I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The five of us

Me with Charley, Norma Jean with Icarus
Home again, after my time in Florida. The trip is now behind me, and in this post I'll try to chronicle the main points of the days I spent in the Sunshine State, with my sister, her two dogs, and my nephew, Norma Jean's son Peter (who took this picture). The five of us spent many moments together either in conversation, eating good food prepared by Peter, or watching various TV shows. We even watched one of the movies just nominated for an Oscar, Bohemian Rhapsody. When Judy asked me if I had any interest in seeing it, I declined because I thought it was just a retrospective of the band Queen. It was so much more than that; I recommend it, if for nothing more than Rami Malek's performance.

Now I've seen all the nominated movies, and I'm in a real quandary about which one I'd pick myself for Best Picture of the Year. They are all so different from one another. I'll give it more thought, but for now, back to the Florida fun.

Although Norma Jean and I talk a couple times a month on FaceTime, it's a totally different thing to be together for more than a week, absorbing the Florida sun and following her around on her regular routine. As I've said before, she is very active, and keeps herself fit through walking, swimming, and golfing. We both suffer from a genetic makeup that causes a tendency towards heart disease. Our parents and a sister both died of it, as well as my son Chris. We take our exercise very seriously indeed.

On previous visits, I've been unable to keep up with her blistering pace while walking around the mobile home park where she lives. But this past year, she slowed down considerably because of a problem with her feet. She now wears orthotics and walks under a four-mile-an-hour pace. I was pleased to find I can keep up!

I don't even try to match her pace in the swimming pool, however. As delightful as it is to get up in the dark and drive to the Y for a morning swim, her mile-long usual routine is far beyond my ability. I was able to swim a maximum of 28 minutes before my arms gave out. And our swimming was curtailed for several days because of cold weather: they don't open the pool unless the outside temperature is 41°F or above, and it was downright cold for parts of my visit. But that was just in the mornings, by noon the sun had warmed everything up wonderfully.

On a couple of days, I followed my sister and her golfing partners around the short executive courses, watching them play and enjoyed seeing how much fun they have together. All three of her cohorts are snowbirds, two from Canada and one from Missouri, so she plays with them often at this time of the year, before they return to their regular homes in the spring. I even had the joy of seeing my sister make two birdies during their golf games. Both birdies were from her being able to sink long putts. She's become a very good golfer over the years. Our parents would both be proud, since they were avid golfers.

And the dogs. I mentioned that her ancient Jack Russell, Zen, was put to sleep last month, and poor Icarus was miserable without him. Although they didn't play together, they kept each other company and the house seemed empty without him. So Norma Jean got another rescue dog, one that she found on Craigslist. The owner had moved from her home in a northern state, and once she bought a lovely condo on the beach, she learned that she would be unable to erect a fence, giving the dog a chance to exercise. She reluctantly decided to give him up, and Norma Jean became his owner. Since Icarus is a purebred Papillon, she wanted another similar dog. Charley is a Papillon mix, and as a courtesy to my sister, Denise, her previous owner, took him to a groomer, who trimmed ALL of his hair off his ears, his tail, and his belly. It will grow back, eventually, but he looks very different from Icarus right now.

We grew up in a home that always had plenty of pets, dogs and cats particularly. When I walked into Norma Jean's home, both dogs took a look at me and Charley immediately adopted me as his own. If Norma Jean is around, Icarus has no eyes for anybody else. But it was difficult to keep Charley out of my lap. Not that I minded, not at all. I have to say I love that dog. He charmed me completely, and when I'd be sitting on the couch reading or with my laptop, he would just insert himself wanting to be petted. It was really delightful, and it reminded me how much I would love to have a dog like him. However, I am married to someone who never had pets and therefore will have to get my fill of dog love when I visit my sister.

I enjoyed every minute of my visit, and it was really hard to say goodbye once again. At this age, every annual visit together might be the last time we are both healthy and happy and able to be together. I fought back tears as Peter and Norma Jean hugged me and sent me on my way. And then my focus was the long, long trip back home. I arrived way too early at the airport, anxious about the need to get through security during the shutdown. At Tampa International Airport, it only took 20 minutes, as opposed to hours and hours at SeaTac. But better to be early than late, I figured. It took me about 13 hours of travel before I laid eyes on my sweetheart, there to pick me up at 11:30pm. It was three hours later in Florida, so it was the middle of the night for me.

However, I slept just fine and woke in time to go on a wonderful hike with my usual Senior Trailblazers. By the time I got home afterwards, I was plenty ready for a long night's sleep. And now I'm back to writing my Sunday post with my beloved sleeping quietly next to me, tea gone and feeling ready to start my own wonderful day. I'm scheduled for a massage this morning and will enjoy every single minute of it. Of course, I'll be at the coffee shop with my pals before that, and now I feel completely back in the groove.

With that, the post is written, the first task of my day accomplished. I think of you, my dear readers, with such love and joy that I wish I could give you all a big hug. The virtual equivalent will have to do. Please remember to shower your loved ones with appreciation, since we never know how long we will have together. And I really resonate with this quote:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Florida musings

Norma Jean and Rose
I'm halfway through my visit with my sister here in Florida, and the weather has been all over the place. When I first arrived, it was cold and breezy (although sunny), and yesterday the high temperature reached 81°F (27°C). Norma Jean has three snowbirds she plays golf with: Rose (above), Thecla, and Sylvia.

Both Rose and Thecla come from Canada, Sylvia from Missouri. While they're here during the winter months, they play together virtually every day. Thecla and her husband might not come back next year, since the older they get, the more their Canadian insurance costs. It goes up as they get older, and her husband is ninety. Thecla is 86. They sure don't look their ages, that's for sure. Must be the Florida sunshine they get during the winter months.

Norma Jean drives her golf cart to the clubhouse and then gets out the pushcart pictured above and walks the entire course. Sylvia (87) therefore had a spot in her golf cart for me to ride around with them and watch them play. Betmar Acres has three executive courses and boy, were they busy yesterday. The courses are short drives, nothing more than a par 4 (if you play, you know what I'm referring to), so they can play two of the nine-hole courses in around three hours. I was happy to watch, since I've never hit a golf ball in my life. Plus I got some good shots from around the area.

I've only been able to swim in the lane next to Norma Jean once since I got here, because they don't open the pool unless it's 41°F or warmer, and last Wednesday and Thursday it was colder than that. For some reason, it feels colder when the temperature drops, perhaps because of the humidity. But Friday, we swam, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, making me reconsider whether or not I should take up swimming laps again at home. The experience is completely different here, though, swimming in a lovely pool in the outdoors with much less chlorine needed than ours. Norma Jean said the sunshine helps to cut the amount of chlorine, and that in itself makes the experience much nicer. She doesn't swim on the weekends but goes on longer walks.

In any event, between swimming, walking, and golfing, my sister gets plenty of exercise. I am enjoying being with her, walking alongside and chatting about anything and everything. We are less than three years apart in age (I'm the older sister) and she has never known a world without me. I hardly remember what it was like not to have a younger sister. The other four siblings are farther from us in age. We have lost our younger sister PJ to heart disease and diabetes. She was not an exerciser, ever. Makes a big difference in one's health.

I grew up in a large family and we always had pets, especially dogs. So it's only when I visit Norma Jean that I get my fill of pets. She lost one dog last month to old age, and her remaining dog Icarus was miserable, howling in the window when she would leave.  Realizing that he needed canine companionship, she found a rescue dog on Craigslist, another Papillon (although not a purebred like Icarus), and was able to bring him home in a couple of days. He's just turned 3 to Icarus' 8 years, but the two of them seem very compatible. It took awhile for Charley to learn how to use the doggy doors, but once he got the hang of it, he has not had another accident inside the house. And he's smitten with me, which I don't mind a bit. I wonder if I remind him of his previous owner, an older woman with white hair who was unable to walk him or give him much exercise because of her own illness. She decided it wasn't fair to him. Norma Jean took him immediately to her vet's office to get him checked out and up to date with his shots. He's curled up at my feet as I write this.

I miss having a pet, but they are not allowed in my apartment complex. Plus, SG grew up in a home without pets, so he's not comfortable with them. I like to think of the tradeoff as being worth it, because I'd much rather be with my beloved than a pet, any day. But when I visit my sister, once again I am grateful to be surrounded by the love they exude. Icarus ignores me when Norma Jean is around, but curls up next to me when she's otherwise occupied. Charley is hard to keep out of my lap, and he's been sleeping in the bed with me, curled up close enough to feel the warmth of my body.
Because of the dog's joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor and love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. —Mary Oliver
I just read that Mary Oliver died this week. She was one of my favorite poets, and she won a Pulitzer Prize for her work. You can read the New York Times obituary to learn more about her life if you don't already know her work. It wasn't until I read it myself that I realized that not everybody finds her poetry uplifting. She was 83. At one time I would have considered that to be a normal time to die, but as I get closer to that age myself, my views have changed. I remember reading once that most of us consider old age to be ten years older than our own age, and I'm inclined to agree. I don't feel quite ready to check out, and I'm able to look at my sister's golf partners, who range from 71 to 87 and are active and healthy to bolster my spirits. Mary was taken from us, her admirers, too soon.

I'm hoping the government shutdown will be over before I must travel home on Wednesday. I feel so bad for those TSA workers who are not getting paid, along with so many others. Although they will eventually get their wages, it's looking more and more like this shutdown will go on for awhile longer, and I'll just need to get to the airport hours earlier than I normally would. Until that time, however, I'll be enjoying the time spent with my sister, soaking up the sunshine, and petting the dogs.

Until we meet again next week, which, hopefully, will be in my own bed with my partner sleeping next to me, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Gearing up for travel

Statue entitled "Safe Return"
While we were walking yesterday, I paused long enough to take a picture of this statue, which I've noticed each time we walk past it. It's dedicated to fishermen who went to sea and never returned. Bellingham at one time was a major fishing haven. Today, the park at Squalicum Harbor is mostly used for commercial events, such as boating celebrations, picnics, and kite flying. The paved path brings lots of people to the area, just like us, the ladies I joined yesterday for a walk in the sunshine.

I'm hoping for my own "safe return" as I gear up for travel on Tuesday. There was a time when all I needed to do in order to take a trip was to start throwing items into a corner of the living room as I would think of them, and just before leaving I'd stuff them into a suitcase and head off to the airport. That was then. Now it seems that I start the travels in my dreams, too: last night I kept trying to get somewhere and would make wrong turns and my anxiety kept growing until I finally woke up from the troubling dream. Mostly, I have happy dreams and this one reminds me that travel is not much fun any more.

I'll start my Tuesday morning on the "pajama shuttle" at 2:10am. I've done it before and find it the best way to get from Bellingham to SeaTac airport more than a hundred miles south. It takes about three hours, with all the stops to pick up riders. It's the first shuttle of the day, and I should be able to catch a little of my interrupted sleep before arriving at the airport in the dark. I hope I'll be able to get through security without much problem, since the unpaid TSA agents are calling in sick all over the country because of the government shutdown. They are considered essential personnel and are required to work even without pay. It's been three weeks now and there's no end in sight.

It was not that long ago that I traveled all over the world, many times a year, without batting an eye. When I was skydiving regularly and traveling to places like southern California for a week's worth of playing in the sky, it seemed easy. I've become a real nervous Nelly about travel and don't know why. Of course, it's never fun to fly these days, but that's nothing new. The airline seats get smaller and the travelers get bigger, it seems. I can only hope my seatmate will not be too large. On the other hand, a nice soft grandmotherly type would be a welcome seat companion. Just in case the Universe is listening, I'm putting in my request.

My fisherman friend Gene had a real scare last week. He spent two days in the hospital from an apparent allergic reaction to a blood pressure drug he's taken for nine years. There were a few times when he would come to the coffee shop with a swollen tongue and found it difficult to talk without a lisp, but he wasn't overly worried about it. I remember telling him it seemed like something he was allergic to, and I gave him a Benadryl, which helped. We didn't think much about it. But then last week his tongue and throat swelled so much he couldn't breathe. He usually lives alone, but just by chance his erstwhile girlfriend had come by on her way back from taking her daughter to the local airport, and when she saw what distress he was in, took him straightaway to the hospital.

When he came in the door, one of the nurses took a look at him and asked him if he took, by chance, lisinopril blood pressure medication. When he nodded yes, they rushed him into an admitting room and began an IV. Gene said that a technician also pumped a needle full of a deadening agent and drew a mark on his throat, readying him for a tracheotomy. Although it didn't turn out to be necessary, it sure got his attention. Before long, though, the antihistamine in the IV took effect and he could finally breathe again. He's taken this medication for years, and after considering when it first started, he'd had a similar (but not as strong) episode four years ago. I wonder why something that seems not to cause any symptoms for so long would suddenly become a problem.

Of course, I found online information that explains it all. It turns out that angioedema (what happened to Gene) is a rare side effect of ACE inhibitors used for blood pressure treatment. Gene's delayed reaction wasn't all that uncommon. This website explains it:
ACE inhibitor-related angioedema usually arises shortly after drug therapy begins, but in some cases it’s delayed for months or even years. Occasionally, it doesn’t begin until several weeks after the patient has stopped taking the drug.
Gene is taking another drug now to keep his blood pressure in the normal range. I also took a small dose of lisinopril for years, after my pelvic fracture and my subsequent desire to get off the opiates I'd become addicted to. Nobody told me how hard it would be to get off opiates, but now it's all over the news, and the drug I was taking is now strictly administered. Not so much back in 2000. I think that struggle to get off that drug is why my BP went up, because low levels of pain can increase it. I was finally able to get off both the Oxycontin and the BP medication, and now the only drug I take is a statin for my cholesterol. I'd like to get off that, but my family history of hyperlipidemia (another big word) means that my family all take statins or suffer from heart disease.

Even though I take few prescription drugs, I also take an enormous number of vitamins for my health, and for my age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Although there is no treatment for dry AMD, doctors think that there are some vitamins that can help, so I take them all. And I did have some good news when I saw the retina specialist last week. He looked into my dilated eyes and said that, although there was some small progression, mostly it's all quiet in there. I don't need to see him again until next year, which made me really happy. Slow progression means I won't be going blind in the near future, hopefully.

All in all, I feel pretty fortunate. I'm quite well enough myself to travel relatively safely to the other side of the country, a welcome reunion with my sister and, hopefully, her son Peter. He might be traveling while I'm there, but I hope not, since he's such a great cook and I enjoy his company. In any event, I'll be swimming alongside my sister, swimming laps for the first time since I visited her last year. Even though we have a pool at our local YMCA, it's nothing like hers. For one thing, our indoor pool is overly chlorinated. Being outside in a lovely pool when the sun comes up is sublime, especially when you have your sweet sister in the next lane.

I found this quote from Albert Einstein that summarizes what I intend to be doing next week: "Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life." That is not to say that my dear partner is not family, he is. But there is something special about the bond that I share with Norma Jean. She has been my companion since before I could appreciate her. I'm older than her by a couple years, but we played together as we grew up, and she still populates my dreams. But next week, she'll be right there! It's worth the trip, and perhaps getting there will be an adventure I can tell you about.

Well, that's it for today. Next week I'll be writing this post from Florida, where it's three hours later, and I'll be enjoying the sunshine and change of venue. Until we meet again next week, I am wishing all good things to come your way. Be well and remember that you are loved and appreciated.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

First steps into a new year

Me in 1943
My first steps, three-quarters of a century ago. Every toddler starts out walking like an old drunken sailor, but once she gets the hang of it, there's no stopping her. I've been thinking about how much our world has changed since I was a baby, and this picture illustrates it perfectly. That old Studebaker in the background is probably not even available in antique auctions, and the cute little toddler is now certifiably old. I believe my daddy took this picture of me, since he was the only one in the family with a camera of any kind.

I was fortunate to be the oldest in a family of six children, because there are plenty of pictures of me. I wonder if it was because of me that Daddy became a photographer, with a darkroom and expensive camera. At the time of this picture, he would have been in his mid-twenties and home on leave during World War II. The picture looks like it was taken in southern California, where my grandmother lived. They are all gone now, my parents and every other relative from that generation. Today, my sister Norma Jean and I are the only ones to remember our parents from the 1940s and 1950s.

My younger sisters and brother were born as a sort of second act by my parents. They had a long gap between the three older children and the three youngest, for no reason that any of us remember. My sister PJ, seven years younger than I, has been gone for five years next month. But Norma Jean and I are still here, and still active seniors. I'll be visiting her a little more than a week from now, and this post will be written from her home in Florida on January 20.

I've been thinking about how much our world has changed since I was born. Although I cannot tell you for certain when I first flew in an airplane, I well remember one flight when we, as a family, came back from Puerto Rico when my dad was stationed at the Air Force base there. It was on a MATS (Military Air Transport Service) plane with bucket seats on the sides, and our luggage piled in the middle. Bumpy and uncomfortable, but serviceable. No flight attendants, either.

Daddy was first stationed in Puerto Rico when I was not much older than the toddler pictured here. One of my earliest memories was of walking down a sandy path to a beach, Mama ahead of me on the path with my little sister, a newborn, when I suddenly became fascinated with what looked to me to be a huge crab, scuttling sideways in front of me, claws clacking and eyestalks waving. I wasn't afraid, really, until I realized that I could no longer see Mama in front of me, and I wailed in fright until she came to find me.

Memory is so funny, isn't it? Because I was afraid, the mental picture of that crab with the warm sand under my bare feet is burned into my brain, bright and real, even today. And while so much time has passed, and so much forgotten, that memory is still there. Looking back, it seems that most of the memories I carry from the past are all momentous in one way or another. I remember the birth of my two sons, their deaths, Mama and Daddy when they died (I was there for both), and the skydiving accident I endured in 2000. My recollections are sparse, considering how much time has transpired. It's normal, I guess. I'm just grateful that my mind seems to be functioning normally, and that I actually can remember those times.

I wonder sometimes about young people these days. So much of their time seems to be spent in front of electronic devices and not outdoors, or not actually engaging in reality, that their childhood memories will be very different from my own. I suppose it's the same throughout generations, and although I spend time on my own devices, it's different for me. I wasn't born with a tablet or smartphone to take my attention away from the natural world. We didn't even have a TV until I was nearly ten. I remember the blurry black-and-white scenes that barely simulated reality, and how thrilled we were to see them. What a different world it is today: I am sitting here with a portable computer in my lap, connected to the entire world of information at my fingertips. My social circle includes people from around the globe who will be able to read this post immediately after I publish it.

It doesn't seem that long ago that telephones were connected to the wall, that we had a party line and shared our telephone connection with other local people, and that you had to dial a number with a rotary phone. There are adults today who have never seen one. It occurred to me yesterday that there are grownup people who were born in this century and not in the twentieth century. How quickly time passes, eh? It's already 2019! Remember Y2K? It's becoming ancient history.

I retired from my job in 2008 and we moved here, to Bellingham, in the springtime of that year. Most of the life I lived in Boulder seems like a dream I made up, and this place here, with the dear friends I've made, are my reality now. Sometimes I miss certain people or events, but not often. My life is here, and I keep in touch with past friends via social media and these blogs. My life is full and varied, and I cannot complain about much of anything. We have a wonderful bus system here, and now that I am over 75, I ride everywhere for free. I like to tell the bus driver that I've got a golden ticket (a gold pass) if they don't recognize me already. Most of them do, and although I still drive almost every day, I wouldn't have to if I didn't want to, or couldn't.

So life is good, these first days into a new year. I frankly didn't ever think I'd see 2020, but now it's right around the corner and I'm hopeful that I'll make it. Anything can happen at any time, and I don't live a sheltered life, so who knows? But as I said, I'm hopeful. If all goes well, you'll still be reading this Sunday posts next year.
The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot. —Michael Althsuler
My tea is finished, with my beloved still sleeping next to me. My post for this bright and beautiful Sunday is done, and I'm beginning to feel the pull to the coffee shop, to join my friends there. So, dear readers, please remember to give thanks for today and if you can, hug your loved ones. If they have moved into the Great Beyond, you can still send them your love, which is boundless. Be well until next week.