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 26, 2017

My wonderful siblings

Me, Norma Jean, PJ, Buz, Markee, Fia
I love this picture, taken in the early 1980s, in my parents' back yard. Daddy took it, I'm pretty sure, and although none of us look like this any more, we are all recognizable as the people we have become, except PJ who died of heart disease three years ago now. There are twenty years between me, the oldest sister, and Fia, the youngest. We are arranged by age. Fia is now in her mid-fifties and a grandmother three times over.

I didn't have any gray in my light brown hair, and I don't have that smooth neck any more, but otherwise I think I look pretty much the same. Age changes us all. It's been decades since I wore a skirt, and Norma Jean bore a strong resemblance to Farrah Fawcett in those days. Buz, our only brother, was a handsome young man sandwiched between his many sisters.

Although I love all my siblings, you can see how it turned out that the two on each end of the picture became closer to one another than to the others. When I visit Norma Jean in Florida these days, we talk about the old days and realize that none of our other siblings share our memories. It's the same with Markee and Fia; they are very close and visit each other often.

The last time we were all together was three years ago, for PJ's celebration of life. It was a hard time for all of us, but especially for her husband and those who live nearby and saw her often. Years ago I would visit Texas at Thanksgiving, getting together for the holiday. Norma Jean in Florida often wasn't there, and Markee who lives in Canada came more often, but all of us being together was rare. Now it isn't even possible, since PJ is no longer with us. These days I see her children and grandchildren growing up on Facebook, and it amazes me that times passes so very quickly.

Our names might seem unusual, but they aren't really. I was always called by my middle name, Jan, skipping over Dorothy, my paternal grandmother's name. Norma Jean grew up being known by her first and middle names, but she dropped the "Jean" part as she grew older. I have never known her by anything but Norma Jean, and when I would call her at work and ask for her, whoever answered the phone would call her to the phone with, "it's your sister." I didn't have to announce it.

PJ is short for Patricia June. As she grew up, she stopped being known by her initials and became Pat. PJ is all I've ever known for her, too, and when she finally got onto Facebook, she used "PJ" instead of Pat, which made me smile. She had four grandchildren who were the apple of her eye, and she would call them over to me when I visited so I could also see how delightful each one is. They are only known to me because of Facebook, and I marvel at how quickly they have grown from little people into young adults.

Buz is really Norman Francis, but I have never heard him called anything other than Buz. He was nicknamed after a family friend by the same nickname. You wonder how these things happen, when time has blurred the reasoning behind it. I was a teenager by the time Buz was born, and we all know how self-centered teens can be; I was no exception. I did notice that he was a beautiful, talented child. And my dad got the boy he had always wanted. Today Buz is married to a wonderful woman and has a daughter in her mid-thirties.

Somehow at this point in my parents' life, they decided to have more children. The family story is that they couldn't bear to put the high chair into the attic. but who knows? My mother carried a child almost to term, a little girl Tina Maria, who lived only a few hours, but we always think of her as being one of us. My father and I are the only ones who witnessed her tiny body put into the ground.

Markee's name is a contraction of Mary Katherine, and when she was little neither name seemed appropriate to such a little one, so I guess that's how it came about. I had left home by the time she was born and had a son a month younger than she was. At the time I lived in Puerto Rico with my Air Force husband, who was stationed there. My son Chris was born there as well. Markee is now called Mary by her family, and she has three beautiful grown children.

Fia is really Rita Sofia, named after my mother (Rita) and perhaps a distant aunt. I wish I knew more about the naming rationale behind each of us. Fia, the baby, was sometimes called FeeFee, and she was the only one of us who really looked different from the rest of us. She was born bald as an egg and very fair-skinned, and as she grew she developed the prettiest white-blond hair. She actually is the only one who resembles her maternal grandfather, who was Welch. She didn't ever have to do anything to keep that gorgeous blond hair, which she has to this day.

My siblings. Although twenty years separate the oldest from the youngest, we will always be connected by the bonds that we share. There's a little bit of each parent that shines through us in our daily lives, flavoring the present with echoes of the past. Perhaps it's inevitable that as I age I see more of our similarities emerge. Norma Jean and I talk to each other using FaceTime a couple of times a month, but I only see my other siblings on Facebook, and mostly it's their offspring who post on there. My nieces and nephews, and grand-nieces and grand-nephews are quickly growing into young adults. Beautiful people all. I am so blessed to have at least some way to keep in touch as time goes by. I never knew I would become so attached to a social media site, but I have.

I suppose it's inevitable that as I age and look back on the decades of life I've lived, that there are several versions of each of us. I was once a young mother with two beautiful children, and now the ghosts of my nonexistent grandchildren shine through each one of my relatives' progeny. Life is like that, I guess. I'll take it, happily.

I'm sure that I've written about my siblings before, but they are on my mind today, and I hope I've given you a little peek into why they are so special to me. I've got a life that I enjoy and cherish today, but I am also enriched by a long line of pretty exceptional people. Desmond Tutu once said, "You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them."

And with that, my post is finished. I've got to get up and start my day, and I'll be heading off to the coffee shop to join my family of the heart who love coffee as much as I do. I'll be watching the Oscars tonight, hoping that my favorites get honored. Plus I love to see the gowns. Until next week, I hope that you will stay safe and will find much to enjoy in your days. Be well, my dear friends.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The measure of treasure

Pine cones caught in lichen
I didn't take many pictures on our hike last Thursday, since it was grey and rather wet, but as we walked along I saw this little set of pine cones captured in some of the lichen that hangs everywhere from the trees. I believe this is old man's beard lichen, but after spending a bit of time researching it, I'm not at all sure if it is a lichen or a moss. It's everywhere around the Pacific Northwest, and since a recent windstorm had downed several trees, there was plenty of it littering the trail, along with branches and sometimes even very large trees that we had to navigate around.

Even though I now only carry my cellphone camera, I still cannot resist trying to capture pictures that catch my eye and awaken my artistic side. I never have more than a few seconds to decide whether to attempt to take the picture, and even less time to find the best angle. And with the iPhone 7, I still don't know the capabilities of its camera. It managed to focus on the pine cones and gave the background a nice blur, so it pleased me when I looked at the picture later. More often than not, as I sit in the car on the way home examining my pictures, I'm disappointed at what I see. But that's the beauty of digital photography: I simply delete it, no agonizing over it.

Do you remember when we had cameras that used film to capture images? My first camera was a Brownie, a little box camera that took 127 film pictures in black and white. I clearly remember loading the camera and making sure I didn't allow any light to get onto the film cartridge as I placed it into the back of the camera body. Snapping it shut and turning the knob on the top until it stopped, knowing that I was ready to take a picture! Oh, the anticipation of what I might have captured in that little box! In my mind I was always convinced that it would be wonderful. Of course, I had to wait until I used up the film and took the film cartridge to be developed at the local camera store. I looked forward to picking up the developed film and sitting down to see what treasures I might have in my little hands.

Obviously, not much has survived from those days, since my treasures never measured up to my dream of some magnificent shot that would make me gasp with delight. More often, they were blurry and out of focus, or unflattering pictures of my siblings or parents that gave us a few laughs and then went into the bottom of a drawer somewhere. If I could reach back in time to those moments, I'm sure I would cherish those pictures of long-gone people and places. But that was then, this is now and although I think there might actually be some of those pictures in the possession of my siblings somewhere in their own keepsakes, I myself have nothing but my memories.

Pondering those long-ago days, thinking of how something as simple as a snapshot taken in the moment could become a treasure in a future world, I wonder what around me in this moment might be treasured in twenty years that I don't even register as important. We live in such a different world today, and there is much that is ephemeral and would not be missed, but are there artifacts or paraphernalia around me that hide their future value? What around me would I cherish tomorrow if it were suddenly lost to me?

Well, certainly I would miss my electronic devices. I love my laptop, looking at it right now and thinking how essential it has become to my existence. My cellphone is always with me these days, and I use it to check the weather forecast or my email wherever I might be. They connect me to the larger world as well, thinking of this very blog I'm writing in, and how much I would miss it if it were taken from me. What I treasure about it, though, is not the thing itself, but the richness it brings to my daily life.

The other day at the coffee shop as I was reading the news on my iPad, a young man asked if he could take my picture, along with my friends John and Gene. Each of us was reading on our separate tablets at the community table, and the young man marveled at how much the world has changed, with nary a newspaper in sight as the old folks perused the daily news. That is one thing I treasure right now, today: the connection with my friends as we visit with each other at the coffee shop. Although we each have our own devices, we are constantly stopping to hold up a picture or a cartoon to share with the others, laughing or nodding our heads in solidarity. In fact, once I finish with this post and start my day, I'll be heading off to the coffee shop to get my daily dose of friendship.

And I know for certain that one day it will come to an end, because everything does. I'll look back and remember these days with affection, but at this moment right now I can appreciate them and treasure them. It occurs to me that it isn't the thing itself I would miss (sitting in the coffee shop), but the companionship and community we share. That is one of the reasons I would miss you, you who are part of my virtual community, and the moments we share with one another in the moment.

Ah. It happened again: i was thinking about writing about something entirely different today, but this came out of my head and waltzed onto the page without much volition on my part. Last night an old nursery rhyme kept going through my mind and I looked it up (of course) and was going to write about the meaning of Mother Goose. It could still happen another day, but sometimes I think I don't actually run this show but ride the universal waves of thought to wherever they take me.

It's time to get up and do that very thing: start my day. I've got a massage scheduled at noon, which is always something I look forward to and treasure. Partner is still asleep next to me, and I sense the day's events pulling me right out of bed. I hope you will take a moment or two to think about what and who you treasure right now and be thankful. Be well until next week, dear treasured reader.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Reading, writing, and more

I'm on the right
This picture is a piece of a school picture, taken in the early 1950s at Travis Air Force Base in California. My dad was stationed there for the longest period of time that we stayed anywhere, and I sort of felt that California was my home. We moved several times during this period, and I cannot even fathom how I ever got an education while being shuttled from one school to another during my formative years. But I did, partly because I loved to read and, although I wasn't ever a standout in any subject, I was always good at English and loved to diagram sentences, and spelling was a favorite activity.

Now that I am no longer involved in public school affairs, I have learned that the schools I attended no longer exist in any form whatsoever. Public schools no longer teach penmanship and handwriting, and however they teach reading is nothing like how I learned. I was taught using phonics, which teaches the student to sound out the words. I remember when I learned how to spell the word "orange," because it was totally different from what I imagined. I had puzzled over how the sound of the word might be translated into letters.  It's one of those memories that I remember to this day, because I ran home from school to share my excitement with my mother.

I still love to read and manage to devour several books a week, fiction and nonfiction. Recently I read a really good book that was recommended to me, Wild By Nature, by Sarah Marquis. "In 2010 Sarah travelled from Siberia to Australia, alone, on foot. From freezing cold to desert heat, from high mountains to jungles, 6 countries to cross, 6 different languages. More than an expedition, it’s constantly going further than you think you can." There are scenes she describes in the book that come up in my mind while I'm walking, thinking about her having accomplished something like that. Her experiences came alive in my mind because of my ability to translate her words into thought pictures. Reading and writing are essential parts of my life, and I cannot imagine who I would be if I never learned to read.

Today, many children are given iPads and other tablets and use them for entertainment and watch movies and videos instead of reading. What a different environment than the one I had growing up! I can still remember with incredible excitement the Dick and Jane book I first read all by myself. The words were short and primary, but I read them without any help at all. It was a wonderful feeling. Reading is associated with many cognitive benefits. I wonder if staring at a screen does the same thing. Somehow I don't think so. A Wikipedia page on Reading says this:
Reading books and writing are among brain-stimulating activities shown to slow down cognitive decline in old age, with people who participated in more mentally stimulating activities over their lifetimes having a slower rate of decline in memory and other mental capacities. Reading for pleasure has been linked to increased cognitive progress in vocabulary and mathematics during adolescence. Moreover, the cognitive benefits of reading continue into mid-life and old age.
*   *   *

 There was another reason that I cropped that picture for the top of this blog. I was thinking about one of my fellow students, the girl on the left. I don't remember her name; she was shy and reticent, but I remember that she was the only girl who was allowed to dress in jeans, and I wondered why at the time. Back in those days I'm sure bullying occurred in schools, but it was nothing like today's intense problems. I've often wondered what happened to her. We called her a "tomboy," but I think she was one of those children who hated the gender she was born into. Maybe she is no longer a she, because these days it is acceptable to become transgender. I learned about what that means here. Although it may be possible to follow that path, most transgender people face discrimination at and in access to work, public accommodations, and healthcare. No one would choose to go through the process unless it was really important to them.

I am a little bit ashamed at how ignorant I have been about some of the difficulties that people who are different from me endure. It never occurred to me as a child to wonder about the young girl who still remains a mystery to me. Whatever happened to her, she is now in her mid-seventies (if she is still alive, that is), and I wish her all the best in the world. I wish I had been more curious back then. You know how when you think back about events in the past, they sometimes get fleshed out? Thinking about her, I believe she was a very good person and treated me with kindness, but that might only be my own projection. I hope I did the same to her.

A program I have enjoyed on Amazon is "Transparent," and I've watched all three seasons with varying degrees of appreciation. It's become a little bit more outrageous as time has gone on, but I will still watch the fourth season to see what happens to these people I've come to love. The story revolves around a Los Angeles family and their lives following the discovery that the person they knew as their father Mort is transgender. Hence, the name of the series. If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can get it free. The first season was the best, in my opinion.

Well, that was a little excursion away from the topic I chose this morning of reading and writing. However, the whole idea of being transgender has been in the news lately because of a young child who was born a girl, whose parents allow to live and function as a boy. He was thrown out of the Boy Scouts when his gender was discovered, and to my complete amazement, the Boy Scouts have changed their policy and allowed the child to join. Read about it here.

Yes, the world is changing right before my eyes, and I'm thrilled that I'm still around to learn about it all. I do hope that those children who aren't learning to read in the old fashioned way I learned will still become literate through methods I don't know anything about. It's important to be able to imagine and use those cognitive abilities that only reading gives us. Just my two cents.

And with that, another Sunday post has emerged, not the one I thought I would write, but another one entirely. I hope that you will give your loved ones some sweet Valentine on Tuesday, if you feel like it, that is. I know I can expect something chocolate will pass my lips on that day. Be well until next week. (And yes, SG is still snoring lightly next to me and my tea is gone.)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Potpourri of thoughts

Celestial triad
Last Tuesday night I was leaving a meeting of the Advance Care Planning facilitators, and I looked up to see something much like this picture. This one is displayed just because I didn't actually stop to take a picture, and this is not real, but it's amazingly similar to what I saw. A crescent moon, Venus and Mars shining brightly in a clear sky. The meeting was a gathering to decide how we might proceed going forward, after the funding for our program has been lost. Hopefully it is only temporary, but it's a blow to those of us who care about helping people make their wishes known, in case they are unable to speak for themselves at the end of life.

I've been an ACP facilitator for more than a year now, and I've seen many, many clients over that period. I also became a Notary Public so that I can notarize the completed documents and get them on file at our local hospital. It's been a very satisfying period in my life, and I don't want it to stop. We are all volunteers, so there's now a need to find another venue where we can counsel clients, since the offices where we were located before are now no longer available to us. We have lost the one paid position of administrator of the program, and that's why we were having the meeting, trying to figure out where to go next. We'll have another meeting in two weeks and I volunteered to create a web page for us.

That's all well and good, I can do that (I've gotten started), but then I ran into the problem of content on the site. I have realized that I actually need to be part of a committee so that I don't have to be the one to make all the decisions as well. We are struggling here, but this is a very important service, helping people make the tough decisions of who to appoint as a surrogate and what kinds of intervention is appropriate for each person. Here's some information about Advance Care Directives. Everyone should have this information at least written down, and the laws are different for each state.

Anyway, that's one thing on my mind, along with several others that just won't let go. I've got to make an appointment with my doctor for my annual wellness visit, where I'll also find out how my blood work compares with previous years. The hospital in my city, PeaceHealth, allows me to go online and take a look at every year they have gathered that information for me. It's a great resource, and I realize that it's very possible that health care will become even more difficult to obtain in the near future, what with all the changes on the horizon. I don't even want to think about my Medicare Advantage plan's prospects. I think I'm good for this year, but who knows about 2018?

I think I am pretty healthy, but nobody can really tell about those internal organs we don't see. My digestion and elimination are normal, and I get all the tests you're supposed to have on a regular basis, but I can't help but wonder what's going on inside my body. My mother was a bit of a hypochondriac and I think I could be one if I let myself, too. Sometimes my mind just looks for something to worry about. As long as I am able to enjoy my activities without difficulty, I just hope for the best. Wasn't it Reagan who once said, "trust, but verify"? That is pretty much how I approach my health.

I'm in the process of visiting the local theaters to see all the films that have been nominated for Academy Awards. Yesterday I saw 20th Century Women, which was only nominated for one Oscar, but Annette Bening was robbed, in my opinion; she should have been nominated for Best Actress, if you ask me. Today I'll see Fences, which is up for Best Picture and Best Actor for Denzel Washington. So far, my favorite movie has been Hidden Figures, about three amazing African-American women who worked at NASA in the early 1960s, before it was integrated. I went online to find out how much of the movie was real and how much just Hollywood hype. It turns out that it's mostly based on actual events. One of the women, Katherine Johnson, is still alive at 98 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama in 2015.

Now I've only got to see Hacksaw Ridge, a story about a Conscientious Objector during World War II who refused to carry a gun or kill anybody. It's gotten great reviews but I hear it's pretty violent, so I have hesitated about seeing it. I felt the same way about 12 Years a Slave a few years back, but I finally saw it and was glad I did. I wouldn't see it again, though. The main character was played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has quickly become one of my favorite actors. He has an amazing range; I've seen him in other movies lately where he becomes completely absorbed into the role. An amazing talent.

See? I told you this would be a "potpourri of thoughts," and sure enough that's what it has become. I'm sitting here in my bed, in my usual configuration with Partner next to me, stirring a bit but as always supine as I sit here with my tea and laptop. He goes to bed later than I do, so I am glad that he is getting a little more sleep. It's an important element of health, getting enough sleep. I'm glad I don't usually have much problem with it, unless there's something on my mind that won't let go. This post was bothering me last night as I had nothing at all to begin with, and even if it's not one of my best posts, it's done, and I'm feeling much better. My obligation to myself and to my readers has been met, and now I can get up and start the rest of my Sunday.

Until we meet again next week, I ask that you try yourself to get enough rest, and don't forget to treat your loved ones to a smile. Life is so much better with plenty of them, and they don't cost us a penny!