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, November 25, 2018

A larger perspective always helps

Jupiter from Juno flyby
Part of my morning routine is to visit the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) to see what wonder is featured for that day. Earlier this month, this image taken from the satellite Juno, which is orbiting the gas giant Jupiter and making a close encounter every 53 days, caught my eye. It looks like a painting, but it's a closeup of an area of Jovian clouds.
Light clouds swirl around reddish regions toward the lower right, while they appear to cover over some darker domains on the upper right. The featured image was taken by the robotic Juno spacecraft during its 14th low pass over Jupiter earlier this year. Juno continues in its looping elliptical orbit, swooping near the huge planet every 53 days and exploring a slightly different sector each time around.
When I think about the fact that our entire planet would be just a tiny speck against the backdrop of Jupiter, it helps to put some of the problems that I obsess over into a much different perspective, making it easier to take a larger view and relax a little. It's an amazing universe, and daydreaming about Jupiter has long been one of my favorite pastimes.

This weekend is the end of a long four-day vacation for many of us in the US; Thanksgiving was Thursday, a day to visit with family and share a turkey with all the trimmings. We didn't participate in that ritual, but instead I used my Crock Pot to make a wonderful vegetable stew, which we enjoyed with a salad and crusty bread. We had individual desserts that I bought at the grocery store, so I wouldn't be tempted to eat all or most of a pumpkin pie that I drooled over. I love good pumpkin pie, but it's hard for me to justify bringing home an entire pie for the two of us. It's hard enough to keep my appetite in check during the holidays, and I go a little bit off the rails around this time of year.

Today my friend Judy and I will go to see Melissa McCarthy's latest movie, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Several of my friends have already seen it and think that it's her best performance ever. I'm not a fan of slapstick comedy, which is what I usually associate her movies with, but this one is based on a true story and shares its title with a memoir written by Lee Israel. Since I haven't seen it yet, I can't say whether it will live up to its hype, but I'm looking forward to it. As usual, during the last two months of the year, many good movies will be shown at the local theaters in hopes of garnering Oscar nominations for 2019. Judy and I will be busy trying to see them all during the holiday season.

I've finished with the seven acupuncture treatments I signed up for, and I have to say I'm already missing the experience of having all those needles placed in my body once a week for an hour. It has made a huge difference in several areas: first, my sore heel (the initial reason for the treatment) is finally back to normal, and several various aches and pains are lessened, and I feel better overall. The part I like the best is when he puts needles in the top of my head, in my scalp. I get goosebumps all the way down to my toes. Although I've had acupuncture in the past, I had never before had needles placed in my head. I made an appointment for another treatment mid-December and am looking forward to it. If I could afford it, I'd see him once a week just for maintenance. Warren gives a free 30-minute assessment to see if someone might be interested. Check out his website at Active Points Wellness if you live in the area and want to find out more.

Oh, yes, one more thing: yesterday I finally broke down and started watching a PBS Masterpiece Theater series: Poldark. It's a British historical drama and is based on several books. With almost 40 episodes over four seasons, I've got quite a task ahead of me. A synopsis:
This all-new version of the vintage Masterpiece series stars Aidan Turner as Capt. Ross Poldark, a redcoat returning to Cornwall after the American Revolutionary War, only to find his father dead and his true love about to marry someone else. A Mammoth Screen production, the series is packed with action, adventure and romance. 
Yesterday I watched two episodes and am totally and completely hooked. Many of my friends have asked me if I watched it and I hadn't, although that has now changed. It reminds me of how I got hooked into watching Downton Abbey, just an episode or two, then being unable to stop as I got invested in the characters. With Poldark, I'm already invested after just two episodes!  Fortunately for me, it's available for free with my Amazon Prime membership.

I am also struck by how different our lives are now, compared to the late eighteenth century in Cornwall, England. It was long before anything that resembles electricity was discovered (1879), and what a difference that one thing has made in our world. It's almost unimaginable, but fortunately we have period historical dramas that remind us. As I sit here communicating with you, my virtual readers, with light from the screen illuminating the room, warmth from the heater, and a functioning toilet, I must say I feel very grateful that I can visit that earlier history without actually having to live it. Yes, life has changed dramatically since then.

And with that, I have just realized I'm going on and on and need to bring this post to a close. My tea is long gone, hubby is quietly sleeping next to me, and I am beginning to think of the morning tasks ahead of me before going off to the coffee shop to join my friend John for a delightful latte. I am sincerely grateful for having made the virtual acquaintance of so many of you, and I am hoping that this weekend will bring you all good things. Until we meet again next week, please don't forget to look around and give thanks for all that makes up your world. Be well.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A little help from my friends

Frozen leaves in early morning light
The capricious fall weather has taken us from mild and rainy to cold and clear, seemingly every other day. We have a cold but sunny weekend to be followed by rainy and cloudy before Thanksgiving Day on Thursday. Our Canadian neighbors already celebrated their own official Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. This year, the holiday in the US will fall on the earliest date possible, the 22nd, the fourth Thursday of the month.

I am not a big fan of holidays that interfere with my daily routine. Every Thanksgiving Day the buses don't run, the Y is closed, and even my favorite coffee shop is closed for the day. And of course we won't go on our usual Thursday hike, either. John and I have made arrangements to meet at the Haggen Grocery in Fairhaven for our usual morning meetup for caffeine. At least the big grocery stores are still open on Thursday, and this one has a coffee shop inside. It gets even harder to find a place on Christmas Day, but fortunately for us we will still have a chance to enjoy some coffee together. This Thursday, I'll go to a benefit yoga class a couple of blocks away, which will be the majority of my exercise for the day, it seems.

The past couple of years I've been having real difficulty keeping up with the regular hikers on our hard uphill hikes, and several of my friends have suggested various remedies. Last week, Tom, one of our regular Trailblazers, brought a box of hydration packets that he swears by. He handed some out to everybody, and he gave me three of them. They are called "Liquid IV" hydration multiplier. They are not cheap, by any means, but if they work, I'll be happy to shell out the money. From reading some of the reviews on Amazon, Tom is not alone in feeling that these electrolyte replacement packets are worth it. Plus, it seems they help with a hangover. Not that I'm likely to drink that much these days, but sometimes it happens at parties that I drink more than usual. I'll keep one with me just in case.

This Thanksgiving, my hubby and I will skip turkey or salmon (our usual fare) entirely, and I'm going to make a big batch of ratatouille, which we can enjoy for days afterwards. I'm thinking of having some side veggies to enjoy, along with some dense bread and cheese spreads. It's just the two of us, but I like to have something special on the day we formally give thanks for all we share. If I were with my family in Texas, I'd be having the usual fare of turkey, dressing, cranberry jelly, and mashed potatoes with gravy. John is going with a friend to a local casino for a huge spread. Gene is in Hawaii, walking along the beach and enjoying the weather and the food.

I will have my final pre-scheduled acupuncture treatment next week, and I'm thinking I might sign up for once a month or so. It seems odd, but I'm really going to miss having needles stuck all over my body. I've learned a great deal about my body's ability to heal itself. The heel problem I originally went for has gotten much better (although it flares up after a long hike, it's way better and returns to normal the next day). I didn't realize that the severe injury I suffered in 2000, when my pelvis was broken in six places and I lost that artery down my right leg, had such long-lasting effects. My right leg is much less strong than the left; Warren (the acupuncturist) has given me daily exercises to strengthen it, and I roll a little ball over my right heel (the one with the problem) and the arch as well. At first it really hurt, but now it's bearable and seems to be helping.

When I got to my yoga class on Friday, a friend who is also a Trailblazer, presented me with a bag of goodies that she thinks will help me. It's another sort of hydration system, developed by Pacific Health Labs, that she thinks really helps her. She gave me a bottle of capsules and hydration drink mixes, and when I compared them with what Tom gave me, there are some differences in ratios, but they are the same basic ingredients. I was really touched that she thought of me, and that she also is hoping to keep me on the trails awhile longer. She made friends with a few of the other hikers and they usually go off on their own (much harder) hikes on Thursdays, but she still occasionally shows up to hike with the larger group.

It seems that most people have less compunction to come every week than I do. That is changing, though, I can feel that I'm coming to another one of those junctures where I need to decide what is more important: staying with a routine or listening to what my body is telling me. With the help of so many friends who are concerned about me, how can I go wrong? It's rather humbling to realize how many people are willing to reach out and offer help.

Yesterday we ladies walked in sunshine and very cold temperatures. Today it's even colder, below freezing, so I'll be scraping the windshield before I take off to the coffee shop to share a bagel with my friend John and drink my favorite latte. And best of all, after yesterday's walk, one of my dear friends who I knew was angry with me, came up to me afterwards and gave me a huge hug. She went off after that, leaving me open-mouthed with tears welling up in my eyes. I have been forgiven and she made sure I knew. A tight feeling I'd been carrying around, without even realizing it, has let go, and I feel so grateful for all my friends who let me know that they care about me.

So now you know why the title of the post is "a little help from my friends." It's because I get by only with the support and love of those around me, from my dear partner right down to the people I chat with in exercise class, whose names often escape me. Right now, this Thanksgiving week, I am incredibly grateful for the many intangible lessons I'm learning about how to be a bonafide good person. The people who surround me are teaching me humility, and that's saying something.

I can only hope that you, my dear readers, will have a week that will give you an opportunity to say thank you to many in your own karass (look it up). It's a week to enjoy the company of our family and friends, whether or not you are in the US. As we move more deeply towards dark days at the end of the year, with long nights and short days, we all have much to be thankful for. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 years ago today

Smiling at you
I had a hard time this morning trying to decide on the right picture for this post, and I finally chose this compromise. It makes me smile to look at it, and I hope it does the same for you: I used the app in the Messenger program to give me a chance to put on makeup without actually having to do anything. Those are not my original rosy cheeks or lips, but it has such a cheerful feeling to it that I decided my readers would forgive me this indulgence.

Today is Armistice Day, also referred to as Remembrance Day or Veterans Day. I considered using one of the pictures that are all over the internet today taken 100 years ago to celebrate the end of World War I, which was supposed to be the war to end all wars. For those who know little about that war, the link above from the BBC will tell you everything you might have wondered about. Here is a small snippet from that website:
Armistice Day falls each year on 11 November to mark the day in 1918 when the fighting in World War One was stopped. The Allies and Germany signed an armistice in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne in France at 05:00. Six hours later, at 11:00, the conflict ceased. King George V announced that a two-minute silence would be observed in 1919, four days before the first anniversary of Armistice Day. The silence continues to be observed every year on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Before I began writing this blog and searching the internet for information about events that happened long ago, I knew little about this conflict, and I remember after I moved here from Colorado a decade ago, I noticed many people wearing red poppy pins around this time of year. When I discovered that most of those people were Canadian, I began to ask about their significance. They come from a poem, "In Flanders Fields," written by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor who wrote it in 1918. This link, along with the poem, will tell you a bit about the man and how the poem came to be so well known.

This time of year also brings to mind my son Chris, whose birthday was yesterday. He's been gone since 2002, but when certain anniversaries roll around, he is never far from my thoughts. When a person gets old, when there are so many anniversaries of both happy and sad events, one can be forgiven for not carrying around all of them and only bringing them to mind now and then. At least that's what I think. Otherwise, it would be hard to live in the present moment and be grateful for my current life, which is pretty darn good.

For one thing, I am happy to find myself living in Bellingham, where I've formed many friendships during the decade I've lived here. So many things that I thought at one time would never diminish from my daily life have faded away, such as skydiving. Once, every thought and everything I did during the week would be geared toward having a weekend of wonderful skydiving adventures. Now, it's part of the past and although I still belong to the USPA (US Parachute Association) and receive their monthly magazine, I no longer peruse every page and read every article. Instead, I thumb through it and then turn it over to my partner for him to read. It's part of my past now, along with being a mother. I will never stop being either a skydiver or a mother, but I am no longer active in either pursuit. 

I woke last night with a phrase in my head that I couldn't place: "The days dwindle down to a precious few." Of course the internet knew what it was from, once I put just those words into the search engine. It's from a song written by Sarah Vaughan, September Song. It's been around since the 1960s, and I probably have heard it throughout many decades. It's a little poignant, and certainly reflects my mood of the moment. It's lovely, though, and the last part of the song also reflects the importance of my relationship with all those who matter so much to me, with the words, "these few precious days I'll spend with you."

Now you've probably got that song in your head. There are so many different ways for one to listen to the whole thing, and I'll probably go ahead and do that at some point during the day. We have another beautiful day ahead, with lots of sun and cool weather, almost freezing out there right now. I'll do my morning exercises inside before heading off to the coffee shop. I'll probably have to scrape the windshield a little first, and I'll be wearing my warm fluffy down jacket and gloves, but before too long the sun will be shining and chasing away the fog, and whatever the day brings, it will be my task to appreciate it and be grateful for all that comes my way.

And with that, the tea is gone, hubby still sleeping quietly next to me, and the post is as finished as it's going to get. There was so much more I wanted to write about, but it will all keep for another day. My heart goes out to all those in California who are suffering from both another mass shooting and those terrible wildfires. Today, we will remember that exactly one hundred years ago, the first world war came to an end. I pray that all wars will one day be only a memory. Until that happy day, I wish you all good things and hope you will be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Extra hour of sleep

Light pillars from APOD
One of my daily habits is to look at the Astronomy Picture of the Day as a stop during my morning reads. This picture, taken in late October over Whitefish Bay near the Canadian and US borders, shows vertical lines of light over a ground source that reflect from falling ice crystals. "As the ground temperature was above freezing, the flat crystals likely melted as they approached the ground, creating a lower end to the vertical light pillars. The red ground lights originated from wind turbines."

I gazed at the picture for a long time, as it gives me a sense of peace and serenity, which I often get from APOD's pictures. Looking at nature scenes and massive galaxies far from Earth never fails to add perspective to the goings on around me. I do get wound up, as most of us do, who follow the news cycles.

Our clocks in most of the US changed from Daylight Saving Time back to standard, which will last until spring. So I enjoyed an extra hour of sleep before I began my day. Since I usually retire early, I made myself stay up a little later, but when I woke I had only managed to stay asleep an extra half hour. For some reason, I have more difficulty gaining that extra hour than I do losing it in the springtime. From all the complaining I hear over the time change, I'm thinking it might be on its way out. I found an interesting article online about the time change here. It covers 5 myths about daylight saving time. I especially like the closing line:
In fact, some opponents of DST aren’t against daylight saving time per se: They think it should be adopted as the year-round standard time. Because it basically already is.
We spend eight months of the year on what is supposed to be "standard time." In four months we'll go back to DST. Why not stay on it all year round? Because of the time change, tonight the sun will set here at 4:43pm! At least I won't have to use my headlamp to walk to the bus in the mornings for awhile. I started using it last week because there are a few areas on the walk that are not well illuminated by street lights and as I age, I need to be more careful not to trip and fall.

I still have some residual soreness from the fall I took several weeks ago on our regular hiking day in the mountains. I hit the inside of my knee so hard on a rock that it is still sensitive at the spot, and I notice a little weakness if I turn my knee the wrong way. Acupuncture seems to be helping. I look forward to seeing Warren, my acupuncturist, every week. Although I know he's going to be needling me, I sure do like the results. Last week he put several into the top of my head, and I felt goosebumps all the way down to my toes with each one.

My sister Norma Jean learned about my experience with acupuncture, and when she saw her massage therapist asked for a recommendation. She went to one treatment for her feet, which have been bothering her for months now, and he told her that her arches are falling. He put needles in her legs from the knees down (she said she felt nothing) and recommended she purchase certain orthotics. When she left his office, she was in serious pain, but by the time she woke the next day, all the pain is gone, and it has not returned! He told her she didn't need to come back unless she needed to. I on the other hand have already had four treatments, with three more to go.

But I don't mind. I actually enjoy the sense of overall well-being I have when I leave, and the heel pain that was my original reason for going is much diminished. For the first time in years, there are times when I don't have any pain in my heel. It does return after a hard hike or long walk, but it's much, much better. And during the half-hour that I have the needles in, we chat and he massages my shoulders. He used to be a kinestheologist (someone who is a little like a massage therapist and manipulates pressure points). It feels great as I lie there bearing a strong resemblance to a pincushion. Once all the needles are out, I ask if it's safe to move around, and I realize I worry about disturbing the needles when they are in.

Something that has been on my mind for awhile now, ever since learning that my friend Ronni's pancreatic cancer has returned, is whether or not it's a particularly painful cancer in the last stages. Of course I went online to read about it, and I found that it's a relatively rare cancer and that yes, it's not going to be easy to manage the pain and still be conscious and aware as she desires. If it's so rare, how come I know two people right now who have it? It's one of the scariest forms of cancer because it's usually too late to treat once it's discovered. Ronni at least thought she had a chance of it not returning, and she spent months being cancer free after that awful Whipple surgery. It makes me wonder what I would choose to do if diagnosed with such a disease at my age. Would I want to go through all that for a chance of a cancer free life?

I am reaching the age where this sort of conversation goes on in my mind more often. My friend John just spent two days in the hospital with a bowel obstruction, which has been treated and cleared without surgery, but years ago he suffered from the same thing and during surgery a large part of his bowel was removed, which I guess exacerbates the occasional difficulties he has now. When he doesn't show up at the coffee shop, I wonder if he's all right. I realize that, without warning, he wormed his way into my heart and I care very much about his health.

The only remedy to my dilemma is not to care, and I'm not about to go there. So I've added him to my list of people to worry about. I actually feel very fortunate to have so many souls on the planet with me right now who matter to me, because I feel so much less alone as I go through my days. There's the one on top of the heap, my guy, because we share everything without being joined at the hip. He thinks of my needs even when I don't. It's nice, and it also reminds me to be thankful for all the weeks and years we share together, because at some point it will all change. I don't want to have missed the moment because I was too busy thinking about the future.

Yes, I am very fortunate indeed. He's still sleeping, even though it's an hour later than it was yesterday at the same time on the clock. I'm getting restless and ready to start my day. The coffee shop staff will have an extra hour before opening, and I'll bet they will appreciate it. They're young and don't go to bed all that early on a Saturday night, I'm sure. I'm feeling pretty good myself right now, filled with energy and ready for my Sunday activities to continue. Before I get out of bed, I'll take a quick look at the news and read the Sunday comics.

I hope you will have a wonderful week ahead. Don't forget to vote, unless you live in a mail-in ballot state like I do. We are done with our civic duty already. Please remember that whatever happens, we live in a democracy where we get a chance to choose our leaders, and there will be plenty of happy (or sad) people no matter what. Be well until we meet again next week, and I wish you all good things.