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.