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, October 30, 2016

My canopy of friends

Looking up at the canopy of trees last Thursday
Although I used this picture in my Thursday hiking blog, I like it so much that I'm using it here, too. Believe it or not, it is in color, but since there was no color to be seen, we are left with a monochrome. Every once in awhile I'll look all around while we are hiking, and it's truly a different world when I look up. A metaphor for life, don't you think?

The circle of friends that love Carol are relieved that yesterday she and her cat Sandy safely arrived in Durham, North Carolina, where she will begin a new life. The cat was allowed to be on board with her, and Sandy howled the entire way, making her seat mates uncomfortable, I'm sure. I wish there was some way to tell our furry friends what is happening, but to think of going from freedom of movement to a cage with no way to see much of anything, being hauled and jostled around, well, no wonder she cried the whole way.

It reminded me of a time when I cried on the plane all the way to Frankfurt, Germany, and all the way back. My son Chris had died and I had to attend his funeral in Bamberg, where the US Army base once stood. The base is gone now, just like Chris has been for fourteen years now. When such terrible events occur in our lives, we think at the time we will never get over them, but we do. At the time, though, I was in a cage of my own grief, and there was no door that would open and let me out. I had to suffer through it. It's an old wound, now, but when I allow myself to think of those days, I can feel a constriction in my chest, similar to running one's hand over an old scar. I healed, but I'm scarred for life.

I received a text from Carol that she had arrived and that Sandy is busy exploring all the rooms in her sister's house, where she will stay until her furniture arrives and she will move into her house, with a porch and a fenced yard. Sandy will settle in eventually, like cats always do. Carol inherited Sandy when one of Carol's clients on her deathbed asked her to take care of her cat. Carol thought she would probably turn Sandy over to the Humane Society, but you know what happened: we all became fond of her and she became part of our community. When Carol would travel, I'd go over to her apartment and spend time with Sandy and gain the contentment you receive from having a purring cat in your lap. We are not supposed to have any pets in this apartment complex, but I think this illegal alien remained undiscovered by the authorities during the two years she spent here. And she was an essential ingredient in Carol's life. Still is.

And now the manager of our apartment complex is in charge of getting Carol's place ready for a new tenant. The door is now locked and we all are in trepidation about the next version of our little community. We know that the apartment owner is most concerned with finding someone for this two-bedroom apartment who is financially stable, but we have other concerns, since we live in such close proximity to each other.

On Friday night, we had a final going-away party for Carol at Lynn's place, right next door to me, sandwiched between my place and Carol's. We had more than a dozen apartment dwellers show up to say goodbye to her, with lots of tears and laughter and stories to help carry her to her new life. And then yesterday morning long before dawn, Lynn drove Carol and Sandy to the airport for a 5:00am liftoff. So yesterday was spent in recovery mode. All of us commented on how tired we were. Even though I left the earliest and came back home to go to bed at my usual time, I simply could not settle down and finally, in my pink fluffy bathrobe, I went back over to join the party for awhile. Some didn't leave until midnight, although Lynn's invitations were for a two-hour gathering. Yeah, right. We were all wanting as much time as we could get with Carol.

It was traumatic to lose a constant companion, but I am consoled that Carol is now with her family, all of whom live in North Carolina, and she will be close to one of her two sons as well as her siblings. Carol moved here with her husband; they divorced and five years ago she moved into this apartment complex and wiggled her way into my heart. She taught me about gardening, and her garden plot has already been claimed by Sonya, a new tenant who moved in this summer. I'll get to know her as we toil next to each other in the garden. It's truly been a blessing, to have that community garden, because you get a chance to socialize with your neighbors in ways you wouldn't otherwise.

Because she was so tired, Lynn didn't join Lily and me on our usual Saturday walk with the ladies. There were 25 of us all gathered in one of our usual spots to begin our walk. One of the group, Ebba, had invited us to come to her studio afterwards for coffee, so I think that was one reason there were so many of us. We walked just over seven miles and the rain held off until we were finished. Lily and I drove the fifteen minutes into the countryside to see the place. Now that I know where it is, I will visit it again to buy Christmas presents for friends. As we sat around with our coffee and treats, we discussed some initiatives on our local ballot, and I realized that this is yet another canopy of friends that I cherish and belong to. Lily and Lynn usually both join me, and they live here in our apartment community. Some other women who hike with me on Thursday are also in this Saturday walking group, so my canopy of friends is intermingling, always growing, essential to my mental and physical health.

As I sit here in the bed with my dear partner sleeping next to me, I realize once again that my life is full of all the parts that are important, and that my canopy of friends sustains me in difficult times and rejoices with me in the good times. It also occurred to me, just now, that no one even mentioned the election yesterday except for one local ballot initiative. Here in Washington state, we do all our voting by mail, and I suspect that many of us have already voted. In a few more days, this toxic election will be over, and no one will be more glad to see it go than me. Fortunately, however it turns out, I will be able to commiserate or celebrate with my friends. Today I'll probably go see a movie with my friend Judy, and thanks to the magic of smartphones, I'll be able to communicate with Carol if I want to, and I know I'll stop by to say hello to other neighbors. It's a good life.

I found this quote from the Dalai Lama:  Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend—or a meaningful day.

I am blessed to have so many meaningful friends. You, I hope, know that I count you, my dear reader, among them. I look forward to your comments, and the community of the internet that we have created here. It is also good to take time out of your day to look around and savor this particular moment. Whatever it is, it will change as the days pass. And don't forget to give your loved ones the gift of a smile. I wish you the very best of days until we meet again next Sunday.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Moving thoughts

Just before sunrise at Lake Padden
Yesterday I began my day with the Saturday walk with the ladies at Lake Padden. Since the weather was nice (read: not raining), 23 of us made the trek twice around for more than five miles. Then it was a quick stop at the Farmers' Market for bread and home again. It was a perfect day for my friend Carol to begin the process of shipping her belongings to North Carolina. A couple of male friends, plus two or three of her neighbors, me included, started the process of moving her furniture and packing up much of her household items. She's leaving quite a bit of it behind and will have a sale sometime this coming week to get rid of what she's not taking with her.

It was tiring work and rather depressing to see Carol trying to decide what to keep and what to leave behind, but we made great progress. It also made me grateful to SG for not being a saver of stuff and someone who makes regular purges of unwanted household items. I tend to accumulate things I don't need and it's very inspiring to have someone around who is the opposite.

Carol also is using a different moving company than I'm used to: ABF Freight U-Pack. When I came home Friday, I saw a large trailer parked in front of the apartment complex and learned that it was for Carol's stuff and that she had until Monday to get it all packed up. It is much larger than what she needs, but she only pays for the space she uses and the rest of the truck is then packed with freight, not another household. I've always used U-Haul rental trucks and so was quite interested in learning how this system works. So far, it looks like a good way to manage a long-distance move and not have to drive it yourself. Carol says it's cheaper, too.

Helping someone sort through years of accumulated treasures along with no-longer-needed items is very enlightening, even if a little sad. Carol likes to keep everything, so there is a LOT to go through, making me think of moves that I've been involved with in the past. This is just a small two-bedroom apartment. It sparked memories of long-ago forgotten upheavals, a parent dying or a divorce, with the accompanying tearful wrenching disruption.

Just part of life, I guess. We all go through it, but some of us are better at it than others. Growing up with my father in the Air Force, we moved a lot, and I learned not to become too attached to things back then. There are some items that I carry with me from place to place, and just the presence of those things in my surroundings makes me feel better. I have a lamp on my bedside that I've had for five decades now, one that I bought with no sense that it would become a staple in my life. I've got piles of old photographs that cover decades, too, and although nowadays all of my latest pictures are digital, I cannot bring myself to get rid of any of the old ones. I did, however, years ago rid myself of all those negatives I carried around. Now I simply scan a picture and have plenty of copies if I want.

More than eight years ago, when I retired and we moved from Colorado to the Pacific Northwest, I got to see how an organized person does it. We had lived in the same apartment for fourteen years, and even though I didn't realize it, we had accumulated a lot of stuff we no longer needed. SG purged for months prior to the move, and by the time moving day came around, our pared-down belongings were manageable. With the help of some friends, we loaded up a U-Haul truck, which SG drove while I followed behind in the car, and we traveled over several days to our new home here in Bellingham. (He had come here months before, found our new apartment, and flown back to Colorado to make the trip here together.)

And now here we are, hopefully with no need to move again in the near future, coming up on nine years of life in Bellingham and a reminder from Carol to maybe think about a shedding of the old no-longer-needed items that surround me every day. Why not? It would probably feel really good to do that, and then I'll have that space to add even more stuff! I'm smiling but it's true.

People have so many different styles in the way we live our lives, and the bringing together of two fifty-year-olds when SG and I got married was quite a change for both of us. I'd lived alone for many years, as had he, but after the first difficult years, it never ceases to amaze me how well suited we are to each other, a quarter of a century later. We have had our ups and downs, but I cannot imagine my life without my partner, who complements me in ways I never even contemplated way back when. He says he's had to change the most, but I wonder if that's true. And really, who cares? We made the necessary adjustments and now we live together comfortably.

Which makes me look over at the other side of the bed and listen for his regular breathing, as he sleeps while I write, tapping away on my laptop. It's that time again: my post almost done, tea gone, and a sigh just escaped from my loved one, reassuring me that he's over there, if not asleep, content and probably reassured by the sounds emanating from this side of the bed, knowing all is well in our little corner of the universe.

I do hope that the coming week will bring you contentment and joy, as we move through the fall season toward the coming winter. The days are growing very short, and the nights longer in the Northern Hemisphere, but I am also reassured that spring is blossoming in all its glory in the Southern Hemisphere on our beautiful planet. The wheel turns, and I will finish with a Chinese proverb: "The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us." Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Transition time

Carol, me, Lily, Kitty, Lynn
I woke up this morning feeling blue, thinking about the party we had yesterday for my friend Carol. She's leaving the area, moving to North Carolina and joining her remaining family, now that her two sons have graduated from school and have moved away from this area. She's been a really good friend and I will really miss her. But in these days of instant communication, I'm hoping we'll still remain somewhat close. We had a nice gathering at Kitty's.

One of the things that happens as one gets older, people move away through either illness or life circumstances, and it isn't as easy to get over as it once was. My friends are people I count on to be there when things get tough, and losing any of them is wrenching, for whatever reason. Carol works as a caregiver to older people, and several of them have passed away recently, making it even easier for her to decide to move. Okay, that's all I'm going to say about it, since I can feel myself getting even sadder. It's that time of year when, if I let myself, I could sink into depression.

Most of the time I am upbeat and enjoy life to the fullest. My regular exercise routine helps immensely with that, and yesterday we walked five miles in the rain, fifteen women all chatting and laughing as we walked. It amazes me that so many of us will show up even when the weather isn't ideal; it illustrates to me that others also feel that getting out and moving is essential to one's mental and physical health.

Our writers' retreat on Vashon Island is now behind us for another year, but I learned so much about my own abilities this time. Last week at this same time on Sunday I was propped up with pillows in the big suite at the farmhouse, with the adventure of kayaking scheduled for the day. I will admit that I was more than a little anxious, but it turned out to be so much fun. Once I got into the kayak and our guide pushed it away from the safety of the beach, I could feel myself tense up and the unfamiliar sensation of being unmoored momentarily threw me into anxiety. "Just roll with it!" I could hear Erin, our guide, admonishing me.

Roll with it? As I pushed out with my legs, which anchor on blocks connected to rudders that help to steer the kayak, I felt suddenly vulnerable. But I tried it, feeling my lower body slowly become part of the kayak and managed to get myself used to the push and pull of the paddle, and... yes, I could feel what she was saying! I wasn't going to fall over into the water, and I was able to control myself in this pretty little yellow water craft. Hey! This is fun!

I allowed myself to paddle away from the shore and into the harbor, joining the others as I began to sense my way into feeling, if not comfort, at least like I was going to be okay. We paddled together around the harbor for a couple of hours and then returned to the shore. It's not fair to say I will be running right out to buy kayaking gear, but I will definitely try it again. I'm no longer afraid of it, and I think it would be fun to join a group of others who want to learn the ins and outs of the sport. Who knows? I've certainly seen plenty of people around in the waters around Bellingham who seem to enjoy it immensely.

During our writers' retreat, I decided over the next few months to give myself the task of attempting to write a short story, creating characters from my imagination and bringing it to Vashon Island next October. Our facilitator, Deb, got us all to write an action plan to accomplish our goals. They are all different, and I decided to take on something small enough that I feel confident I can complete it. Others were more ambitious, but until last week, I didn't even know I could write fiction. I discovered it during our writing activity and even "met" a couple of characters whom I look forward to developing.

I am going to the movies with my friend Judy this morning, to see a Swedish movie that was made from the book, A Man Called Ove, which I enjoyed immensely. I think I've talked about it before: when I began the book, I was at first not drawn to the central character, a curmudgeon of a man who didn't appeal to me at all. But I persevered, and by the time I was halfway through the book, I felt completely differently about him. Since the book was translated from Swedish, I was pleased to find that the movie is also made in Sweden, with subtitles.  This tells me that it will likely stay true to the central character. I'm looking forward to it and hope that it will help me to leave my blues behind.

It's still raining and blowing outside, which it has been doing for days now. When we walked yesterday, we had to sidestep downed branches from Friday's storm, but the intensity of yesterday's storm never materialized. It was breezy, but that was about it. We were expecting a windstorm of epic proportions, so it was pleasant to see that it was just a normal one. We didn't lose power, thank goodness, but we were ready, just in case.

It's also very cathartic to sit here with my laptop and peck away at the keys, letting my angst flow away. The state of the world continues to weigh on me, and I will be so very happy when this election season here in the US is over. As hard as I try to avoid it, I cannot help but be affected by its tenor. Soon it will all be over, and until then, I will think about other more pleasant things as much as possible.

One pleasant thing is being here in my favorite little spot, with hubby gently snoring next to me, darkness outside, the sound of the wind every now and then, and thinking about my friends who sustain me. My tea is gone, the post almost finished, and my mood has lifted. I look forward to having a wonderful Sunday, and I've got a full schedule tomorrow with my volunteer work. Life is good, and I need to keep that uppermost in my thoughts.

I hope that whatever comes to you this week, that you will also not forget that you've got at least one electronic friend who wishes you the very best. That would be me. Until we meet again next week, be well.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sun, rain, and wonderful times

Taken from the living room window
Here it is Sunday already, the last full day we will spend on Vashon Island at our writers' retreat with the five of us. This year, and I hope for many more years to come, we have all agreed to come back again in October 2017.

This has been a magical time here again for our fifth reunion at Lavender Hill Farm, and when I think back about how it all started, it seems hard to believe that we have grown together so seamlessly. For the first three years, we only came here for a weekend, arriving on Friday and leaving on Monday morning. Then last year Deb, who had been attending writers workshops to learn about the Amherst Writers and Artists method and to become trained in teaching the method to others, is our guide. We have now had two five-day-long retreats, focused mostly on learning how to use writing prompts and a time limit (five, ten, twenty minutes) to write in longhand whatever comes to mind from the prompt.

Then we share our writing, if we wish to, and get positive feedback from the others. Each complete session takes more than an hour or two, depending on the length of our writing. Deb has been shepherding us through the process, and learning how to use the method to hone our own craft. It's all based on a book by Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and With Others, and gives us a safe place with each other to hone our craft. Here's what Pat says:
Whether your purpose for writing is artistic expression, communication with friends and family, the healing of the inner life, or achieving public recognition for your art — the foundation is the same: the claiming of yourself as an artist/writer and the strengthening of your writing voice through practice, study, and helpful response from other writers.
What has emerged for me this week is a new voice that I didn't know I had: the ability to write fiction, creating characters out of whole cloth. In several sessions I have focused on characters who have come alive, and it is rather astounding to me, since I usually (make that always) have written pieces from my own past experiences. I'm not sure what I will do with this new knowledge, but it's very exciting to me to think about exploring it more deeply.

Today is our "adventure day," and we will take a break from writing to head to Quartermaster Harbor and get into rented kayaks for a two-hour paddle. I've never even been in one before, and when Jann suggested it last year, I didn't give it another thought, since we were talking about it from the distance of a year. And now it's today! Who knows, this might be another exciting sport that could help take the place of my now-ended skydiving career. I'll find out today.

In any event, it's been a really wonderful week. The weather has gone from brilliant sunshine to periods of rain, sometimes heavy, but still every morning three of us, me, Deb, and Sandi, have gone for a three-mile walk at sunrise. The two night owls sleep in, but at 9:00am sharp we have begun the day's writing. Today we will not write in the morning, but once we've returned from our adventure, we intend to have a shortened afternoon session.

I've been feeling so blessed to be part of this group, and I think all of us would say the same. We learned several good things during this, our fifth reunion, about how perfect the number five has been. Although last year Sally made six, when she decided not to return, we decided not to add another person but go with five. Now we all know each other so well, I can't imagine a new person joining us, and why would we even try? Last year we had Linda Reeder, who lives in Seattle, join us for an evening, and that was very pleasant, so a "guest" is always possible. But now we are sisters of the heart, joined very deeply through our love of writing. Five bloggers who are branching out into other areas of our lives.

And we are all sisters of a certain age, happy to still be learning and growing as we celebrate our diversity and love. Aren't we a good looking bunch of senior citizens?
Linda, Sandi, Deb, me, Jann
And so, with that I will leave you with my wishes for your upcoming week to be a wonderful one. I'm sure my hubby is still gently snoring, without me next to him, and I have to say I miss that sound. But soon, tomorrow night, we'll be sleeping next to each other again. Until then, I'll be enjoying my remaining hours with my dear sisters of the heart.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

October is here already

Melanie took this of me last Thursday
 Where did September go? It seems like summer just ended, but today I am feeling the change in the weather and noticing how quickly the days are flying by. There are the same number of hours in every day, but right now it seems like I no sooner start my day than it's over. How much perception matters.

I wasn't looking forward to Thursday's hike. It was the third time I've gone to Mazama Park from the Ridley Creek trailhead, and my memory of the hike was one of steep ravines where I struggled down one side and then had to climb back up, several times. But this was the first time I actually saw the views that you have once you reach this area, and I realized how pretty it is. Not to mention how spectacular the fall colors were and the late summer berries abundant along the trail. I enjoyed myself in spite of my misgivings.

Plus I knew that I would miss next week's hike, because I'll be on Vashon Island with four other blogging friends, getting together for the fifth time. It's hard to believe it's been that long since we met and began this journey together, gathering at Lavender Hill Farm (you'll be hearing more about it next Sunday), five days of a writing retreat that I know will inspire me and expand my horizons. We started out as six, but Sally is the only one who doesn't live close enough to drive and must fly from Colorado. She decided last year that she wouldn't return; however, the rest of us will gather this coming Wednesday and leave the following Monday. We'll miss you, Sally.

Although we spend much of each day with writing prompts and sharing with each other, we also have one day when we explore the island, which has become an "adventure day." Jann offered to arrange this year for us to go on a kayak adventure. I've never been in one (and I'm not alone), but she has found that we can not only rent kayaks but also hire a guide who will help us make the most of our time on the water. I'm looking forward to it but have just a teeny bit of trepidation about it, too. Not that I'm afraid of capsizing or anything, but mostly of loving it so much that I get hooked!

The farmhouse that we rent for this occasion has six bedrooms, one of which is very small, but all the others are really nice, with one suite that has its own bathroom and sitting room. I've stayed in the small basement room twice, and in its larger companion basement room twice more. This year, I will be staying in the suite! I resisted but now that I've agreed (everyone else has taken her turn in the suite), I am looking forward to it. The small basement room will remain unoccupied.

You know how much I love my daily routine, which will be upended during this coming week because of the Vashon retreat. I have already begun to pack, hoping I don't forget anything too important. I haven't gone anywhere overnight since last November when I visited my sister in Florida. I'll be going there again in either December or sometime early next year. Suddenly I am beginning to realize how important it is for me to stir things up a bit so I don't get fixated into feeling like I cannot take a break from my routine.

I've been obsessing on the upcoming election during the past month or so. As a lifelong Democrat, there has never been any doubt as to which candidate I would vote for, but it has been hard for me to come to terms with the two candidates who won the nominations of their respective parties, both disliked more than any other candidates I can remember. I was a Bernie supporter but in reality have known very little about Hillary until lately. However, I had never even heard of Trump before this election cycle, since I never watched "The Apprentice."
Watch Frontline to learn more
I am breaking my own rules by discussing the election at all, but I watched this very informative Frontline video on my local PBS station the other day and learned so much about them both that I didn't know. It is important enough that I hope that at least one of my readers will give it a chance and watch it. Frontline did the same thing four years ago with Obama and Romney, and I was impressed then with their ability to simply present the facts and not make judgments. This program is no different.

Next Sunday evening, I will be gathered with my blogging friends as we watch the second Presidential debate. Since this election feels so different from previous elections, I wouldn't miss it for anything. But in any event, whatever you do, please remember to exercise your right to vote in November. It will be here before you know it. Here in Washington state, we mail in our ballots and will have plenty of time to discuss the issues before voting. At first I missed going to the polls like we did in Colorado, but now I prefer this method. SG and I sit down with our ballots and discuss each choice before marking our ballots. With the Voter's Guide and our political website in front of us, it's actually a fun way to vote.

Well, with that, I have made it through another post. The only thing I knew before I began is that I wanted to share that video with you and give you a chance to know about it. Now I will begin the rest of my day by getting up and following my Sunday routine: dressing for yoga, doing my morning exercises, having a light breakfast and heading to the coffee shop to join my friends there. I'll leave in time for my yoga class, which I know I will enjoy. I'm going to the movies with my friend Judy in the afternoon to see "Sully." It's gotten great reviews, so I'm looking forward to it.

Until we meet again next week, with me blogging from the Vashon Island retreat, I hope you will have a wonderful and productive week. As usual, I wish you all good things and remember to give your loved ones a hug or two. I am sending you, my dear reader, a virtual one.