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, December 30, 2018

Putting the year to bed

Sisters Thanksgiving 2011
I've been sitting here in my bed with the laptop, trying to figure out what I could write about on the last Sunday of the year. It's been a struggle. First, I figured I'd go back and read my Sunday posts to get an idea of how the year played out. It was really hard, because I realized that so many of my posts deal with much the same issues time after time: growing old, loss, aches and pains—you get the picture. Then I thought I might write about books that have inspired me this year, but found it difficult to remember the names of them.

So I went into my pictures and began to look for something appropriate to head up this final post of 2018 and found myself mired in memories of times past. Good and bad times, but mostly the incredible number of family and friends who have left us over the years. Even that wonderful picture (above) of my sisters and me reminds me that it's been five years since PJ died. She's standing next to me in front.

I am feeling all adrift this morning. I wasted a whole hour looking at old pictures, and then getting distracted by every little thing. So now I'm just going to buckle down and get this post written, no matter what course it takes. It's time. Past time, really.

Yesterday I watched the PBS show about Apollo 8, which was fascinating. I used the PBS app on my iPad to watch it, happy that I can use it if I miss a favorite program on TV. It was such an eye opener to go back fifty years in time to those heady days when we traveled to the moon and back. I remember exactly where I was when I watched the moon landing, but it seems that Apollo 8 was just as important a mission, which happened the year before. All three of the astronauts who were there are still alive and interviewed on the show. I would not have recognized any one of them, they are so different now. James Lovell and Frank Borman are both 90 years old, and Bill Anders a mere 85, so it's no wonder they look so changed. Age does that to you.

It was fascinating to hear them tell the story of what it was like to be the first humans ever to see the back side of the moon, and to see that magnificent view of Earthrise, our beautiful planet coming up over the horizon of another world. I feel really humbled to realize what an amazing time in the history of the world I've been privileged to live through. I learned from that program that the necessity of creating a computer small enough to go in the module was one reason that today we have these tiny little computers that go into our pockets (our phones). But back then, they had to create a miniscule computer that weighed 17 pounds and was capable of guiding the Command Module to the moon and back.

It also reminds me, thinking of Apollo 8, of how far humanity has come in that half century, but we have never been back to the moon since. I wonder if that will change soon. Probably not, since our world seems to be falling into turmoil everywhere, and that doesn't leave a lot of energy and resources for things like space exploration. Our worldwide interconnectivity is both good and bad, it seems. When something awful happens on the other side of the world, I know about it immediately. That's not always a good thing for one's emotional equilibrium.

Read the article to get the whole story, or find a way to watch that great show. It has been on my mind since I watched it yesterday, thinking of breaking the bonds of earth and still being able to come back to see everything with new eyes.

I have the ability to go to my local library website and look up the names of books I've previously checked out. While wracking my brain trying to remember authors and titles I wanted to share with you, all along there was that website that allows me to see previous books I've checked out. I went and looked and found that during 2018, I checked out more than sixty books. Some of them I perused and didn't read; some I didn't finish, but many of them I did. I also put a dozen or so onto my Kindle. I guess you might say I'm quite the reader, but frankly it runs in the family. We are all avid readers.

The book I wanted to share with you earlier is by Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone. It's not often that a book will stay with me as long as that one has. I was very reluctant to finish the book and re-read the ending a couple of times before sending it back to the library. I think it's my favorite book of the year. I don't think I'm alone in this. If you can get your hands on the book and read it, let me know what you think.

Okay. The post has done its magic for me: I am now feeling better about life and looking forward to yet another year to share my Sundays with you. And there is a coffee cup with my name on it at my favorite place, with my dear friends John and Gene to laugh and share with, if I can get myself out of this bed and ready for a new day, the penultimate one in the year. Partner is still asleep (natch) and my tea is long gone. Time for a new beginning!

 I hope that the coming days and weeks will bring you lots of laughter and love, too. That is what I wish for myself as well. Until we meet again, dear readers, be well.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas 2018 is upon us

It's Christmas Eve Eve, right? Everyone who celebrates the holiday must be involved in the madness of last-minute shopping and cooking and baking. People are traveling hither and yon, and there is not one store I'm willing to visit right now. It's pretty crazy out there. Even if you don't celebrate the holidays, the new year and all the celebration of that event is right around the corner. Nowhere is it possible for me to escape the disruption of my regular routine. But I don't mind, since it only comes around like this once a year.

It seems almost impossible for me to believe that yet another year, another longest winter's day, another Christmas, is upon us already. The good part is that soon we will be back to normal, more or less, and our lives can continue with many memories of another holiday season behind us.

How do you celebrate? Are you one of those who goes all in, or are you more like me, hoping it will hurry up and be over with? I suppose if I lived closer to my family members, I might feel more like celebrating in the usual sense. But since I don't have any grandchildren to buy for, or even living children to think about, now my partner and I just enjoy being together and sharing our normal life and appreciating our good fortune. We don't need to buy each other presents, because we're at the stage of life where we are looking to lessen our attachment to possessions, not get more of them.

We did spend Thursday night in a hotel room, which we decided to call our Christmas celebration. The power went out in parts of town, and our area was one of the hardest hit. We lost power because of a windstorm before noon (I was out hiking in the forest) and when I got home, it was all dark, traffic lights out, entire blocks dark. Fortunately I was able to call SG and when we found that it might be as long as two days before power was restored, we came home and packed up for a night out. Usually when I get back from a hike, I write a blog post about our adventure, but that was impossible. So, uncharacteristically, I let it go and we booked a room at the Fairhaven Village Inn. It's a lovely old historic hotel, and we enjoyed having such a nice place to spend the night.

Once we were settled in, we walked to a restaurant for dinner. It was a nice break from our usual routine, but I realized how much I love my favorite chair, sitting with my laptop reading the news, watching TV if I want, or picking up my latest book. None of that is possible without electricity. Instead, it was so dark and cold in our apartment that it wasn't cozy and comfy at all! We were out of our element, and listening to the conversations around us at the restaurant made me realize we were not the only ones eating out because of no power.

While we were enjoying our meal, I began to feel the festive aspects of being in a warm and joyous place, right at the peak of the holiday season. After we went back to our lovely hotel room, got connected to their internet, I finally wrote that blog post from our hike. We knew that it was supposed to be windy, but we had no idea it would be as bad as it was. There were branches snapping and howling winds overhead, and there were a few times when it sounded like a freight train was coming our way. We had no choice except to return to our cars, because the worst of the wind was on our way back. The trees swayed mightily in the wind and, frankly, we were all more than a little scared. We shouldn't have been out there in that storm.

Fortunately, we all made it safe and sound back to the cars, and then we learned that portions of the highway were closed because of falling trees and downed power lines. I heard that one wind gust at the Mt. Baker Ski area reached 117mph (188kh)! Bellingham itself had a couple over 70mph. No wonder there was so much damage. Last night we had some wind, but it was what we usually get: gusts maybe reaching 40. It seemed very tame in comparison.

Sometimes you need a little jolt like that to remind yourself of your good fortune. There are plenty of people in the world who have no home to return to, no usual electricity and amenities that I take for granted. It makes me appreciate how lucky I am to have such a life. I am sitting, once again, in my bed with the laptop propped up, writing a blog post to my dear friends, reminding myself once again that for whatever reason, I've been blessed with riches beyond what kings and queens of old could have imagined.

That's one reason why, I guess, the commercial side of the Christmas season has little appeal for me. I need nothing more than a nice, warm apartment with my beloved, a little internet, good food to eat, and warm clothes to protect me from the elements when I venture out. Yes, life is good in my little corner of the world on Christmas Eve Eve, and I'm filled with gratitude.

I do hope that you will also have a joyous and safe holiday season, and that next week when we meet, we'll be looking forward to the start of another year, another trip around the sun. I wish you all good things with those you love.
Time is a brisk wind, for each hour it brings something new... but who can understand and measure its sharp breath, its mystery and its design?  --Paracelsus 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Memories are made of this

Yoga Northwest yoga dancers
Yesterday evening I attended a party to celebrate B.K.S. Iyengar's birthday. Although he died four years ago, he would have been 100 on the 14th, so Yoga Northwest held a 100-day yoga challenge, starting on September 5 and going all the way to December 14. I managed to do all 100 days, even though many times it was tough. You committed to do fifteen minutes or more a day of yoga. I set the timer on my iPhone for fifteen minutes and found a way to fit it in.

There were prizes given out in a raffle for those who completed every day, those who made it for 80 days, and 50 days. I was thrilled when I won an hour of private yoga with my favorite teacher, Denise! (She is the one on her head in front.) Some of the teachers and advanced students performed a yoga dance for us during the festivities, and I captured a few pictures.

Although it was only 6:30 when I left, it was so dark, and there were so many Christmas lights everywhere, that I was very glad it wasn't raining, which would have made the drive home even harder. It was the first time this season that I've been somewhere after dark and needing to navigate the busy streets to get home. I won't do that again, since I realize how much harder it's become for me to process all the hazards around me and stay safe. Before the cataract surgery last year, I could not have driven at night in any circumstance, but I'm realizing that old age is beginning to steal other things I've always taken for granted. Sight is not the only thing you need to drive safely at night.

I find myself getting confused when too many distractions come up at once, and forgetting the names of things and the inability to articulate events is beginning to happen more often. Not all the time, but occasionally, and I notice how much I resist the realization that this is the natural order of things. You have a full life, decades of experiences, and then you begin to see it all begin to fall away, a little at a time. Perhaps that's what is necessary in order to make the transition to real, true infirmity. I wonder if this is what I'll be finding out as the years go by.

I will continue to keep up my exercise routine, my enjoyment of the outdoors, and try to keep myself from feeling distressed about it, since that not only doesn't help things, it also exacerbates the symptoms of old age. Fortunately, almost everyone I know is in the same boat: when you hang out with septuagenarians, you see it happening to those you love, too. Looking in the mirror, I see that I have become someone other than my own image of myself. When did that happen? Incrementally, of course, but happen it did.

This upcoming week is the final one of fall, and the first days of the winter season will occur next week. I'm thinking it might be a good time when I sit here next Sunday to take stock of what has happened in my life this past year. Contemplate the moments that I cherish so that they won't just fade into the distance. One really great thing about keeping a blog is that I can go back and read what I wrote on previous Sundays, and that always jogs my memory and reminds me about all the good stuff I would otherwise have forgotten. The end of a calendar year is always an appropriate time to have a retrospective.

I will start the upcoming year with a visit to Florida to see my sister, to swim alongside her in the mornings and walk with her during the day. We'll have time to visit to our heart's content, and it will also be a time for appreciating our shared history. We are the only ones left who remember the time when we were young, when we grew up in tandem with one another. Our parents and other older relatives are all gone now, and our younger siblings weren't there when the two of us were little. How strange that now it's all just memories, and most of them have been forgotten. When we reminisce and discuss things that happened to us both, it's been long enough now that they have become two different events. Memory is fungible and not to be trusted. Who is to say what really happened when we remember events so differently? And who cares, really? I'm just glad I get to spend time with Norma Jean and make some new memories together.

Mark Twain once said, "When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not." That's similar to some of the conversations my sister and I have about past events. "That's not the way it happened," she might say, and I would have no way of knowing if she is right or not. I think sometimes my inability to remember is just one more sign of growing old. Maybe it's true that once your head gets too full of memories, they begin to spill out your ears because there's no room left inside. It makes me smile to think of it. Whatever the reason, I've forgotten much more about my full life than most people would believe possible. Memories might be in there somewhere (if they haven't already spilled out my ears) and something will bring it all back, in whatever form they might take for today.

Today I'll make some new memories with my friends. First a trip to the coffee shop (of course), and later a movie with my friend Judy. We'll see that new Robert Redford movie, The Old Man and the Gun. Who would have believed that Redford would still be making movies, and his advanced age? It gives me hope for my own future, since he's even older than I am (he's 82). So I've got at least a few more years of creative juice, right?

However, no one can see the future, and we're all different. I heard someone say the other day that seventy is the new sixty, but eighty is still eighty. So true! The decline that begins in our middle years builds up steam as we approach the latter decades of life. I like to think that I've lived a good life all these years, and I look forward to the future with happiness, even knowing that somewhere in my future that will change. Or maybe not. Who knows?

In any event, another post has written itself as I sit here in the dark with my beloved sleeping beside me. Tea is gone, the day beckons, and the change to make some new memories is calling me.  I hope that your day will be a good one, and that you will have lots of happy memories being created, even if, in the words of Twain, they really happen or not. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Living in interesting times

Frosty decorations
Last Thursday on our usual weekly hike, the weather had turned very cold and clear. Many of the plants on the side of the trail were covered by frost, making for some beautiful designs, as if the Universe is busy decorating the trails for the season. Between the clear skies and the frost, it did make for a very beautiful day, as long as we kept moving. Stopping for very long, even in the direct sun, caused me to begin shivering. The only solution was not to stop.

On the days when I drove rather than take the bus, I went out to my car before the sun came up to scrape ice from the windshield so I could see to drive. Even a small carport would have kept me from having to do this, but of course in my apartment complex, we have no such amenities. And then yesterday, when I went out at the same time, no ice! Although it wasn't all that warm, it was above freezing and felt balmy in comparison. Today is even warmer. In contrast, a huge winter storm is hammering Virginia, Oklahoma, and North Carolina right this minute. That part of the country is not prepared for heavy snow and many people have lost power. I wonder if there is any correlation between our moderate temperatures and their storm.

It is winter in every respect but the calendar. Why does the first day of winter fall in late December? It seems that right now is when the days are the shortest and that winter's grip is the tightest. I say that now, but in February when the cold winds blow and the temperature falls even lower, I'll be looking forward to the first signs of spring. After the new year begins, it will be winter for real. I'm just glad I live in the Pacific Northwest where snow usually behaves itself and stays in the mountains.

For years, I've heard a phrase that many consider to be an ancient Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." After finding that Wikipedia link, I discovered that it's not an actual Chinese phrase at all, but the idea is that the best times to be alive are those that are boring, not filled with conflict and turmoil. Perhaps it's because the world seems to have shrunk so dramatically through our interconnectedness. I'm writing this morning on my laptop, connected to the internet and therefore to my readers, as well as to the news of the day.

Every morning these days it is with some trepidation that I check the headlines to make sure nothing too awful has occurred while I was asleep. And of course something almost always has. Paris is burning, the political situation is the US is going off the rails, people all over the world are being bombed and starved through ongoing wars, and sometimes it just simply gets to be too much and I have to tune it all out, for my own sanity. We are definitely living in "interesting times."

For me, part of the despair is feeling so helpless to change anything. I am just one person watching the events unfold, some of which fill me with horror and others with sadness. Of course, there are some things I can do, but they all deal with my own life. Tolstoy once said, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” That is the only thing I can do, that any of us can do: change ourselves, take care of ourselves. My sister has stopped watching any news channels and even some of the late-night comedians that deal with current events, because she needs to take care of herself. When we talk, we don't discuss the world events, because she won't allow it.

My way is different. I am sitting here with my laptop and my thoughts, and I am trying to find a way towards wholeness. For one thing, I realize that I am incredibly fortunate in my own personal life, with a safe place to live, good food to eat, an adequate amount of income that should (unless things get really bad) continue throughout the rest of my life. Today I will get a massage, my every-third-week treat to myself, and I will spend time both with my coffee-shop friends and my partner. We will discuss politics, the weather, world affairs, and then share some humor and spend time laughing together. That's all I know how to do to take care of myself.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. ― Lao Tzu
Well, if you say so, I'll give it a try. It's getting to be time to start the rest of my day, with my tea gone and my partner sleeping gently next to me, the day beckons. I won't have to scrape the windshield this morning (yay!), the espresso is always good at the coffee shop, and the massage will feel wonderful. That's enough for me to leave behind my early-morning trepidation and walk out into a wonderful day. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

December musings

Whatcom Park stairs
Yesterday morning several of us ladies met to go on a rather longish walk. Although it was supposed to be around five miles, it turned out to be closer to seven. As we were walking along, we saw two older women ahead of us, and I pulled out my phone to see if I could get a picture of the incredible head of hair that one of them has. See that white mane? When I passed by, I complimented her on that magnificent hair. She said, "thanks, I grew it myself."

Usually when one ages, your hair gets thinner. If I were to grow my hair out, I don't think it would get much past my shoulders, and it wouldn't be pretty, like hers, but sparse and wispy. No, I'll stick with my short hair and get it cut every six weeks. But I can admire a head of hair like hers and be thankful that I don't have to care for it.

My birthday was yesterday, reminding me that the months and years are flying by quickly. Frankly, it is beginning to feel like I'm on a carousel and as it picks up speed, I'm hanging on for dear life. One day I'll be unable to keep hanging on and will fall, laughing and hoping for a soft landing. One could hardly do better at a soft landing than President H.W. Bush: at 94, he died peacefully in his bed last Friday, a few months after the love of his life, Barbara, passed at 92. His last words were, "I love you, too." True gentleman to the end.

My brother Buz put the lyrics and song to "76 Trombones" on my Facebook page, and that song has been bouncing around in my head ever since. Thanks to the internet, I could find the lyrics easily.
Seventy-six trombones led the big parade
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand.
They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos,
The cream of ev'ry famous band.
I'm probably one of the few people who remembers that song when it first came out in "The Music Man," which was on Broadway in 1957. It was revived several more times, and a movie was made about it. From that link:
The show's success led to revivals, including a long-running 2000 Broadway revival, a popular 1962 film adaptation and a 2003 television adaptation. It is frequently produced by both professional and amateur theater companies.
Well, that explains why it is still so well known today. It's still a current phenomenon, so I can feel just fine belting out the lyrics and "oompha up and down the square," while I try out the flavor of 76. Why not? Many people never get the chance to experience old age, and I intend to pick up my knees and march towards 77, with a happy cadence and a smile on my face.

Of course, I'll be a lot happier to smile when I no longer have a fat lip from a fall I took on Thursday. Yes, another one. This time I was on a rather steep uphill and lost my footing on a slippery root that was covered by wet leaves. I fell forward and hit my lip pretty hard, along with scraping my shin and tweaking my wrist. It could have been much worse, but my pride was injured the most. Yesterday as we ladies enjoyed coffee together after the walk, a few noticed the bruise, which is beginning to be quite impressing. We then talked about the falls that several of the others have taken recently, some of which could have ended up with terrible consequences. Fortunately, other than scraped elbows and fat lips, we are quite capable of carrying on. Gravity just keeps us on our toes, trying to stay upright and able to move around without further injury. I smile at a quote I remember from my skydiving days: "Gravity is not just a good idea, it's the LAW!" Some of my friends had t-shirts with that saying.

I'm going to the movies with my friend Judy today, this time to see "The Green Book," a movie starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. It's gotten good reviews, but there is quite a bit of controversy over the subject of the movie. The title refers to a book that was used when travelling to help African Americans navigate the Jim Crow south, telling them where it was safe to stop and eat and stay for the night. Ali plays a gifted concert pianist, and Mortensen plays his bigoted driver. I really like both of the actors, and a few of my friends have already seen it and enjoyed it.

Last week we went to see the new Melissa McCarthy movie, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" Not being much of a fan of McCarthy, I was not sure I'd like it, but she plays Lee Israel, a real person who became a world-class forger and wrote a book with that title from her prison cell. I enjoyed it thoroughly and expect to see McCarthy nominated for an Oscar, at the very least. She showed she can do more than just slapstick comedy. I recommend it.

Well, I just looked up at the clock and realized that I'm in danger of running behind my schedule this morning, wanting to get to the coffee shop within the next half-hour (which means I will definitely be late). Oh, well. This post takes whatever time it takes to write. I'll hop out of bed, hopefully paying attention to gravity, and head off into the day. My partner is still fast asleep, tea is gone, and winter temperatures mean I'll be scraping frost off the windshield before taking off in my trusty car. I hope that you, my dear friends, will have a wonderful Sunday. Stay safe and remember to give your loved ones a smile and a hug until we meet again next week. I wish you all good things.