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, January 28, 2018

A matter of time

Me at 72 and 22
What a difference fifty years makes! A while back I compiled this so that I could ask friends if they could tell that this is the same person, separated by fifty years. Nope. Even my dear partner couldn't tell it was me. Or maybe especially him, because he never knew me when I was young. We met at fifty and by that time, although my hair had not yet turned white, I was definitely no longer looking like that pretty ingénue.

I've been thinking about how much has changed in that half century. Our language, for one thing, is now filled with phrases and words that made no sense back then, such as "google" or "landline." A watch was just a watch, not analogue or digital, and our phones were all connected to the wall, so the word "landline" would have made no sense. Nowadays, landlines are definitely on their way out. When we moved here a decade ago, we discussed whether we should get a landline along with our cellphones, and we decided against it. Although there are still landlines, I never call one and our smartphones are so much more than just a phone. There's another one: "smartphone." What in the world would I have made of that word in 1965?

Most people don't even wear watches any more. I do, because I really like to look down at my left wrist and know the exact time, without having to pull out my phone. But I use my phone for so much more than telling time or making a phone call. It's also my camera, alarm clock, step counter, calculator, news source, and gives me a way to check my mail. When I was that young woman, I remember once watching a TV show about the future, and there was a concept that in fifty years we would all be wearing a Dick Tracy-type wristwatch that would allow us to talk in person to each other, and guess what? Now we can do exactly that with our smartphones. Gracious!

It's also becoming obvious that many of the phrases I grew up with are becoming obsolete. What about clockwise or counterclockwise? Are those going away as people move away from analogue clocks? Or how about telling someone about where your hands should be on the steering wheel at 10 and 2? Does that even mean anything to someone in his or her twenties? My goodness, I am now sounding like my grandmother, lamenting the passage of time. But time is not a thing that passes, it's a sea on which we float. (Margaret Atwood)

I have been floating on this sea long enough to look like a wrinkled prune. That's it! I just figured out how I can look like that young woman again, just get out of the sea. No, that won't do, because then I'd be dead. The notion of time is simply fascinating, and old photographs and memories remind me that it's an equal opportunity concept: nobody alive escapes its passage. Some might be able to appear younger with lots of lotions and potions and plastic surgery, but they are still floating on that same sea along with me.

Speaking of time, I have a week before I travel to Florida to be with my sister and nephew for a winter vacation. Since it's getting close, I spend lots of time thinking about what I'll need to take along, how to survive the journey of two long days, one going and one returning. I'm looking forward to being there but not to the travel. There was a time when I loved airports and journeying from one place to another, but not any more. Not only am I older, but now we are like cattle being herded into crowded pens, no longer treated with special care. Unless I could travel first class (which I cannot afford), it's something to be endured rather than enjoyed. No matter; I'll be in sunny and (hopefully) warm Florida! Norma Jean told me they just had two hard freezes in a row, and some of the palm trees turned brown and look dead, while others are unaffected. I'll try to take some pictures to capture the damage.

Mostly I'll be spending the time keeping up with my active sister: swimming first thing every morning in the outdoor pool and then walking a few miles to get weight-bearing exercise. She and I are the two active siblings, and it does sometimes make me wonder why it's just the two of us in a family of six who exercise daily. Whatever the reason, I'm glad we share a love of activity and will be together for a little more than a week to play in the sunshine and enjoy a glass of wine together in the evenings.

This past week one of my favorite authors died at the age of 88: Ursula K. Le Guin. She has written many sci-fi novels that I enjoyed enough to reread several of them. The New York Times wrote an obituary that tells of her many talents. She also wrote wonderful essays and recently released her latest collection, which I have on order from the library, No Time to Spare. And I found this quote from her (from The Dispossessed), that sums up this post with perfect symmetry:
Well, we think that time "passes," flows past us, but what if it is we who move forward, from past to future, always discovering the new? It would be a little like reading a book, you see. The book is all there, all at once, between its covers. But if you want to read the story and understand it, you must begin with the first page, and go forward, always in order. So the universe would be a very great book, and we would be very small readers.
She lived a good life and left behind a legacy through her writing that will be loved and appreciated for generations to come. She is no longer floating on the sea but has joined it, as we all will one day. Until that time (there's that word again), I'll be enjoying my Sunday mornings with my virtual pals, and with my dear husband sleeping beside me. Next week I'll still be here with him, but the following week I'll be in Florida and sitting in another bed writing this post. Until we are together again next week, I wish you all good things and especially hope that you will be well.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The ground under my feet

Tree and ferns
Last Thursday, I noticed this tree on the side of the trail and wondered how it manages so well with the ground beginning to erode out from under it. It's obviously not all that healthy, from the looks of the moss growing on it, but there are still leaves on the top, out of view of the picture. It reminds me that even mighty trees eventually topple and become fodder. It's the natural path that all living things follow.

Two weeks from today, I'll write my usual Sunday post but then everything will be focused on getting my bags packed and ready for the very early flight on Monday from Seattle. I'll leave here before 2:00am in the morning and will arrive on Norma Jean's couch many hours later. There is a three-hour time difference, as well as a long bus ride and an even longer plane trip. I won't be checking any bags, so packing should be simple and straightforward, but it seems to take me longer to decide what to take when I'm traveling light. Two weeks from today I'll stop focusing on being here and start thinking of Florida.

I've been binge-watching the first season of This Is Us, since I watched the Golden Globes and became curious about it. I have two more episodes before I'm caught up to the present season. It's a tearjerker of a series, with characters who have come alive for me, and I care about what happens to them. I now understand completely why Sterling K. Brown has won so many awards for his portrayal of Randall. The series jumps back and forth in time, from when the triplets were born to the present, with a stop or two during their teenage years. It sounds complicated, but it's really easy to figure out where you are in time. Jack, the father, mysteriously dies and I still don't know how, but I'm sure it will be revealed sooner or later.

The story line reminds me of all the aspects of family life that everyone who has grown up with complicated family relationships must grapple with throughout our lives. In a family like mine, with six siblings and parents who moved constantly during the early years, and then settling down and raising the three youngest in one place, the relationships are varied. Since Norma Jean is nearest to me in birth order, we are close to one another, but I have little contact with my youngest sisters Fia and Markee. They are, however, very close to each other. Twenty years separate me from Fia, the youngest. In many ways, I feel more like an aunt than a sister to the two of them.

In the coming two weeks, I'm hoping I can stay healthy and not catch the bugs that are everywhere. So many of my friends have gotten sick with either a cold or the awful flu that is going around. I'm also hoping that the weather cooperates and I don't end up having my plans upended because of that. Florida has had several cold snaps lately, so I'm hoping it will be over and calm by early February. I am looking forward to swimming with my sister in the outdoor pool at her local Y. She has been swimming a mile every weekday morning for years now, and if I manage to swim a third of that, I'm happy. It's become a tradition for me to visit her in the winter.

Traditions. That TV show reminds me of how family traditions develop. In it, they have a terrible Thanksgiving one year, when they are on the road to visit her family, but the car breaks down and they end up in a seedy hotel. The five of them make the best of a bad situation, and you see that years later, they still carry out traditions that began then: with only hot dogs to eat covered with saltines that were roasted over the malfunctioning heater, every year after that a dish made of the same ingredients was served at Thanksgiving. I found that a very touching reminder of how these disasters can become delightful reminders of times gone by and be transformed into happy memories.

There is plenty of loss to deal with, and everyone must find his or her own way to move forward after life's inevitable setbacks. It reminds me of how much of my own losses have become part of my past and still color the present day. My sons are both gone, but they are still a part of me and remind me that I will always be a mother. If my life had played out differently, I'd have plenty of grandchildren by now. I read about the joy they bring to my blogging friends, and I rejoice in studying their beautiful faces and am incredibly glad that I can enjoy them too.

There was a time in my early twenties when I was unable to be around small children because the grief that was triggered was too much for me to handle. It lasted for many years, but it finally passed. Even the most difficult loss will eventually evolve into something else. Some people become bitter and allow life's inevitable changes to make them try not to care so much. But the way we deal with it can open us to a greater understanding of life. Anne Lamott says it so much better than I ever could:
You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.
 Yes, exactly. I realized just now, in writing this post, that I have allowed myself to love completely over and over again, not worrying about whether that person (or animal, or tradition) will continue in my life. There are, of course, dear loved ones that would cause me great distress to lose, but after so many decades of life, of love, of loss, a sense of completion of this wonderful journey I've been on begins to take shape. I've experienced it all and if I died today, there would be little or nothing I would wish I'd decided differently. Even all the turmoil of my early years has faded into gentle memories of sorrow and joy, intermingled.

And now, today, I wake with anticipation and gratitude for another day to live and play in the world. None of us made a decision to be born, that was made for us, but we are all on the journey between that event and our final day. Some people call it "living the dash" (the time between our birth and death). That part we don't have any choice about, but how we live each day is ours to make each time we open our eyes to a new beginning.

My partner is still sleeping, lightly this morning, and the sun will soon rise and will also begin another circuit around the earth. It feels pretty good from here, today, this moment. I am hoping that your day will bring you all good things, and that you will choose to add some kindness to the world around you. That is available to every single one of us. Be well until we meet again, dear ones.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Rosy skies and Mt. Baker
Yesterday I happened to peek out the front window just as the sun was setting and saw Mt. Baker lighted up under this beautiful sky. I quickly pulled out my iPhone, which is always with me, so I could capture the scene. In the few seconds that took, the scene had already begun to lose some of its spectacular color. This is what I saw just before it faded to dark.

At this time of year, we only have 8 hours and 42 minutes of daylight at this latitude, but it's better than it was at the winter solstice. We've already gained almost a half hour, from a low of 8 hours 15 minutes of daylight last month. The return of the light is always a cause for rejoicing. And to have such a sunset to admire from my front porch, well, I'm pleased.

Yesterday was a lovely day from start to finish, even though we didn't see the sun. Why? Because it didn't rain! After several inches fell on the previous two days, everything is soaking wet with puddles of water everywhere, unable to sink into the saturated ground. At least it's mild, with temperatures rising into the high 40s (9°C). I wish I were able to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius without looking at an app, but I cannot. We Americans are one of the few holdouts in the world still using Fahrenheit and not converting to the metric system. Here's an interesting article about why. An excerpt:
This isn't just an aesthetic issue. America's stubborn unwillingness to get rid of Fahrenheit temperatures is part of its generally dumb refusal to change over to the metric system, which has real-world consequences. One conversion error between US and metric measurements sent a $125 million NASA probe to its fiery death in Mars' atmosphere.
It's partly because of old people like me who can't convert the numbers quickly because of a lifetime of habit. When I watch the world news, the worldwide temperatures are given in Celsius and I make a futile attempt to convert those numbers in my head. I do know that 0°C is freezing (32°F) and that makes it a little bit easier to figure. If the news channels just stopped using Fahrenheit, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be long before I got it straight. But for now, it's like learning a foreign language: I must convert words I know into ones I don't, and that takes time.

For now, I've got a few more pressing issues to deal with than lamenting my creaky old brain's foibles. I've decided to visit my sister in Florida next month and have already begun the packing process. I'm not checking a bag, which means I've got to winnow down my important items to a small carry-on and my little backpack/purse. It's been more than a year since I last visited, and during that time I seem to have forgotten everything I learned. She swims every weekday morning in the outdoor pool at her local Y, and I'll be joining her, although I haven't pulled out my swimsuit since my last trip. Plus I need earplugs and a swim cap so that I don't get water in my ears. That's just one part of my visit that reminds me to pack the right stuff.

And I worry about staying healthy between now and then, since everybody around me is getting sick these days. My friend John just spent four days in the hospital with the flu, although he got a flu shot and is usually healthy as a horse. When I went on the walk with the ladies yesterday, several were either missing because of illness or on the way to recovery, with hoarse voices and low energy. I am washing my hands every chance I get, and trying to remind myself not to bring my hands to my face all the time. Once I read about this tip to keep from getting sick, I was really amazed to notice how often I touch my face.

This week I will have the final checkup for the cataract surgery on my eyes, and I will finally (finally!) finish with the twice-daily drops. Four weeks of drops in each eye, with three times a day for the first week. I've gotten accustomed to the routine, though, and I am needing to put artificial tears in the left eye, which feels dry and scratchy otherwise. I'm guessing that once I finish with the right eye this week, I'll be doing the same with it. At least I will be finished with the prescription drops.

It's wonderful to see so much better these days, and although I still have some residual flashes in my left eye, they seem to be diminishing as the days pass. The problem for me is that I will never have healthy eyes again, with the macular degeneration still there and progressing. The good part is that when I am sitting here with my laptop, I don't need to wear glasses, or when I'm reading. When I drive I need them, or when I go to the movies and want to see everything crystal clear at a distance. Otherwise, I am content to go without glasses and let the world out there be slightly blurry as I gaze into the distance. I can still see better without glasses than I did with them before the surgeries.

I watched the Golden Globes awards show last week (although for the majority of the show I had the TV on and the sound off) and because of the show I started watching This Is Us. It's currently in its second season on NBC, but because I can watch season one on Hulu, I've been watching a couple episodes every time I get a chance. It reminds me of Parenthood, a series I enjoyed a few years ago. It's about a family dynamic that begins with the birth of triplets. Well, sort of. As with all these kinds of dramas, it's complicated. The show goes back and forth in time to three different periods, one of them being the present day. There are things that happened earlier and the show drops a few clues but doesn't reveal critical information all at once. I'm hooked after five episodes.

Well, now you're up to speed in all that's happening in my life. I do hope that wherever you are in the world, that you are healthy and safe. In this turbulent world, it's good to count our blessings and be glad for what we have in our lives that keeps us going forward with appreciation. I found this quote from Denis Waitley, which sums it up pretty well:
Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. 
Dear readers, I wish you all good things once again this week and until we meet again,  be well and remember to embrace the moment.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Ruminations on a new year

A contemplative place
Yesterday on the walk with the ladies, I wanted to go over the bridge and get a picture of the roaring waterfall, but we were heading elsewhere, so I kept getting behind when I'd stop to take a picture. This is as close as I got to the falls. These ladies walk fast, and I was continually lagging behind. I'd have to run a little to catch up; I didn't want to hold anybody up because I was not concentrating hard enough on keeping up the pace.

One of the reasons I enjoy this walk is the challenge to maintain a pace that is much faster than I would go by myself. When I first began walking with them, seven years ago now, I'd almost always struggle to keep up. There tend to be two groups: one very fast and the other keeping a pace not quite as fast. I try hard to stay at the forefront of the slower group; Cindy (our leader) always stops at junctions and waits until the second group is in sight before heading off again. It's partly because of this walk that I am able to keep up with my sister when I visit her in Florida. She would be at the front of the first group.

Cindy was a competitive race walker for many years before she started leading a group of fun walkers every Saturday morning at 8:00am. It's open to everyone, but many times someone will come once or twice and decide it's too fast a pace (around four miles an hour). I am probably the oldest person who comes on these walks on a regular basis, although there are many retired ladies among us. Men are welcome, but for some reason they don't return after a time or two. It is part of my routine that helps to keep me fit. I'm usually sweating hard no matter the temperature; it's a good workout.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of our move from Boulder, Colorado, to Bellingham, Washington. It was April 2008 when we first pulled up our rented U-Haul to our new apartment. SG had already scouted out possible places to live, and he had found a place that we both agreed would be a good starting point. Although I was still in Boulder, finishing up the last weeks in my job before retiring, he left his car here and flew back to Boulder so that I could drive my car and he could drive the U-Haul.

It was a sunny day and everything was in full bloom when we arrived. The environment here in Bellingham is completely different from Boulder's semi-arid conditions. I remember noticing how lush everything seemed, with plenty of green everywhere. Now it's become the norm: when I went back to visit Boulder, it seemed strange to see the sparse vegetation that once was normal to me. Funny how that happens.

Now it's been ten years and this is my home. We moved once, four years ago, from one apartment in the complex to another, but we are still here appreciating the many joys of the Pacific Northwest in almost the same place we first arrived. Most of the time, I don't even mind the rain, and I've amassed quite a collection of clothing that helps to exercise and play outside in all the conditions we find ourselves exposed to. Bellingham was a brilliant move for us, and the many friendships I've made over the years enrich my days.

Today I'll go to the movies with my friend Judy, now that the holidays are over and her family has returned to their own homes, she's available to me once again. I met her at the Y and we had coffee after class one day, and that was the beginning of a dear friendship of two like-minded women of a certain age. Our partners don't particularly like the same things we do, so we enjoy movies, excursions, and dinners together on a regular basis. Ten years now!

I got a text yesterday from my sister Norma Jean that her son Peter successfully returned from a trip to the East Coast. He drove there, and I was worried about how he would get back, with the awful weather hitting the entire eastern half of the country. He did attempt to leave earlier this week but ended up staying with some friends halfway back to Florida. I just looked at the weather and we are both experiencing temperatures in the mid-forties at the moment. For a time, she had colder weather in Florida than we had here. I read that iguanas were falling out of the trees, frozen and stunned by the extreme cold. (Apparently they weren't dead in most cases and just needed to warm up.) Now that would be a sight!

I watched a few rescues on the news, animals that fell through ice and were pulled out by good samaritans. One poor dog was pulled out just in the nick of time, and I was so relieved to see him wrapped in blankets and recovering afterwards. When I was pondering what to write about this morning, I thought about all those people who are helping others through this terrible cold and snow covering so much of our country and thought it would be a good topic. But once I sat down to write, I just couldn't quite get anything going, much less something that I would need to research. Nope, that was not where I was headed today. Instead, I didn't actually venture very far from the confines of my own little cocoon: tea finished, partner sleeping, and the tapping of the keys on my laptop here in the dim light of this Sunday morning before dawn, our first visit of the new year.

One thing doesn't change from year to year: my sincere desire that we all have a wonderful and fulfilling trip around the sun, once again. I know things change; it's the nature of life, but for you, my dear reader, and for all those I hold dear, I wish us all a year filled with love, light, and wonder. Be well until we meet again next week.