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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The world we live in today

Log being taken over by fungi
It was only a few weeks ago that I discovered that this particular fungi, Trametes versicolor, is edible. Well, "edible" might be a little bit of a stretch. Although it's pretty, it's rubbery and tough. But it does have medicinal properties, and some say it can take the place of chewing gum! Next time I see it, I might harvest a little bit and take it home. Many forms of fungi are poisonous, but apparently this type never is. It is usually dried and ground and made into a tea.

Sunday again, and here I am thinking about what to write. Last week I picked up an interesting book at the library, The Sun Does Shine, by Anthony Ray Hinton. He was arrested and accused of crimes he couldn't possibly have committed, and spent thirty years on Death Row in Alabama, before the US Supreme Court unanimously exonerated him. His only crime, as he says in the book, was being born black in Alabama. His lawyer at the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, writes a moving foreword to his book. A quote:
I have represented scores of condemned prisoners during my thirty years of law practice. Many of my clients were innocent people wrongly convicted or condemned. However, no one I have represented has inspired me more than Anthony Ray Hinton, and I believe his compelling and unique story will inspire our nation and readers all around the world.
Stevenson explains that, in the fifteen years he worked to exonerate Ray, he had never before had so many correctional officers, guards, and other prison workers pull him aside and ask how they might be able to help Ray. He was beloved by all, a man filled with forgiveness and love who tried to help his fellow prisoners however he could. I am halfway through the book, and as hard as it is to read, I realize that one of the things that separates me from his fate is that I was not born a black man in Alabama. What a story he writes! He was released in 2015 and travels around the country as an inspirational speaker. He is now 62 and hopefully has many years ahead of him to enjoy his freedom.

Tonight will be the 91st Academy Awards, and I've seen all the movies that have been nominated. One of the movies, Green Book, also tells a true story of an accomplished black musician who wanted to perform in the South during the 1960s, and hired a driver to safely take him there. The book referred to in the title was compiled to assist African Americans to know where it was safe for them to stay or dine in the Deep South. Both men who starred in the movie have been nominated for awards, as well as it being nominated for Best Picture. I suspect that Mahershala Ali will win as Best Supporting Actor and that will be it for the film. It was good, but not great, although the performances were outstanding.

Another one of the movies, also a true story, covers the infiltration of a black man into the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs in the 1970s. BlacKkKlansman is also nominated for Best Picture and several other awards. I enjoyed this movie very much; it's got lots of humor and pathos and some great performances. Of all the movies, this one would be my pick for Best Picture, although I don't think it will win.

That brings me to wondering about the world today, how the issue of race and fairness still resonates enough to have movies and stories still capture the imagination and interest of many of us. And it also makes me wonder whether we will ever be a country where the color of your skin makes little to no difference in how you are seen as a person. My optimism tells me that yes, there will come a day when the world will not judge us by our race, or our age, or how much money we have in the bank. It won't be tomorrow, or any time soon, but it is not only possible, but probable. As Martin Luther King, Jr., once said in a powerful speech, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

 I hope that is true. It's people like Ray Hinton who spend their lives working to bend it, and people like his lawyer, Bryan Stevenson. If you get a chance to read the book, I'd be interested in knowing what you think of it. And, of course, there are plenty of online videos to watch if you want to "meet" Ray. After I finish the book, I might just do that myself. In any event, tonight I'll be watching the Academy Awards and hope that some of my favorites will win.

And with that, I realize I've spent more time than usual writing this post, and it's getting late. Time for me to get up and start the rest of my day. My sweet partner is still sleeping next to me, and my tea is long gone. The day beckons, one which I hope will be sunny, if not actually warm, as we continue our journey towards the first day of spring. Not long now. It's been a rather difficult winter season for many of us, and as the days lengthen, we can look forward to a delightful spring. Until we meet again next week, I hope you are happy and healthy, and that you enjoy yourself and your loved ones. Be well, dear readers.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Thinking of my mom

Mama watering in her backyard
While rummaging around in my pictures, looking for one to head up this post, I found this one of my mother at some time in the last few decades. She was still living at Windswept, the place where she and my dad retired to, and lived there for many years. I had left home long before, but during many times of needing to come home when in the throes of a difficult period in my life, I lived there too. My youngest siblings were raised here, a wonderful home right on Lake Worth in Texas.

When my parents first moved there, it had been an abandoned bachelor pad, with one bedroom and an overgrown thicket of weeds behind. At some point it had been some kind of estate, because there were several small outbuildings that had functioned as servant's quarters long before. My parents renovated the place, adding rooms and really made it a fine home for their family. My brother and two youngest sisters learned to swim and live safely by the lake. When I would visit, I saw that they spent most of their summer days in swimsuits and came and went without much supervision. It was idyllic, those long-ago days. And in the center of it all was Mama.

I remember once long ago, not long after they moved there, that Mama took me to inspect the parts of the property where nothing had yet been done. We pushed our way through dense brush and we inspected one of the nearby buildings that would become an annex to the main building one day. The massive amount of effort that needed to be expended boggled my mind, and I've never forgotten my sense of disbelief that she could accomplish all that. But she did.

Mama was always working, if she wasn't busy reading or cooking. When she first had breast cancer and had to have a radical mastectomy, she went through that with the same strong sense of energy she applied to everything else in her life. She went through phases where she would tackle enormous projects and in time, would accomplish all she set out to do. Her cancer never returned, even though she had been given only a small percentage of chance (5%) to survive it. But she did.

The health problems she had later were mostly due to the aggressive radiation treatment she had been given after the mastectomy. It scarred her heart and did massive damage to the entire area. And then she began to have heart attacks and had to fight to maintain her strength. But even after all that, she continued to make her way forward to accomplish as much as a healthier person ever could. She had incredible will power.

I see Mama's determination reflected in all of her children. My sister Norma Jean strides through life much in the same way: she tackles projects with enthusiasm and drive, and never gives up. Her home in Florida is a happy place, which she shares with her son Peter. I visit there once a year, in the winter, to escape the incessant rain and dreary skies. I am surrounded by love and her dogs. She just recently had to put their 17-year-old Jack Russell to sleep and got another dog almost immediately, because her Papillon Icarus was very lonely. Charley had only been living there a few weeks when I arrived, and I was completely smitten by him. He must have known how dog deprived I was, because he was always in my lap and slept with me when I was there. I missed him as much as I missed my sister when I returned home.

I have four surviving siblings. Our sister PJ, who died in 2014 from complications of heart disease, at the young age of 63, is still in our hearts. We talk of her and think about how she would have appreciated certain books. She was an avid reader, just like our mother.

Norma Jean and I are now septuagenarians, and my young siblings are all middle aged. Time has flown. I look back on my life and realize how incredibly lucky I've been to have been born into such a family, a tribe of strong-willed individuals, and realize I'm one, too. The oldest of the clan, I can see traits from my mother in all of my relatives, and think of how much we all owe to the one who bore us, our mother. Rita Maxine Rice Stewart was a force to be reckoned with, and those of us who are still here bring forth her essence into the present moment. I think she would have appreciated this quote from Ellen:
I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it's such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her. Ellen DeGeneres
I hope that made you laugh, as I did when I found it just now. And with that, I leave you with much love and hope that you will have a wonderful week ahead, and if you still have your mother, make sure you connect with her this week. I'm expecting a visit from my mom, courtesy of Dreamland. That's where my dear partner is right now, sleeping quietly next to me, as I begin my Sunday morning routine. Be well until we meet again next week, dear readers.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Navigating through my seventies

Half-moon (Ardha Chandrasana) pose
Last Sunday I had my hour-long private session with Denise, my yoga instructor. She took this picture of me, once I was able to get into the half-moon pose, with plenty of instruction. It's one I haven't been able to accomplish before. First of all, I am using the wall behind me to help. Plus the use of the wooden block is also essential. A good yogi would not need it, but as you can see, there's a lot of distance between my hand and the floor. The hips are supposed to be "stacked" one on top of the other, and I couldn't quite manage that, but it gives me something to work towards. I asked Denise to take this picture so I could see myself in the pose.

I learned so much in that session! Just to remind you how I ended up with this hour of instruction, I was the happy recipient of a raffle drawing at the party for BKS Iyengar's 100th birthday. I had taken the 100-day challenge and managed to complete fifteen minutes or more every day of yoga for 100 straight days in order to enter the drawing. One would think that it would have been long enough for me to have incorporated some yoga into my daily routine, but as soon as I had filled out the chart, I took several days off. I am taking two classes every week right now, and I manage to get some light stretching in every day, but I didn't feel I was doing the poses properly. The session has given me some pointers to be aware of as I practice in my home.

It's one thing to be one person in a class and quite another to be the ONLY other person in the room with your instructor. Denise is a magnificent teacher, and she also sent me an email later in the day with pointers to work on for the several poses that we practiced. I also learned the best ways to warm up and what to pay more attention to. I feel incredibly blessed to have this yoga studio as part of my world, with all its exceptional instructors.

As I sit here in the bed, with my partner sleeping quietly next to me, I am pondering what I will do with the day, other than the usual trip to the coffee shop. Finally, I notice that the wind has died down. We've just experienced another strong and uncomfortable windstorm, with the harsh wind coming down from Canada, cold and unremitting for days now. I forget how much that can wear on you, the sound of it, the frightening howl as it circles the apartment. We are in the far north end upper apartment, with three walls exposed to the wind, whereas the others have more protection from it. I suspect we have the largest heating bills in our apartment complex after such an event, but frankly it is worth it to have the warmth. We keep our apartment cool, never putting the thermostat above 64 (17°C) and adding more clothes instead of turning up the heat. We also use space heaters for direct heat if needed.

Yesterday the wind kept our usual Saturday walk from happening, although we did meet at the designated place, seven of us, but the strength of the cold wind made us decide to skip the walk and instead enjoy coffee together. Usually I take Sundays off from exercise, but since I did very little yesterday, I'm thinking I might take a trip to the Y for some exercise. Or maybe I'll be able to actually walk around outdoors, now that the wind has died down. It's cold outside, 18°F (-8°C), but without the wind, I can warm up quickly with a brisk walk. As has been said before, it's all a test of finding the proper clothing. I know how much better I feel after I've raised my core temperature with exercise.

And we've got more winter weather to come. Right now we are in a winter weather advisory, but I'm hoping that as it develops it will not be as bad as they predict. In the last storm, while we got plenty of wind, the areas to the south of us, like Seattle, got lots of snow. Compared to what the rest of the country (especially the Midwest) has endured, we are happy to have our relatively mild winter conditions. I can say that now, because we haven't lost power and are comfortable. Since all our heat is electric, it would be a very different story if we didn't have it. I just gave myself a shiver of anticipation of that level of cold. Brrr! Let's hope for the best.

I keep having to stop to put my cold fingers under my covers for a minute or two and am thinking that maybe I should get one of those space heaters to warm myself up a little. It doesn't help to be writing about cold; I can't seem to think about anything else other than (1) my cold hands, (2) my stiff neck, or (3) having to venture out from under my warm covers to do anything about it. The stiff neck has been bothering me ever since my session with Denise, and I think I might have overdone it just a little. Either that, or it's just another one of those annoying aspects of being old. I am rarely without aches and pains somewhere, but I mostly ignore them unless I can find a solution. Like back pains and stiff necks, which usually resolve within a short while, time is the best medicine.

What else? I am beginning to think that it must be getting to be time to get up, start my day, and warm my hands over the heater. My tea grew cold sooner than usual, and I notice that it's only 57°F here in the bedroom, and that's after I turned the heat up to 64. Time for some activity to warm me up, I suspect. Writing requires sitting and pondering, while the rest of me wants to move. Must be time.

In any event, I hope that you, my dear readers, have some wonderful exploits this coming week, filled with light and love, as we move ever forward towards springtime. Perhaps we are all ready, during the month of February, to look ahead to warmer days (or, for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, respite from the heat) on this brand new day. I hope you will be well and happy until we meet again next week. That's what I wish for myself, too.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The long journey toward equality

Wind churning up Bellingham Bay
I didn't take this picture, but I found it online on Facebook. I'd give the photographer credit, but I cannot seem to relocate it. So please enjoy thinking about NOT sitting on that bench in the wind. We've got something similar coming today or tomorrow, with high winds forecast along with a little snow. And I mean very little, if the forecasts are to be believed. I hope it doesn't make driving difficult.

My friend Judy and I went to see On the Basis of Sex based on Ruth Bader Ginsberg's early life and her first court case about gender inequality. It starts out in 1959, when Ruth was a young mother with a sick husband, and how she manages to attend Harvard as well as cover her husband Martin's classes as well, and take care of her young daughter. I loved the depiction of that time in history, but remember little about how different women's lives were at that time. The movie got me thinking about it, though.

I graduated from high school in 1960, well over fifty years ago now, and I got married in 1961 and became a young mother myself. In fact, that's why I married: I was pregnant and it wasn't like today, when one might decide to raise a child alone. It was a horrible scandal to conceive out of wedlock, so of course we married (a shotgun wasn't in sight, but that's what kind of wedding it was). My husband was in the Air Force, and we moved to Puerto Rico where he was based, and then to his home town of Flint, Michigan. I loved being a mother but was unhappy in marriage.

My options were extremely limited as a young mother. I couldn't possibly survive on my own without a good job. Credit was unavailable to women unless it was in your husband's name, even if you were employed. You couldn't rent an apartment without having a man to sign the lease. The laws were supposedly to protect the "weaker sex." But in reality, any time a woman tried to step outside the roles of mother and homemaker, she was punished. I never even thought about whether women and men should have equal rights, since I had never experienced anything but inequality.

How different it all is today! In many happily married couples, the woman is the breadwinner and the man stays home and takes care of the children. That possibility wasn't even conceived of back then. Although women still don't earn as much as men for the same work, many strides towards equality have been made. It wasn't until I saw the movie and pondered it that I realize how fortunate a female child born today is, when compared to fifty year ago. Times, and the laws, have changed for the better, I think. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is responsible for much of the change we take for granted.

I can understand why so many men are upset that the changing world (at least in the developed countries) has caused them to lose privilege. If you never knew a different world than today's, you might not understand why it seems that those uppity women wanted it different. In the movie, Sam Waterston plays a part that depicts the dean of Harvard Law School, who thinks it's a terrible thing for women to become lawyers and take spots that would normally go to a man. He and his wife have a dinner to "welcome" the women, and he asks each one to explain why she's there. He interrupts them, implying that they don't belong there, and when it's Ruth's turn to speak, she says her husband is also in school and she needed to go in order to be a better helpmate and wife. This was definitely tongue-in-cheek, and the dean was not amused. I was, though.

My life would have played out very differently, if I had been born twenty or thirty years later, I suspect. I would have known my own power in ways I didn't for so very long. My career started as a secretary, but I became more entitled as time went on, and I had a boss who was always willing to give me a chance to do more, learn more, and at the end, I traveled with him all over the world as a colleague. He decided everything, though, and I was happy when I retired to finally have a chance to do what I wanted with each day, and not try to help someone else's dreams come true.

I knew I would have to move away from Colorado and find a new life, and SG and I did just that. We pared down our belongings and made the move to the Pacific Northwest in 2008, and I love being here in my twilight years, enjoying life to the fullest.
No matter how dark the cloud, there is always a thin, silver lining, and that is what we must look for. The silver lining will come, if not to us then to next generation or the generation after that. And maybe with that generation the lining will no longer be thin. ― Wangari Maathai
I got to meet Wangari when she came to Boulder, long before she was famous. We ladies sat around a table and she told us stories of her life in Kenya. Before she died, she was awarded the Nobel Prize and started a movement to plant trees everywhere. She discovered her strength and power and was able to put it into practice, even though she was disparaged for her desire to stand out and become an activist. She has been a silver lining in the lives of many women, all over the world. There are many women like her who light the way for others. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one, too.

When I reflect upon the fact that a hundred years ago, American women were not even allowed to vote, and on August 18, 2020, we will celebrate a century of women's suffrage with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In many aspects, although we have come a long ways, there is still a long way to travel toward universal rights for women. I hope I live long enough to see it, but I doubt it. Just like a world without war, I must imagine it and hope that I can do a tiny part to put it into motion. Little baby steps.

And now it's time for me to consider the rest of my day. I'll be hopefully bundled up enough to brave the coming winds and freezing temperatures. I've got a one-hour personal session with my yoga teacher coming up this morning. I won it in a raffle and had been considering what I want to learn from her and feel confident it will be well worth it. First, however, I'll be enjoying my excursion to the coffee shop and the company I love so much. Life is good, and of course my dear partner is still sleeping next to me as I type this.

Until we meet again next week, I hope you will enjoy good health and feel the love of those around you, including me, reaching out to you through the ether, giving you a virtual hug and wishing you all good things. Be well.