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, September 24, 2017

Sunday comes around again

Last tomatoes from the garden
Yesterday I went out to the garden to gather some tomatoes, and here is my harvest. The ones on the vine behind are all pretty much unusable, since we had some cold weather and they withered and wrinkled up. They weren't vary tasty, anyway. I think they were intended to be used for canning. I won't plant them again next year. But the little golden and cherry tomatoes were more than wonderful to make up for it. Lots of Champion tomatoes (the ones in the foreground) are also delightful. I guess my next step is to learn to can my produce.

Most of my gardening neighbors have harvested their plots, except for Lily, who still has fat ears of ripening corn. We almost despaired of any ears emerging, but they finally did, late, and now are awaiting a little bit more time before harvest. It was a pretty good year, a hot dry summer, good for tomatoes. And aphids, which infested much of my kale. I'll have to think about next year's planting, but not now. Soon I'll need to pull out all the plants and get my garden ready for winter. I've been thinking about some different soil amendments that will make my garden more prolific. Some people swear by mushroom compost, which I've used a little, but not enough to make much difference. It sure is nice to ponder next year's garden, though. It will be my sixth and I'd love it to be the best ever.

Everything is back to normal in my sister's home. She's swimming again at the Y every morning, although the golf courses were underwater after Irma, I think even they are ready for use again. But I feel terrible for Puerto Rico and many of the Caribbean islands that were decimated by Hurricane Maria. Three massive hurricanes in such a short period of time, all of them causing untold suffering and anguish. And Mexico! Hit by a third huge earthquake in a few weeks' time. I followed the news about the search and recovery efforts until I couldn't take it any longer. The only thing I can do from here is give a little money to help. I gave to the Red Cross but recently learned that it might not be the best place to donate to. I'll do some more research about it and will let you know what I find out.

I had a couple of evenings of stress eating this past week. I would finish dinner and then rummage around for more to eat, although I wasn't hungry in the least. I just wanted to do something, and that was how it played out. Fortunately for me, we don't have cookies and cakes sitting around, or I would have eaten them. The worst of it has passed, I think, because I know it doesn't really help, and it only makes me feel miserable. I am still getting up every morning and facing the scales, and that is the only thing that keeps me from going off the deep end any further than I already have.

Friendships, and exercise, are all that are keeping me sane. The morass of politics and natural disasters weighs on me and makes me realize that the only thing I can do is take care of myself and my loved ones. And this is something that comes over me every so often, with this time of the year, autumn, being when it creeps up on me and I find myself struggling with depression. And that is in a good year! When the world seems to be crashing down around me, finding ways to cope becomes a full-time activity.

In less than two weeks, I'll be heading off to Vashon Island for my annual writing retreat with dear friends, ones I met through blogging, and I think it will be a time I can possibly find a way to express these feeling in a constructive manner. I keep thinking of writing fiction and creating a couple of characters who can carry away some of these emotions by getting them outside of me. I know it works, but I haven't found the impetus to get started. The writing retreat will help with that, I know. So I look forward to that time.

I struggle with guilt for having these feelings, while other people are struggling just to find shelter and the basic necessities of life. The number of homeless people begging for money on the streets in town has grown every year but seem especially numerous right now, when the weather is changing and they are growing increasingly desperate. There doesn't seem to be anywhere for them to go. What has happened to my country? Why are there so many homeless people?

Perhaps this is the time for me to stop running around in mental circles and try to find a way out of this mindset. After all, I am feeling an obligation not to drag YOU, my dear reader, into this place with me. Okay, I can do this. Let me think on it for a bit.

*   *   *

Well. After a little research on the internet, asking for help to manage anxiety and stress, I found several articles that I stopped to read and ponder. And guess what? Just the activity of doing that has made me feel better. I found this article on 10 Simple Habits to Grow a Positive Attitude, and just reading it made me realize that I do have tools to cope. The first thing on many of these lists is to start keeping a gratitude journal. That's exactly what I intend to do with the rest of this post: write down five things that I feel grateful for every day.

1. My partner. Yesterday he was busy all day making improvements to our home, and I watched with admiration as he got into gear to fix a few small but important things. I feel very blessed that he is in my life. He's right at the center of my gratitude. How wonderful that I have someone to carry the burdens of life along with me. Plus he's got a great sense of humor.

2. A monthly income. Every month I get two deposits into my bank account, one from Social Security and the other from retirement benefits from my three decades of work. I forget how this is beginning to become a rarity for young people. I was forced to contribute to this fund when I was young, but boy am I glad about it today. I am not wealthy, by any means, but we have enough to be comfortable.

3. My health. I am able to hike to beautiful places every single week, year round, with the Pacific Northwest giving me moderate temperatures (mostly) and being close enough to the ocean to walk to it and appreciate its ever-changing beauty. Although I'm in my seventies, I am very grateful for being able to manage my very minor aches and pains.

4. Intellect. I am grateful that I have a mind that works pretty well, even if it is beginning to get more forgetful now and then. It's only the normal aging process, and I can continue to write down my thoughts in a mostly coherent fashion and forget how many people cannot. I have a whole universe of books at my disposal, and I love to read. I just finished Al Franken's latest book and I laughed out loud many times.

5. Friends and family. Gosh, this list could go on forever! How could I forget to be grateful for all the friends I have all over the world? My gratitude for those I see every day and let me know they love me, as well as those whose presence I can feel, even if I don't actually get a chance to visit with them often. They are still there, and I feel my heart expand just to think of them all.

*   *   *

This is simply amazing. The person who began writing this post has transformed herself from being filled with woe to feeling lots of gratitude. Oh, and how could I not mention the Internet, and the wonderful ability I now have to share my thoughts and feelings with so many? Blogging is a blessing, something to be grateful for, isn't it?

And now I feel the urge to start my day, facing those scales with equanimity (well, almost), and getting out into the world so I can laugh and smile and share with my dear friends at the coffee shop. My dear partner is still sleeping, so I will try not to wake him as I get out of bed. We are both still in the process of recovering from flu shots we got this week, but now my arm is only a trifle sore and by tomorrow will be completely healed up. My tea is gone, and you, my dear reader, might take a little time to think of all you have to be grateful for. It was hard to get started at first, but then the floodgates opened and I had trouble stopping at five!

Until we meet again, I hope your week will be filled with joy, gratitude, and blessings of every sort. I will be hopefully having the same benefits in my own week. Be well, dear ones.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Next steps in this thing called life

The Gang of Five
Last week we managed to get all five of the usual suspects together for this picture at the coffee shop. Roger, me, Bob (in front), John, and Gene. Roger has begun to join us now and then, although he's been coming to the coffee shop for ages, only recently has he started to sit with us. He's an interesting fellow and seems to have a limerick for any occasion. Bob runs his own business in town and doesn't come by very often; it had been months since we'd seen him at all. And of course you know the other guys, John and Gene, who along with me form the nucleus of the gang. They add so much enjoyment to my life and I wanted to share this fun picture with you before getting started with the post.

First of all, my sister Norma Jean and her son Peter survived Hurricane Irma in fine shape. Although the mobile home park where she lives was right in the path of the hurricane, by the time it hit, the hurricane had lost most of its punch. The Florida Keys and the Caribbean islands were not so fortunate and were pretty much devastated. So it could have been much worse for us. Some cosmetic damage was all that needed to be repaired, and Peter is taking care of it. Everything has calmed down and I thought I'd make my plane reservations for December, now that I know there's a place to visit.

Then I went last Tuesday for my annual eye appointment and fully expected to get a new prescription for my left eye, which has gotten even worse over the year. Nope. Instead, I will be getting new eyes: I am scheduled for cataract surgery in late November for the first eye, and mid-December for the second one. I won't be finished with the followup appointments until early January. No plane trips for me right now. To say I'm nervous about it is an understatement. I know that usually it's insignificant and no big deal, but sometimes it is. They don't do both eyes at the same time any more, because if you are in the 2% of people who have complications, they don't want you to be blind in both eyes, after all.

Smart Guy had both of his eyes done ten years ago in Colorado. I remember how much he loved being able to see bright colors and have good vision again. He was talked into getting lenses that would allow him to see close up and especially his computer without glasses, and uses corrective glasses for distance. He was very nearsighted and wore glasses for most of his life, and then I got used to seeing him without them, as he doesn't use them at all except for driving. He's been very happy with his eyes and I can only hope for such success for myself.

I've learned that for people with macular degeneration like I have, I won't ever be seeing things perfectly again, but the surgery will allow me to see much better than I do today. So, even though it's scary, I'm looking forward to it with a little excitement and a little trepidation. It's my eyes, after all. One of my hiking buddies is having hers done by the same surgeon a month before mine, so I'll be learning all about her experience before going through it myself. She doesn't have AMD (age-related macular degeneration) like me, though.

In between that surgery and the holidays, I have my annual trip to Vashon Island for the writers' workshop we have there. It will be our sixth gathering, and the group of six became five a few years ago, and this year we will only be four. I suspect this will be our last year, so I want to get the maximum benefit from this one. I started reading "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott, which I downloaded to my Kindle last year after the retreat but never read. Now I am enjoying it tremendously and want to set some goals for my writing. Anne speaks to me me so strongly in this book, not only about writing but also about life in general. She certainly has had an interesting life herself and tells how and why she became a writer. This is a book I'll read again and again.

I go back and forth about whether or not I will decide to write my memoirs (which, in a sense, this blog has become) or whether I'd even like to take on some fiction writing. I've done a little of it, and I find it to be fun, but I'm not really interested in publishing anything for the masses. I know there are people who really want to be published, but I'm not one of them. I know I've got great stories to tell, but this once-a-week writing meditation takes care of that urge, pretty much. Some weeks I've got lots of write about, other weeks it's a struggle just to get started. I vacillate between those two extremes but still never want to miss a Sunday morning sitting in the dim light from my laptop,with my tea, and my partner softly slumbering beside me. Thinking about what might emerge from my mental processes as I sit here tapping on the keys.
We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. (Anne Lamott)
Yep, that pretty much says it all. I'm enchanted with her take on life, and she even makes me consider that I might one day decide to write a novel. One with people I've created from my own imagination and that would go somewhere I've never been. Not that I'm committed to it, but she has helped me to consider it. The one thing I know for sure is that I need my eyes to work properly if I want to continue to read AND write. So both of these issues are tied into the next few months and what will happen: one, the writing retreat, and two, the eye surgeries, in that order.

For a short while during the recent hurricane, I considered that if my sister's mobile home was destroyed, she might decide to move to the west coast and join me by moving nearby. She was considering it, and Peter woke her the morning after the hurricane passed (they were staying in Tampa at her daughter's rented two-story home) and said, "Well, I've got some good news and some bad news." She asked for the good news first. "Our home is still standing." Then she asked for the bad news, and he said, "Our home is still standing."

Unless the Universe arranges something else that might give her another reason to move, she's probably going to stay there in Florida for the rest of her life. I know that when I visit her in that lovely 55-and-over mobile home park, I would probably not leave, either. Her home is paid for, she owns the land underneath it, and her expenses would never again be as low as they are today. Of course, living in Florida during the summer months is no picnic, but she's managed to adapt to it. I, on the other hand, really could never be happy there. No mountains, incredible heat and humidity in the summer, and plenty of traffic and gridlock during the winter when the snowbirds are there.

Nope, I like it here. Maybe the only excursions I'll be taking will be inside my own head. Or no farther away than a ferry ride to an island or a trip across the border to Canada. However, if all goes well, I'll probably visit Norma Jean in January or February when the weather here has turned to all rain. No place is perfect all year round, other than maybe Hawaii, but it's very expensive even to visit.  Oh, well, it's nice to realize that I do have choices, even if I don't make a change.

And you know what? Those guys at the coffee shop are as entertaining and filled with stories as any I might make up. Perhaps the first thing I should start with, if I want to write that novel, is create some characters based on them. They would probably recognize themselves even with different names, I suspect. They're nice guys, though, and would forgive me unless I made one of them into a serial killer (smile).

So that gives me just enough incentive to find a way to finish this post and get up out of bed, dress and do my morning exercises and head off to join them. It's Sunday morning and it's time to share a bagel with John and enjoy a wonderful cuppa. I do hope your day is a good one, and I am so very grateful for you, my dear readers, for joining me here today. Don't forget to give your loved ones a hug, a pet, or a phone call to let them know you're thinking about them. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tough times for so many

Standing in front of a smoky scene
One of my new hiking buddies took this picture of me last Thursday, as we hiked in the usually pristine wilderness on Ptarmigan Ridge. We saw lots of wildlife: mountain goats (too far away for a picture), a huge marmot next to the trail, and a grouse. It was a wonderful hike with new friends, but the lack of any view of our lovely mountains was a bit scary, not to mention tough on the eyes and throat. By now they should be clear again, since we've had a bit of a weather change. We expected much better visibility last week, but the numerous wildfires had different ideas. It's hard to realize that the haze is made up of particulates from forests that are now gone.

It was only a week ago that Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, and I was glued to the TV screen watching the incredible devastation. Some people there have been able to return to a semblance of normalcy as the waters receded, but many are still dealing with flooded homes and horrible damage. Gas prices across the country have risen, with many refineries destroyed, and a bit of panic and hoarding taking hold in the hearts and minds of many.

And now I am once again glued to the TV screen watching the path of Hurricane Irma up the west coast of Florida, where my sister Norma Jean and the rest of her family are hunkered down, hoping to survive the onslaught of that massive storm. She lives (lived?) in a mobile home park, along with thousands upon thousands of seniors in similar 55-and-over communities in Florida, and she was under mandatory evacuation orders. Where are all these people going to live afterwards?

Her daughter Allison was renting a home in the Tampa area before leaving last week for Washington, DC, with her two children. Norma Jean and her son Peter and their two dogs have taken refuge in the large two-story home that is hopefully going to be safe from the wrath of this storm. Peter has boarded up the windows, and it seems that they will be much better off there. She doesn't expect her mobile home to survive, though. And now the storm's path has Tampa in its sights. Norma Jean's home is a 45-minute drive northeast in Zephyrhills.

As I write this, the hurricane has made landfall in the Florida Keys, after having flattened several Caribbean islands, some of which have still not been heard from, as all power and electricity is gone. And this is the current projected path of the hurricane up Florida's west coast:
As of this morning, 10 Sept 2017
Tampa has not been hit by a major hurricane in a century, and so much infrastructure will be gone, probably for good. The feeling I have in the pit of my stomach is caused by the anxiety I feel, not only for my loved ones, but for all that will be irrevocably changed by this catastrophe. Just a couple of days ago, I was making plans to visit my sister for my annual December trip, but then I realized that I have no idea where she will be at that time. When I think of the wonderful Betmar Acres where she lived, I wonder what will survive. Zephyrhills lies a little inland, but it might not matter much, considering the size of this storm. Hurricane Irma is larger than the entire width of the state. What happens to the wildlife?

I read an article this morning on the New York Times entitled, "Apocalyptic Thoughts Among Natures Chaos? You Could Be Forgiven." Indeed. With the wildfires raging around me, the hurricanes in the south, earthquakes in Mexico, and the current political climate with North Korea and more—well, yeah. There's a good reason for me to feel so emotional about it all.

But, but, but. There is so much more to life than focusing on current and anticipated disasters. Everybody may be affected, if not directly, then by our anxious concern. But those of us out of harm's way get to choose how we spend our time. I'm sitting here writing my Sunday post, with no disasters lurking (that I know of, anyway), and although I want to get up and turn on the TV and see what is happening out there, I am not required to do anything more. Perhaps the right thing to do right now, for me at least, is to take care of my own immediate family and loved ones. That includes you, so my attention turns to how to aim my thoughts in a positive direction, so that we can feel uplifted instead of downcast. It will help me, too.

Okay, here goes: yesterday it rained all day long and I rejoiced in the unaccustomed experience. Yes, I know I complain about rain sometimes, but after two long dry months and all that smoke in the air, I was thrilled to see the skies change. Today I will take a nice walk along the boulevard and enjoy looking at the sky, the bay and all the birds. Some of them seemed to hide during the smoky skies. A friend mentioned to me she hadn't seen an eagle in weeks and wondered if they are bothered by the smoke, too. I really don't know, but today we will all have a respite from it.

I had lunch yesterday with a couple of friends, one of whom is visiting from the East. I hadn't seen her in two years, although we all look pretty much the same. She is doing a lot of traveling and having adventures. I realize I'm glad for her but am not needing to travel or have any adventures myself. I'm happy to have my life, my routine, and my dear partner and need little else to be happy. I have my yoga, the gym life that I love, and plenty of time in the outdoors. I can stride down the street without too many aches and pains, and those I do have I consider badges of honor for my almost eight decades of life.

Which reminds me: I have a big birthday coming up in December and will be rewarded by receiving a free bus pass! Once you reach 75, the city of Bellingham gives you a Gold Pass, never having to buy another quarterly bus pass. Instead I will flash my cool card as I board the bus. Also, I will see the eye doctor on Tuesday and will get a new prescription for my aging eyes. Maybe I will have graduated to finally being eligible for cataract surgery. These days it's such a relatively easy procedure that I look forward to it. SG had both eyes done before we moved from Colorado, and he's been very happy with his "new" eyes. Every year I think I'll be ready to receive it myself, but so far my cataract has not yet "ripened."

So, I have definitely found some ways to consider my good fortune and although I will rush to the TV not long after I finish this post, to see what's happening with the storm, I will also make my way to the coffee shop to visit with my friends there, and then venture out for a nice walk to Bellingham Bay under partly cloudy but clean skies, with pretty puffies to admire and cooler temperatures.

Life is good right here, right now. And I have now finished my tea, partner still sleeping quietly next to me, and the day beckons. I do hope you, my dear readers, are out of harm's way, and that you will find your own loved ones to hug and appreciate, as I do you. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Anniversaries and snakes

Me in front, SG behind
I love this picture of SG and me coming in for a landing under our pretty Stiletto parachutes at Skydive Snohomish. It was taken a few years ago and still gives me lots of pleasure to think back on those days. On September 1st, he celebrated the anniversary of his first-ever skydive. It was 55 years ago! It certainly wasn't under a parachute like one of these, but an ancient round version. He also didn't have his reserve parachute mounted behind like we do today; piggyback containers didn't appear until much later. His reserve was mounted on his belly and the gear was massively heavy! I didn't start skydiving until 1990, when the equipment was much lighter and everything had developed to be more appealing to someone like me. I've never made a jump on a round, but he has thousands of them.

Today is the anniversary of my first skydive, 27 years ago. It was a tandem jump and I thought it would be the only one I'd ever make. But I got hooked by the sensation of freefall. I've said it before: until you have experienced what it's like to be in freefall, there's no way to adequately express it. It feels like you are weightless as you plummet towards the earth. When you leave the airplane at 13,000 feet (around 4,000 meters) above the ground, it's WAY down there, and you see mostly sky. As you fall, the horizon gets closer and the ground begins to come up to meet you. At about 5,000 feet, it's half sky and half horizon, and then the ground really begins to come up quickly. I wore a device near my ear that would audibly warn me at 5,000 (time to finish playing in the air), 3,000 (time to pull your parachute) and 1,500 (get something out now!). It was rare for me to hear the last one, because I would already be floating under my pretty parachute.

Since it was such a huge part of my life for so long, you would think I'd miss it more than I do. But everything has a time and place, and at 72 I decided I was done with skydiving. My partner had already come to that conclusion, so in February 2015 we had both retired from the sport. I no longer follow it avidly, like I did for years, but I still enjoy seeing my friends' pictures on Facebook of their latest exploits. I had become cautious and tentative and did not enjoy the thrills and chills of skydiving nearly as much in the later years. But there was a time when I made around 300 skydives every single year, and my logbooks are still among my prized possessions. Not that I like to read them, but I could if I wanted to relive a particular skydive.

Yes, things change as we age. I'm now struggling to keep up with my friends when we do a particularly difficult hike and will one of these days move to the slower group. It's nice that the Senior Trailblazers has two levels, and the relaxed group will be more to my liking after awhile. Not yet, though. I'm not ready to leave my hiking companions behind quite yet, although I know most of the people in the other group already.

I got an email yesterday from an old friend, John, from Colorado. He recounted an experience he had while on a walk with his wife and dog. He saw a small eight-inch-long snake on the trail and thought it had been run over by a bike and was dead. Surprised when he saw it move when he touched it with his boot, he decided to pick it up and move it to the side of the trail to keep it from harm. Unfortunately, it bit him on the thumb, a sensation like a bee sting. He didn't think much about it at the time.

However, as they continued to walk, his hand began to swell. They decided they'd better call the doctor and see what they should do. He was told to go right away to the Emergency Room and have it looked at. By the time he arrived, his hand was twice its normal size. Although he thought it was a garter snake, it was a rattlesnake, probably a baby that had not yet developed a rattle.

In his own words:
Good thing because an hour later my hand was swollen 50% larger and very painful. ER people said the swelling could cut off blood to the hand resulting in severe tissue necrosis.  After some morphine  for 8 pain on a 1 to 10 scale, they did blood tests and decided it was a rattlesnake.
John spent the night in the hospital, receiving antivenom treatment every few hours and having his blood drawn periodically until the toxin level had receded. I guess this is a very expensive treatment, but I couldn't help but think about the fact that long ago (or maybe not so long ago), this would have meant the loss of his hand, at the very least, or maybe his life. I remember when they sold snake bite kits and taught you how to cut the wound and suck out the venom.

Out of curiosity, I just looked up on Google whether or not we have any poisonous snakes in the Pacific Northwest. This is what I found:
Out of the dozen or so species of snakes that are native to Washington state, only one, the Western rattlesnake, is venomous. As they are not found in Western Washington, you can usually assume any snake you encounter in the greater Seattle area is not venomous.
When I lived in Colorado, I was quite aware that rattlesnakes were common, but I never saw one. I think there were a few others that I saw and wondered whether they were rattlers, so I learned to identify them. And for the edification of my readers, I am supplying you with this link. Remember that there will be some pictures of snakes on this page, so be warned. I was going to put a picture of a rattler on my post, but if you are anything like me, it would make your skin crawl. So I decided to turn away and let you decide for yourself if you want to look. (shiver)

Anyhow, you have now learned all about the title of this post. We've covered anniversaries and more about snakes than you probably wanted to know. My friend John will recover completely, I suspect, but he sent me an email telling me that he's still not back to normal, and it's been a few days now. I sure am glad it wasn't any worse.

My dear partner reminded me that next year our skydiving anniversaries will be 56 years for him and 28 for me, exactly twice as long for him as for me. I'll have to find some way to mark that time in a manner befitting its significance. But as we all know, the future is not ours to see, even just a year from now. I'm hoping that next year we'll be looking forward to fall in much the same way as we are today. We are in the last throes of summer's heat and hopefully next week we'll be back to normal Pacific Northwest temperatures.

And with that, I take a look around me to discover that all is well in my world right now. Partner still sleeping and making nice gentle breathing noises, tea is gone, and the coffee shop beckons. And you, my dear reader, I'm hoping that you will have a fine Labor Day tomorrow (if you are in the US, that is), or in any event, I'm hoping that you will have a wonderful week ahead. Be well until we meet again next week.