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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday

Snagged from the Internet
Today is a big day in the Christian calendar, Palm Sunday, the beginning of what is known as Holy Week. It marks the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem and, as we all know, it ends next Sunday when Christians mark the day of Easter. I am just one of many who would carry palm fronds to church to mark the day and listen to the sermon admonishing us to be better Christians. I still feel quite nostalgic when I think of all those years I attended church and tried to be a good congregant. Today if I go to any church at all, it's a nondenominational one that doesn't follow the liturgical calendar.

Next Sunday, Easter is a day for kids to color eggs and hide them. I wonder how in the world it became a day filled with chocolate bunnies and hard-boiled eggs. Few even mark Palm Sunday, unless you're going to a Christian church that does such things. But maybe it's only because I no longer put myself into situations where attending church is something one does. It reminds me that just because you don't see a particular event, it doesn't mean it's not happening somewhere. I'll bet there are millions of palm fronds being waved in millions of churches around the world, and I am just simply no longer tuned in to it.

When I lived in Boulder, although even then I wasn't a churchgoer any more, during this week I would take five days out of my busy life to meditate and retreat from the world in a nearby convent with the sisters of St. Walburga. I wrote about the experience on this blog back in 2010, and if you're interested, here's the link.

It's been four years since I wrote that. I just reread it and realize that half a decade is not a trivial amount of time. The person who wrote that piece is still me; I'm just older now and deeper into my years of retirement. This time that I take on Sunday mornings, just me and my laptop (not to mention the entire world of the Internet if I choose) has been going on for hundreds of Sundays. I don't think I've missed any, and I just checked: I've written 283 posts on this blog, which I began in December 2009. Wondering what I said back then, I just reread my first post and realize that some of the comments were left by people who have been following me since I first discovered the world of blogging. My friend Connie who lives in Minnesota is there (Far Side of Fifty), having come over from my other blog.

Have I said everything I wanted to say? It doesn't seem so. I've made new friends and look forward to hearing what he or she will say in the comment section. I am not one of those who responds to every comment, but I do check out the blog of any new person and will begin to follow those who interest me. My world has become much more centered around the blogosphere, and it's hard for me to imagine how I would have fulfilled my need to write if I hadn't started down this path. Expressing myself, writing down my thoughts and feelings, is just part of who I am. Although I do get the occasional urge to create something more permanent, for some reason I am not drawn to becoming a published author. I guess it's because of all those books that were created for my boss during my working years; I learned that when something comes out in print, there is no going back. If I choose to change something on any of my previous posts, it's a quick little update and there you go, nothing is unchangeable. I really like that, having published books that required an errata sheet. As hard as I would work to make sure there were no errors, there were always some, and a few were egregious enough to require a written retraction. If I don't like something I wrote earlier, I can delete it or change it. What's not to like about that?

I'm taking a class next weekend, both Saturday and Sunday. Remember when I wrote about wanting to find out more about becoming involved in what it takes to become a Death Doula? Well, next weekend is a training class for wannabes. Some of what I'll learn about is (from the class description) "body preparation, vigil presencing, active listening, holding sacred space, how to integrate multiple traditions into a cohesive respectful offering, working with many options for burial presentations, and many hands on skills." That's a lot to take in during two eight-hour-long days. I'll probably write a bit about what I learned on Saturday when I'm sitting here next Sunday, which also happens to be Easter. I don't think it's a coincidence.

Years ago in Boulder I took a two-day training class to work as a Hospice volunteer. That training was intense but very valuable. It's been almost three decades since then. I spent the next two years spending time with the dying person while the primary caregiver took a break. After those two years, however, I couldn't do it any more. But I will always be grateful for the families and patients who shared their lives and their death process with me. Now I'm ready (I think) to take it up again, in a different way than I did before. This class will give me the opportunity to find out whether this is what I want to do or not. I'll also meet some new people who might become friends, who knows? In any event, it will be educational. I'm looking forward to it.

And here it is, another post written, my tea gone, my partner still sleeping beside me. One big difference is that it's no longer dark outside, but the sun is up and a light rain is falling. I'll be going to the movies with my friend Judy later on, but I'm feeling more centered now than when I first woke up, not knowing what would emerge from my mind today. I'm always a little uncertain: does the brain still work? Is there anything new to write about? And now it's time to start my day, everything having worked just like always. Oh, and make sure you take the time to share a smile with a friend today. The world will be a better place if you do. Until next Sunday, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Paying attention

Lily Lake last Thursday
When I turned seventy, I would wake in the mornings and smile that I'd made it into my eighth decade, feeling good, staying active, and spending my days in ways that make me happy. That included walking, hiking, working out with friends, and blogging. That was more than two years ago. My life is essentially the same today, but there's a subtle difference.

There's really something different about being 72. One of my blogging friends, Nancy, just turned (as she put it) six times twelve and wrote a really nice post about it. It got me to thinking about things, as we share our lives with one another in the blogging universe. I realized that when I wake up these days, how old I am emerges into my consciousness in the form of a number: 72. But then again, it's just a number. Am I any different today than I was two years ago? Or will be in another two years?

Age is a curious thing, and I don't want to discount it. Aren't I the same person who wakes up today who woke up yesterday? Since my seventieth birthday, I've written hundreds of posts in both my blogs and lived another 841 days. I've observed the changes of the seasons from my front window, as well as in the wilderness as I hike with my friends every Thursday. During the seven years that I've been trekking with the Senior Trailblazers, there are several of us who don't come any more, because of illness or infirmities. We are, after all, seniors with a median age around 67. When I look back at pictures of who was on our hikes two years ago, I miss seeing the faces of old friends whose knees or backs or ankles just can't take it any more. One day I will be one of them, and another who has just begun her adventures with the seniors will take my place. That's the natural order of things.

What I don't want to do is miss out because I wasn't paying attention. One of the things this blog is good for is giving me a chance to notice the differences that emerge between weeks. I spend this time on Sunday mornings thinking about my life, which I wouldn't be doing otherwise. Sometimes the words just pour out of me and a theme quickly takes shape. Other times, like today, there's quite a bit of stopping and starting, pondering just what it is that I'm trying to capture.

In the two weeks since my car accident, I notice that I pay attention to the cars around me in a whole different way. They are moving so fast, and I've got to stay vigilant and not allow something like that to happen again. But since my reaction times are slower than they once were, I notice that driving now makes me feel anxious. In time, I suspect that will diminish, but should it? We are encased in metal boxes that travel at incredible speeds, and we all must trust those around us to do their part in keeping us safe. I see people all the time who are busy talking on the phone or being distracted in other ways. Driving and traffic have become so much a part of our lives that we stop paying attention, until something happens to change it, like being involved in a collision like I was.

I am fortunate to have developed a very full life for myself during my retirement years. Upon leaving my career and home town of Boulder seven years ago, I was excited to find a new way to live. Staying active and fit became the central focus of my days, rather than revolving around the Monday to Friday routine of work. I like routine, so I have a schedule that makes me aware of the days of the week. A three-times-a-week class at 9:00am, my coffee shop buddies who are now almost like family, my Thursday hikes and Saturday walks, and my blogging schedule. Nobody imposes my schedule on me; it's what gives my days structure and it's what I choose to do.

However, there's that old nemesis of habit becoming so entrenched that sometimes I find myself doing something just because that's what I do. And before long a season has passed, another year has come and gone, and I haven't been paying attention. Contemplation about one's life can be a valuable tool to make sure that these days that seemingly stretch ahead into infinity are not missed. Every once in awhile I need to stop and look around and take stock of where I am and where I am going. And appreciate the moment.

Yesterday was the first full day of spring, and as I sit here with my laptop I can see that the sun has just come up, and now the days will be longer than the nights until we reach the summer solstice. I learned yesterday that on the equinox, the sun rises due east and sets due west all over the world, no matter where you are located. But those who are in the Southern Hemisphere will begin to experience shorter days and longer nights, just the opposite of my experience way up here near the 49th parallel north.

It's all a matter of perspective. I've finally come to the end of this post, one that was rather hard to give birth to, but now it's done, and I can continue the rest of today's activities. Sunday is the one day that I don't have a set routine. After this post is written, that is. In a couple of weeks I'll be attending a two-day class on Saturday and Sunday and will not have the luxury of taking an hour to write this post, but today it's been valuable for me, and I think I've stopped long enough to pay attention and smell the flowers.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Winter is gone, spring is here

Primroses for sale at the grocery store
Everywhere I look, I see signs of spring. And why not? The first day of spring is this Friday at 3:45pm here in the Northern Hemisphere. For those in the Southern Hemisphere, it will be the first day of autumn, but it's still the equinox. Also, there will be a total lunar eclipse on Friday. Check out the details here for more about where it will be visible. We won't see it in the United States at all.

And Tuesday is St. Patrick's Day, which means I've got to remember to wear green that day or I'll get lots of grief at the coffee shop for forgetting. There was a parade in town yesterday but I wasn't around, having traveled down to Skydive Snohomish for Safety Day. It was a downright terrible day for a parade, though, with steady rain and dreary skies. A good day for being indoors.

We needed the rain, though, since it had been dry for the entire month of March until yesterday's soaking. With the snowpack in the mountains only a fraction of normal, there are already people worrying about a drought during the summer months when it hardly ever rains. I know that seems hard to believe when I complain about the rain that always seems to come on a Thursday, my hiking day with the Senior Trailblazers. I've grown quite accustomed to the weather in the Pacific Northwest, and it seems unusual when we get a string of days without any precipitation, except late July to early September. It was a really unusual winter, with much more sunshine than usual.

I get a massage every third Friday, and I really needed the one I received last week, after all the stress of the collision on March 6. It will be another three weeks before my car will be repaired, so I am forced to drive it around with the bumper all crunched in and the grill pushed out of position. The adjuster at the body shop said it's safe to drive, even on the freeway, but I drive it at slower than normal speeds and not very often. Fortunately for me, most of my driving is around town and I can take the bus most places that I need to go. (Smart Guy drove to Snohomish and back yesterday.) I am still very skittish behind the wheel after that accident. And the citation came in the mail, a whopping $175 ticket for my failure to yield on a left turn. Not to mention however much my car insurance will increase. A very expensive lesson indeed, but once the car is fixed, I can stop being reminded of it every single time I drive anywhere.

While I was receiving the massage, my therapist has an iPod that she plugs into her speakers to play soft music without having to listen to the same music all the time. She uses Pandora's New Age music channel, and it's always wonderful music without anything to make me focus on it, no rhythm or beat of any sort. I always enjoy it, but on Friday there was some very different sounding music that touched me very deeply. I asked her to see what it was, so that I could order it for my own relaxation. The name she was able to find is Sei He Ki and is a Reiki meditation. Well, all this was new to me, since I had never even heard of Reiki healing before.

It turns out that Sei He Ki is one of three symbols used in Reiki, and this one is the mental/emotional symbol, used to help people bring to the surface their problems and release them. I guess this was fortuitous for me, because it certainly helped me. Not only did I receive a great massage, but the music was so irresistible that I found it on YouTube and listened to it for an hour yesterday. Very relaxing. I will definitely buy it on iTunes once I find it. Fortunately I can listen to tracks from the available albums until I find this very one. Just another tool in my repertoire to keep myself as healthy as possible, in mind, body, and spirit.

Sometimes I worry that I am just trying to stave off my inevitable decline and that I am in denial of the fact that I really am well into my seventies and have already lived a full life. I read a passage from Cicero from his essay, written in 44 B.C., on old age. Cicero was a Roman statesman who was 62 when he wrote it, and a quick google search reveals that lots of people have gained solace from reading his words, just as relevant to us today as they were more than two thousand years ago. I found a blog post that pretty much sums up everything he says in that essay. What struck me is the reminder that everything has its season.
Enjoy the blessing of strength while you have it and do not bewail it when it is gone unless you believe that youth must lament the loss of infancy, or early manhood the passing of youth. Life’s race-course is fixed; Nature has only a single path and that path is run but once, and to each stage of existence has been allotted its own appropriate quality; so that the weakness of childhood, the impetuosity of youth, the seriousness of middle life, the maturity of old age — each bears some of Nature’s fruit, which must be garnered in its own season.
Even though there are moments of stress in my life, there are also many ways to cope with it, if I am willing to acknowledge that I have it. Every morning these days when I first get out of bed (after my cup of tea and my session with the laptop), I perform the Five Tibetan Rites. I started them last summer when I read a book about Olga Kotelko, who died at the age of 95 while still competing in track and field events. I wrote about her on my other blog, here, last summer. There's a video at the end of her at 93, describing why she competes. Anyway, some of her fellow competitors used the Rites as a way to prepare themselves for competition, and I learned about them and started doing them myself. I don't know if they have actually made any difference. Who knows? And now I have some relaxation music to help with my mental stresses. How did I ever get along before the Internet?

Not to mention all the friends and acquaintances I have made through blogging. I almost always have to mention how grateful I am for your presence in my life when I'm getting ready to sign off for the week, and this upcoming week is no exception. I hope you keep yourself as healthy and happy as possible until we meet again. I'll be busy doing the same.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How quickly things can change

Remembering the Mediterranean
I took this picture on the first day after I arrived in Turkey; it was the first time I'd ever seen the Mediterranean Sea. There was a storm brewing, as you can see in the turbulent sky and breaking waves. During the few days I spent there, I saw many versions of this beach, including a terrific windstorm where nobody ventured outside and the electricity came and went as we watched from our place of safety.

But sometimes there is no place of safety, we just have to endure the storms of life in whatever way we can. It helps to have company when we traverse these difficult times, but make no mistake about it: they will come, whether by illness or accident. My latest "storm" has come through a car accident. On Friday afternoon I collided with another car and bashed in its passenger door, while damaging the bumper quite badly on my own car. I was attempting a left turn into traffic and saw what I thought was my window of opportunity, but I was wrong: another car was coming that I didn't see. I can still remember the sound of the impact. Fortunately nobody was hurt, no air bags deployed, and a policeman wrote an accident report. I was able to drive my car away, but the other driver chose to have her car towed since the passenger doors were damaged. And then I was left with the aftermath of this particular storm.

It's Sunday morning. After having spent the first evening dealing with my insurance company and ascertaining how to proceed, I found it difficult to let it go. My mind kept going over and over the event, and although I was very tired, I couldn't sleep. Every time I would begin to relax, I'd remember it all over again. I kept remonstrating myself for my mistake, wanting to change the event's trajectory and wishing I had chosen a different path. Finally I slept and when I woke yesterday morning, I decided to go ahead and drive my damaged car to join the Saturday walking group. I'm glad I did, because that began the change in my attitude toward the event as well as giving myself some exercise.

I walked with my friend Linda and told her about it. As I was telling her how I'm beginning to realize how much my reaction times have slowed and about the changes I'll be making in my life, she offered me some good advice: wait three days first. She said it takes that long to absorb it all, and she's right, of course. I already feel very differently about the event, and although tomorrow I'll need to begin to deal with the process of getting the car fixed, it's no longer a huge overwhelming mental obsession.

I've been through many incidents in my life that make this one pale in comparison, but it doesn't matter. They are behind me, and this one is right here right now. My ability to roll with the punches, along with my reaction times, show the signs of my advancing age. I'm not the same person I was a decade ago, or even a few years ago. I can feel how differently I respond to change of any sort.

As long as things go on as usual, I am content and happy, but anything that disturbs my equilibrium these days is hugely disrupting. After having successfully traveled halfway across the world, since there was nothing unexpected involved, I managed to deal with the stress. And I'm dealing with this relatively minor incident as well. But it makes me wonder about the next big thing: how will I react? What can I do to get ready for it?

One of my blogging friends, Anni, is recovering from a heart attack. She wrote about it here, and I read it with both relief that she will be okay, and with interest in the description she gave about the symptoms she experienced. I had heard that women have very different responses to a heart attack, and she describes it well. She has every expectation that she will make a full recovery. I wondered how I would have responded if I had experienced the same symptoms. It's worth thinking about.

Part of my morning habit is to turn on the news to listen to the weather report and see what might have happened in the world while I slept. The local news always has weather and traffic every few minutes, and I give thanks that I don't have to deal with the traffic in and around Seattle during rush hour. Or any time at all, for that matter. There is never a day that several of the arteries around Seattle are not blocked by a traffic accident, whether it be a major one where people are injured or killed, or a minor one like I had on Friday. We have grown accustomed to driving, but people are killed every day in this country, maybe even every minute of every day, in these machines. I was reminded on Friday how quickly it can all happen.

I also ponder how similar the arteries in our hearts are to traffic arteries. Both require everything to flow easily and not get stuck, or else a blockage is formed. As human beings who eat several times a day, and who get behind the wheel of a car without thinking about it, we do actually have the chance to make a difference in our lives by making better choices. Whether it is to choose heart-healthy foods or make a right turn rather than a left turn for safety's sake, we can make a difference.

As I drove around yesterday, I realized that what is usually automatic became much less so. I was driving rather slowly and cautiously because of my accident, and I realized it would be really nice if I were able to bring that kind of consciousness into my everyday driving without having to be reminded so painfully of the power under my hands to change things forever.

And because of having lost an hour overnight (with the time change), I realize that I've finished this post a little later than usual. It's almost 8:00am rather than almost 7:00am. Sort of. My stomach is rumbling, asking to be fed at the usual time, and I'll consume some heart-healthy food, since it's pretty much all I have to choose from anyway. I hope that you will be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The rhythm of my life

Last year's tulip display
I have noticed that spring is in evidence everywhere around this part of the country. Although this picture was taken last April, it looks like the tulips will be very early this year, and I could see the same thing in less than a month! I took a look at the Tulip Festival Bloom Map, and it confirms it. By the middle of March this year, a month early, I could be looking at this same picture. The Festival is held during the entire month of April, but there have been years when they have all come and gone by its end. I'll plan on visiting and taking pictures either at the end of March or the first part of April. It's one of the springtime events that I've not missed since I moved here.

One really wonderful byproduct of writing this blog is being able to go back a few years and find out what things were like back then. I wish I had some way to go back even deeper into the past, but this sort of thing, a blog, didn't even exist a few decades ago. I kept a handwritten journal during the 1980s, 13 volumes which sit on my bookshelf. I will open one occasionally at random and read about what my life was like then. I have even posted a few excerpts on here, but mostly I try to live in the present, not the past or the future. I'm pretty happy with my life right now.

Last Sunday after I wrote in here, I packed up my skydiving gear and headed down to Snohomish to meet my friend Christy. We were both in danger of losing our currency, since we are required to make a skydive at least once every six months or we have to go through a lengthy renewal process, not to mention an expensive one, at our local Drop Zone. So we went up, after checking our gear carefully, and made a wonderful skydive together. It wasn't even all that cold, and it felt great to be in freefall again, and to feel my parachute open perfectly over my head. We landed right back where we started, both tiptoe landings, just perfect, happy and excited. Smiles all around, and then we took our parachutes inside to pack them up again. While I was doing that, I managed to tweak my back and realized that I probably shouldn't make another one. We had accomplished our goal anyway, so I drove back home and have spent the entire week feeling that pulled muscle.

Today my back is completely back to normal, and nothing is hurting anywhere, but I'll stay home and enjoy the first day since my travel to Turkey without having anything planned. My garden beckons, and I might go out and see how it's fared during the winter months. I haven't visited it for quite awhile. But then again, I might go for a walk in the sunshine and take pictures of the burgeoning spring. It's nice to have so many options.

Yesterday, my niece Allison (Norma Jean's daughter) gave birth to her second daughter. I wrote about Lexie, her first child, in an August 2010 post. Lexie is now four, going on five, and hopefully will be a help to her mother as she recovers from another C section. Allison is a very strong woman, and I think it won't be any time at all before she's back at work and managing her very hectic life with her two daughters. Allison is unmarried and has conceived both children through IVF (in-vitro fertilization). At first I was skeptical of the wisdom of this procedure, but in the subsequent years since Lexie was born, I've changed my mind completely. A baby is a blessing that is not to be missed, and each one of us is unique, no matter how we come into this world.

Allison didn't have nearly as easy a time of it this time, however. She was in labor for 32 hours before finally having a C section. Alicia Jean Stewart is 9 lbs 4 oz (more than 4 kilos!) and 20.5 inches long. In other words, a bruiser, in more ways than one. That's almost twice what Lexie weighed when she was born. Norma Jean is there, having traveled from Florida to take care of Lexie and help to maintain her schedule. I'm just glad it's all over and now the excitement of having a new baby will predominate, instead of the anxiety and trauma of the birth process. Welcome, little Alicia!

Today also marks the day in 1961 when I was first married. I always think of that every year when March rolls around. How long ago that was: fifty-four years, to be exact. I've met people who were born around that time who are now old, more than half a century old. My son Chris, had he lived, would now be over fifty. I guess there are at least a couple ways to contemplate this day: one, be thankful for all the years and decades of abundant life I've received; or two, be regretful about how few days and years are left to me.

No, there are many other ways to think about March 1, 2015. It's the day that a new life begins in my family, and it's the marker of yet another trip the earth makes around the sun. The beginning of a new season, and a time to think of enjoying the beauty of the tulips springing up out of the ground, and of contemplating what delightful vegetables to plant in my garden this year. Maybe today I'll head out to the garden shop and think of what I'd like to be harvesting out of my garden in July.

Whatever you decide to do today, I hope that you might stop for a minute and think about all the blessings you have in your life. You are one of mine, you know, and I hope I never forget to thank my readers and commenters for your presence in my own life. Until we meet again next Sunday, I wish you all health and happiness.