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 25, 2016

Christmas morning 2016

Christmas Eve sunrise at Lake Padden (taken by Linda)
I didn't go on the walk with the ladies on Saturday morning, since it had snowed on Friday and then overnight the streets became a sheet of ice, making driving hazardous for people without SUVs or, at least, better driving skills than I have. Lake Padden is a fair distance away from my home, so I didn't go. Linda and Peggy, however, did and Linda sent me this picture as they were returning home after a virtuous trip twice around the lake. Another person, our friend Shirley, was also there, but otherwise nobody else showed up.

And now it's Christmas Day, and I sit here in my warm home and ponder the plight of all those without adequate shelter at a time like this. It's 26°F outside, dark and quiet. Where do the deer and the birds go when it gets so cold? Of course, cold is relative, as there are blogging friends of mine who live where the temperature and wind chill are well below zero, and somehow the wildlife survive until conditions improve. At least, most of them do. But I am safe, warm, and connected to the wider world through the wonder of the internet.

I will venture out at my usual time, although there is no yoga class to attend and my regular coffee shop is closed. I arranged to meet my friend John at the local Starbucks at 8:00am (or so) and figure the roads should be clear and there will be little traffic to worry about. No hills to navigate between here and there, so I should be fine. I will endure a little difficulty to get my local fix.

It's almost six in the morning here, and I know that all over the world there are children, young and old, who are waking to mounds of presents under a decorated Christmas tree, and people all over the world are celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah, which happen to fall on the same day this year. This hasn't happened in four decades. I remember what it was like to have a family that celebrated Christmas like that; I grew up in a home that always had a real Christmas tree, meaning one that started its life in a forest and smelled of pitch and pine. Every year Mama would pull out the ornaments, some of them handmade by us. The tree sparkled with lights and tinsel once it was decorated, and we would stand and admire it.

One of my favorite memories was lying with my head under the tree, looking up at the branches and absorbing the magic of Christmas. The aroma of the tree was strong and the view ignited my imagination, conjuring up images of elves and Santa and reindeer and, sadly, no images of Jesus, who was absent from our very secular Christmases. I really didn't know anything about the reason for Christmas; I grew up in a home that didn't attend church. Thinking back, I must have known something about it from school, but I don't remember. it's been a long time.

When I was a teenager, I discovered religion and began to attend the local Episcopal church when we lived in Georgia. The priest came to our house and visited, and before long, not only was I a member of the church, but so also were my siblings. We joined the choir and attended every Sunday. I well remember one Christmas Eve, which I wrote about here, when my sister Norma Jean and I were impromptu Christmas elves. I first wrote that in 2009, seven years ago now, but it's still fun to read. For my more recent followers, it will be the first time you hear the story. Think of it as a Christmas gift from me to you.

I am old and surrounded by memories of Christmases past. They swirl and dance in my head, remembering times when I spent Christmas in Arizona, jumping out of planes all day long, making formations with friends new and old, enjoying myself in a very different way than I do today. It might seem like a far cry from that life to this one, but that is the nature of time and space. Does everything that I once did still exist anywhere but in my own head? Is it possible that we really do exist in different dimensions, with the person I was still climbing outside the airplane at altitude, my entire being concentrated on exiting at the same time as everybody else? In my dreams, I sometimes find myself right there, or flying in the sky under my parachute, and it feels as real as me sitting here right now with my laptop.

But now I am old, and I've stopped doing things that made perfect sense ten or twenty years ago. However, that reminds me of another Christmas gift that I want to give you: a poem by Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland. It's only the first two stanzas, but they just popped into my head and I knew that they are perfect for this wonderful time:

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

And with that admonition, I realize that standing on my head might be just the thing to do after my latte! Please have a wonderful, delightful, and memorable Christmas. Your family might be a large extended one, or a small one with virtual friends and family, but whatever it is, I hope you cherish and appreciate them, as I do you, and my own family and friends, with gratitude for the life we share. Be well until next year, when we will meet again.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Running out of time

Mt. Ranier from the plane
I am home again, sitting in my usual spot in the bedroom, laptop across my knees. It's already ten degrees warmer outside than it was at this time yesterday, so I am tempted to believe the weather when it says we will begin our warmup and transition to rain for the coming Christmas week.

Yesterday I walked with the ladies (ten of us showed up) in really cold weather, which didn't seem too bad once the wind had died down. We did walk through some patchy ice on the trails, but nobody fell, not even me. People I know have fallen on the ice; my neighbor Lynn fell and twisted her ankle and tried to brake her fall with one hand, so she now has a sore arm and sore ankle.

Looking back on my visit to Florida, a few things stand out: the wonderful warm weather and that fabulous outdoor pool my sister swims in every morning. They seem like a mirage from here, something that I just made up in a dream, although I can imagine myself slipping into that water and taking off for my first lap, watching the bubbles as I breathe out into the water and begin my stroke. I have everything here to continue swimming if I choose, but I probably won't. Our pool is indoors, of course, and the lanes are shorter and very much in demand. At my sister's YMCA, I never had to share a lane, not once. Not to mention having her nearby was simply delightful.

I haven't had a chance to miss her or Peter (her son who lives with her), since I've been pretty busy since I returned home. I started my travels from her home at 6:00am and was picked up by SG at 6:00pm, and with a three-hour time change I realized I had been traveling for fifteen hours. Fortunately he was standing outside the shuttle bus from Seattle with my heavy coat in hand, and he then drove us back to our own warm and snug home. All the icy patches on the ground and in the streets reminds me that we haven't had a hard freeze and snow like this in years.

The next morning, Thursday, I ventured out with my car on the icy streets and found that almost everything had cleared, as the sunshine allowed most of the streets to be drivable. Even though the temperature has stayed frigid, I wasn't too nervous as I drove to the Senior Center. How many people would show up for our shortened hike before our Christmas party? Plenty, as it turned out: there were fifteen of us on the Hertz Trail on the north shore of Lake Whatcom. Afterwards, we went to Sue's home, where those who didn't hike, as well as the other group of Trailblazers, gathered for a wonderful potluck. It was the best attended in years, with more than forty of us enjoying fabulous food and company. Once I got home I wrote a post about it here.

Today I will attend my last Sunday yoga class with Laifong, before a break in the schedule and then a new instructor for Level I. I am making progress, slowly and gradually, and now can do some poses that seemed impossible a year ago. Yes, it's been a year since I started at Yoga Northwest, and I am no longer falling as often; my balance is definitely better, and I've begun to gain strength in my back and arms. And it's another community of like-minded people: I see some of the other practitioners around town and we acknowledge each other with a smile.

About the title of this post, "running out of time." Why did that come to mind first thing this morning? Partly it's the time of year, when everywhere I see reminders that we only have two more weeks in this year, with "best of" lists and retrospectives already beginning. I am only just now beginning to feel comfortable with 2016, and now it's almost gone, with 2017 on the horizon. Some years just fly by, and at this time in my life, that is the norm. The days and weeks and months no longer seem to have a simple 24 hours, 7 days, 12 months—they accelerate in their passage until I feel dizzy with the realization that I'm definitely running out of time.

No matter what happens in the remainder of my life, I've had a very good one, filled with everything that a person could desire: a happy family life when I grew up, lots of thrills and chills as I began my own journey out into the world, with love and loss and pain, just like everybody else. I had a good career and became more successful than most women I know, with a salary that seemed huge to me at the time. And I discovered an avocation in skydiving that gave me my very much loved life partner, as well as the chance to instruct more than a thousand students to safely enjoy my chosen sport.

In my move to Bellingham nine years ago now, I also discovered that it was possible to develop a daily routine that gives me everything I need in retirement to stay healthy and engaged in activities that fill me with joy. And the world of the internet, especially Blogland where we visit one another, has come to fill my need for mental pushups. I've got friends all over the world whose journey I share, and when I think of you all I feel immense happiness for our ability to know each other through our blogs. In retirement, I have managed to maintain a healthy intellectual life. I am always on the lookout for another good book to read, and my blogging friends often point me to new ones.

And then there's this particular blog, my Eye on the Edge, that reminds me that the Edge is not very far off, now that I am in my mid-seventies and, although trying hard to stay healthy, knowing that we all must find a way to make a good exit from this wonderful place we call home. We have the ability to look at the future, whatever it holds, as a possibility to extract every little bit of love and joy we can from it. Einstein once said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

You know which way I choose to live. I hope you, too, will see the miracle of your life, the wonder of it, as a gift that you share with me. Please remember to take care of yourself during these hectic times, and savor every single last little bite. Until we meet again next week, on Christmas, be well and don't forget to hug your loved ones.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Waves of health and illness

Florida sky and palm trees
I took this picture after a rain of several hours here in Florida. Usually the sky doesn't look quite so dramatic, and I was struck by its beauty. I hoped to capture it during sunset, but by then the sky had changed completely. Usually Florida clouds resemble puffy cotton balls.

I'm sitting here in the early morning light, propped up with pillows in Peter's bed. He's been sleeping in the shed while I'm here, which he's fixed up with a bed and sound system. I could hear it when I woke last night, thinking I was hearing a faraway thunderstorm, but then it developed a beat, and I knew he must be awake in the middle of the night. I, however, woke with a severe case of nausea. The entire family here is going through what must be a norovirus attack, with my little grand-niece Lexie getting sick first, then my sister Norma Jean and Peter during the nighttime on Thursday, waking to illness on Friday. I was a little queasy and thought that whatever had felled them had missed me. Nope. Last night I spent many hours trekking to the bathroom and finally fell into a restless sleep.
From Barfblog

Since it's Sunday and I'm sick in sunny Florida, I only have one task that must be done today, and that is to write this post. Earlier in the week, I pondered writing about my days as a skydiver, and remembering the really interesting and unusual skydives I've made, but now that the time has come, that is NOT what is flowing out of my fingertips. The only thing on my mind is how my body is feeling, and wondering how long I'll be feeling so sick. Actually, now that I consider it, I'm already not as bad as I was last night. Google informs me that the duration is usually one to three days, and that there is little to do except wait it out. Food sounds horrible to me right now, and I've just learned from this link that eating anything is likely to make me feel worse. This is the same bug that caused many a cruise ship excursion to end early. Fortunately for me, I am surrounded by family (most of whom have already recovered from their own bout of this), and I don't have to be anywhere or even get out of bed if I don't want to.

Fine. Once I finish with this post I think I'll go right back to sleep for awhile. Maybe I'll feel well enough to read, but right now I just don't want to think about it. I am, however, thinking about my readers, who were expecting an uplifting post this morning and will just have to do without. It would make me feel better to know that everyone read the link from WebMD to find out how to keep yourself from getting infected with this awful bug. However, in my research I learned that it is highly resistant to over-the-counter disinfectants, so it was probably inevitable that I would get it, no matter how carefully I washed my hands and washed down surfaces with Lysol.

Well, I am obviously feeling somewhat better, as I feel the Florida sunshine coming through the window and bathing me in its healing rays, and I am resisting the urge to just pretend I'm not sick and get started with my day. But every time I get up and walk around, I realize the futility of that approach and decide I'll just wait for my usual healthy self to reemerge. Until then, I hope you'll be well and happy, and that I make an uneventful trip home so we can meet again next week at the usual time.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Uncharted territory

Melanie took this on our hike last Thursday
December and another birthday. I had to leave behind 73 and take a look at 74, on my way to... who knows? How does anybody predict the future, the days of our lives on this wonderful and precious planet? I am now older by five years than my mother, and twelve years older than my father when he died at 62.  Heart disease took them both, as well as my son, who died at forty. So there is a very good reason for me to exercise as much as I do, walking my way to heart health.

My numbers are all good, putting me in the lowest percentile for heart disease. I have my blood drawn at the first of every year to check it all out. I am also fortunate to have all my medical records on line, so I just took a look at the numbers to reassure myself that I remember correctly: total cholesterol 215, "good" HDL  cholesterol 79, "bad" LDL 124, and triglycerides 74. That gives me a risk ratio of 0.4. Anything under 1 is considered low risk. Average is 1-3. I asked my doctor if I should be concerned because the total cholesterol number is over 200, but he reassured me that the number is only high because my "good" cholesterol is much higher than normal, and gives me added protection. I don't come by these numbers naturally; I take a statin drug daily to lower it, and exercise raises the good numbers and diet helps to keep my triglycerides low.

I didn't start out loving the exercise and well remember the day in my thirties when I stood on the front porch, looked down at my brand-new running shoes, and stepped out into the street to start jogging. I had to do something, because back then my numbers were simply awful, and I was concerned. I was already taking a statin, but it wasn't helping much, and I knew that exercise could end up being my friend.

But within a week, I had developed shin splits, a painful condition that makes every step hurt, with my legs complaining constantly. I went back to the running store where I had purchased the shoes, and learned that I would probably need orthotics because of the tendency in my gait to pronation. After having gone to a specialist and gotten those custom made for my feet, I began again, more slowly this time, but I was pleased to find that I could actually run without pain. "Running" is a euphemism for the slow jog that I managed to maintain, but I was then excited about the way I felt after some time out on the streets, feeling fantastic with the blood coursing through my body and making me feel wonderful. I was hooked.

Within a year I was entering 10K races, not to compete but because I learned pretty quickly that having a goal helped me continue and increase my mileage. For many years I was running an average of ten to fifteen miles every week. But every time I tried to train for a longer run, I would get injured, so I kept myself in check by learning to listen to my body. What a concept!

Although I didn't know it at the time, my sister Norma Jean had also taken up running. I was in Colorado and she was in Michigan, but we were both jogging for much the same reason: our family history and a desire to stay healthy. When I visited her, we would run together, although she was leaner and faster than me. We had taken up the sport independently from each other but truly enjoyed our shared passion. She slowed down for me in those days. I still have to work to keep up with her longer legs, although these days we walk instead of run.

I stopped running in 2000, after the skydiving accident that shattered my pelvis and gave me some nerve damage down my right leg. The two pins that reside in my back don't give me any trouble, but I don't have full circulation in that leg. I lost a partial artery, and so I must keep moving in order to build collateral circulation and keep myself in good shape. I began looking for other ways to exercise and joined a gym and learned about step classes. They are led by an instructor who uses intricate patterns as you step up and down to get your heart rate up. I still, to this day, do a step class at the Y, and I'd do more if they had good instructors, but they have become less popular and Zumba is the current trend.

I have become a "social exerciser" and realize that the camaraderie of working out with fellow enthusiasts causes me to do more than I would alone. I have one good hike a week on Thursday with the Senior Trailblazers, and a fast walk every Saturday with the ladies, with the gym routine filling out the rest of the week. And this past year I've been taking two yoga classes a week, and now I am hooked on that. I simply love the way it makes my aging body feel, as I balance (not well) and turn and twist as I begin to regain the flexibility I once long ago took for granted.

As I age, I am realizing that I have choices to make every single day that contribute to whether or not I am happy in this body, the only one I have. The only life I have, as far as I know anyway. You give up things and take up new things as the years go by. I had a good long run as a skydiver, twenty-five years to be exact, but at 72 it was finally time to let it go. I will always have the wonderful memories of flying in the air with my friends, making patterns and then opening my beautiful parachute and flying it to the ground with (hopefully) a graceful landing. Skydiving changed my life; I met my life partner through the sport, and I've even got a world record that still stands today.

Next Sunday I will be sitting in my sister's spare room writing this post, since the day after tomorrow I will make the journey from the uppermost northwest corner of the country down to Florida. I will leave just in time to experience the first flakes of snow, due to come tomorrow, and will instead enjoy the sunshine and warmth of Florida. My timing couldn't have been better. At least that's the way it looks at this moment. I'll swim in the mornings with Norma Jean and walk with her afterwards. And more than anything, I'll enjoy being with her for a whole week, which will be over way too soon.

The uncharted territory of old age is not feeling too bad right now. I'll be glad to be with my sister and am even looking forward to the adventure of travel. Time to start packing my bags and remembering to bring all my devices. As far as clothes, it will be shorts and t-shirts and sandals! They are calling me from my closet.

Until next  week, I wish you, my dear readers, the best of weeks, and I'll be checking in from Norma Jean's home next time. Please remember at this time of year to take care of yourself in whatever fashion that works for you. The nights are long and the days short, but we can still enjoy nature every single day. I am appreciating our connection and sending you my love.