in me. Plus international travel these days is grueling in many respects.

This last February I made my last skydive and sometimes I miss the adrenaline rush I got from that experience. But I'm not only still able to dance and hike and exercise, I'm pretty good at it all. However, my balance has gotten worse lately, I realize, and I'm going to take some steps to improve it. I fell twice last week, once twisting my ankle and going down, and the other time slipping on a wet rock and crashing to the ground, hurting the same elbow twice in a row. I writhed in agony the second time, while hiking with the Trailblazers; it is three days later and the elbow is finally okay. At least I didn't break anything, but for a moment I thought I had. I tried balancing on one leg for awhile yesterday and realized I've really lost the ability to do so. When did that happen? I'm determined to work on it and am considering taking up tai chi, which is supposed to help seniors maintain a healthy balance. It's offered at my local Senior Center and I've heard good things about the class.

I also realize that I'm a social exerciser, that if I have a schedule and a class to attend, I'll keep it up. If left to my own devices, I slack off. Routine and deadlines work for me, but that's not true for everybody. Smart Guy is the exact opposite: if he's expected to attend a regular class, it weighs on him and he eventually stops going. He's much more self-motivated than I am. I wonder if our different temperaments make a difference with that; he's introverted and I'm extroverted. But it's curious how each of us finds a way to live our lives and enjoy each other's company so much. He's my rock. I must remember to thank him for his steady inspiration. (I know he'll read this so I'm cheating a little.)

A while ago I read the most wonderful book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. I think I mentioned the book before, but I've recently decided to go ahead and purchase it, since during my training to become an End-of-Life advance directive facilitator, it keeps coming up in my mind, and I realize it's the sort of book that you need to read more than once. Here's a salient quote from it: “Living is a kind of skill. The calm and wisdom of old age are achieved over time.” If you haven't already read this book, I highly recommend it. The purchase and re-reading of it will be my Christmas present to myself.

And this coming week and the next will be filled with holiday parties, the winter solstice, Christmas and the New Year. I hardly got accustomed to the year being 2015, and now it's over. One thing I've got to say is that time really does seem accelerated during my seventies. I've always wondered if it's because each year is a smaller and smaller percentage of my life, or whether it's caused by the days flying by because so much of my daily routine goes unnoticed by my conscious mind. Whatever the reason, it's a little disconcerting. Didn't the new millennium just happen? And it's already 2016?

Yes, I'm definitely dashing through my dash, on my way to what I hope is the calm and wisdom of old age. I'm certainly enjoying myself these days, even if I have bumps and bruises to go along with my bum knee and other aches and pains. I will go to a movie today with my friend Judy, I will dance for an hour after a nice latte at the coffee shop with my friends, and I'll come home and spend some time with my partner, who still sleeps next to me as I finish another Sunday post. I never know for sure what will come out, and it's never quite what I expect, but I am again feeling pretty darn good and ready for the day's adventures.

I hope that you will remember to take care of yourself during these hectic holiday times. Oh, that reminds me: a trip to my independent bookstore to buy Being Mortal will be on my agenda today. The closer I get to Christmas, the less I want to be in any store! Don't forget to find a few things to be grateful for today, and remind yourself that you are cherished and wished all good things by at least one person today. Until next Sunday, be well.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My birthday week

Pretty glass tree decorations
Well, this is another one of those days when I don't know what in the world I will write about. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. I won't know until I reach the end which one of those days I'll have. Yesterday while I was doing a photo safari at the Farmers' Market, I looked at these pretty hand-blown glass ornaments and wished for a brief moment that I had a tree. Perhaps I'll end up buying one of those ornaments next week for a friend who does have one.

I have reached the age where I don't exchange gifts with anyone on a regular basis. Smart Guy and I have a rather loose system of giving each other presents: if we see something that we just have to get for the other, we do it, no matter what time of year it is or whether it's anybody's birthday or a holiday. And not having any children either here or anywhere to expect a gift from me, the joy of giving ends up being spontaneous and much more interesting. The only problem is that there are some people who feel obligated to give me a gift in return, one of equal value. I usually tell the recipient that I really do enjoy finding some little thing that makes me think of them and that I've already received plenty of satisfaction just in finding it and giving it.

But I sort of know what they mean, when I receive an unexpected gift from a friend. However, I've learned to accept gifts shamelessly with joy and happiness. My fisherman friend Gene always gives me salmon he caught while fishing in Alaska. I love it and don't complain that I've nothing to give him back. My friend Judy will sometimes spontaneously pay for my movie ticket and I smile and say thank you. And the things I find for others are maybe one of those pretty ornaments or a small handmade bowl. I'm not talking about expensive stuff here. Although I have to say if I were wealthy, it might be a different story. But I'm not, and in actuality, I think it's nice to have just enough and no more.

I saw another really good movie last week with Judy, Brooklyn, with Saoirse Ronan, a young woman (born in 1994!) who has already won the New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress award for her performance. She plays a young immigrant in the 1950s who comes to Brooklyn from Ireland. The movie is based on a book written by Colm Toíbín which of course I will now have to read. I've got a hold on it at the library, but I'm #30 in line and there are only five books. It will be awhile, but I'm looking forward to it. By the way, if you wonder how to pronounce her name, Saoirse, I looked it up: it's a bit like the name Sasha, but a little different: SEER-sha. When I see a name like hers, I realize I always say it "out loud" in my mind, but when I haven't a clue what the correct pronunciation is, it makes me uncomfortable until I figure it out.

Last Tuesday was my birthday, and I have to say I was really overwhelmed with all the birthday wishes on Facebook. Well over a hundred of my friends from every part of my life, past and present, took the time to wish me a happy birthday. And people I know here in Bellingham also made a point of it, including the staff at the coffee shop. It makes me realize how important it is to acknowledge my friends' birthdays as well, because it just feels good to be remembered on our special day. Just this morning I received an e-card from an old friend I haven't seen in years. That reminds me, does anybody use Blue Mountain e-cards? It looks like a good organization and has really got me wondering whether it would be worth $20/year to send unlimited e-cards to family and friends. I just recently bought a beautiful card for a friend and it cost $9, which shocked me. The recipient doesn't have email so I was forced to send her one by snail mail, and considering the two stamps it took to mail it, the $20/year cost begins to look a lot more reasonable.

I am halfway through the online course I'm taking to become an ADF (Advance Directive Facilitator) with the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement. It's been a long time since I've taken a course of any kind, but I have to say I am really impressed with how sophisticated the course is. There are four modules and each takes a couple of hours to complete, after having read the corresponding chapter in the manual. I was sent the manual online and was going to print it out, but when I realized it is almost 200 pages long, I went to an office store and had it printed and bound by a professional. It's much easier to read that way. Then there will be a full day's training in person at some point in the future. It's not exactly riveting reading, but it's very comprehensive and will give me an idea of how to deal with different scenarios that might arise. I look forward to helping other people to write a valuable end-of-life advance directive.

Well, that was my week since we last met here in the blogosphere. I'm still not sure whether the magic worked and I've created an interesting post. You will notice that I didn't mention the news of the week, the current mass shooting that occurred in California. I't's not because I haven't been watching the news, because there is nothing else on when I turn on the TV. This was the 355th mass shooting in this country so far this year, meaning four or more people dead. I cannot fathom the horror and so right now I have decided to read uplifting books and try to see the good in today's world.

The world around me, right here at least, is warm and safe. I hear the wind blowing outside and rain pounding the roof, but my partner is snoring gently beside me as I type away on my laptop. The winter solstice is right around the corner, and once we reach the nadir, the light will slowly begin to return. That's the way it is on Planet Earth: the light diminishes but always comes back to days of sunshine and flowers and abundance. I'll concentrate on the good and that always means you, my dear readers, as well as those who share my days in person. I'm hoping that this coming week will bring you plenty of smiles and love and that all your Christmas gifts will magically appear to your wondering eyes. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Power to change the world

Brrr! Frosty cold leaf
I took that picture during our Friday hike and was impressed with the pretty designs made by the frost. It was so strange to be exposed to warmth and sun, at the same time as we walked through these little depressions filled with cold frosty air. I kept putting on my gloves, then taking them off again as we emerged into the sunlight. Although we were outside for many hours, these spots had not changed at all when we returned to them much later in the day. There are places where the sun doesn't reach when it's so low in the sky at this time of year, and with a temperature inversion and no wind to scour out the cold air, I couldn't resist taking pictures of the phenomenon.

Yesterday my friend Judy and I went to see an unusual movie, Spotlight. It's a new movie about the coverup by the Catholic Church of the sexual abuse scandal that was revealed in 2002 by a group of four journalists at the Boston Globe newspaper. Both Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo deliver outstanding performances. I was actually surprised when I realized that it wasn't until 2002 that the first articles about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church were written, since it seems like it was much earlier that I first learned about it. But no, it was only a few years ago. The team of journalists won the Pulitzer Prize for their work, but to me the greater accomplishment was to finally expose the awful truth and have it finally be believed.

I had no idea that there were so many priests involved in pedophilia. Of course I guess I've always known that the possibility for abuse was there, but to find out that up to 6 percent of all priests have abused children, well that seems almost impossible for me to take in. After coming home from the movie and getting online to confirm these statistics, I have to say I am astounded at what I've learned. I was a little surprised a few years ago that a sitting Pope would just resign, but it seems it was related to the discovery that even Pope Benedict knew about all this abuse and helped to cover it up.

Well, I have to say that my estimation of the Catholic Church in this country has fallen to new lows. For so long I thought it was one of the greatest institutions around. As someone who was raised in a family that didn't attend church, I was free to discover my own path, and as a young woman I joined the Episcopal Church because I liked the services, the sermons, the rituals. They are similar (or were back then) to the Catholic mass, but they seemed more accessible to me. And the clergy could all marry, and that seemed sensible, rather than keeping priests celibate. Well, apparently fewer than HALF of all Catholic priests observe celibacy, and many of them use children under their care to satisfy their sexual needs. How simply awful all this is.

I woke this morning thinking about the Seven Deadly Sins, thinking how almost every one of them were broken by these sick priests. Do you remember learning about them? I had to find a website to remind me, but they are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. It's interesting to find out exactly what is meant by some of these, but I think I could find a way to consider that those who abuse children to be guilty of all of them. Well, maybe not sloth, but when I consider it to mean being lazy about one's spiritual life, then all of them.

Do you think that the old adage that power tends to corrupt, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely is true? It makes me wonder, because those priests didn't all come into the priesthood with the idea that they would become predators. They are supposedly emissaries of God to their parish, right? I no longer attend church, but if I still did, it wouldn't be the Catholic Church, now that I've learned how deep the corruption goes inside it.

Or am I overreacting? I tend to see things in terms of black and white when it comes to abuse of any sort. Someone abusing a child, or an animal in their care, just seems impossible to see any other way than wrong on every level. And someone allowing it to continue when they become aware of it also seems wrong. In the movie, when one of the lawyers for the Church was confronted by a reporter with the sheer number of priests who had committed these crimes, the lawyer finally said, "What took you so long?" And it does seems almost impossible to believe that once it was uncovered, the scope of this problem was revealed to be worldwide and of long standing and huge.

It reminds me that things are not always as they appear, and that just a few dedicated people can change the trajectory of the entire world by standing up for justice. I see that effort every day when I turn on the news, and now I realize that many of these people are unable to stand by and watch abuse around them happening. Would I be so brave? As far as I know, most of my immediate world is free of it, but maybe I just don't see what's right in front of me. I do hope that if I were to discover someone abusing another, I'd stand up too.

Well, this has turned out to be a very different sort of musing for me during my usual Sunday morning pondering. It's all because of that movie, which really got me thinking about seeing what's around me with new eyes. I think next Sunday I'll probably be back in my usual groove, thinking more about my own surroundings and less about the larger world. And I do hope that it hasn't upset anybody too much that I used this time to consider what's on my mind right now.

Until next week, I hope that the world around you is safe and that you will hug your loved ones and allow love to fill your heart. I'll try to do the same. I know I left that love lying around here somewhere. Yep, there it is, right next to me in my sleeping partner. Be well until we meet again.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving week is here

Last Thursday's waterfall
Do you think of your week as starting on Sunday or on Monday? I pondered that question as I thought of the title for this post. I myself think of Sundays as the day that can easily belong to either end of the seven-day cycle. This coming Thursday will be Thanksgiving in the United States, and people are on the move. I am always amazed when I read about the huge numbers of people who travel during the holidays: this year, almost 47 million Americans will drive, fly, or take trains to another part of the country.

For many years after my dad died, I would travel to Texas or Oklahoma to visit my mother for Thanksgiving. When she died in 1993, I would travel to be with other family members who live in the area. I always stay with my brother and his wife when I visit, but lately my choice of family to visit are my sister and her family who live in Florida, as you know. I purposely traveled before the holidays to avoid the crowds, and boy am I glad I went when I did. I'm sure airline travel will be much more stressful, not just with the crowds, but also because of current terrorist events such as Paris, the airline bombing, Beirut, and Mali. My dear friend Vagabonde has written a wonderful post that says it all so much better than I ever could. She is a Frenchwoman who came to this country many years ago with her American husband. I've followed her long enough that she feels like a true friend. She has taught me so much about the history of France and much, much more. In that post she introduced me to a Latin phrase that has been a motto of France since the 16th century: Fluctuat nec mergitur, which translates as "tossed but not sunk."

Last week I had my introductory interview to decide whether or not to pursue the training to help others fill out their Advance Care Directive forms for end-of-life choices. I've decided to go ahead and do it and have agreed to give a few hours every month to that effort, once I'm done with the training. As I've learned, it's time to begin thinking about these things now, today, no matter how old or vigorous you are. Check out this website and Begin the Conversation. Here's a wonderful quote from that website:
End of life care planning requires filling out appropriate advance care documents, but conversation about these documents is key. Those chosen to carry out your end of life care wishes must know what you want. Documenting your end of life care wishes and telling others is a gift.
I also attended a presentation that was held in a packed room about the realities of advanced medical interventions. Two critical care ICU nurses, Cathy and Koala, decided it was an important thing to let people know. A year ago they held what they thought would be a one-time presentation. But the demand was so huge that they have held 19 more this year, and will continue for as long as there is interest. Some people have attended their presentations more than once, and I will probably be one of them. It was enlightening to find out what exactly happens in the Intensive Care Unit if you are admitted there. Scary, too.

It brought back to me in vivid detail the difference between the deaths of my father and my mother. Daddy had a massive heart attack while walking into the hospital. He collapsed in the entrance after having been driven there by Mama. A few days later, all six of his adult children had traveled from wherever we lived to Fort Worth, Texas, where he lay in a hospital bed. As I remember, when I saw him he was propped up with pillows and not laying down, but I first noticed how the pupils of his eyes were just little pinpricks. That was caused by the morphine he was being given. Otherwise he seemed like himself, but he didn't mince words and let us know this was the end by using phrases like, "I'm glad you got here before I popped off." He knew. He lived three days after the attack.

But back then there were no advance directives, and he was placed on a respirator, even though there was little to no chance that he would survive. I still get chills when I remember that experience, and now I know why. If I could go back and do it all over again, I'd make sure Daddy knew he didn't need to do it. If I can save even one patient from useless end-of-life measures, it will be worth my time.

What Cathy and Koala showed us was what the equipment looks like, how it is used, and why, and what the chances are of someone actually recovering enough quality of life to even be sent home, whether or not they are able to return to a normal life. It's a very small percentage, and the older we get, the smaller it gets. I'm talking single digits here. We saw a film that showed a man who was actually having a heart attack, and how he was resuscitated with CPR and electric shocks. He recovered, because he had two professionals who knew what they were doing right there with him when it began. He was very lucky.

Mama, on the other hand, had a severe heart attack and was able to return home and go onto Hospice, where she had a doctor and a nurse who made daily visits. She was given palliative care, made comfortable and able to stay at home. My sister Markee is a registered nurse, and she was able to leave her job and come to stay with Mama for a few weeks. We were all able to visit her and be with her in a quality way before she finally died. She was never put on any machines. She went into a coma a week before she died. I was with her when she took her last breath, and it was a peaceful experience for all of us who were present.

Death is a part of life that we don't like to think about, but it comes to us all. And today we all have the opportunity to decide how much we want our medical professionals to do to us to give us a chance to keep on living. And what that living actually looks like from an ICU bed. I've got my advance directive forms on file at the hospital, my partner knows what I want and I know what he wants. My sister Norma Jean laughingly said, "you mean I get to pull the plug?" when I asked her to be my secondary person.

It's amazing how empowering it is to take a hard look at one's end-of-life choices and actually make them. I know this isn't a normal Thanksgiving post, but frankly, I cannot tell you how thankful I am that I and my loved ones have options. I won't be kept alive when all I want to do is slip away gently, like my mother did. It takes some courage to think about these things, but it's truly a gift to your loved ones.

So I give thanks this week for my current health and vitality, knowing that it won't always be this way, but until then, I'm going to enjoy myself. I'll happily prepare a Thanksgiving meal here at home and enjoy every morsel. And I am also wishing you, my dear readers, will enjoy your week until we meet again, and wishing that you stay healthy and happy, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It's been a very full week

Me, Norma Jean, Zen and Icarus, taken by Peter
I arrived home late Wednesday after 15 hours of travel. It's always much longer when you have to take two planes, and I flew from Tampa to Minneapolis and from there to Seattle. Then a two-hour wait to catch the two-and-a-half hour shuttle to Bellingham. I was tired, but it was so nice to be in my own home with Smart Guy. He enjoyed his alone time; I knew he would, and I loved being with my Florida family. When I would doze off during my travel home, any woman's voice I heard sounded like Norma Jean to me. I miss her already.

We grew up together and even though as adults we have had long decades apart, she's my soul mate. She and I share memories that nobody else who is still alive shares; even though I have my other sisters and my brother, they are all much younger and weren't around when we were little. It always amazes me, though, how different our memories can be of the same time in our lives. As an extrovert (me) and an introvert (her), we see the world through very different lenses. And I am more than two years older as well. Still, she complements me and I feel complete when I'm with her.

We are both active people and have been for many years. Decades ago, when I would visit her, we would go for a run together with her dog Freckles. She'd take me on her usual runs, and when we visited our parents, we'd go out for a run in the Texas countryside. As the years have passed, we have both been forced to give up running, but we still walk together whenever we're together. This past week we walked around her retirement community, but mostly we swam at her local YMCA early in the morning, as soon as the pool opened. Once we got ready to swim, we stood inside the locker room and waited for the lifeguard to open the door. There were usually a few other regulars there, too, waiting. All older women who swim for fitness.

I suffer from ear wax buildup and when I swim, I try everything I can to keep the water out of my ears, so I wear ear plugs and a bathing cap, and it takes me a little longer to get ready, but it still didn't work: I got water in my right ear on the second day of swimming, and suddenly sounds dimmed and no matter what I tried, I couldn't clear my ear. This happened last time I visited, too, and I intended to bring my arsenal of tricks from home, but I forgot. I called my doctor's office to make an appointment to get my ears cleaned out, but I didn't want to miss my Thursday hike, so it had to happen this past Friday. It did, but I was moderately successful in the shower using my Rhino ear washer to remove the wax well enough that I could hear out of that ear again. After my doctor's appointment where her assistant used the same exact tool, I was really astonished at how much better I could hear. In fact, loud sounds startled me until I got used to my restored hearing. What a relief!

Yesterday morning I joined my walking group at Lake Padden for two loops around the lake (5.25 miles) in the rain. What a hardy group we are: ten of us showed up in our rain gear and gamely set out in less-than-perfect weather. In this part of the country, you take what you get and keep on walking. I was pleased that my new rain jacket works well, and before we had finished the first loop, the rain had diminished to practically nothing and I was able to tie it around my waist.

One of the ladies who lives nearby invited us over after the walk for coffee and scones. She lives in a lovely home just a few minutes walk away, so we headed over there instead of a coffee shop for a visit. She has a "mud room" right inside her front door, so we removed our shoes and slipped on some warm furry slippers that she keeps right there. She raised her kids in this home and told us how much the lake figured into their lives throughout the years. It reminded me of my parents' home in Lake Worth, where my younger siblings grew up, right on the lake, and what a big part of their lives it was. I was already grown and gone but visited there and was a little envious. When I was growing up we moved often and never had a permanent home.

By the time I returned home yesterday, the rain had started up again, so I was happy that I had gotten my exercise in the period between storms. Our hiking group was all ready to hike in the rain on Thursday, but during the six hours we were out, we only experienced the fierce wind that preceded it. The rain came later and hasn't really stopped yet. I see that one of our local rivers has reached flood stage, but it appears to have crested and with the rain winding down for a couple of days at least, it shouldn't be much of a problem.

Along with the rest of the world, I was glued to the television set on Friday evening watching the horror that unfolded in Paris. It was so unbelievable and horrible that I couldn't take it in. It's only Sunday and I'm still in shock: 129 dead and 99 critically injured. Coordinated attacks that were obviously designed to do exactly that: shock and terrorize Paris and the rest of the world too. My eyes fill with tears and my heart constricts when I think of it. People from fifteen countries were killed, and most of them young people who were enjoying themselves on a warm November night. I am heartbroken, because I don't know how we will be able to do anything. Martin Luther King once said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." How does one find anything to love in this nightmare?

I'm afraid that I will simply turn my head away and distract myself from it, because I don't know anything else to do. I know my country's actions are not blameless: drone strikes that kill innocent people, money and weapons sent to God knows where. I vote for those I think can make a difference, but I don't know what else I can do. I give money to organizations that promote peace, and I selfishly hope that I and my loved ones will escape the wrath of the perpetrators. And I try, really try, not to allow hatred and revenge to enter my heart. That's all I know how to do.

Monday I have my first interview to become an EOL (End of Life) facilitator. If they decide I am a good fit, I'll begin the serious training to be able to help others make their own EOL choices. I was so impressed with the help we received when making these decisions ourselves with the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement End of Life choices. Death comes to all of us, and now that my own documents have been notarized and filed with the hospital, and those who will make decisions for me if I am unable to do so myself have been identified, I'm relieved. Now I'm hoping I can do the same for others.

Well, this post didn't end up being very uplifting, but times are dark and uncertain right now, so I guess it's appropriate. I know that war and strife are part of life, and that I won't be seeing peace and harmony across the world during my lifetime, but I am hopeful that each of us individually can make a difference in our own lives. I cherish my blogging family, my physical family and friends, and I wish every one of us will enjoy some love and harmony this week. I wish you peace.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Florida musings

Lexie playing in the rain
While visiting my Florida family, I've been really suffering from the intense (and abnormal) heat here. Another day yesterday in the mid-nineties changed, finally, with a lovely rain storm. I was in Tampa and not at my sister's house when it began to rain. Hard rain, and Lexie, my grand-niece, ran outside to play in it. She stayed out for the entire time it rained, and then her mother (my niece Allison) changed her clothes and off they went to do some shopping. Norma Jean and I had been there most of the day, not only visiting with the two of them, but also with the newest addition to Allison's family, Alicia.

By the time the storm had passed and they left to shop, Norma Jean and I headed back home to Zephyrhills, about a 45-minute drive away. The entire atmosphere had changed after the rain. Everything sparkled and the oppressive heat was just gone. Funny how quickly I forgot about the heat and humidity, once it cooled off a little. Of course, I m a bonafide Pacific Northwesterner now, and Florida heat is not easy for me to love in any event. The heat wave is supposed to have broken today, and we should have more "normal" temperatures in the eighties rather than the record-setting heat of the past week or so. I have three more days here before heading back home.

I'm not ready yet to leave, even with the heat. I've enjoyed every little drop of time with Norma Jean, although we use video to "see" each other twice a month, it's not the same as being with her. And I've been enjoying the solicitous attention to our meals that her son Peter lavishes on her daily. He loves to cook, and he makes wonderful salads for each of us, beautifully presented and never the same thing twice. Tonight he will cook for all of us at Allison's, and I'm looking forward to whatever it is he will be preparing. I think I heard something about tuna steaks. He knows I'm happy to eat fish but not red meat, so I figure it must have something to do with me being here. He's thoughtful that way.

Peter also spoils the dogs. He buys a pork tenderloin at Costco and makes pork jerky for them. Boy, do they love that! Peter has been living with Norma Jean for more than two years now, and they have settled into a good relationship. Peter's dog Zen is older (13), and when Peter goes off on extended trips to California or Michigan, Zen seems very happy to be settled in at Norma Jean's home. Everybody is very content, it seems to me.

Allison, Norma Jean's daughter, moved from Alexandria, Virginia, to Tampa this past June. She has been promoted to full Colonel in the Army and is stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. I asked Norma Jean why an Army colonel would be at an air force base, and she told me it's because Allison is a member of CENTCOM, US Central Command, responsible for tactical operations in the Middle East. (That link provides a very interesting explanation of what my accomplished niece is doing with her life.) So, for the first time in many years, Norma Jean has all of her family nearby. And I benefit from it, too, by seeing everybody all at once. I hadn't seen Lexie in person since she was an infant.

Allison is a very high-powered person, very different from Peter. It's interesting to see how much Peter is like Norma Jean was as she was growing up, and Allison's approach to life is similar to her father's. Family dynamics fascinate me. Of course, I have four other siblings, but I am closest to Norma Jean. My sister PJ died in 2014, the last time I was with the rest of my siblings. With such a large number of siblings, I'm glad I have Facebook to keep track of them all. Some are much more active than others on social media; it simply amazes me how quickly all their offspring grow and change, and I wouldn't know any of that without Facebook. Some have even grown from youngsters to full-fledged adults, and since I haven't seen them in years, I would otherwise continue to think of them as children.

I'm sitting here in the living room now, with Peter, Norma Jean, and the two dogs. The sun came up on a day I'm hoping will be much less hot, as promised by the forecast. Sunday is the one day Norma Jean doesn't swim, so we'll go for a nice walk in what I hope will be cooler temperatures. And then Peter prepares omelets on Sundays, and that will be our wonderful breakfast. Oh, I'm getting spoiled. Not really, I am just enjoying it all.

Until I see you again, back in my normal routine, I do hope that all my dear blogging friends will have a good and productive week. Until we meet again, be well.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

This time change business

Harvest moon from my front porch
While I was sitting in my favorite chair last Tuesday, I received a text from my neighbor to take a look at the rising full moon. She lives two doors down and so we spent some time together admiring the moon through the misty clouds. It's perfect for the season, the time of year when the days get short and the nights long. Although we are only halfway to the winter solstice, the sun will set tonight at 4:49pm here in Bellingham. We just went through our twice-yearly time change last night.
She found herself in a forest at night, with dark trees surrounding her. The light from the moon illuminated the path in front of her, and faintly in the distance she could see another light pulsating under a rock. As she made her way towards it in wonder, she recognized it as something vaguely familiar. Pulling it out to examine her find, a golden globe filled her hands. "There it is! My lost hour has come back to me!"
Just playing around with words here. I dreamt that little scene last night as I pondered this whole business of changing our clocks to "save time." Tacking an extra hour onto the morning in order to give us more light only robs it from the evening hours. Similar to taking a couple of inches from one end of the blanket and sewing it to the other end, don't you think? I'm all for leaving us in perpetual Daylight Saving Time instead of having four months on what is known as Standard Time. This idea of changing the clocks has been around since Germany first started it during World War I, in 1916. I found this fascinating page about the history of DST, if you want to know more about how different countries have come to use the time change. Apparently the idea has been around since Roman times. Who knew?

I have a harder time gaining that extra hour back than losing it in March. It throws my entire system off kilter, since I already get up early and go to bed early. Now my normal bedtime will occur ridiculously early (at 7:00 to 8:00pm), so I'll be forced to stay up past my bedtime and try really hard not to fall asleep in my chair. Of course this morning I awoke at my usual time of 5:00am, but it was suddenly only 4:00am! All of our radio-controlled clocks and computers, including my cellphone, had taken the change in stride, so after changing my wristwatch to the "correct" time, now everything is back in synch. Except my internal clock, that is.

This week I'll travel three hours ahead to East Coast time to visit my sister Norma Jean in Florida. We live on opposite ends of the United States, with her in the southeast corner, and me in the northwest corner. My travel day on Wednesday will have three fewer hours in it, which means I'll make up for one time change hour from today and only have to deal with two hours. But of course by then, three days from now, I'll just be getting used to the change. I noticed how much more easily my body is able to add hours to the day when traveling east to Europe, and how much harder it is to lose time when traveling west. Is it just me, or is everybody like that? I'm resisting the urge to research it on line so I can finish my post at a reasonable time. But then again, I have an extra hour to throw around before I get up. I'm smiling at the image of tossing that golden globe of an hour from hand to hand.

Let's see: what else is on my mind other than the time change? Well, there's the weather, of course. We've finally gone back to our normal weather pattern at this time of year, with fairly constant rain. Our hike on Thursday was cut short because of our inability to cross the swollen streams. Since we were hiking in rain most of the time, rather than try to find another place to continue our hike, we just decided to call it a day. Yesterday's walk with the ladies was wet, too, but we had a period of relatively dry weather in the middle of our walk and managed to walk more than four miles before we stopped. And now I can hear the rain drumming on the roof as I write this, so today will obviously be another wet one. I just checked to see what the weather will be like during my visit to Florida: I'll have to be content to have day after day in the sunshine. Sunny and warm!

And I will finally have a chance to meet my newest grand-niece Alicia, and get acquainted again with Lexie, who is now five and going to school. You know I will be taking plenty of pictures and will regale you with some of them in my post next Sunday. As much as I love them and look forward to my time in Florida, I am not looking forward to the travel. Two long days of it among the eight days I'll be gone from my usual routine. If all goes as planned, however, I'll be back to normal and able to join the Senior Trailblazers the following day, which is why I decided to return on Wednesday. I just need to stay healthy and not get a cold due to the close proximity to other travelers, many of whom are more than willing to share.

On that note, I would like to share with you with a video that I found on one of my regular blogs I follow. Other than the annoying (short) commercial at the beginning, this should make you smile. I've enjoyed it a couple of times and hope you will, too.

Until next Sunday, then, when I'll be in sunny Florida and writing from my sister's home, be well and safe and I'll try to do the same.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thinking of times gone by

Sun, clouds, and Ruth Mountain, taken last week
Last Thursday we had such a beautiful hike with the Trailblazers, a fine sunny day with a few clouds, after waking to heavy fog. I took quite a few pictures but many of them were spoiled by rays from the sun. For some reason, this picture shows the sun at the top, but it didn't mar the picture. I rather like the effect, and looking at that sun shining on the mountain and snow fields reminds me of the lovely day we had.

I was quite surprised that we climbed so far and covered more than nine miles and my knees didn't bother me one bit, either on the downhill or the next day. That's rather unusual, since I've been babying that left knee and expected more difficulty than I encountered. I'm not sure why, but I'm grateful. Once upon a time I could ski every week in the winter and run more than 30 miles a week, but that's in the past. In fact, as I've grown older I realize how much my activities have changed along with the years. It was so gradual that in many cases I didn't notice; as long as I had something to keep me going outdoors and working up a sweat, I've been going with the changes without experiencing a sense of loss.

Well, that's not quite true: I realize, now that I think about it, that I miss being able to strap on my running shoes and go for a five-mile run, and I miss being able to spend the entire day outdoors on a cross country ski trip. I compensate for it by having my classes at the gym, my Saturday walks with the ladies, and my sacrosanct Thursday hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. Exercise is a part of my life, and I realize it's been that way since the early 1970s. When I first moved to Boulder, I moved into a rooming house that had at least a dozen Boulderites living there, and as I gradually became friends with them, they invited me to join them on excursions into the mountains for climbs of the peaks. Some of them were trying to "bag" all the fourteeners (Colorado has 53 peaks higher than 14,000 feet (4,265 meters).

I remember my first fourteener. Although I'm not sure whether it was Quandary Peak, I think it was, and I remember the effort to get to the top. As the air gets thinner and one climbs higher, you need to stop often to catch your breath. It got to the point that I would count ten steps and then stop for a moment. But it wasn't just me; everybody was in the same situation. By the time I made it to the top, I was simply amazed at the 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains! It was incredible, and that moment still lives in my memory as if it were yesterday. I was hooked on that Rocky Mountain High, all right. I ended up climbing 26 of the Colorado fourteeners, some of them more than once. A few were scary and just enormous piles of loose rocks with little to no path to the top, just clambering upwards until you could climb no higher. But still. I loved it. Each fourteener has a canister at the top with a page inside for the summiteer to sign to show you got there. I'm not sure who keeps them supplied, but I don't think I ever climbed a fourteener without one.

And then my friend Donna and I decided to bicycle from Boulder to San Francisco, so we went on many long bike rides on the plains and in the mountains to get ready for it. In September and October 1974, we spent six weeks on the road on our bikes, with adventures galore. By the time we got to Oregon, we were sick of each other and split up to finish the rest of the ride solo. I was in the best shape of my life by then, with legs as hard as rocks from all that biking. I think I also had some calluses from that bike seat! I remember how much I disliked Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast to San Francisco. I would climb upwards and reach the top of a hill and then zoom downwards, again and again. I was glad my bike had a good low gear. It was a great adventure and I sure do enjoy thinking about it all these years later.

All through the 1970s and 1980s I was very active outdoors, with long overnight ski trips, hiking and biking, and having taken up running and training for a marathon (which I never did; I would get injured as I worked to increase my mileage). Then my world changed when I made that first skydive on September 3, 1990. Skydiving took over my entire life and I left everything else behind, other than my career which took off at about the same time. Everybody who wasn't a skydiver got tired of hearing about it from me, and every single weekend, every vacation I ever took after that was geared to skydiving. In the 1990s and 2000s that's all I pretty much cared about. I met Smart Guy through skydiving and we were married in 1994, in freefall of course. When I retired from my job in 2008 and we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I still continued to skydive but nowhere near as often.

This year I stopped skydiving and have sold my skydiving gear. Although I could still go out for a jump by renting gear, I probably won't. It was time to stop, and I know you have heard plenty about the long mental struggle I endured trying to give it up. But I finally did, and now that it's been six months since I last leaped out of an airplane, I know it was the right thing to do.

It's inevitable that as we age we take up activities that are more geared to our place in life. I've managed to stay fit and carefully manage the aches and pains of age in order to keep on going for as long as I can. There's no doubt that I am still wanting to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest extent possible, but one day that will come to an end, too. I'll be a gardener and walker for as long as I'm upright. In fact (dare I say it?), one day I'll be unable to do any of these things, but it won't be without looking back with much satisfaction on all that I have done.
My 70th birthday with the walking group
And now it's three years since that picture was taken, and I'll be heading to Florida in just over a week to spend time with my sister Norma Jean. I'll swim with her every morning outdoors at her Y. I won't swim a mile like she does, because I don't swim on a regular basis, but I'll give it my best shot. We'll be together, and that's the main thing. I'll get to see my new grand-niece Alicia, get reacquainted with her sister Lexie, their mother Allison (Norma Jean's daughter), and Peter, Norma Jean's son. I am looking forward to it with joy and love in my heart.

Yes, it's a good life, all right, and there's this other family that means so much to me, my blogging family. I am hoping that you will have a wonderful Sunday, that you will give yourself a hug for me, because I'm sending a virtual one, do you feel it? Until next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mid-October already

Gold and green on the trail
I am amazed at how little color there is in the High Country this autumn, compared to previous years. Usually in October there are plenty of brilliant red and orange leaves, but this year the leaves pretty much just turned brown and fell off the trees, due to the severe drought we experienced this past summer. I am hoping that next year we'll return to a more normal (for us) summer. But then again, with climate change, maybe this is the new normal.

After I wrote in here last Sunday, I had a rather interesting day. You might remember that I decided to go barefoot dancing again to the "sweat your prayers" gathering in a big ballroom for an hour and a half. Last time I went I couldn't manage the entire thing, but last Sunday I stayed for it all. I am by far the oldest person there, but I can move with the best of them. I wore a loose blouse and my normal stretchy pants, so I could move unencumbered by clothing. I admired some of the lovely flowing skirts and dresses and think I might just have to spend some time at the thrift store looking for something suitable for me. I sure had fun.

When I first walked into the room and removed my shoes, parking them and my glasses in a safe place, I noticed that maybe a dozen people had already arrived and were lying prone in the middle of the dance floor, stretching and moving slowly to the New Age-type music with little to no beat, just soft relaxing music. As I stood there wondering if I should be doing that, too, most people had already gotten up off the floor and started to move. Whew! I joined them, only a little intimidated by the sheer numbers of us. Little by little the tempo increased, and by the time I'd been dancing with the others for awhile, I was rather amazed at how we rarely touched each other by mistake. Some danced together for a brief moment, and some danced with me, too.

By the time another half-hour had passed, we were all dancing exuberantly alone or with one another. It truly felt as though we had entered an altered state. With the strong beat of the music and the uninhibited movements, I felt myself lifted and totally absorbed in the moment. This went on for awhile, until there was a barely noticeable change in the music; a quiet center began to emerge. We gradually slowed our dancing as the beat gently changed to a progressive swaying, and before long we were all standing or sitting on the floor, as the moderator (with a mic) suggested we breathe more slowly and send our breath out into the universe. She sent us off on our separate ways with a final prayer. It was really a lovely time, and I'll be back. There were at least sixty people in the room from all walks of life, and I was glad to be one of them.

As I walked out into the sunshine, I realized that I had gotten quite a LOT of exercise, and my legs and knees felt rather, well, used. Nothing bad, but I needed to find my car and drive off to the movie theater, where I was to meet my friend Judy. We watched The Martian, which I just loved and wrote about on my other blog here. In fact, several of my commenters also told me they loved the book the movie was based on, so I ordered it on my Kindle last week and just finished reading it yesterday. The movie changed some of the particulars, as they usually do, but basically it followed the story closely. Matt Damon brought the character of Mark Watney totally to life, and I don't know which one I preferred, the book or the movie, since they are both quite good.

Today Judy and I will go to an early showing of the new Tom Hanks movie, Bridge of Spies, so I'll miss the dancing today. But I will be going regularly to "sweat my prayers." Not only is it good exercise, but a different sort than I usually get either hiking or in my aerobics class. I learned about it while on my quest to find a yoga class (and I'm still looking for the right one), and I now have a very fun thing to look forward to on Sundays. It was the only day of the week when I didn't have some way to get some exercise, other than hopping on the treadmill at the gym (boring!) or going for a walk outside. I like the feeling I get after the uninhibited dancing, reveling in my ability to frolic and cavort and lose myself in the moment.

And in just a few short weeks I'll be traveling to Florida to visit my sister Norma Jean. I haven't seen her in almost two years now, since February 2014. Where did the time go? We still talk on video chat every two weeks, but it's just not the same as being with her. I'll hopefully get a chance to swim with her in the mornings, and have a chance to see my two grand-nieces Lexie and Alicia. Allison, Norma Jean's daughter, now lives nearby, after having been transferred from the Pentagon to the military base in Tampa. And Allison has been promoted to the rank of a full Colonel in the Army! Now there is a full life: raising two children alone with a military career like that. I'm looking forward to seeing them all. Norma Jean's son Peter lives with her, too, so it won't be the same as the last time I visited, with her family figuring prominently in her life these days. It will be a lot of family time, and you know I'll take lots of pictures and tell you all about it.

Until then, I'll be spending my time hiking and walking and dancing and just generally enjoying life here in the middle of autumn in the Pacific Northwest. The dog days of summer are far behind us, and the dark days of winter are ahead. Just about the time I get used to one season, the next one comes rolling around. I am so glad that I don't suffer from the long nights like some people do. Several of my friends head off to warmer and sunnier climes for the winter. I'll keep the home fires burning while they're gone.

And just like that, another post has been written and is almost ready to post. It's still dark outside here, as the sun won't come up for almost another hour, and as usual my tea is gone and my partner still sleeps beside me. I love this very special time of the day on Sundays, and the time I spend thinking about what's going on in my life right now. I do hope that wherever you are this fine mid-October day, it will be one you will remember with love and joy in your heart. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Home again home again, jiggity jig

Big old tree
Home again. It's so lovely to be in my own bed, my partner sleeping next to me, dark outside as I begin my Sunday morning meditation. And this morning, it's exactly how it feels. I've spent the past few days enjoying the rhythm of my usual routine, comforted by the walk to the bus, the coffee shop crowd, my friends at the gym and yesterday, our usual Saturday morning walk. It feels so good to leave, because then I get to come home again and enjoy the days filled with the dance I've created in my retirement.

This year at Vashon Island, we spent an incredible five long days together. There was only one day, last Sunday, when we doubted the wisdom of staying for such a long time. We worked hard that day, and at the end, we decided that we were done with work and would take the next day as an "adventure day" and explore the island. That's just what we did, and by the time we met Monday night to discuss what to do next year, we decided that five days and nights were perfect and will do the same again next year. Deb will facilitate again, and lead us in our writing prompts for a second writing retreat. Five of the six of us agreed to come back next year. Sadly, Sally (who travels from Colorado) has decided not to come back next year. She missed last year's gathering, too, because of illness, and struggled again this year with some physical problems. At the end of September 2016, the rest of us will be back together again at this wonderful place, for our fifth reunion.

And I've been given some incredible tools to improve my writing, starting with Stephen King's book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This is not one of those books to go roaring through, hardly finishing one page before rushing off to the next, but one to savor, and read again and again. It's broken into three parts, and the first is about his early life and the struggles he and his wife Tabitha had in those first years before he sold Carrie, his first novel. I didn't realize they were so broke that they couldn't even afford a phone. Or that he was an addict and struggled with alcohol and drugs for many years. He says he doesn't even remember writing Cujo, he was so drunk.

In 1999, King was almost killed when he was hit by a driver who veered off the road and struck him. He endured five operations and spent a month in the hospital. I remember when it happened; it seems amazing to me that it's been well more than a decade ago. King wrote On Writing the next year, and it was reissued again ten years later, in 2010. I love this book and will cherish it. Deb scoured the bookstores around her home and brought each of us a used copy for the retreat. All I can say is how grateful I am and how much I needed this book. I also found this wonderful link to Stephen King's Top 20 Rules for Writers that pretty much sums up his writing philosophy.

I could go on and on about the retreat, what I learned, and where I intend to go from here, but first I need to process it all and consider how I will rearrange my mornings so I can spend some time writing in my journal. Yes, I've started keeping a journal again, after so many years away from any sort of writing in longhand. I still laugh at how strange it felt to write that first prompt; it's been well more than a decade since I wrote anything more than a thank-you note. Everything else has gone the way of the keyboard or my smartphone. Or even, thanks to Siri, speaking my texts into the phone! In my work, it was rare that I wrote anything down, although Mickey, my boss, never stopped taking notes and writing by hand. Now it's eight years since I left that world, and time has only made it less likely that I would take pen in hand and write for the fun of it. That will all change now.

The day after I arrived home the weather changed. After a week of lovely sunny weather, the rain returned, along with lots of wind to blow the leaves around, and it's been just wonderful to experience the colors of the leaves on the trees changing, the wetness, knowing that I am now a true Pacific Northwesterner with a closet full of proper clothing. It makes all the difference in whether one enjoys the rain or not. I also remembered why we PNWs don't use umbrellas very often: they turn inside-out in the wind.

Even though I love the fall weather, I don't necessarily love walking for miles in a driving rain. Yesterday morning it looked like that would be what we'd have as I drove to the meeting place for our Saturday walk. Dark threatening skies, gusty wind and the forecast for rain almost kept me from going. I'm so glad I did, though, because other than a measly little mist now and then, we were rain free. My shoes didn't even get wet. I stayed for coffee afterwards with the ladies and then headed to the Farmers' Market. I've discovered a wonderful rye made by Sophie, a young woman who makes dense sourdough rye bread from organic ingredients. Check her out at her home page. I cannot get this bread anywhere else, it seems, so I'll enjoy it as long as the market is open. Ours doesn't close for the season until the Saturday before Christmas, and then reopens in April.

When we decided in 2008 to move to Bellingham, we thought it was a quaint little college town, but I've discovered it's so much more than that. Situated on Bellingham Bay, I knew we'd have access to the ocean and consequently the sea breezes that cool us during the summer, but I didn't know what a vibrant community of organic farmers and excellent food and restaurants we would also inherit by moving here. It's my home, a really lovely place to return to after being elsewhere. Next month I'll travel to Florida to be with my sister for a week, and I'll not only enjoy the visit, but I'll get to come home again, jiggity jig! (Did you remember that old Mother Goose poem from the title of this post?)

To market, to market to buy a fat pig
Home again, home again, jiggity jig

As you might be able to tell from the tone of this post, I'm really happy right now. My tea is now gone, my partner still sleeping lightly, no sunlight yet as there's another half hour before sunrise, but the day is begun, and my Sunday opens in front of me with myriad possibilities for enjoyment. I know that there will be other Sundays when I am not feeling this way, but that's for then, not for now. Today I give thanks for all that I have, and I wish the same for all of my dear blogging friends. Until next Sunday, I hope the week will bring you lots of love and light.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Vashonistas

Breakfast at The Hardware Store
It's Sunday morning again, but this time I'm sitting in my bed at Lavender Hill Farm instead of my old familiar spot at home in Bellingham. Some things are the same: I have a cup of tea next to me, and my laptop across my knees, ready to write.

Four years of gathering together, each time a little different from before, but with the same women bloggers who are now known to us as the Vashonistas, since we've been coming to this same sacred place on Vashon Island each year. Some of us blog more often than others, but we all found each other in the world of the blogosphere. In previous years, we would arrive on Friday and spend the weekend together, leaving on Sunday morning. I wrote about our first gathering here, which chronicles our first time together, the event that started this whole adventure.

This year, we extended our visit to six days and five nights. We've been here three nights now, and we still have tonight and tomorrow before packing up and going home on Tuesday. Since we had been good guests at the farmhouse in previous years, we were given a discount on the cost, and it's been very reasonable for all of us. Deb agreed to facilitate a writing workshop for us, and that has truly been an eye opener for me. I wanted very much to find some different directions that I might travel in my writing, both in style and in content, and already I've gained some real insight into how to explore and go forward from here.

It hasn't been easy. Instead of trying to cram everything into a very short space of time, we have days and days of interaction and have put the time to good use. Starting on Thursday evening, continuing into Friday and Saturday, we have been writing and critiquing each piece that we have shared, coming from writing prompts given to us by Deb. It's amazing to me how many different takes there can be in a simple phrase or image. And we are then given a bit of time (varying from five to fifteen minutes) and write in longhand into our notebooks. It's a fantastic technique; when I begin to write I'm sure that my piece will be a close copy to everyone else's, but no, that never happens! I find myself marveling at the creativity that comes from each person's life experience and how differently each of us translates the prompt.

We have two more full days, today and tomorrow, to work together (and it is work), but when I return home I have already decided I will begin to keep a writing journal that is different from what I write in my blogs. It's become obvious to me that what comes out of my fingers when I am using a pen is entirely different than what flows onto the keyboard. At first, I was so unused to writing in longhand that I struggled to remember how to form words, it had been that long. But now it's beginning to feel much more comfortable and legible. How could I have forgotten?

It occurs to me that the young people of today are not learning how to do this, and many schools are no longer even teaching cursive script. I feel very fortunate to have been educated in a time when electronics did not come into the classroom in any form at all. That was, of course, because they didn't exist yet.  Instead we had pictures of the cursive alphabet over the blackboard, showing how to write lower and upper case letters. That has all changed, and before this workshop it never occurred to me how this skill might be lost forever. Do students today write everything down only on their tablets and computers (and phones)? I'll have to ask my fellow Vashonistas, since most of them were teachers, some just recently retired. Curious. I am shaking my head in wonderment at how much our lives have changed over the past decades. Why, I can hardly remember a time when I didn't have a cellphone, which has now become so much more than a phone, but a pocket computer as well.

At this moment as I sit in my bed, I am saturated by all the interaction and all that I have learned so far this week. I re-read my post from three years ago and find much has remained the same in our lives, and for others, much has changed. It was at that gathering that I realized for the first time in years my need for introspection and needing some time for myself. Every night I am the first to leave the gathering and retire to bed. I can hear the others laughing and sharing, but I am happy to slip into my bed and snuggle under the comforter while they continue.

I just got out of bed and moved upstairs to join the others and have some coffee. If I stayed in bed I would miss the sunrise and the beautiful view of Mt. Rainier we would have this morning. Tomorrow I'm going to get my camera out so I can capture the incredible beauty of this place. Sometimes you need a zoom.

Okay, this is going to have to end here, as I already have three other Vashonistas up and chatting with me, and I cannot concentrate on my post. My time to reflect on all this is not this very moment. Next week, I'll have my dear partner next to me, and my life will have gotten back to normal. Until then, be well and have a wonderful, productive time.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A busy week ahead

Sally and Linda on the Lavender Hill Farm porch
When I write in here next Sunday, it will be from the Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island. The six of us blogging friends will be more than halfway through our fourth gathering at this wonderful place. For the past three Octobers, we have spent three days and two nights at the Farm, but this year we have added three more nights there, starting this Thursday. I'll miss my usual Thursday hike with the Senior Trailblazers, but it will be worth it to have this time together.

Yesterday, when I looked back at the pictures I took during the three previous trips, it made me realize once again how quickly time passes. It didn't seem possible to me that this is our fourth trip, but it was in October 2012 when we first got together. It was Linda who had the idea of a gathering of bloggers who live in the area (except for Sally coming by plane from Colorado). Linda researched several possible places for us to meet, and Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon was everybody's first pick. Who would have guessed that it would become an annual tradition? We all love it there. And this year, two more of us retired from teaching positions, making it possible for us to get together for a longer period of time.

So next Sunday's post will be from my bed at Lavender Hill Farms. That means thinking ahead and packing a suitcase, figuring what I'll need and helping to plan the meals. One extra wonderful thing this year is that we will have a guest for dinner one night: another fellow blogger: Linda Reeder, who lives in Seattle and will take the ferry and come over to join us. For that evening, we will be seven, which brings back memories of my women's group in Boulder that started with seven and met once a month for over twenty years.

Tonight is the final blood moon from the latest lunar tetrad. A tetrad is a series of four lunar eclipses that happen six months apart. That link tells more about them, but last April I got up early in the morning to take a picture of the blood moon. Here's what I captured, using my camera with the zoom all the way out and balancing the camera on a secure ledge, since I didn't have my tripod handy. Tonight the lunar eclipse will happen at sunset, and it looks like the skies around here will be totally clear, so I'm thinking I'll be out looking for just the right spot to take the picture. I was really pleased with my earlier picture, but it didn't have any context. Tonight should be much easier to find a foreground to add to the delight.

Some people think that the lunar eclipse, the blood moon, is a prophecy of the End of Times. I found this from that link above (TimeandDate.com):
Some people believe that the tetrad has special significance because the eclipses coincide with important Jewish festivals. The two April lunar eclipses in 2014 and 2015 occurred at the same time as Passover, while the October and September eclipses occur during the Feast of Tabernacle. This, many suggest, may be connected to a biblical prophecy of the end of times. The fact is, eight of the tetrads since the first century have coincided with Jewish holidays without the world going under, so there is absolutely no reason to believe that the 2014-2015 tetrad will end the world this time either.
It was interesting to be reminded that when I photographed the moon in April, I was halfway through taking a class to learn about the duties of a death doula. It's amazing that it's already been six months. I decided that at this time it is not something I am called to do, but I didn't know that before I took the class, so it was totally worth it. And it led to me and SG attending several classes on how to prepare and execute our end of life wishes. Now that has been accomplished, filed with the hospital and our doctors, and when I visit my sister in November I'll give her a copy so she also has it. She is the person I've chosen to deal with my belongings once I'm gone.

I just experienced a little shiver of unease, thinking about the prophecy, but that could also be just a consequence of the time of the year. Halloween, spooks and goblins abound in literature when the leaves fall from the trees, and when we have a lunar tetrad of eclipses, well, there you go. Plenty of reason to pause and consider. Plus I'm reading a book that has scared me silly: The Crash of 2016 by Thom Hartmann, about how close the United States is to economic collapse, and he makes a very convincing case for it. I'm halfway through the book and although I've learned very little I didn't already know, I understand it much better. I recommend it if you are interested in the eighty-year cycle of boom and bust that he describes. He predicts that the next one will be worse than the Great Depression. So that's another reason why I've got a sense of the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

But it's hard to be all that depressed about it, since there's simply nothing I can do about it. It's just like getting older and lamenting the aches and pains of age: I don't have much of a choice. It beats the alternative, as they say, but it still doesn't make me happy to wake up (like I did yesterday) and stretch, realizing that I pulled something in my back! Easy does it, I keep telling myself. I did take two yoga classes since I wrote here last week, and that was a real eye opener, too. In my youth I was quite active in yoga and could put my limbs in some rather amazing positions. Well, last Sunday in the yoga class I did a shoulder stand, which once upon a time was easy. Not so much these days. As I struggled to get into the inverted position (using the wall for balance), my stomach began to ooze out of my yoga pants and head towards my chin! I decided I won't try that again until I have some more appropriate clothing. Made me smile, but there was a bit of chagrin in my grin.

I've met some interesting people on my quest to find a yoga class that will serve me well, and that's a real plus. One woman told me of a freeform dance that takes place every Sunday from 10:30 to noon, a barefoot dance, with people expressing whatever they're feeling. So today my friend Judy and I will go and check it out. It might be just the thing, or it might not. I won't know until I give it a chance, so that's part of my plan for the day.

That and writing this post, my self-imposed once-a-week examination of my current condition. I've found that it really helps, and next week we blogging ladies will examine ways to improve and enliven our writing. Deb is the lyrical one, and every time I read one of her posts I marvel at her ability to bring me right into the page and into her heart. Of course, I must follow my own path, but I sure won't mind learning a few tips and techniques that others have found to be valuable.

And here I am at that place again, my tea gone, the tapping of the keys the only sound in the room, other than the soft breathing of my partner, and the turning of the season means it's still dark outside. We are on our way towards the shortest day and the longest night. But of course when we reach the end of the year, it all starts going the other way. I love the change in the seasons and am glad I don't suffer from the lack of light. It does help to get out in whatever daylight we've got, and I do that every day. I hope that you, my dear reader, will have a week filled with whatever adventure you desire, whether it's climbing mountains or reading a good book. Until I meet you again next week, at Lavender Hill Farm, be well.