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, 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.