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, February 28, 2016

Ups and downs of a rocky week

A grape hyacinth peeking out of last winter's leaves
Just a week ago when I sat here in bed with my laptop, I was in a very different space. I hadn't yet visited my new doctor, which I did last Monday. I wrote about it here. I thought my previous doctor was young, but this guy is even more so. I wonder how long it will be before he, too, moves on. I had my last doctor for five years. It was pleasant to chat with the new one, and he spent more than a half hour with me, which surprised me. It's one thing when your doctor is young enough to be your son, but Patrick is actually young enough to be my grandson!

I talked with my sister Norma Jean on Wednesday, and she wondered why my posts have been getting shorter and shorter. I felt a pang of guilt when she said that, because I know I haven't been giving these Sunday posts my full attention. I've been in a hurry to get to the next part of the day at the coffee shop. Sometimes it takes a reminder for me to realize that my penchant for staying busy and engaged in my life can make me miss the moment. I'll try to slow down a little today.

There's a new friend I look forward to seeing at the coffee shop, a man named Lorenzo. He's been coming in daily for the last couple of months, and I recently learned that he's homeless. He comes in to get coffee and find a warm place to stay for awhile, as well as a place to hook up his laptop for wifi. I would never have guessed he's homeless, because he's well dressed and only carries a backpack with his meds and electronics.

The other day he came in with his face streaked with tears. He's never asked me for money or even given any hint that life is so difficult for him, but someone had found the place where he stashes his sleeping bag and clothes and taken the clothes and strewn his sleeping bags out into the rain. My friend John and I both really felt bad for him, but what can you do? Lorenzo is a tall black man in his sixties who seems to be pretty good health, but he told us that he's got a heart condition and although he has a case worker who is helping him as much as possible, he's unable to work in construction any more and is on a very small disability pension. Not enough to pay rent anywhere, it seems.

Lorenzo is a good-hearted person with a great sense of humor. When my friend Gene is there, the four of us will sometimes sit and tell stories and laugh for hours. John has offered Lorenzo his barn as a place out of the rain, but John lives in the country with a very long driveway, and Lorenzo has no way to get there from town. He did spend one very wet night there and John drove him there and back. We discussed an article that appeared in the local paper about the number of homeless children in Whatcom County. I was appalled to learn that this year, 854 students in K-12 are counted as homeless. That means they sleep under bridges and under tarps with other family members, according to that article. Lorenzo confirmed that they are indeed out there.

I am accosted for money from people on the street almost daily. You can tell most of the homeless who wander around because of their inevitable grocery cart filled with all their worldly goods. Until I met Lorenzo, I didn't realize that there are also vast numbers of invisible homeless people that I don't see. The children and their parents: where are they? My heart breaks for the conditions that allow such poverty to exist in the richest country in the world.

I went to see Michael Moore's latest movie, which he calls Where to Invade Next? He goes to different countries ostensibly to steal ideas that other countries have that he wants to bring back to America. Although the movie is long and occasionally very funny, it made me wonder why we have no social system to care for the homeless that is evident in almost every other country. Now this doesn't mean I'd like to live anywhere other than America (other than maybe Canada), but it did make me ponder the differences in our countries. Chris Knight is a reviewer who wrote a piece that pretty much says everything I thought about the movie:
At each location, Moore “steals” the best ideas he can find, leaving behind an American flag and a series of flabbergasted Finns, incredulous Italians, flummoxed French, etc. It’s both amusing and educational, but it tends to drift in the second hour, to the point where only the most diehard Moore fans won’t be starting to shift in their seats.
 Yes, even I was beginning to shift in my seat towards the end of the movie, and I've enjoyed every Michael Moore movie I've seen. I heard he was in the hospital with pneumonia right at the time this one was released. He is from Flint, Michigan, after all, and probably drinking the water. Plus he really doesn't take very good care of himself in any event. But he did create a thought-provoking movie. Apparently it's possible to download it and watch it free of charge. I would recommend seeing it that way rather than in a theater.

And then a couple of days ago, I had my own reality check, so to speak. Usually I really enjoy our 26-unit apartment complex, but I got a real shock in the mail: our landlord has increased our rent by 13%! I gasped when I saw the number and immediately contacted other tenants to see if they also had been ambushed (they had), or whether he is just trying to force us out. We've been here for more than eight years, very happy until now.

I called and talked with the landlord and he told me that the new number is slightly below market value, and if I wanted to pay another $50/month I could start paying month to month and not sign the lease. In fact, I did go and check some of the other places I've looked at as possible places to move, and he's right: everything has become more expensive. Everything has increased except our fixed income. But this place is NOT top of the line in anybody's book, trust me.

We decided to go ahead and sign the lease for another year, but we will be actively looking for some options. If they did it this year, they can do it again next year when the lease comes due again. That's the renter's dilemma and until now, I thought I had a decent landlord; in previous years the increase has been reasonable, but something has changed. It threw me for a loop, but I've recovered. This year, we can still make ends meet. But I fear for our future, not only personally, but everywhere within my own world.

And don't get me started on the election. I won't go there right now, but doesn't it make you wonder just what the heck is going on? I've got no power other than my own tiny vote and the ability to give money to the candidate of my choice, but even that's changed, now that I'll be paying more of my monthly income to the landlord.

Sorry that this post is such a litany of sad news. That picture at the top of the post was taken this week on a sunny day in an old orchard on my Senior Trailblazer hike. I need to remember that spring is on the way, when the grape hyacinth is beginning to pop out from under the winter's dry leaves, and it's only going to get warmer and sunnier from here on out. That's the wonderful thing about seasons: you don't need to stay in one place in life because it will change to something different. I'm looking forward to better days ahead.

I hope you will also have better days ahead, and that those of you in freezing temperatures will remember that nothing stays the same, it all changes. Those dear friends who are leaving summertime behind and moving towards fall, well I have to remember that even here on our blue marble, we have opposite seasons going on at the same time. I get so focused on my own little life that I forget to look up at the sky and be thankful. That's the best part of these posts: I get to remember to expand my horizons. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Birds and books

Common loon in early breeding plumage
I belong to an email group called "Whatcom Birds" that sends wonderful pictures and information into my emailbox about the goings on of the birds in our area (Whatcom County). Joe Meche put this one up last Wednesday with the following caption:
Quite a few loons at the Moo this morning, both Common and Pacific. Many of the Commons seem to be getting into the early phases of breeding plumage....in mid-February! Rafts of PALOs were close in to the back of the resort, calling back and forth, feeding, etc. Fun times ahead! 
The "Moo" is short for Semiamoo Spit,  a place where birds congregate in huge numbers. I only know all this because of the information I've gleaned from the group. It's a wonderful way to learn about the myriad variety of birds we are blessed with here. The acronym you might not recognize (PALO) is the shorthand that birders use to describe the species: the first two letters of each part of its name (PAcific LOon).

I got interested in birds when I started feeding them from my front porch here in Bellingham, first with a single feeder and gradually growing to many more, and they came in huge numbers. Goldfinch and chickadees, wrens and nuthatches... and English sparrows, that greedy invasive species that began to come in such numbers that I tried to devise ways to allow the other birds to eat. I hung bags of black nyger seeds, which the sparrows don't eat, and got upside-down feeders that allow those birds that can hang inverted to use (English sparrows were laughable to watch but couldn't make use of them) and that helped some. I also had juncos, grosbeaks, and the occasional flicker show up.

Before long, I was spending way too much on bird seed and having to clean up the mess they made under the feeders two or three times a day. It began to be quite a chore, not to mention that my neighbors were bothered by the detritus. When we moved to another apartment in the same complex, I stopped feeding the birds. It was August when I stopped, so it didn't cause them to lose their food source during the winter months. It was time. I am still captivated by all the birds in the neighborhood, as I have neighbors who feed them, so I continue to enjoy their presence. But nothing like before, and it's just as well.

Maybe one of these days I'll become a birder, equipped with binoculars and expensive camera equipment, stalking the Semiamoo Spit myself. But for now, I seem to have little time or inclination for such an activity. Maybe when I can no longer hike and go for long walks I'll take it up. It's good to know that when one door closes, another might open if I can just find the doorway.

Tomorrow will be the anniversary of my last skydive, speaking of doors closing. I still get notices to attend various skydiving events, and I read them carefully. Not because I'm going, but because I still get a thrill thinking of all those events I attended for decades. I've taken up volunteer activities to replace it, and I don't miss skydiving, even if I still think of it often and study the pictures of formations that pop up on my news feed in Facebook. Many of them are my friends who were skydiving buddies back in the day.

For now, I am enjoying myself in different ways. I've just finished a wonderful book, When Breath Becomes Air, recently published and already a bestseller. That link takes you to another Sunday post that reviews the book. Paul Kalanithi was a young doctor who was diagnosed with lung cancer (he never smoked) and realized that his days were numbered and wanted to write his memoir about what he feels makes life worth living, and this book is the result. I finished reading the book and immediately started reading it again, to make sure I don't miss any of the important messages he imparts. His wife Lucy, also a doctor, finished the book with a very moving epilogue.

The Kalanithis had wanted to have children someday, and when he realized they wouldn't have the chance, they decided to save his sperm before he started treatment for his cancer. The two of them did end up making a beautiful daughter, and she was not even a year old when he died. He wrote a message to her grown-up self that holds the entire beauty of this book in a few words:
When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.
It's partly, I guess, that I am now volunteering to help others write their Advance Directives for Health Care that I think quite a bit about what I've been and done and meant to the world. My own mother went into a coma during her final weeks and we, her children, met in her room (she was in Hospice and at home in her own bed) to discuss how to proceed. She was given a morphine injection every 12 hours and had apparently waited for me to arrive before dying; that very night when I got up to give her the shot (I was sleeping on a cot in her room), she gently slipped away, with us around her to witness the moment. It was very beautiful and makes her passing a serene memory. I can only hope for a similar death.

For now, however, I'm still filled with life and the joy of being able to decide what, among the immense choices I can make, I will do with my day. It's starting out like many Sundays in past years with a post on this blog, familiar surroundings and my partner still sleeping lightly beside me. I'll head to the coffee shop to help a friend finish his Advance Directive over our coffee, discussing his wishes if he were to become unable to make his own decisions. He promised me he would ask his son if he would be his Health Care Agent in that event. John is 76 and in moderately good health. I'll breathe easier once he's finished it. It will be my first finished Advance Directive other than my own.

And the time is coming to bring this post to a close and move into my day. I am hoping that you, my dear reader, will have a wonderful and fulfilling day. Until we meet again next week, be well.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day 2016

From Astronomy Picture of the Day
My goodness, that's pretty! I woke this morning wondering what I would write about here on this rainy day in the middle of February. Several things competed for dominance in my mind, but then I saw this picture on Astronomy Picture of the Day and I knew I had found my lead-in picture.

Yesterday the stakes changed in the political election, big time, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep. Now every one of my news sources is screaming about the fight ahead to keep Obama from appointing another liberal justice to replace the very conservative Scalia. It's enough to make me want to hide under the covers until it's all over. Just when I thought I could handle it all, the incredible rift right down the middle of my country has been exposed in all its horror. It's like a trainwreck I cannot look away from. Hopefully reason will prevail, but nothing I've seen so far gives me any cause for optimism. I'll watch the PBS News Hour, Downton Abbey, and avert my eyes from the rest of TV for awhile.

* * *

When SG and I decided to move away from Boulder in 2008, we didn't know where we really wanted to live except that it was already decided that it would be somewhere on the west coast. Sometimes people are really surprised to find that we moved from a sunny climate like Boulder's to the wet Pacific Northwest. But as the years have gone by, I realize how supremely lucky we have been to find this spot in Bellingham to live out our retirement years. It's eight years on, and although we only thought we'd be here for awhile as we explored the area to find the exact right place, we've never seen any reason to be elsewhere. For us, it's perfect.

Facebook is wonderful for me, because I can still virtually visit all my old friends in Boulder and see how they're getting on. I now have many local friends, too, so it's possible for me to be connected to the past and the present at the same time. When I first moved to Boulder in 1974 it was a very different place than the one we left in 2008. Time moves on and small, incremental changes are unnoticed until something reminds me of how much I've changed, and how different the city has become. A new Facebook friend showed a picture of himself at what was once my favorite restaurant in Boulder, and I recognized it immediately. Memories came flooding back, and I was glad to discover that it is still in operation. I was there on its opening day many years ago.

We don't go out to eat together much any more; it's not that the choices for places to dine in Bellingham are fewer, but we've changed. We don't need as much food as we once did, and we made a conscious decision to find other ways to celebrate special occasions other than eating out. It's more important to both of us to be healthy and find ways to keep our aging bodies fit than it is to eat more than we need. And as we all know, eating out always results in leaving a restaurant having eaten more than we would have at home. These days we go for a walk or watch a movie together, and it's working quite well. We still find ways to celebrate without food being the centerpiece.

And we are still each other's Valentine's. My life is complete because I have a wonderful partner who thinks about what I need and like and doesn't even have to ask any more. As time goes by, I realize that I lucked out this final time around the marriage carousel. My first ones were just warmups. It's hard to believe that we've been together now for 23 years. That means we've been together for almost twice as long as all three of my previous marriages added together! No wonder I get such a sense of satisfaction about our partnership; it's probably going to last.

As much as anything is going to last, that is. The nature of life is change, and that reminds me how important it is to be grateful for today and to stop and take stock of who I am today, where we are today, and how much there is to appreciate in our daily lives. After I finish this post, I'll climb out of bed and do my morning exercises before heading down to the coffee shop for my usual latte. By that time my partner will probably still be sleeping in bed. Our habit is that I awake earlier than he does, so I get my cup of tea and laptop and come back to bed to read or write posts while he snoozes, probably comforted by the familiar sounds as much as I am by the sound of his gentle breathing.

When I return from the coffee shop, he's up and around and has started his day. We spend some time together, talking about various things and perhaps even making a plan for the rest of the day. It's Sunday, so the day is a bit more fluid than the weekdays. Even though I no longer go to work, I have a routine that is quite fulfilling for me. I am one of those people who really appreciates having a routine that varies little from day to day. Other people like more options in their daily lives, and that's fine. It's just not my cup of tea.

Ah. Speaking of cups of tea, mine is empty, the post is almost finished, and I found a short little video that ties together the first and last parts. It's a two-minute celebration of love.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Being a volunteer facilitator

Espresso and iPad art
I always like to start out my posts with a picture of some sort. This one I took last week because I was so impressed with the design in the latte and saw this scene just before I turned on my iPad. My usual companions at the coffee shop had not yet arrived. Once I began to drink and surf the internet, the moment passed, but it's preserved here forever.

When I wrote in here last Sunday I was still processing the previous day's training. I'll start at the beginning of why I decided to become an end-of-life Advance Care Planning (ACP) facilitator. Last summer SG (Smart Guy) and I went to a presentation about the importance of ACP. Although we had prepared our wills with an attorney a decade before, this was different and much more comprehensive. After being given the Washington state version of ACP, we went home and filled out the sections of the 7-page-long document that were easy to process. Then we scheduled an hour-and-a-half session with an ACP facilitator.

Needless to say, I was very impressed with the process and what Karen, our facilitator, was able to do to help us decide how to complete the document. How it is different from a will is that you need to think about what you want to happen if for any reason you are not conscious and end up in the hospital. As their brochure says, "Speak for yourself today so that others will be able to speak for you tomorrow." This was not part of our previous will in any detail. You also need to think about what you want to happen if you are not likely to ever again know who you are or who you are with.

The Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement (WAHA) is unique in my experience, giving all residents of Whatcom County a chance to get this information filled out, notarized, and on file in the records at the local hospital (PeaceHealth). And all this is done by volunteers; the program is supported by donations. WAHA has a plan to get 65% of all people 65 and over to have their ACP done within the next few years, and training new facilitators is part of the process.

I told Karen that I was so impressed with the ability she had to help us figure out the best way to fill out these documents that I too would like to learn how to help. I had done a little volunteering in the community since retirement, but before this happened I had not found my place. Last spring I attended a two-day-long session on becoming a death doula, someone who helps others to pass through the last phase of life in a sacred way. After attending, however, I decided that it was not for me at this time. Too intense, I guess, and not quite what I was looking for.

This training was pretty intense, too, but it's a whole different thing. First of all, I was instructed to complete four on-line courses on "Respecting Choices" and to learn how to use value-neutral language and how to listen without inserting my own feelings and desires into the discussion. I was given a month or so to complete them, and I found this method of training to be very helpful and instructive. I was glad to finish them successfully, since it's been a long time since I'd done any kind of training like that.

And then last Saturday I spent the entire day going through the training with five other new facilitators, accompanied by four current facilitators and the instructor. Eleven of us women never left the room except to use the bathroom for nine hours! Snacks and lunch were provided (a good homemade lunch, too!). We reviewed what we had learned on line and then did five separate role-playing sessions. Nobody really likes these, but they are a good way to put the skills you have learned to use. We pretended to be the facilitator guiding the client through the discussions, and then we switched roles. I learned a great deal, and it was very valuable, not to mention allowing me to become part of a community of like-minded women.

I was mentally exhausted by the time I returned home, but I hadn't had a chance to get any exercise at all, so I figured I'd go for a walk or something. But it's amazing how draining such intense mental activity can be: instead I poured myself a glass of wine, collapsed in my chair, and shared the day's activities with SG. The next step is to twice shadow a facilitator as she meets with a client (sit quietly in the room and observe), and then start working with my own appointments. I've got two friends who I'll work with, one my friend John at the coffee shop and another hiking buddy.

I've shadowed once and have another scheduled for the 16th, and by that time I should have helped two people in the community get their ACP documents filled out. I'm not exactly sure how the last part is finished (getting the documents checked over and notarized) but I'll find out. I'm now getting the hang of this and I think I'll enjoy it very much. It's a very valuable service. I know that families have a really hard time deciding how to proceed when a loved one is incapacitated, and it takes all the guesswork out of the situation when the person's wishes are known, written down and on file.

Whew! Getting all this written out was rough. I didn't realize how much it would help me to get my mind around it all by writing this post, but it has allowed me to organize my thoughts. It's not exactly a fun activity such as hiking to the top of a mountain, but it is needed and I think will give me a sense of providing a useful service. Plus it's volunteer, so if I decide it's not for me, I can just stop. I don't think I will, though.

The one thing I am already noticing is how much less free time I seem to have. Between appointments with the training and my two yoga classes, my "dance card" has filled right up! Again I marvel at how I ever managed to fit a full-time job into my life, not to mention skydiving every weekend. But I'm older now, and I've slowed down to the brisk pace of ordinary mortals. (smile)

In a few weeks, it will be exactly one year since I made my last skydive. Have I missed it? I can actually say no, I haven't. It was time to stop, but not a week passes without skydiving showing up in my dreams. It was a huge part of my life for a long time, but becoming a retired skydiver is not that much different from becoming a retired writer/editor. The only real difference is that I still can write and edit for fun. Jumping from an airplane for fun requires a different skill set. My skydiving gear is still continuing to get a good workout from its new owner, Lauren. And thanks to Facebook, I can smile and wish her well.

Mercy! This ended up being a bit more work than usual, but it was very necessary to get it all out here. I am now noticing the days getting longer as we gain more than three minutes of daylight every day. Before too long I'll be hearing the birds outside as I write, but it's still almost an hour before the sun comes up. There's light in the sky already, though. How delightful! I wish that you, my dear reader, will have a wonderful week before we meet here again. Blessings and virtual hugs all around.