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, June 30, 2019

How quickly time goes by

Norma Jean and me
Last night I lay awake for part of the night, thinking about this post. What to write about? What's on my mind at the end of June in 2019, more than a half century since my father took this picture of his two daughters?

When I look at this picture, I think of those two little girls, barely out of babyhood. In our pretty dresses that were probably sewn for us by our mother, I think of how important Norma Jean is in my life today, although we live on opposite sides of the continent. She is still my little sister, and I will always be the older sister. We are holding hands, and she was obviously upset by something and told to dry her tears for the picture.

I have no memory of that day, but it was a day just like any other. Twenty-four hours long, with the two of us together, just like we had been ever since my baby sister was born. She's never known a world without me in it, and I was two when she came into my life. Two souls who have lived our lives away from each other, having made our own lives and families. But we will always be the two oldest siblings of six. One sister, who wasn't yet born when this picture was taken, died at the age of 63, so you know how ancient this image is.

That was me, then, with the life passages I would go through still ahead. I wonder if I could read yet. I know I was quite young when I learned how, but the actual age when I first started reading is lost. There is no one still alive who remembers those little girls as they were then. My parents both died in their sixties, although Mama was only a few months shy of turning seventy. Heart disease took them both; it runs in our family. That was what my sister PJ died of, and my son Chris. Now that statin drugs are available, my sister Norma Jean and I both have taken them for decades, and I sometimes wonder if they had been around earlier, would my parents have had longer lives? It's all water under the bridge now, and here I am sitting propped up in my bed writing this post on my laptop, which I will be able to post right from this spot, once it's done.

Last month I had my annual checkup with my doctor. She told me I should be happy that I am doing so well, healthy and vigorous. When I complained to her about my cholesterol numbers not being as good as the previous year, she reminded me that I am a year older, and that we all become different from one year to the next. Although she didn't say it exactly, I believe she was reminding me that we are all traveling in one direction only: towards infirmity and frailty.

When I reminisce about my life, looking back at all I have gone through, all that I've learned and forgotten, it seems like it all happened in a flash, but of course it didn't. All those days and nights followed one another and the incremental passage of time altered my experiences a little at a time. Once upon a time I was that girl, then I became a woman, wife and mother. Now I am childless, but it wasn't always so. I gave birth to two beautiful boys, both of whom left the planet before me, so I have no grandchildren. It wasn't my path, but I didn't know that then. There are so many people who dote on their grandchildren, and I think I might have also, but there is no way to tell. Other people's grandchildren give me pleasure (or I should say sometimes they do), so I don't feel any lack in my life from day to day. My partner and I share our lives with one another, and it's enough.
Love does not consist in gazing at each other (one perfect sunrise gazing at another!) but in looking outward together in the same direction. ―Anne Morrow Lindbergh
My days are filled with plenty of activity, and each one has something to enjoy. Recently, at least during these last few years, I've discovered yoga and its ability to help me with the aches and pains of age. When I was young, I thought that a practitioner of yoga would always be lithe and supple, and then I discovered that is not true: we come in all sizes and shapes, and fortunately there are classes for all, and that perseverance will allow me to do poses I thought I'd never master. I work towards each one and find that the effort is worthwhile, even if I am not able to get there today, perhaps tomorrow I will.

Once I am unable to practice yoga, I'll find something else. There is no restriction to what's possible, with enough persistence and clear-eyed understanding of my limitations. Sometimes I forget that I am an old woman and will never again be able to run a marathon, but then I realize that I can still walk and enjoy the outdoors in a more relaxed way. Adjusting my goals, but always having goals, is one way that I move forward through life.

Today I'll head to the coffee shop and enjoy a latte with my dear friends who always look forward to visiting with me, as I do with them. And then later I'll go to the movies with my friend Judy, and after checking the condition of my vegetable garden, I'll finally settle into my favorite chair and pick up my latest book. Although my eyes are getting old and I have macular degeneration, I can still read with the help of my glasses. I do have to remember to rest my eyes and not read too long, or things begin to get blurry. But for now, I am able to do everything that I want as long as I pay attention.

It' time for me to get out of bed and begin the rest of my day. First, I'll step on the scales, part of my morning routine. Then I'll go onto the front porch and do my exercises before brushing my teeth and getting ready to head out into the sunshine. My partner will still be asleep when I leave, so I'll find out how he slept once I return home. It's a pretty wonderful life.

I hope you will remember to give your loved ones a hug, or a call, or just sit and think about them for awhile if they're already on the other side. We all need a reminder that someone is thinking about us, giving us virtual hugs if needed, and that we are all on this lifeboat together. Until next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Remembering my skydiving years

Me coming in for a landing
Several events have lately reminded me of my skydiving career. Although it's long gone, and it's been four years since I've even made a skydive, it will always be a part of me and of my history. I asked a young man (I've forgotten his name) to take some pictures of me coming in for a landing at Snohomish, the last place I jumped regularly, and he captured this one, which I very much cherish. That was my last canopy, a gentle giant that allowed me to have soft landings and was a little bigger than the smallest ones I ever owned.

When you first start skydiving, your first gear, and especially the main canopy, is quite large, allowing for mistakes without serious consequences, and as you gain skill and proficiency under canopy, you "downsize" until you have a responsive but also more dangerous one. Since I was already older when I began, I wasn't interested in getting too small, but other people I knew certainly did. Some of my dearest friends died from making a critical error when coming in to land.

Although I will always be incredibly grateful for those twenty-five years I spent as a skydiver and instructor, I don't miss them very much any more. These days are spent either outdoors in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, or inside enjoying shelter from the weather and reading a good book or watching a movie. However, the other day while having lunch, I watched a raptor above me, looping and lazily catching updrafts with wings spread wide. It reminded me of how much I loved being up there doing the same thing with my beautiful canopy. Sometimes I would catch an updraft and suddenly would be higher in the sky again, no need to hurry to get down.

And then yesterday I awoke to the news that a skydiving airplane went down in Hawaii, and all 11 people on board died. I've been watching to find the names of those who perished, wondering if I knew any of them. Apparently the plane took off and not long after began to experience control problems, and the pilot headed back to the airport but didn't make it. The plane crashed and immediately caught fire, with no chance for anyone to escape. Usually, if the plane is high enough, more than a few thousand feet up, the jumpers can escape, but not in this case. It just didn't have enough altitude yet. It shocked me to hear of it, and many memories emerged of other fatalities that suddenly took dear friends away.

I've had a few close calls, and even a couple of times had to exit the small jump plane far from where we had taken off, but I have never been close to crashing. That doesn't mean it wasn't always on my mind, with me being ready to bail out if necessary right from takeoff, and remembering how I would breathe a sigh of relief when we reached an altitude that would allow for an emergency exit.

There were three tandem students on that plane, who probably had no idea what was happening. They weren't even skydivers yet, and their families were on the ground, waiting for them to return. What a tragedy. I have learned the names of the tandem instructors and didn't personally know them, at least as far as I know at this time. I have known a few friends who moved from the mainland to become professional skydivers at that drop zone in Hawaii, which is why I thought I might know one or more of them.

The community of skydiving is a small one, with only somewhere under 50,000 current skydivers covering the entire United States, so when something like this happens, I am aware that everyone I knew during those years is following this event and mourning the loss of life, even if they didn't know anyone personally. Of course, the same thing is true of any sport that has the possibility of fatalities, but it's a very special group of us who love to jump out of airplanes.

I stopped skydiving because it was time, but a decade ago I could not imagine my life without that wonderful thrill. However, as we grow older, our priorities change as the years pass. The young woman I was still resides within me, but now I am an old woman who has entirely different interests. My latest challenge is taking yoga classes and trying to maintain flexibility and balance. Tomorrow I will start a new class, a bit more difficult than the ones I've been taking the past few years, and I'm excited to see how I do with it. If I find it's too difficult, I can always fall back to my usual level. Yoga has given me a great deal, and I enjoy seeing the same people every week, commiserating over our challenges. These days, I look forward to the classes every bit as much as I once looked forward to the weekends when I could skydive.

Yesterday I walked seven miles with a dozen or so women whom I've also come to love and care for, on our annual trip to Lummi Island, only accessible by ferry. We had the adventure of the ferry ride, the walk, and an enjoyable time together afterwards sharing a lunch. It might not be as exciting as my earlier exploits, but it doesn't matter: I'm still enjoying life and looking forward to each day as it comes. Today I'll be heading to the coffee shop, as usual, and then going to the movies with my friend Judy. Life is good.
Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite food, or the sound of a loved one's voice. —Joseph B. Wirthlin
And with that, my morning Sunday post is done, the contemplation I've experienced while writing it beginning to morph into action. My partner still sleeps next to me, my tea is gone, and the coffee shop and my friends there will be assembling soon, and my usual chair will be waiting for me to sit in it. Plus the wonderful coffee that I enjoy so much will fill me with gratitude for all my blessings. That also includes you, my dear readers, who also fill me with joy, knowing you are there, too, even if I will never actually see you, I feel your presence within me. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day 2019

It's been a long time since I've thought much about my dad, since he died forty years ago. My brother-in-law Pete captured this priceless picture of him in the kitchen getting ready to go to work on a Monday morning. Well, it looks like a Monday, but who knows for sure? Daddy died in 1979, and Pete died in 2011. That's my sister Norma Jean behind him.

Daddy was only 62 when he died of a heart attack. That seems so young to me now, since I'm almost fifteen years older than he ever got to be. I've outlived both of my parents, and I suspect that much of the reason I haven't succumbed to heart disease is because of statin drugs, which didn't exist back then, as well as decades of exercise and a diet pretty close to what is called the Mediterranean Diet. I also work to maintain a normal weight. Both of my parents struggled to keep their weight under control. I remember Daddy telling me that it would be something that I would struggle with as well, since my parents both did, and it runs in families. He was right.

However, I and my siblings are all on statins and have various measures of success with keeping our weight in the normal range. My sister Norma Jean and I are the oldest two, and we are also the most determined exercisers. She swims a mile every weekday, plays golf, and walks as well. I also walk, but I cannot keep up with her; she's really fast: when I visit her in Florida, I swim and walk with her. My own routine is pretty set: I walk or hike several days a week, work out at the gym, take yoga twice a week, and have a brisk walk with the ladies every Saturday. Sundays are my rest days. Other than on Sunday, I get my 10,000 steps in, usually before noon.

Daddy was an avid golfer. He loved the game and played several times a week, which was his main exercise. But he also loved good food and would often linger at the dinner table finishing off any leftovers. Mama was a good cook and mostly enjoyed fixing meals, usually heavy on the meat and potatoes and light on the vegetables. It was the way I was raised. It's been a long time since I've had a t-bone steak and baked potato with butter and cream cheese, but I still remember how much I loved it.

What I remember the most about Daddy was how much he relished a good conversation as he and Mama had their nightly martinis. They waited until 5:00pm and then each had a couple. The martini shaker was always chilled and ready to go by then. Frosty martini glasses were filled and garnished with pimiento olives on toothpicks. It was a familiar sight as I was growing up. Once I thought the chilled vodka was water and took a big swig before I realized my mistake. It was horrible and the only time I ever ingested any part of a martini, other than the olives.

Alcohol made my dad loquacious, and he would tell me stories and I'd listen in rapt attention. I looked forward to those moments when it was just the two of us, and I'd ask questions and he told of his military days, people he knew long before, and adventures and exploits that he would wistfully recount. I'm ashamed to say that many of those stories I've forgotten, but those times when I listened to them is what I remember the most: the closeness I felt with him.

Daddy also enjoyed reading science fiction novels, and he taught me to appreciate them, too. We would sometimes talk about Isaac Asimov stories we both loved, as well as other authors. I still to this day enjoy sci-fi because of getting an early start at his knee. Although much of what we discussed has faded into the mists of time, the feeling of his presence still remains. He was a person who cried easily, and I remember many times when something would move him and bring him to tears. Of course, as a man of that era, he hated it and felt it was unmanly, but I loved that about him. He would sometimes try to cover it up and pull out his handkerchief and blow his nose into it as if he had an allergic reaction. It was sweet and completely transparent.

When he had the severe heart attack that would take his life, he was admitted to the hospital after collapsing in the emergency room. Three days later he died, but in the meantime all his children from around the country were able to see him before he left us forever. That is a memory I don't really wish to dwell on, because it still hurts, even these long years later.
This is the price you pay for having a great father. You get the wonder, the joy, the tender moments—and you get the tears at the end, too. Harlan Coben
Yes, my father was someone who made an enormous imprint on the lives of many, including me, his daughter. He will always be remembered as long as those of us who loved him exist. It is the fate of all of us to eventually die and fade away, but while we are here, we can remember with fondness our fathers on their special day each year.

I hope you will have a wonderful day today, whether or not you are a father. I know for a fact that you had one, and I wish you all the best on this beautiful Sunday when we take a moment to remember. My dear partner still sleeps next to me as I wind down this post, my tea is gone, and I look forward to my friends at the coffee shop whom I will join soon. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The brevity of life

Long ago and far away
I spent yesterday afternoon with my nose in a book. I really wanted to finish it before I went to bed, and it was so captivating that I lost track of time. When I finished it, I closed it with a clap and looked up to see that it was way past my usual bedtime, and I had simply not noticed.

What was the book, you ask? I have just by chance discovered a wonderful new author (well, new to me), Kate Christensen. The book, The Great Man, won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction a few years back. I just picked it up off the shelf, knowing nothing about the author or the novel. It was a very enjoyable read, and next I'll read another of her later books that has gotten quite a bit of press lately, The Last Cruise. It's a happy day when I discover a new author and know I've got some good reading ahead.

Kate seems to write very well from the perspective of an old person. She's not one herself, born in 1962, but she got right inside the head of a woman in her mid-eighties and I could relate to perfectly, and I was fascinated to think of how one must be able to do that. I keep thinking about some of the internal dialogue she described in the book, and it made me wonder how old she is herself. That led, of course, to a google search and the happy discovery of all the other books of hers that I will get to read.

The picture that I put at the beginning of this post is one taken of me and my son Chris at about the same period in time that Kate was born. I know this because of Chris' age and remembering my then-husband who took the picture. He was a camera buff and enjoyed his single-lens reflex camera's ability to capture moody scenes like this one. There is a spiritual aspect to this photo that gives me great pleasure to study, regardless of the fact that I am in it. Or am I? That young girl does not feel like me, and both the photographer and the child are no longer alive. Chris died in 2002 and Don in 2010. The young woman has become a septuagenarian.

Sometimes I think about how many different people I have been during my lifetime, and it boggles my mind. Not only was I a mother and wife, but I also had a three-decade-long career that I have almost forgotten. And another quarter century as a skydiver, jumping out of airplanes and teaching students, now faded into the mists of time. I made my last skydive in 2015, more than four years ago now. These days, I spend my time enjoying reading, writing a few short blog posts like this one, working in the garden, yoga, and walking or hiking around the Pacific Northwest with friends. I've lived in many different parts of the country, but this place, where I've lived for eleven years now, feels most like home.
It takes all of our life to learn how to live, and – something that may surprise you more – it takes just as long to learn how to die. ― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
During my years on the planet, I have lost many loved ones, some tragic, others peaceful and expected, but they have all left their mark on my own life. I know there are many more years I've lived than I have ahead of me, but that is also expected. Now that I am older, my friends are facing old age along with me, and that brings new challenges that mostly come from diminishing ability or debilitation. It certainly doesn't make life any less interesting; in fact, old age has provided some fascinating revelations. One thing that surprises me is how much I am enjoying life these days. Maybe I'm just learning how to die, as Seneca says in the quote above. Or maybe it's because I'm mellowing with age, just like a fine wine.

My volunteer work, which I've done for the past five years, is coming to an abrupt halt at the end of this month. I received training to become a facilitator to help people write their Advance Directive for Health Care, and the organization I volunteer with is closing down because of funding issues. Our healthcare system is being drained dry, a little at a time, and this is just one more sign that something has to change. I became a notary public so that I could help make the directives legal, and now I'm wondering what I might find that will replace this activity. I have really enjoyed all the people I've met through this work, finding it valuable and eye opening. What now? I suppose I'll find the next endeavor will present itself to me, just as this one did years ago. But it's sad to see yet another part of my life come to a close.

I will certainly let you, my dear readers, know what I decide to do next for volunteer work. It's interesting that what appeals to me is either working with older people or assisting with end-of-life issues. I am smiling because I just remembered a quote from Yogi Berra, where he says that you'd better attend the funerals of your friends, or they won't come to yours. Maybe that's what I'm doing in this work: making sure that you'll come to say goodbye to me when it's my time to go. Just kidding, sort of.

And now it's time to wind up this meditation and look forward to the day ahead. I got so wrapped up in my book yesterday that the garden is parched and needing some attention. My friends at the coffee shop will be waiting for me when I get there soon, and I'm looking forward to another fine sunshiny day. My beloved partner is still asleep next to me, my tea is long gone, and I can feel myself getting ready to leap out of bed. Okay, maybe not leap exactly, but toddle out of bed and get dressed and head out the door. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will be well and that all good things will come your way.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Joy to have another fine day

Magnificent tree
Several events this past week have changed the way I look at the world, and at the future. First of all, we were able to return to the High Country for our first trip of the season. This past Thursday, we went all the way up to the meadows of Church Mountain, one of my favorite hikes. It is early, and although at lower elevations all is green, the higher we climbed, the more we saw evidence that the snow has only recently receded. Nevertheless, it is truly a beautiful place. We are so lucky to have the wilderness area accessible within an hour's drive from Bellingham.

This is one of the earliest times we've gone up to the High Country. Usually we are turned back by heavy snowdrifts, but not this time. It was clear all the way to the meadows, and the remaining snow there is melting quickly. In another few weeks, we should be able to visit some other favorite south-facing slopes. I was a little sore from the steep up-and-down hike, but nothing more than sore legs. My knees behaved, thankfully. I always carry a couple of knee braces, just in case.

Yesterday in one of the blogs I follow, Time Goes By, Ronni Bennett lists "Interesting Stuff" on Saturdays, and she posted a story about J. David Bamberger, a very interesting man indeed. He turns 91 on June 11, and everything I've been able to find seems to indicate that he is still alive and flourishing. He is celebrating the fiftieth year of his life's work, Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve. As a young man, David worked as a door-to-door salesman, peddling vacuum cleaners for many years, amassing a small fortune, which he then invested in a series of restaurants with a fellow salesman. They made even more money, and when he sold his share, he ended up with enough money to buy some land.

Well, he didn't buy just any old land. He bought almost 6,000 acres of the most degraded land in Texas, not far from Austin, and over the period of many years, he restored it to its original natural state. I didn't realize how important grasses are to restore water to dry land, but he explains it all in a short video, which I am providing for you here.

I hope you enjoy learning about this as much as I did. Since 2019 is the fiftieth anniversary of when he started this project, the entire year will be devoted to celebrating it through the Bamberger Foundation. I am doing my small part by sharing this gift.

Another sign of hope in my world is that I have so much to be grateful for. I saw my doctor this past week, and she congratulated me on my lab results, suggesting that I pat myself on the back for all the hard work I've done to maintain my health. I had been concerned that my "good" cholesterol was lower than before, but she thought I was being picky and reminded me that I am a year older, and things don't usually continue to improve in one's mid-seventies. Oh, right. I forgot about the inconvenient fact that I am growing older with every passing day.

But after learning about J. David Bamberger, who is vigorous into his nineties, maybe I will continue to hang on to good health for a few more years. Or even decades, but I'm not counting on that. I will enjoy every single day of life that I am favored with, and when the end comes, which it will for each of us, I will have been blessed with far more joy and love than many people ever experience in their lives. So these are all signs of hope, right?

This seems like a good time to give thanks for many of the other things that give me pleasure, such as (1) my partner, (2) my garden, and (3) my many good friends. I count you, my dear reader, as an essential component in my happiness. Life will continue to throw us curve balls and we'll experience tough times, but with the right attitude, it can all be endured and even appreciated. After all, if we didn't have bad times, we'd never realize how good we have it today, right now. It's time to stop and appreciate the moment. I listen to the gentle breathing of my beloved next to me, and I look forward to my morning coffee with my good friends.
At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. – Albert Schweitzer
And with that, another Sunday post is finished. I truly hope that whatever this day brings you, there will be a moment or two to pause and calmly think about what surrounds you that gives you pleasure. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.