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, March 25, 2018

Waking up old

My red rain poncho
Melanie took this picture of me last Thursday, as we were getting ready to hike the Chanterelle trail on a wet, rainy day. You can see the others in the background, waiting for us before starting a rather short (not quite seven miles) hike. We didn't even stop for lunch, but turned around and made our way back to the trailhead and drove ourselves to the Senior Center so we could enjoy our lunch in a warm and dry place. It turned out that Thursday's rain total tied the record for the date, almost three-quarters of an inch.

Having made it to the grand old age of 75, I find myself rather amazed that I can still do all the activities that give me such pleasure, such as hiking with the Trailblazers every Thursday, rain or shine; yoga twice a week; enjoying the YMCA's classes every weekday; and the Saturday morning walks with the ladies. I manage to get more than 10,000 steps every day, and some days even twice that number. I'm proud to be such an active elder.

But make no mistake: I'm definitely old, and anybody who tells you that age is just a number and you're as young as you feel, isn't very aware of the process and is probably much younger than I am. So every day, every single day, must be enjoyed and lived to the fullest, because one day I will not be so fortunate. I may have a decade of active living ahead, or maybe only another year. Who knows? I don't take anything for granted any more.

Although I was a grown woman fifty years ago, the physical person I was then bears little resemblance to the woman I have become today. When I was young, I would notice how old people begin to lose their strong gender appearance and begin to look alike. That's happened to me now, and I am sometimes rather taken aback by the person who looks back at me in the mirror. I don't wear makeup, but sometimes I think about it, will purchase some and apply it as I once did every day. It doesn't look right to me any more, but I suppose if I did it every day, I'd get used to it again and wouldn't feel so self-conscious wearing foundation, rouge, and lipstick. Eye makeup is no longer an option; the folds around my eyes have become deep enough that a small amount just becomes invisible, and too much ends up under my eyes rather than where it belongs. My eyelashes are very sparse, too. So why bother? I've gotten out of the habit and cannot think why I would want to start up again.

I had my annual wellness visit last week and was very pleased with the numbers from my blood work. My cholesterol is acceptable, and for someone who has rampant heart disease in her family, I was very pleased to see that my ratio of good-to-bad cholesterol continues to go in the right direction. That's not just by chance, though: she (my doctor) told me that diet and exercise are the keys to a healthy cardiovascular system. I also take a statin, I have done so for decades now and don't seem to have any side effects. My triglycerides were well under 100 (74 to be exact) and my glucose (sugar) was 89, also nothing to worry about. One needs to keep the number under 100, she told me, and that number tends to increase with age. Another side effect of being active: it helps to keep those numbers low.

I walked out of her office feeling pretty good about myself, but when I went to the restroom before heading home, I caught a glimpse of myself under the harsh overhead lights and saw those wrinkles and sagging jowls that come with age. Yes, I know I earned them, but it was again a reminder that age is not just a number, things are wearing out, both externally and internally. I've lived three-quarters of a century, for heaven's sake; this linear process travels in one direction only. I will never be a young woman again in this life, no matter how much I exercise.

I was mesmerized by the looks of some of the older women I saw at the Oscars. Jane Fonda's face and neck would not look like they do without a whole lot of plastic surgery. Helen Mirren looks great, and I wondered if she has also gone under the knife, but she looks much more natural to me and probably hasn't. In a special program, she showed how she looked before and after makeup was applied by a professional. It was rather astounding, and I thought, hmmm. Maybe I could learn to do that, too, but... why?

I can't help but wonder how this last part of my life will play out. I've done pretty much everything I ever wanted to do, so I don't have a bucket list. All the travel, both international and domestic, is behind me and has no appeal any more. All those skydives and parachuting I did was great, but I don't miss it today. My career was satisfying, but it also seems like it happened to another person. How did I ever manage to fit a full-time job into a very busy life? I sure wouldn't want to go back to working.

Writing on my Sunday blog (which I am doing right now), and three times a week on my other blog keeps my mind active. That, and having become an avid reader, with at least one book going all the time. I just finished re-reading "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. Several times while reading it, I would get a "blast from the past" when I would remember little snippets of the story and where I was during the initial reading. Now I'm prepared to see the new movie of the story and see what Hollywood did with it. I do read books for both enlightenment and entertainment.

And now I'm getting ready to wind up this post and look forward to the rest of the day. I'll go off to the coffee shop to visit with my friends, and this afternoon see a movie with my friend Judy. Don't forget to take the time to appreciate your wonderful life and the dear friends and family who love you. I am doing just that myself, as I gaze over at my dear partner who slumbers next to me. And with that, I'll leave you with a quote from Madeleine L'Engle:
The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been. 
Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Searching for serenity

Yoga teacher's props bathed in sunlight
It's one of those Sundays that came around quickly, after days and days of delightful sunshine and being outdoors enjoying the burgeoning signs of spring. There's nothing that raises my spirits as much as watching the changes occurring all around me, as dreary winter turns to cheerful spring.

I've just signed up for another round of yoga classes, this time taking two a week instead of just one. The studio signs you up for semesters, either 10 or 12 weeks at a time, changing with the seasons. I have two more classes in the current semester and then there's a week of free classes for people to try out other instructors or levels. I'll stick to my current ones but I might try the next level up during free week. It's a wonderful studio and I love what yoga has given me.

Iyengar Yoga allows the use of props, such as blocks and bolsters, as well as folding chairs and the wall for certain poses, and I'm able to try the harder ones using them. I will never be able to move up very far in level, given not only my advanced age, but also because I don't have a home practice, not yet anyway. I'm moving in that direction, and I realized not long ago that I might one day reach a place where I feel confident enough in the poses that I don't need a teacher to correct me. That's where I seem to be headed.

At the beginning of class, we have a short lesson about yoga, and I've learned about the koshas, or the Five Layers of Self. In my mind, can hear my teacher talking about annamaya kosha, or the outer layer, the physical self.
Derived from Sanskrit, kosha means "sheath" or "covering." As such, the koshas are often called the five sheathes. The annamaya kosha is the sheath of the physical. The yogi who understands herself within this kosha would define herself as a physical body: blood, flesh, bones, fat, and eating and drinking to sustain the body.
This is but the first of the koshas, and one can learn through practice to understand life in a larger sense. Although the annamaya kosha is the first and most basic layer of one's self, discovering each kosha is believed to bring the individual closer to oneness with the universe. I'm learning to appreciate this kosha as I try to remain my equanimity in the chaotic world around me.

My habit in the morning is to rise early and make myself a cup of tea and bring it back into bed while I sit propped up with pillows and turn on a low light, opening up my laptop. My partner is now very accustomed to the sound of the tapping of keys as I write and doesn't even stir if he's particularly tired. We are the essence of opposites: he comes to bed late most nights, and I rarely even hear him come in as I'm already fast asleep. When I get up, I spend about an hour reading the news, emails, and what's going on in the life of my blogging friends. If I have time to spare, I'll even check Facebook, but as you know, that can be a real time sink, so I usually wait until later in the day to go there.

On Sunday mornings, like today, I spend a little longer propped up in bed, because I write this post as a meditation, usually not knowing what will come out of my fingers. The night before, as I lay in bed waiting for sleep to take me, I think about what I might write. Casting about for what's on my mind, it will usually become evident that something particular is wanting to emerge. Not always, though: sometimes I don't have much of anything in mind when I sit down to write. Or sometimes, I realize I have some resistance to examining what's bothering me. In any event, knowing that my Sunday morning will begin with this practice helps with my attempts at self-discovery.

Now that my eyes seem to have settled down after enduring cataract surgery, and finally having some progressive lenses that allow me to see with clarity in the distance, I'm feeling very happy about being in a holding pattern with the macular degeneration. I'm sitting here with the laptop without wearing any glasses at all, since I can see close without them, and that's a big change from before. I had to wear my glasses all the time, for close or far, and even then my vision left much to be desired. I'm very happy that I have been given the opportunity to have so much better vision.

When I first get out of bed, usually I cannot quite take full steps as I test the state of my ankles, which almost always hurt. As I begin to move around as I make my tea, they begin to loosen up a little (usually) and by the time I'm actually up and ready to start my day, I'm moving normally. I do sometimes hear the internal conversation I carry on with myself: this is what old ladies do, they toddle around and this is where I'm headed. But then I am able to walk again and realize that I'm not there yet.

This week I'll have my annual wellness visit with my doctor. I've only seen her once before, as my previous doctor has moved on, but I look forward to the visit with her. I like having a female doctor, especially a young one, and she seems very knowledgeable. I will have my blood drawn early tomorrow morning so we can discuss the results. I like the fact that I'll be able to see the results myself the day after it's drawn. I've been doing this now annually since I moved here ten years ago, and I really like the system. I can also compare the results with previous years in a graph. The only number that changes much has been my cholesterol and triglyceride numbers, and they have been getting better as the years pass. I'm hoping this year will be the same.

I will also ask her if she knows when I might be able to receive the new shingles vaccine that has been developed. That's one illness I hope to avoid: shingles is no fun and as we age we are at increased risk for it. I've already received the earlier vaccine, but this one is apparently much more effective. It doesn't sound like much fun to take, as the side effects can be uncomfortable in many patients, but if you have ever seen what shingles can do, it's worth it.

And here I am already, it's 6:30am and I've finished my Sunday post along with my tea. I just took the last swig, and this is where I find a few minutes to extend my consciousness out into the ether and see if I can connect with you, my dear reader. I wish it were possible for me to open up a two-way avenue and reach into your world and give you a hug, but I can't. So it's going to have to be a virtual one, from my annamaya kosha to yours. Please, be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

March is a favorite month

Daffodils in bloom
Yesterday was a sunny delight as I walked with the ladies, and everywhere the trees are budding out, the flowers are coming up, and basically reminded me that the Spring equinox is right around the corner. In fact, it will happen a week from this coming Tuesday, March 20, at 9:15am here in the Pacific Northwest. It was a rather mild winter, with only a few wind storms but plenty of rain, and plenty of snow in the mountains. It makes me realize it will probably be awhile before we are able to hike on our favorite High Country trails. And we'll be making more hikes at sea level for awhile yet. But the short days and long nights are behind us for another year.

Late last summer I decided to start counting calories again so I could lose the five pounds I had gained, and within a couple of months of watching what I eat, those five pounds disappeared. Temporarily, it seems. Then I started eating normally, not recording my food intake onto the Lose It app on my phone and gradually, very gradually, those pounds starting showing up on my scale in the mornings. Slowly, I stopped seeing my favorite numbers and would step lightly on with my eyes closed, then looking at the number, one eye at a time, hoping it wouldn't be showing my indiscretions. Most of the time, it's three over, not five, but the last two days are a harbinger of things to come.

Of course, those numbers include the occasional ice cream and popcorn indulgences I have allowed myself, and I've begun to eat wheat and bread again, things I don't touch when I'm trying to lose. But the funny thing is, I'm just not able to work myself up enough to cut back again. The scale keeps me honest, and it does make a difference when I decide to eat something I know I shouldn't. I really like not carrying around those extra pounds. One day soon I'll start being more careful of what I eat.

In two weeks I have my annual wellness visit at the doctor's, and I really don't want to show up there with extra weight. I hate getting on those scales at her office and seeing numbers I don't like, since I have to weigh with my clothes on. I will have removed my loose change, phone, and wallet from my pockets before stepping on them. Am I being silly? Perhaps, since I know I play games with myself to work up some semblance of outrage. I just don't want to have my clothes get snug around the waist and spill out a spare tire over the top. Not my ideal self image, not at all. But what the hell, I tell myself, you are the only one who cares.

There's so much distress going on around the world, and here I am fixating on a couple of extra pounds. That's the part I find not to be normal, actually. But the difference, for me, is that I can actually DO something about my weight, and I can't do anything about what's going wrong in the larger world. I'd rather focus on something that is within my grasp. Nevertheless, I will read the news every day and have opinions on what is happening, but what can I do about the school shootings and the dysfunction in Washington? Not much, other than vote every chance I get, attend marches, and give money to causes I believe in.

The healthy thing to do, I think, is pay attention, read the news, and do whatever is necessary to keep a positive attitude about it all. Everything moves in cycles, and what is ascendent today will be descendent tomorrow; what goes up and all that. Usually I focus on the good news anyway. It's part of my coping mechanism, and I do have to say that my environment helps with that. Thank God I don't live in Syria, or Appalachia, or even in a big city anywhere. I like my small town of Bellingham, with its wonderful bus system and YMCA, both of which I use regularly. And even though it rains a lot here, in the summertime it is pretty darn perfect. I have so much to be thankful for, and I need to remind myself of that.

I had to get up an hour earlier this morning, since we lost that pesky hour of sleep last night as we begin Daylight Saving Time once again. Eight months of it ahead, before we get back that extra hour of sleep in the fall and return to Standard Time. Why do we do this? It seems so strange. I read that Florida has passed a resolution to stop DST, and Arizona and Hawaii stay on Standard Time all year. I found this interesting article about what it would be like if we simply stopped doing this. It also gives some background about how it all started. Hope you find it enlightening; I did. Winston Churchill seemed to think that it was worthwhile. He is quoted as having said:
An extra yawn one morning in the springtime, an extra snooze one night in the autumn is all that we ask in return for dazzling gifts. We borrow an hour one night in April; we pay it back with golden interest five months later.
I like thinking about it like that, giving it a positive spin. Like I said, staying positive is what is on my mind most these days, that and those few extra pounds. I hope that until we meet again next week, you will be filled with light and airy thoughts. Also, don't forget to give your loved ones a smile or two.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Evolution of a post

Chuckanut Ridge by Melanie
My friend Melanie is a good photographer and sometimes takes pictures that have a mood to them I love. This one shows a hiker almost to the top of a ridge, among tall trees and long winter shadows. I looked carefully and realized with a start that it is me in the picture. It could have been anybody, but it's me; I sure like the feeling it evokes.

It got me to thinking about how much our world has changed: hardly anybody carries a regular camera any more, and the pictures taken by our smartphones are as good as most of us ever need to capture the moment. That's just one part of the change that has evolved since the beginning of the Information Age. Everywhere I look people are fixated on a tiny screen, doing... what? I know what I use my cellphone for, and the least of it is for making phone calls. In the twentieth century (you know, long ago), I got my news from the morning paper, which was delivered to my doorstep. I rose out of bed, put on the teakettle and went looking for the paper. I'd climb back in bed and read while I drank my morning tea. My partner was, even then, asleep next to me while I began my day. We've always been opposites in that way; he's a night owl and I'm a morning person.

These days, I still make my tea and bring my laptop back to bed with me while I peruse the news and read the papers online. The best part is that I can pick and choose where I want to go with information. Once I've read the headlines, I usually find some tangent will capture my interest. Yesterday I happened to see a mention of Ann-Margret, who I remembered is the same age as me. The article is entitled, "Still a Beauty at 76," so of course I had to find out what she looks like today. I watched a video of an interview, and I hardly recognized her. Wondering why, I did a little research to find that she has been "under the knife" from plastic surgery plenty of times, in an effort to retain her beauty.

That little excursion into the internet took awhile, and I found that plastic surgery for women my age is common, especially when you don't want to let the ravages of time get the best of you. But is it worth it? At what cost (and I don't mean monetary, necessarily) do we put all our belief that just a nip here, a tuck there, will make us look like we did when we were young. Nope, it doesn't work that way.

I must admit that it's a little distressing to see how quickly my body is beginning to age. It's a constant battle to stay healthy, to keep my weight down, and keep going out there exercising every day. But the alternative is to give up. Just a couple of weeks away from my regular routine means months of effort to climb back to what I was able to do before the layoff. Is this just another form of denial? I know how much better I feel when I can walk briskly with the ladies on Saturday mornings, how much I would miss the hikes if I couldn't join my fellow seniors on Thursdays. So the effort seems worth it, for now.

Change is inevitable, I know that. It's now been three years since I made my last skydive, and sometimes I marvel at how little I miss it. It was at the center of my life for more than two decades, but I've moved on. Will it be the same with other aspects of my life? Most probably. And I will adjust and find other pursuits that fill me with joy. Just writing this blog post gives me some of that, and I find it to be an activity that helps me figure out what's important to me at this very moment in time.

I'm looking forward to watching the Oscar ceremonies tonight, although what I usually do is listen to the opening monologue and then turn the sound off so that I don't have to be bothered with the interminable commercials and drivel. I like to look at the gowns and after having seen most of the movies, I have my own ideas of who should win what. I'll sit in my favorite chair and read my current book, Katherine Graham's autobiography. After I watched "The Post," I went to my library's website and put a hold on the book, and it recently became available. I wanted to find out what she actually thought about being the first woman to run a major newspaper and how she coped. It's really well written; she won a Pulitzer Prize for it in the 1980s.

Graham lived to be 84. She was attending a conference when she fell:
Mrs. Graham suffered a head injury when she fell on a concrete walkway outside a condominium in Sun Valley, Idaho, and never regained consciousness. She had gone there for a conference of business and media executives.
Graham's obituary from the New York Times is informative and made me really look forward to reading about her. Thinking about her death, it makes me ponder what might be the best way to exit this life. Katherine didn't seem to worry much about wrinkles or her health; she was active and involved right up to the end. That seems to me pretty much perfect. And at 84, she had lived a very full and meaningful life. It was not without difficulties and drama, of course, but that's pretty much true of any of us. I highly recommend the book, and the movie.

There was a time, not so long ago, when this post I'm writing wouldn't have been possible. I've spent some time this morning doing a little research on the internet so I could provide my readers with more information if one desires, and even the post itself wasn't possible before the advent of the information age. Being involved in publishing during my working life, it was available and even necessary in my job, and I had to learn how to write online. This blog is very satisfying to put together, and it keeps me connected to the wider world. What a great time it is to be alive! Steve Ballmer sums it all up quite well in this quote:
The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn't think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential.
And so, with that, I'll leave you to your own devices, while I finish reading the news and Sunday comics (I never miss them). My partner still slumbers, my tea is gone, and it's time to begin the rest of my day. It is my hope that today will bring you all good things, and that you will be surrounded with love and light. Be well until we meet again next week.