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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Getting along in a crowded world

And why might this be on my mind this beautiful sunny Sunday morning? Because of the sleep I didn't get because of my noisy neighbors. I don't have air conditioning (hardly anybody in the Pacific Northwest does because you only need it for a short time every year), so I sleep with the windows open and a fan to move the air through the apartment. Although I have other tenants next to me and under me, at the present time we have been blessed with very considerate neighbors.

But across the large expanse of back yard, there are private homes. And last night after 11:00pm, I was awakened by voices coming from somewhere outside. At first, I thought it was someone arriving after being out on a Saturday night, but when I looked outside I could see through the trees that the neighbors two houses down had started a bonfire and were apparently going to be there for some time. I was right: by midnight the guitar music got louder and the voices morphed into raucous shouts as people became more and more inebriated as they sang. There couldn't have been more than five or six people, but the noise was impossible to ignore. I closed the windows and got some relief.

Every few hours I would wake and realize that it was warm in the bedroom and would tentatively open the window again. Still going strong at 2:00am when I finally gave up. It wasn't until around 4:00am that I opened the window to blissful silence. These are the same people who just a week ago woke us by mowing their lawn before 7:00am on a Saturday. They must work a regular schedule and try to cram everything into the weekend, with little consideration that other people might be sleeping.

We have been here in this same apartment for three full summers, and this is the first time I've experienced this from these neighbors, so I am hopeful this will not be a regular Saturday night event. After all, the world is truly becoming more and more crowded every single day, and we all need to be more considerate of our surrounding neighbors. There's little to be done about a party in a private back yard around a bonfire, but I couldn't help but think of all the other people who would be bothered by that noise as well.

We live in a rented apartment and could move away if necessary, but what about the people who own their own homes and live right next door? One of my blogging friends lives in Vancouver, B.C. and owns a condo, and she deals with a fraternity that moved in right next door. She complains but cannot do anything much about the constant noise on the weekends. So I count my blessings and hopefully tomorrow night I'll be able to make up my sleep deficit as the revelers return to work. What gets me, though, is that in a world with so many people, this problem will only become worse as time goes on. There will be no safe quiet places left except in the wilderness. We humans are populating the planet to the detriment of most other species.

When I was a young girl, I remember reading about the population explosion and how many people would be living in the world by the turn of the century. Well, that was fifteen years ago now, and the exponential growth of the world population really boggles my mind. In 1960, the world population was 3 billion people, and as of 2012, it reached 7 billion. Seven billion people! No wonder we have such problems getting along in our own little corner of the world. I forget sometimes that there are fewer and fewer places to get away from it all, since I'm blessed with the ability to drive to vast expanses of wilderness every week. My town of Bellingham has somewhere around 75,000 people at the present time, but like everywhere else, it's expected to continue to grow in size. Well, all those people have to live somewhere, I tell myself.

This is a very beautiful part of the country, and we are incredibly fortunate to have not only plenty of fresh water to drink but also varied abundant food choices. There are places in this country that don't even have that, and in crowded countries like India and China, the problem is much, much worse. Economic inequities exacerbate the problem, and even though I live on a fixed income, I have the wherewithal to enjoy whatever restaurant I choose, to buy pricey items now and then, and basically keep my head above water. It makes me feel very fortunate indeed.

My sister and I often think of our mother, who would mention the problems that we would be facing, and that we would be around to see the worst of them, but she wouldn't. And now here I am, older than my mother ever got a chance to be, and realizing that there are blessings to be had in old age, and one of those blessings is that I won't be around to see the world when it reaches 10 billion people (2050). That is about five times more people than there were in the entire world when I was born. No wonder things have changed so much.

Gosh, I didn't mean to get started on this depressing subject. It was those noisy neighbors who got me to thinking about the crowded world we share. I could have written about the beautiful place we hikers visited on Thursday, with waterfalls and bubbling streams, abundant flowers and sunshine. But no, I was still feeling grumpy this morning when I woke from unsettled dreams and interrupted sleep. Today there are only a few things I need to do, one is watering my garden and weeding it a little, before it gets out of hand. And my friend Judy and I will be going to the movies to see Iris, a documentary about a 93-year-old style maven. We'll probably have dinner together afterwards, and I'll come home to my comfortable apartment and catch up on my sleep.

I do hope that you have a wonderful week, filled with love, laughter, and plenty of rest. My window is open and I hear nothing but the occasional bird chirping away on a lovely, sunny morning. My tea is gone (I just took the last sip) and I'm ready to begin my day. Be well until we meet again next week, please.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A day of my own

Rhododendrons, the Washington state flower
Here I sit this morning, listening to the birds singing outside, beginning my Sunday morning ritual: writing this post. Sometimes I wonder about the necessity I seem to have to follow such a rigid schedule, but here I am again. It feels like I'm cheating if I write this beforehand, or even get started on it before this moment. But who is making these rules? Me, nobody but me. And there are moments when it's easy to write, the words just flow out of my fingers, and other times I struggle to find a direction.

Last night as I lay down to sleep, I thought about this post, my only self-imposed obligation on Sundays and realized that I have created a prison of my own making. It might not seem to you that I am forced to be in this position, but I am, really, because I have created a structure that I must follow or my world feels as though it begins to unravel. Even when I was traveling to Turkey, I found time on the two Sunday mornings that I was elsewhere to compose these. I've written 291 posts so far, one Sunday morning at a time. In the beginning, I wrote my entire life story, one chapter at a time, until I got to the present day. Now it's just a stream-of-consciousness composition, with whatever is on my mind at the moment. On December 6, 2009, I wrote this to explain why I wanted to start this blog, and I just reread it to remind myself. It's morphed, as all things do, into something else, but what?

I know that often when I finish and review, edit and publish the post, I often feel better, more centered, with a tiny frisson of relief that I've done it once again. Created something out of nothing except the meanderings of my mind. My memories, my hopes and fears, and... whatever else pops up. This is Memorial Day weekend in the US, and today the Ski to Sea relay race will take place in Bellingham. This year is different: there is no snow on Mt. Baker on which the participants can ski the first two legs, a historic first. Usually it begins with a cross-country ski and then a downhill ski segment; this year they have changed it to trail running, but it will still start at the ski lodge on Mt. Baker and finish at Bellingham Bay, 100 miles away. There are still road and mountain bike segments, a paddle in a canoe down the Nooksack River, a kayak segment, and finishing up in Fairhaven. I might head downtown and take the bus to Fairhaven later on today to watch the first finishers ring the bell. It's a lot of fun but really a huge party, with bands and food and plenty of people-watching opportunities. It's cloudy but we have little chance of rain for the festivities. Yes, maybe that's what I'll do today. Take my camera a get some good shots of Bellinghamsters enjoying themselves.

Last week I made a rather significant purchase, but it's almost invisible. My MacBook Air was getting on in years, and the AppleCare that I like to have available to me couldn't be renewed. I love my laptop, and it has become my favorite computer of all time. I went down to the local Apple dealer and traded it in for a new one, with more memory but basically the same machine, updated. They gave me a credit for my old one and transferred all my apps and pictures over to the new one, and I picked it up the same day I took it in. I'm using it now, and other than being faster and more powerful than my old one, it looks and feels just the same. I keep forgetting about the fact that it's different, until I load a page that once took a while and now is instantaneous. I realize how much I rely on having both good internet connectivity and good computers when for some reason either one of those fail. I'm very happy with my almost-invisible purchase, since I spend a good deal of my daily life peering at the screen and tapping away at the keyboard. I'm glad to have a semblance of computer savvy, too. Life is good.

I'm reading an interesting book right now: Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying). Basically it's a book that debunks a lot of the anti-aging hoaxes being peddled today. It's a new book, out this year, and I got it from the library after waiting awhile for it. I like it so much that I might go ahead a pay for it on my Kindle, since I can only keep it for two weeks before I have to turn it back in. Bill Gifford, the author, is very entertaining and makes me laugh at some of his descriptions. When he mentions someone who has been trying different angles to stay young, I can look them up and read all about them. I didn't know about Suzanne Somers, for example. She gives herself daily injections of human growth hormone and God know what all else, all in a quest to stay young. She's now 68 and has written two books about her anti-aging techniques. She takes massive amounts of supplements, too.

Well, I understand some of it, I really do. I take supplements, too, but nowhere near as many, but it's all for the same reason: to keep things working well for as long as possible. For her it's important to look like someone twenty years younger than her true age, but I find myself quite content to allow the aging process to show. It will be interesting to see what happens with her in the next five years, since I notice that with every year that passes, my body has accelerated in its journey towards decrepitude. Not that I'm there yet, but I can see the inevitability of it. I've slowed down quite a lot, but I can still keep up with the moderately fast walkers on Saturday morning. There are always a half-dozen or so who walk fast enough that I would have to jog to keep up, but there are plenty who walk at my own brisk pace. The main thing is that I go out and attempt to keep up. Plus it's really fun; it's my own version of play, and if I've learned anything about growing older, it's been that if you don't use it, you lose it. So I'll be out there walking as fast as I can on my short little legs until I can't do it any more.

And for Memorial Day tomorrow, I'm not sure what I'll do. The buses won't be running, and the gym is closed for the holiday. If it's a nice day, I might go for a nice walk, or I might just relax at home and watch a few Netflix episodes of that new series, Grace and Frankie. This whole idea of releasing the entire season all at once makes it tempting to binge-watch. The comedy is based on the idea of four seventy-something people, two long-time couples, who have to deal with the fact that the two husbands fall in love with each other and divorce their wives in order to marry. The reviews have not been stellar, but it sounds like it might be fun. It also demonstrates how quickly our society is changing. I watched Amazon's series Transparent earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. That one is about a man in his sixties who decides to come out to his family as a man who wants to become a woman. Oh my! It is really good and I'm looking forward to season 2, supposedly coming out in the fall.

My point, though, is that there's plenty to do if I want to hang around inside, or if I want to play outdoors. And then there's my garden, which needs a little bit of tending. It's coming along so well! I harvested my first lettuce and spicy greens from there, and I see that the strawberries are almost beginning to ripen. Yes, life is good.

And look! Here it is, another Sunday post behind me. I will go through it and make sure I didn't make any egregious grammatical errors, hoping that it flows easily so I don't have to struggle too long with any parts of it, and then hit publish. And I do hope that you enjoy the holiday in whatever way makes you the most content, whether it's visiting graves or remembering the fallen, or whether it's going to a party and being with friends and family. Everyone deserves it, and that includes you, my dear readers. Now I'm off to read the Sunday funnies on line and begin my day.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

May morning

Taken last week by Roger Iverson
Years ago, I joined the Whatcom Birding listserv and receive pictures from the group on a regular basis. This one showed up in my mailbox last week, a picture of a hooded merganser with her new babies. It's always wonderful to see these new hatchlings testing the waters of life, and my hope goes out to them that they will survive their first months.

It's hard for me to believe that it's already the middle of May and that everything is in full flower, but it is. The seasons fly by so fast, and every time I mark the moment with a post, like this lovely May morning, it's time to think of summer, which is pushing spring out of the way so we can bask in summer's heat. Well, we don't often get temperatures into the 90-degree range, so I'm talking about relative heat. Some people are already experiencing temperatures hotter than we get all summer long.

But that might change this summer. Everything is topsy-turvy, weather wise, around the world. One of my blogging friends in Australia laments that her spring flowers are coming out, and they are moving into winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Never happened before. And I learned that Artist Point, the terminus of the Mt. Baker Highway, has just opened, six weeks before its normal opening date. It's usually buried in snow until around the end of June, but not this year. Because of the record-low snowfall in the wilderness this past winter, crews were able to clear this road of snow to open the hiking season early. Before this year, the earliest the road had been opened was June 29. Now that's scary.

I fear we have a very hot summer ahead for us, with lots of wildfires and unaccustomed heat during our usually rain-free July and August. All the lushness of the Pacific Northwest fuels fires when everything dries out. But what am I doing? My sister would say I am "awful-izing," worrying about events that may or may not come about.  Instead, I think it's much more fruitful to enjoy the moment and let the future take care of itself. Whatever is going on with the weather, there's not much I can do about it, in any event. Right now we are enjoying mild temperatures with lots of sun and a bit of rain, so I'll concentrate on that.

Last evening I attended a wonderful concert by the Bellingham Chamber Chorale, which I enjoyed very much. My friend Al (our hiking leader) sings in the chorale and keeps us hikers informed of the concerts as they come around. Otherwise, I would have missed this incredible experience. This particular concert concentrated on music of the Pacific Rim, singing songs in Spanish, Korean, Japanese and (of course) English. I still have some of the music reverberating in my head, and moments from the concert keep coming back to me as I sit here thinking about it. There were plenty of soloists last night, and everyone performed flawlessly. My hands were sore from clapping so hard at the finish.

But rather than mingle with my friends who also attended the concert, I quickly made my way to the parking lot so I could drive myself home with a bit of light still in the sky. I don't drive at night very much any more, because the cataracts in my eyes cause the glare of oncoming headlights to make driving difficult. And I was in a part of town I don't know well, but I made it home safely. At this time of year, we have light in the sky well past 9:00pm, a time when I would normally be horizontal in bed. It was worth it, though. It's nice to know I can still stay awake and enjoy an evening concert now and then. During the long days of spring and summer, at least. The sun didn't set until 8:47pm last night, and we are enjoying more than 16 hours of daylight right now. Some people love the long days, but I am happiest with a compromise between the dark nights of winter and the long days of summer.

In fact, now that I think of it, May is probably one of my favorite times of the year. Everything is bursting with life, and we are shedding our old familiar raincoats and showing some skin. Well, everybody but me, that is. I keep a couple pairs of shorts for those times when I visit my sister in Florida, but otherwise I don't expose my legs, and it's been ages since I've worn a sleeveless blouse. Short sleeves, maybe, but sleeveless? I'd be so self conscious that it's not worth it.

Funny when I think about how much I've changed since I've gotten old. There was a time when I had no problem at all (and it wasn't that long ago) making a naked skydive with a bunch of friends. I think I might have written about it one time or another. In fact, I looked it up and here's the story. I wrote it five years ago, if you're interested in how we accomplished it. But these days I look at the beautiful blue sky and the first thing that comes to my mind is not rushing down to Skydive Snohomish to make a jump. Instead, I think of my garden. And nobody is calling me and begging me to come down, either, so you know what? I might be done. By the time this season is over, I think I can call it part of my personal history.

Everything moves on, it's just the way of things. There was also a time when I couldn't ride a bike and had to learn. Now bike riding is something I can still do, and I am thinking of purchasing a really good bike to take the place of the used one I bought a couple of years ago. I finally gave it away, since I rode it so seldom, but the problem was not riding it but the clunkiness of it, not to mention having to haul it up and down sixteen steps from my apartment. But I still enjoy riding a bike and maybe I'll take it up again. It's not out of the question. Having a seventy-something old lady riding a bike is much more acceptable than having her jumping out of airplanes. But I can still do that, too, if I want. I'm still current and my gear languishes in my closet, ready for action. For the moment.

And just like magic, another post is almost ready. I didn't have any idea what I would write about this morning, and although it's not all that deep and introspective, it's where I am at the moment. That's the point of this Sunday morning activity, anyway: to remind myself what's on my mind, and who I am on this beautiful May morning. I hope that the coming week will bring you, my dear friends, a wonderful week filled with love.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Remembering family

Mama is next to my brother Buz in the red shirt
I have no idea how long ago this picture was taken, but it must have been a Thanksgiving gathering in Texas during the 1980s. The little girl in the front on the left, Megan, is now a mother of two herself, and Trish, the other little girl in the front, is in her mid-thirties. My mother is responsible for all the people in this picture, one way or another. The only two related to her by marriage are Bob and Stewart, top row next to me. I don't have even one white hair. PJ, next to Mama on the right, died more than a year ago. That's Norma Jean in the front row next to Trish. My two youngest sisters, Fia (blond) and Markee (next to my brother Buz) round out the bunch. My family. Daddy was already gone, and Norma Jean's husband Pete probably took the picture.

My family, the way we were then. We would gather in Texas every few years. After Daddy died in 1979, I tried to make it back to Texas to see my mother at least once a year, and Thanksgiving was a good time for it to happen. We had scattered to many parts of the country, and it was always a wonderful thing to see everybody once again. Three siblings still remained in Texas, which is why we gathered there. These days I follow Megan, Trish, Fia and Buz on Facebook, and it's great to be able to see what's going on in their lives. Markee and Norma Jean are also registered on FB but they don't use it. I find it invaluable to keep tabs on those I don't see in person any more, but it's not everybody's cup of tea. Just for grins, I think I'll post this picture on there today for Mother's Day.

Photographs are moments captured in time, and going back through old pictures makes me realize how much I've forgotten of those days. I guess that's normal, but it gives me a little twinge, knowing that we will never again all be together, and that now all I've got left of some of them is this picture and my memories, scanty as they are. Once I'm gone, only the picture will remain, and since I never label them, before long this picture will end up being discarded. And why not? It's just an old image of a moment in the late twentieth century, now gone too. Emily Dickinson once said, "Forever is composed of nows." That's the only forever we have.

Mama was proud of her children, all of them, and I was the first born of her six living children. She also had another girl she carried for seven months, born prematurely and who didn't live more than a few hours. So it was seven times she went through the birth process and nurtured the rest of us into adulthood. I left to get married when I was only eighteen (and accidentally pregnant) but as the years went by, the only place I ever called "home" was where my mother was. She gave me life, and she continued to be the center, the rock that we all clung to when times were tough. It was hard to lose her, but as I've said before, she still visits me in my dreams now and then. I remember when she comforted me when I was sick, and if I really concentrate, I think I can feel her soothing hand stroking my hair.

I don't have any living children to call me mom today, but I also went through the birth process and loved and cherished my babies when they were small. My friend Judy called me up yesterday and lamented the fact that I didn't have anybody to help me celebrate Mother's Day, although I certainly am one. I told her not to worry, I feel very blessed to have had them for as long as I did, and the grief over losing them no longer troubles me. Missing our loved ones is natural, and as our lives heal over the pain recedes, it really does. I suppose if I were so inclined, I could feel really sorry for myself, but I don't think I'd be nearly as happy as I am by moving on.

I've got plenty to be thankful for, and having the wonderful family I have is one blessing I will never take for granted. I call my sister Norma Jean every other week and we catch up with each other. I see the children of several of my siblings (and their children) on Facebook and smile as I see how quickly they are growing up and starting independent lives of their own. I have my own partner to share my life with, along with a very important circle of friends and acquaintances, and there is no lack in my world. I am always mindful to give thanks for what is and not yearn for what is not. What would be the point? The only person who would suffer would be me. I choose laughter and joy instead. And memories. I've got plenty of them to enjoy.

I am thinking of my own mother and how proud she would be of all her offspring, generations of them now. She lived long enough to have a chance to see us all launched into the world. When she was alive, I would call her and we'd discuss them and I would learn what she hoped for each one of us. As I think back, much of what she hoped for not only came true, but surpassed her wildest dreams. Not one of us is monetarily wealthy, but she taught me that the relationships we nurture and cherish are the more important wealth. That the love that surrounds us, if we just allow ourselves to feel it, is way more conducive to happiness than any material things.

Well, here it is again, the time to begin the rest of my Sunday. Mother's Day in Bellingham has brought me many things: blue sunny skies, a gentle breeze, a garden waiting for my ministrations, spending time together with Smart Guy, and the joy of my virtual world of friends. I've also got a good book to read, a series on Netflix that I'm enjoying (Foyle's War), great internet connectivity, and a refrigerator full of good food, thanks to my partner. I hope that you, my gentle reader, will have at least half of these good things yourself. And if you have children and grandchildren to celebrate this wonderful day with, I'm really glad for you and look forward to you sharing them with me. This particular "now" feels pretty darn good to me.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Perfect weather to be outdoors

Our walk in the park yesterday
I love this time of year. It's cool in the morning and sunny and warm during the afternoons. It cools off enough at night, with the clear skies, to make it comfortable for sleeping. I always have the window open in the bedroom for fresh air, and change my bed coverings to compensate for the differences in temperature throughout the year.

It was a smallish group yesterday for our walk, with no slowpokes along, so our leader Cindy set a very fast pace. I spent much of my time trying to keep up with the two women walking right in front of me, and I talked (when I could) with Judith, who walked next to me. I can never walk at the front of the group, because I can't keep up. This is the only time during the week that I am challenged to walk as fast as I can, so I would miss it if I didn't go on Saturday mornings. And I am much faster than I was when I started walking with them, so it's helpful. Cindy has had some clinics to teach people how to pick up the pace, and I learned a great deal in them. She is a retired race walker and makes it seem effortless to zip along at a fast clip.

Cindy is a little slip of a thing, which helps, but she's shorter than I am, so it doesn't have anything to do with stride. In fact, she taught me to shorten my stride rather than lengthening it, and walk at a faster pace. It works, plus planting my heel and then pushing off with my toes on the back part of the stride.

I've been struggling to lose the few pounds I gained when I went to Turkey. They keep stubbornly hanging on. I've found that if I weigh myself every morning at the same time, I can see the trend of my weight, and when it starts going up, I get very annoyed. I normally have a three-pound variation, and when I see a number that gets higher than that, I begin to think about every bite that goes into my mouth during the day. I'm really trying not to feel guilty about it and cut myself some slack, but I've managed to keep off those fifteen pounds that I lost a few years ago by paying close attention to the trend. Not to mention that I got rid of all my "fat" clothes a while back. It's very distressing to put on a favorite pair of pants and feel like the waistband has shrunk.

So it's a constant struggle and remaining vigilant is necessary. I've noticed that my metabolism has continued to slow down as I age, which is normal. I recently read that old age is usually broken down into three parts: young old (65-74); old old (75-84), and very old (85+). I notice that as I travel through young old age, I need less food to maintain my weight, and I suspect this trend will continue as I grow even older, no matter how active I am. Sigh. It just doesn't seem fair, since I still have the same sized appetite. And I do enjoy good food, but I think I enjoy having my clothes fit properly even more.

We all know dieting doesn't work, so for me what's left is paying attention to the daily trend. When I first began weighing myself in the mornings, it was a struggle to make myself get on the digital scale when I knew I had eaten more than I should have the day before, but I forced myself to do it anyway with a little mantra ("it is what it is") and now weighing myself is part of my daily routine, like brushing and flossing. Taking care of this body so I will be happy inhabiting it for as long as possible, it's just what I do.

And now that the weather is becoming so lovely outside, I will be spending more time walking, hiking, gardening, and just plain enjoying myself in the sunshine. It also helps to keep my appetite in check, because for some reason when I spend enough time outdoors, I begin to notice that I'm not eating as much out of habit but more out of necessity. Spending too much time indoors with a full refrigerator is not conducive to maintaining a healthy weight. For me, anyway.

The other thing that is interesting to watch is, as the weather improves, I don't find myself anxious to get down to Skydive Snohomish and throw myself out of perfectly good airplanes. It's fading away, almost by itself, naturally. Now that doesn't mean I'm done, but there is a definite difference in my feeling about skydiving. I still see pictures of my friends on Facebook continuing to enjoy it, and I remember that once upon a time I did, too, but it's gently winding down. Maybe one of these days I'll just wake up and remember that I was once an avid skydiver and as much as I enjoyed it, it's in the past. But not quite yet.

Well, another morning of musings, another Sunday post done. The sun has been up for an hour already, and I feel energized and am looking forward to the day ahead. I wish for you that your day will be a good one, and until we meet again next Sunday, I hope you will be well and happy.