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 25, 2018

A pretty wonderful week

Cornet Bay last Thursday
With little idea about what will come out of my fingers this morning, I'll start by recapping my last week, the first since I returned from Florida. I returned to drastically different temperatures, from hot and steamy to cold and wet. I've had a chance to break out my down jacket, raincoat, and long johns. After a day of cold and snow on Wednesday, on Thursday the sun came out and nine of us drove south to walk on snowy ground on a beautiful but cold day. It was below freezing in that picture above, but you wouldn't know it unless I told you. Snow in the foreground belies that beautiful blue sky and water.

And then yesterday, the whole day looked like it would be a bust, as it snowed most of the previous evening in parts of the area. Interestingly, it was spotty and one place got several inches of snow, where others (like where I live) received only a few flakes. So I went out for my walk with the ladies, and even though it was snowy underfoot and we ended up with a few flakes falling from the sky, we had a very enjoyable walk anyway.

I considered not going myself, worried about slipping on the snowy trails, but my worries were for naught. Nobody fell, and we walked more slowly than normal (which I much prefer anyway) and never broke up into faster and slower walkers. It was quite lovely, actually. We skipped the uphills and downhills and stayed on level ground. Even though it was early in the morning, there were plenty of other people out enjoying the trails along with us.

Then I went to the movies with my friend Judy and saw Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, a movie starring Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, based on a memoir about Gloria Grahame, a legendary actress who died of breast cancer at the age of 57. Bening is really wonderful in this, as she is in most of her films, and I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it to anyone who wants to see a great actress portraying another great actress.

I was devastated, as were most of us, by the school shooting that occurred the day after I left Florida and wonder if my country will ever come to grips with assault rifles in the hands of so many. I remember when they were banned, briefly, at a time when I knew little about them, but now every single mass shooting we have recently endured has been carried out with assault rifles. An article from US News says this about them:
Guns modeled after the AR-15 assault rifle -- arguably the most popular, most enduring and most profitable firearm in the U.S. -- have become the weapon of choice for unstable, homicidal men who want to kill a lot of people very, very quickly.
The entire article is a very interesting read about the history of the gun culture in our country. I try to avoid reading about guns and have never fired one myself. My nephew Peter suggested going to a range while I was in Florida and firing his guns, but I declined. Just the thought of holding a lethal weapon in my hands feels antithetical to everything I believe in. And yes, I know that many of my readers are gun owners and aficionados, but I am not. The closest I ever got to a gun was when my dad came home from active duty in the Air Force and placed his gun on top of the refrigerator out of harm's way from his two young daughters. We (the daughters) pulled up a couple of chairs, peered at it, and looked long and hard at the gun and thought about touching it. But we never did.

Norma Jean has taken Peter up on his offer and he tells me she has good marksmanship. I hope I never get any closer to a gun than I did when I stared at Daddy's so long ago. With so many mass shootings occurring throughout this country, I realize that I might end up being a victim myself, I know that. But taking up arms does not seem like a proper solution to me. I don't know what might change our gun culture from what it is today, but either banning them or adding more into the world doesn't seem like a solution. What do you think?

In lieu of going to the rifle range in Florida, instead I went to Busch Gardens with Norma Jean and Peter and enjoyed a theme park for the first time in simply ages. I rode a roller coaster and got thrills and chills galore. Another ride that is designed for maximum scare takes you up hundreds of feet into the air, tips you face to earth, and then drops you terrifyingly fast towards the ground. I dreamt about it a couple of times, very vivid dreams. In one dream, nobody clipped me into the seat and I had to do it myself, and I worried that I had done it incorrectly. Someone yelled at me to tighten it up, and I tried but still felt I might slip out of the seat. The ride began its ascent and I was afraid when it tipped me toward the ground, but when it dropped, it very gently headed downward. Someone said I never got the parachute over my head so the ride was aborted. Parachute? Where did that come from? Dreams are strange; it felt so real at the time.

The extreme cold we have been experiencing the last week seems to be over for now. I just checked the weather, and we will remain constant throughout the day, with the temperature not going up or down from the current level of 42°F (5°C) all day long and into the night. I guess I can leave my long johns and down jacket behind today, as I head out into uncharted activity. The only thing on my agenda is heading to the coffee shop, as usual, and sharing a bagel with John while we sit and read on our tablets. We share funny or interesting articles with each other, usually with Gene as well, and then go our separate ways. It's a good way to spend a Sunday morning.

And with that, I have finished my post and will send you, my dear reader, a sincere wish that the coming week will bring us all good fortune and, if we have wind, that it will be at our backs.
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. --William Arthur Ward
Be well until we meet again next week, and don't forget to hug your loved ones. It's good for us all.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Vacation is behind me

Tuesday's sunset from the airplane
Last Tuesday evening I took a direct flight from Tampa to Seattle, flying from east to west, and just happened to look out the window when the sun was going down. We landed a full 45 minutes early, which made me very happy. It meant I would have no problem catching the 9:00pm shuttle bus to Bellingham. I arrived at 11:30pm to find my dear partner waiting to take me home. My adventure finished, my familiar pillow and bed never looked more inviting.

When my sister Norma Jean's husband Pete died in 2011, I began taking a trip down to Florida each winter to visit her. At first she lived alone, but for the past few years her son Peter lives there too. I slept in his bedroom while he stayed in the shed, where he keeps a small bunkbed along with his desktop. I was as comfortable as one can be sleeping in someone else's space. Peter prepared all our breakfasts and dinners every night. Norma Jean takes all this in stride, but I was once again able to experience Peter's culinary skills with great appreciation. It's not that I don't get wonderful food at home, but it's different.

When I first arrived in Florida, the weather could not have been more perfect. But by the time I left, it had gotten much warmer and more humid, and I had some difficulty adjusting. Of course, here at home the rain stopped while I was gone and the sun was shining, with cool temperatures while I sweltered. I was happy to return to my own weather. It's true that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right? Now it's just a happy memory, and my days here in Bellingham are filled with rain, wind, and even some sunshine.

I missed my friends and family here, but I've already returned to the gym for my usual classes and even got in a yoga class on Friday. Yesterday I walked with the ladies, although I only went around Lake Padden once, as the wind howled through the trees and the rain was stinging pellets. There was a much smaller number of us than usual because of the weather, but then once I got home, the sun came out, the wind died down, and it was beautiful. I should have persevered.

Now that I am back home and settling into my old routine, I look back at the time in Florida as if it were another world. I can still feel the intense sunshine and incredible humidity when I think of it. I guess I've become a Pacific Northwesterner through and through, because this feels like home and that was an adventure, a place to visit but not to stay. How people like my sister live there year round is a mystery to me. Peter told me that you do get used to it, but it's hard to imagine that I might ever even want to. Summers in the Pacific Northwest are so perfect that I wouldn't want to miss a day.

Both Peter and Norma Jean did everything they could to accommodate me, making me as comfortable as I could have been, and I very much appreciate it all when I look back at the days we were together. Their lives were uprooted, Norma Jean didn't golf at all while I was there, and her golfing buddies kept calling to see if they could get her to change her mind. She's got a wonderful group of ladies who play golf together several times a week, and they have all become quite fond of Peter as well, who does construction and odd jobs for them. One of them, Rose, showed me her entire home in which Peter tore out all the carpeting and laid linoleum that looks like a hardwood floor. It's beautiful. He is a perfectionist in everything he does.

Today I am pensive, thinking of my own life and how much I appreciate the environment I have. A coffee shop filled with friends and acquaintances, a gym with classes I have been taking for a decade, and now yoga that helps me keep my body flexible and my mind serene. This spring I'd like to begin a home practice, so that is a goal I have ahead.

When I returned home, I was amazed at how much lighter the sky is in the morning than it was just a few days before. We've turned the corner toward spring, and every day now we have more and more daylight. Walking to the bus, I no longer need my headlamp, and the sun is setting at 5:36pm today, more than an hour later than it did at the winter solstice. Signs of spring are popping up everywhere, although we still have a fair amount of winter to get through before it's time to start planting in the garden. I love it here. Sometimes you have to visit another place just to see your own environment with new eyes.

Today I'll be heading off to the coffee shop and will enjoy the ritual I've created with my friends there. Then I'll come back home and spend some time with my partner before settling into my favorite chair with a good book. I might go back to Lake Padden and make that second loop around that I missed yesterday. My friend Judy and I might go to a movie. The whole world of Bellingham is open to me, and I can decide what most appeals to me. Isn't it great to have choices about what to spend one's day doing?

And once again I've written a Sunday post, feeling myself wrap up the vacation that now is a memory, looking forward to today and tomorrow with a new appreciation for all that I have in my life. Mark Twain gives us his take on life here:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Well, okay then. I'm off to see what this day has to offer. I hope that you will take a few moments to think about what you might appreciate in your own life. And I'll see you again next week. Be well until then, dear friends.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Missing my home

Beautiful beach and sky
I woke yesterday realizing that I am on the final stretch of my vacation in Florida. Tuesday I will return home. And as hard as it may be to believe, I am missing Bellingham and my partner enough that leaving this place behind won't be difficult. I could not have imagined that when I first got here, because I was more than a little tired of all the rain at home.

When I arrived last Monday, the weather could not have been more perfect: in the mid-70s (23°C) and sunny, but every day it has gotten a little warmer until yesterday's 86 (30°C) just wore me out. I was forced to stay inside because the heat and humidity became so intense. Every day that I have been here has made me miss my normal environment a little bit more. I know that might seem odd to those who are craving some sunshine. We are no strangers to humidity in Bellingham, but when the temperature is 67 and the dew point is 68 (as it was yesterday when we walked), I was covered in moisture and exercising wasn't pleasant, even when it was not very warm.

Does it sound like complaining? I don't mean to, but it makes me realize that sometimes you need to get away from your regular environment to see it for what it really is. I've never done well with heat, but it hasn't bothered me like it is right now. Of course, I'm no spring chicken and it's been fourteen months since I've dealt with the Florida heat, but frankly I cannot imagine living here year round. I'd wilt like a hothouse flower in no time.

But in between I've truly enjoyed the time with Norma Jean. She is getting more and more fit as time goes by, and yesterday she slowed her long walk so that I wouldn't have to keep running to catch up. Today I took a break from exercising; she's out there walking as I write this post. I thought I knew how to walk fast, but I cannot keep up with her pace. If she were out there with my Saturday walking group, she would be far in front with the fastest walkers, while I'd be staying with the middle group. (We usually separate out into the fastest, middle, and slowest walkers within a few minutes.)

It's a little disconcerting to be feeling like a drag on her activity, but she doesn't seem to mind. We've been doing this for so long, and it does make me wonder if I could ever learn to increase my pace until, miraculously one day, I might actually keep up! She wasn't sure whether she has slowed down or not, but I was able to reassure her that, if anything, the opposite is true. Of course, who knows whether it's just me that is different? However, the ladies that I usually walk with on Saturdays give me a baseline, and that hasn't changed.

I've been a little under the weather. I don't know whether it had anything to do with the sore throat I had last week, but I've been fighting with chest congestion that has gotten worse ever since I got here. Today is the first day that it seems like I might be over the worst of it. Swimming has been delightful every morning during the last week, and since I'm lap swimming by myself, there is nobody to try to keep up with. Norma Jean swims for an entire mile, and I have managed to make a solid twenty minutes and then I'm done. I shower and enter the main section of the gym and ride a stationary bike, like I do at home, until she comes out.

And then it's home to a wonderful breakfast prepared by her son Peter. Norma Jean doesn't cook for herself any more, since Peter seems to enjoy keeping his culinary skills sharp and taking care of his mom in this manner. I have certainly been enjoying the fantastic omelets he makes. Since I have been keeping this blog for awhile, I should go back and look at how things have changed over the years. I know that in past visits she would fix me a kale smoothie for breakfast that I enjoyed immensely, but I don't even see her Vitamix sitting around the kitchen any longer.

I miss my own routine, but in no time at all I will be back home and remembering this time as if it were a dream. So I really need to soak in all the sunshine and blue skies before I return. Peter wants us to go to Busch Gardens tomorrow, so I'll be out in the sunshine and riding roller coasters and other exciting stuff in this Florida theme park. It's been a long time since I've ridden one, but apparently this place has dozens to choose from. It gives me a little thrill to think of getting on one after all these years. And then the following day, Tuesday, I'll return home late at night after another long day of travel.

So that's the state of my annual visit to Florida; it's still in progress but I'm beginning to shift back into the life I've been leading in Bellingham. I miss my friends and partner, but they will hopefully still be there when I get back, and the coffee shop crowd will be a welcome sight. Funny to feel like I've got a foot in each world. I must remember that it's important to be totally present wherever I am. Otherwise, I'll not be able to enjoy each day to the fullest.
No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang
Yep, that's right. My pillow is waiting for me. In the meantime, I've got adventures and delightful companions to enjoy. I hope you will remember to spend some time realizing how fortunate we are, alive right here, right now, with the wonders of the internet joining us together. And don't forget to hug your loved ones, even if it's only a virtual hug, and let gratitude fill your soul. Be well until we meet next week.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The rain just won't stop

Pussy willows
I was walking home from the bus yesterday and saw the first signs of spring beginning to emerge. These pretty pussy willows caught my eye, a sure sign that we are now through the darkest days of winter. Two days ago, we had Groundhog Day, February 2, the day right between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. I also notice that there are green shoots of daffodils sprouting out of the ground in many places. It would be nice to capture some of the signs of spring, but it's raining again.

This rain is more than I remember from years past, but it's probably more likely that my memory is selective. Usually, though, we will have respite from the rain with blue skies and fluffy white clouds interspersed between the periods of rain. Not this year. Fortunately for me, tomorrow afternoon I'll arrive in Florida and will have more than a week of sunny weather to enjoy with my sister and nephew. By this time on Tuesday, I'll have had at least one lap swim at sunrise in the outdoor pool at my sister's Y. Everything is packed and I'm ready for a change.

It's been fourteen months since I was in Florida. It was December 2016 when I last visited, and I decided then it would be better to visit later in the winter; it was so hot, mostly in the 90-degree (32°C) range for the entire visit, and I wilted like a fragile flower in the heat. But now it's in the 70s and sunny, simply perfect. Florida had a couple of cold spells last month, but they are behind us for at least the upcoming week. I might have to "endure" a day or two in the low 80s. The forecast for here is, you guessed it, more rain.

I'm hoping that we will all stay healthy for the rest of the season. This is a very bad flu that's going around, and I'll be carrying wet wipes and trying to keep myself from getting sick from the close proximity to others while traveling. I had a scare earlier this week when I woke on Wednesday with a sore throat, thinking it was the prelude to the flu, or at least a cold. But within a couple of days, the worst I suffered was fatigue and some chest congestion, but not even the sniffles. It worried me that I would be sick just in time for my vacation and would bring my sister an unwanted present from the Pacific Northwest. Hopefully that will not be the case. It seems that the flu is more prevalent all along the East Coast, including Florida, with only moderate outbreaks here at present. There's not much more I can do to protect myself.

When I first felt the onset of the bug, I went to the local wellness store to get advice as to what I might be able to take to get over it more quickly, and I learned about oil of oregano and bought a bottle of capsules (Gaia brand). And of course then I went online to find out all I could about how it works. Apparently it's a bit of a wonder cure:
Oregano oil is one of the best natural remedies if your immune system is under attack by a cold virus, the flu, respiratory infections, or any other illnesses. This is due to its expectorant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiseptic, and antioxidant properties. 
Well, I don't know if it really helped me get better, but I didn't get any worse. There's no way to tell how I might have recovered without it, since there's only one of me to test it. I'll take the rest of the capsules with me and maybe I'll be able to offer it to Norma Jean in case we have any other unwelcome symptoms during the week.

For one thing, we are continuing to get older, with all the concomitant hazards that come with aging. I have reached (according to some studies) the middle-old age group.
The older adult population can be divided into three life-stage subgroups: the young-old (approximately 65–74), the middle-old (ages 75–84), and the old-old (over age 85). Today's young-old age group is generally happier, healthier, and financially better off than the young-old of previous generations.
There are other breakdowns of the period of old age, which you can read all about here, but this is the one that resonates with me. It's true that once you reach middle-old age, things begin to break down more quickly, and you realize there's only one direction to travel. Our hike leader has been absent for more than a month now because of heart problems, and I see many people I've known for a decade beginning to slide from vigorous health to frailty. Many of the hikers who were energetic and enthusiastic when I joined them a decade ago are no longer active. And I know it's just a matter of time before I join them. Meanwhile, I'll keep going as long as I can.

And there's still so much to look forward to! I've geared myself up for a voyage, and it's going to be a lot of... whatever it becomes. It's always restorative for me to be with my sister, my lifelong companion, and I'm grateful that I have the chance to travel from coast to coast in this wonderful country. Just the thought of my upcoming trip makes me smile.

And I'll be thinking of all my friends in the blogosphere while I play in the sun and the water for the next week. I'll be writing from my sister's home then, with hopefully lots of adventures to share. Be well until next week, and don't forget to be grateful for all that we share. Thank you.
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. --Meister Eckhart
Oh, and one more thing: (click to enlarge)