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, July 28, 2019

Quality is in short supply

Sauk Mountain trail two years ago
Although you cannot see the magnificent flowers in this picture all that well, when I was on this hike with the Trailblazers two years ago, I remember being astounded by them and took myriad pictures that were pretty much like this one: nice, but nothing like my memory of them.

A couple of weeks ago, I lost my favorite (and expensive) glasses on the bus. I had placed them on top of my head and forgot, until later at the coffee shop when I looked all over for them. Retracing my steps, I realized that they must have fallen off on the bus and I didn't notice. No problem, I thought: someone would turn them in, since they were obviously expensive frames with progressive lenses. Well, I checked in the Lost and Found for a week and nobody ever turned them in. Perhaps someone thought they could make a buck from the frames. I'll never know.

I went to Links Optical, where I had originally bought them, to order a replacement pair. It was on one of my Trailblazer hikes that someone mentioned to me that they felt this is the best place in town, which is why they became my eyewear specialists, too, after cataract surgery and the need for some good distance glasses.

Sure that I would have to find another set of frames, I walked in to start the process of searching through endless pairs for others that I might like as well as my lost ones. They pulled my chart and looked up the paperwork, and the clerk told me that they could call the manufacturer and see whether they had another pair just like the ones I lost. And guess what? They did and in my size, too. They ordered them and I sat down to talk about what I wanted in my new glasses: make them just like the others, please. That meant progressive lenses, transitions to darken and lighten, scratch resistance, and anti-glare as well.

Everything those previous glasses had were repeated and we sat down to figure out the cost. I remembered how expensive progressive lenses are (several hundred dollars just for that) and steeled myself for the verdict. Ouch! It took my breath away, although I had paid that much before, except for a discount on the frames. Not this time. Was it worth it? As much as a new cellphone?

Yes, I decided; it was worth it. I paid half before leaving the store and promptly forgot about them. I had ordered a new pair of glasses from Links soon after my cataract surgery, but they don't have progressive lenses because I balked at the cost back then. They are now my spare replacement glasses, which I used until the new ones came in. I found it very annoying not to be able to see the face of my watch, the dashboard in my car, always needing to peer over or under them to see anything within arm's reach. Most of the time I muddled through without any glasses, except for driving, where it was mandatory to wear them.

They came in yesterday, so I went to pick them up. It's not a large store, and the owner, Link, was there, helping people get their new frames fitted properly. He is a master at it, which meant that my new glasses would be just like my old ones, incredibly comfortable and pretty much identical. I walked out of the store, happy to have been treated to such incredible quality of care.

Never before had I found a place anywhere comparable to Links. They definitely are a cut above any other place I frequented before. My first trip to the store was when I had my first eye done and realized I was going to need some new glasses. The doctor's office had taken out the lens from my left eyepiece and I was walking around with an empty lens. It didn't bother me that much, but when Link saw it, he asked if I would mind if he put in clear glass, and I agreed. In a few minutes, he came out with my glasses looking normal again. After the second eye was done, I was given a prescription, which I took to Links to order what became my replacement glasses.

My eyes had gotten bad enough that I couldn't see 20/20 any more, but after the surgery, with the glasses, both eyes were corrected to give me the ability to see details I had forgotten were even there. I could read street signs, even tiny little letters! Now I take it for granted. My eyes, even without any glasses, can see so much better than before the surgeries. I did find, however, that my naked eyes could no longer read for hours without eyestrain, so I got a prescription for reading glasses that has made all the difference. They are usually sitting atop my latest book, as I only need them when I'm reading for hours at a time. I tried off-the-shelf ones, but both eyes are different enough from one another that they didn't help all that much with eyestrain.

That whole experience has got me to thinking about quality, and how rare it has become in our lives these days. Most companies cut corners, looking to optimize profit over customer care. It's everywhere these days. From the small stuff like underwear, to the big-ticket items like cars: nothing is made to last any more. I learned about built-in obsolescence a few years ago and see it everywhere. From that Wikipedia link:
There is an information asymmetry between the producer, who knows how long the product was designed to last, and the consumer, who does not. When a market becomes more competitive, product lifespans tend to increase. For example, when Japanese vehicles with longer lifespans entered the American market in the 1960s and 1970s, American carmakers were forced to respond by building more durable products.
My 2001 Honda Civic has around 150,000 miles on it, and my mechanic tells me with a smile it's just now broken in. I love my car, and although I sometimes lust after someone's newest vehicle, I wouldn't trade them, because I would no longer have my pal, who has been with me for more than fifteen years. It was four years old when I got it, with 44,000 miles. I've enjoyed it with little worry, and I keep it up to date with all its maintenance. I realized not long ago that I might never have another car before I can no longer drive, which isn't that far away. If for some reason I end up having to replace it, I'll probably buy something similar, by an owner who decided to get a new car when nothing at all was wrong with it, except that it wasn't new any more.

Yes, quality is in short supply. Only a few places prize quality, and they make the customer pay through the nose for it. But everything everywhere costs more. I notice that often familiar items in the grocery store look similar, but they are in smaller containers, costing the same as before. This is what the future looks like, I guess: we have grown to expect shoddy workmanship and smaller packages. It's sad, isn't it? All in the name of higher profits.
There are no traffic jams along the extra mile. —Roger Staubach
I never expected to write a rant this morning, but that is what I've done, and I'm sorry for going there. What I really wanted to highlight is how scarce quality has become in our lives. But here I sit, typing away on my old laptop, tempting me to trade it in for a newer model, which I will eventually do. But I will miss the ports that the newer versions have eliminated. I'll make do for awhile longer.

Until then, I'll be here, every Sunday morning, pondering what I will write about today. I hope that you will find joy and happiness in this day, and that wherever you are, you will have a companion to share it with. There are always people who are in need of a visit, and critters who always appreciate your loving care. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, and I feel the day calling me to action. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friend.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Learning to cope, not my strong suit

Dog resting while waiting
I've been taking some nice slow walks around Bellingham, using my camera to take what I call a "photo safari," capturing pictures that catch my eye while waiting for my sore rear end to get better. It might not, I'm beginning to realize now, but I won't know for another month or so. This coming week I'll see my acupuncturist, who treats many lower back injuries, and I might end up coming to see him more often for a bit, if he thinks he can help.

Many people wonder why I haven't been to the doctor yet. Well, this is not my first rodeo, I've been here numerous times before. And at my age, I can pretty much tell that all they would suggest is what I am already doing. There is no external bruising and no signs that I broke anything. But it still hurts to bend over and try to straighten without using my arms to help myself get upright. That said, I can do almost all the yoga postures, although not without pain. That is to be expected. Best as I can figure, I've caused trauma to the sacroiliac joint, and that takes as long as six weeks to completely heal.

My extenuating circumstance is the previous damage I did to the sacrum, back in 2000, when I needed two stabilizing pins inserted to keep the sacrum stable. They are still there, one of them passing by the fifth lumbar nerve root. I remember the surgeon mentioning he hoped he wouldn't need to remove those pins eventually, because I would sustain further nerve damage. He said about a third of the people with my injury have chronic pain and that would be why he would need to remove them. I was one of the lucky ones, but now the pain I'm experiencing might be what he was referring to. Only time will tell.

The biggest difference between now and nineteen years ago is that I am now almost two decades older. It takes longer to heal up from everything, and I am being challenged to take it easy, but it would be out of character for me to plant myself in a chair and do nothing to help myself get better. I can do my morning Tibetan exercises, but I have to modify the one where you lift both legs; instead I lift one leg at a time, and finish off with a couple repetitions with both legs. Just to see how bad it hurts.

Yesterday, since I couldn't walk with the ladies, my usual Saturday morning routine, I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill, to see how fast I can actually walk. I started with 2.5 mph and worked my way up to 2.9, but the ladies walk at a almost 4 mph, so I've got a ways to go before I can join them again. Then I rode the sitting bicycle, which I've been doing since I got injured, and there is little to no discomfort. I'm not using as much resistance as I usually do, but otherwise, those twenty minutes really seems to help. So I am doing the best I can and keeping my spirits up by at least doing something, a little at a time. Most of the time I'm in a bit of pain, but either I'm getting used to it, or it's gradually improving.

Constant pain is wearing on the psyche, I'm realizing. I take lots of breaks by sitting in my comfortable easy chair, and with a few pillows and reclining, I can minimize the pain. I was determined when I started this post that I would not concentrate only on my latest injury, so this is the last word I'll have on this subject, okay?
* * *
Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the landing of the first men on the moon. I read everything I could find commemorating the event, which was easy since all the major newspapers covered it extensively. In 1969, I was in Michigan, living with my second husband, and I remember the living room where the TV was located, and watching that incredible event is still a strong memory. The words "the Eagle has landed" thrilled me, and then when Neil Armstrong said, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," I cried with joy over our momentous achievement. 

Fifty years! A half century ago, and I was a young woman in the prime of life, filled with boundless energy, so much so that I took it for granted. I did yoga even back then, and remember when I was finally able to stand on my head. I was naturally flexible and thought that it would never leave me. However, as the years went by and I no longer practiced yoga, I began to lose that flexibility. I was 47 years old when I took up skydiving, and that activity helped me to regain a desire to get flexible again. Not just packing my chute several times a day, but being able to climb around on the outside of an airplane and not fall off required strength and flexibility.

As the decades went by, I forgot what a treat it is to attend a yoga class. After retiring from my skydiving days and having become active here in the Pacific Northwest, I sought out yoga again. After a few fits and starts with other studios and styles of yoga that no longer fit, I found Yoga Northwest and have been studying there for almost five years now. How quickly time passes! First, I started with what they call "Gentle Yoga" without inversions and lots of attention to back care. As the semesters went by, I moved from Gentle to Gentle II, which is a bit more advanced, and gradually I felt comfortable moving to Level I. In a ten- or twelve-week semester, the postures start easy and move towards more difficult ones, including shoulder stands, balancing postures, and something they call "Crazy Dog." My arm strength is stronger now, and many of the more difficult ones, while not easy, are fun for me.

Last semester, I moved up to Level I-II, which starts out where Level I stops at the end of the semester. After three classes, I realized I didn't belong there and moved back to Level I. Now that I am injured, I must modify a few of the postures, but I can still do them and my back always feels much better afterwards. Lunges are now one of my favorite things, and they don't hurt at all. Sun salutations are a delight.
Exercises are like prose, whereas yoga is the poetry of movements. Once you understand the grammar of yoga; you can write your poetry of movements. ― Amit Ray
And now yoga is as much a part of my life as my other physical pursuits. Funny, things change as I move through life, but some things never leave me: the desire to move and breathe hard, to be in nature, and to have good friends. Being injured and returning to walking photo safaris has brought back many wonderful memories. And I find that walking slowly, looking for good shots, is a much different activity than I have allowed myself lately.

Usually I'm briskly walking from one place to another and not really looking around as I'm forced to do these days. I would have missed that adorable dog in the picture before my injury. He was sleeping quietly until I stopped to look at him. He lifted his head, obviously looking around for his owner, so I gently walked away so he would know I wasn't going to bother him. Many of the shops in Fairhaven have doggy beds and lots of water for visiting doggy patrons, and I'm sure that this bed has been happily used by many of them while Mom shops.

So I'm learning to cope, as I said in the title, and even though it's not my strong suit, I'm still young enough to learn new tricks. The Senior Trailblazers are going on one of my favorite High Country hikes this coming Thursday, but I fear I will not be able to join them. Maybe in another month, and I am reconciled to a slow recovery from this injury. Whoops, I said I wouldn't mention it again, and here I am, breaking my promise to myself.

Whatever. I need to cut myself some slack as I move into my day, right? The sun is shining, the temperature is ideal, nothing like what many of my readers are experiencing. That gives me a chance to give thanks for my many blessings. One of those blessings is my dear partner, sleeping quietly next to me, and you, my dear readers. I hope you will have a wonderful week ahead, and we'll be here together next week, if all goes as planned. Until we meet again, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Trying for patience

Damfino Lake last Thursday
Our hike last Thursday would only have been prettier if we had some sun instead of mist and fog, although nobody really minded. I had such a good time, until I fell, and now I am on the injured list. And I am not a patient person when it comes to being injured. There is a boardwalk at places around this lake, and it was on a slippery segment that my feet came out from under me, and I landed hard on my sacrum. I saw stars and couldn't move for several minutes. That was three days ago, and although I am able to walk, it's not at a pace that I am happy with. There is no obvious bruising; the damage seems to be inside, since I cannot actually put my hand on the sore spot. I suspect I will not be hiking next Thursday, and my activities are curtailed enough to make me grumpy.

It is not my imagination that I seem to fall more often than other hikers. My friend Melanie says it's because of all those parachute landings that I want to be closer to the ground, but it was only in jest, because if there is one thing I don't want to happen, it's to get hurt. Why is it always me who seems to end up having someone needing to carry her backpack while she struggles down the trail?

There is already hardware in my sacral area (a couple of long pins), on the right side, and I seem to have fallen with the majority of the impact on the left side of my spine. There doesn't seem to be any broken or cracked bones, and over the past two days I have been able to move a little better each day. But there was no way I could have gone on yesterday's walk with the ladies, because my pace is way too slow, even though I'm upright. It brings back the memory of that terrible landing I had where I broke my pelvis in six places, the worst damage having been in the right sacral area. I was in the hospital for six days and in a rehab hospital for another week or so, before going home on crutches and unable to walk unaided for months. That was almost twenty years ago; I have to remember to give myself more time to heal, since I'm older. And the damage is much less, but it sure does bring back unpleasant memories.

Sometimes I think that the main lesson I have to learn in this life is patience. That, and learning to have compassion for my own shortcomings. It sure doesn't help anybody for me to beat myself up because of events that happen, thinking "if only" — but I do that often. In the past two days I have relived that fall and pictured how different life would be today "if only" I had not been walking so fast downhill on slippery boards. I get quite accustomed to being able to get outdoors and doing what I've been doing for decades, and it's only when I am held back by my own folly that I consider maybe it's time to change things up a little.

The first bad fall I remember as an adult was on a ski slope, when I suffered a spiral fracture in my ankle and was in a cast for a month or two. The pain of the fracture was intense, but it was the aftermath that I remember the most: having that clumpy cast on my leg and having to try to live my active life with it attached to me. Back then (in my thirties) I had a bike that I rode everywhere. Suddenly I was unable to ride it at all, so I purchased bike rollers that allowed me to ride my bicycle indoors, even with my cast, and at first I held onto the wall to balance as I got going. Actually, I ended up loving the contraption, because in no time I could work up a sweat and get a good workout, even while injured.

What I learned from the pelvic fracture, however, is that when you do damage to that area, it affects your entire body. My rehab from that break meant that it was a huge effort just to try to lift my legs a short distance from the bed, and it was necessary for me to attempt it several times a day to strengthen the muscles in my pelvis. Sleeping was also difficult, because I had an external fixator drilled into my hip bones that kept my pelvis in place. That meant I had to sleep on my back, which I have never done, although I was able to use pillows to get into a semblance of a side sleep. Looking back to those days, I realize that today it will only be a matter of time before I'm back to normal. That's my hope, anyway.

If it gets worse or doesn't start to get much better within a week or two, I'll be at the doctor's office trying to figure out what to do about it. My instinct tells me that it is just a matter of time, but that could also be wishful thinking. I've been accused of that more than a few times. We are all simply who we are, doing what makes sense to us as we move through our lives, trying the best we can to make sense of things.

My hope is that I will be able to learn the lessons I've been given in this short lifetime, so that perhaps I will not have to come back and learn it all again. If we get to come back, that is. We won't know that until later, if at all. I like to think that some part of my consciousness will still exist after death, but that might come from (you guessed it) wishful thinking.
I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. —Lao Tzu
I will try my best to learn these three things in this life, because I have to agree with Lao Tzu that they are my greatest treasures. Compassion for others comes easy, but for myself it's much harder, a lesson I will take to heart in the coming weeks.

And now it's time to move (carefully) into the rest of my Sunday, with my dear friends. My beloved is sleeping quietly next to me, my tea is gone, and the day beckons. I send to you, dear friends, peace and love and hope that the coming week will bring you all of that in great measure. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Family ties

My family once upon a time
I am not in this picture of my family, but my five siblings and their children at the time are in there, along with a couple young men who were friends, but not actual family members. That's my mom and dad in the middle of the top row, both looking very happy and healthy. Daddy died in 1979, so I figure this picture must have been taken in the early to mid-1970s. That's a long time ago, almost half a century or thereabouts. But the ties are still there, and always will be.

It was probably taken in my parents' backyard, set up and captured with a timer by Pete, my sister Norma Jean's husband, in the back row, second from the left. He's been gone since early 2011, but he was a talented photographer and took many wonderful pictures similar to this of our family. Pictures like this one freeze a moment in time, one that will never come again, but that will be looked at and exclaimed over for generations to come. That little boy in the front row, second from the left, Jason, is now himself the father of four teenagers. The little elfin girl, fourth from the left, my niece Allison, is the mother of two and a colonel in the Army.

Where was I when the picture was taken? I have no idea, but many of these family members lived in Texas and often gathered at my parents' home in Fort Worth. At the time, I was probably in California, or maybe Michigan, but I was nowhere near enough to be with my family. For many years, even after Daddy died, home was wherever my mother was. Mama lived for another fourteen years after he died. She was a consummate homemaker and always managed to create a feeling of home wherever she lived. I still miss her, because without her on the planet, I've been without a place to call home. I've made my own homes, of course, but none feels like the safe environment I always felt when I was with her.

I just finished a book that has reminded me of how fortunate I've been to have such a family. It is a memoir written by Nicole Chung, a young woman of Korean heritage who was adopted as an infant by a couple who were unable to bear children. She grew up knowing nothing of her heritage, and although it was obvious she was not like the other children in her school, nobody actually talked to her about her birth parents. It was a "closed" adoption and no contact was allowed between the adoptive parents and the birth parents. When Nicole was old enough to ask questions, she discovered more about her origins and eventually became reconciled with some of her birth family. The book, All You Can Ever Know, tells her story of what it was like to grow up where nobody looked like her. It wasn't until she went off to college that she was surrounded by other Asian Americans and realized she needed to find out the rest of her story. I loved the book, and it's made me think about my own family, and how much we are tied to one another through birth.

Although I have several siblings, I am closest to Norma Jean, nearest to me in age, but the rest of my large family are all dear to me and very much cherished. What happens to them, even if I don't see them for years at a time, matters mightily to me. My youngest sister Fia is about to undergo a serious surgery, and I am afraid for her, but I know she will be well taken care of by her husband and the sister closest to her in age, Markee. Fia is twenty years younger than me, born after I had grown up and married, so I feel more like an aunt to her than a sister. But sister she is, and will be on my mind until she has recovered. Our brother and sister-in-law live near her and will also offer moral support, I'm sure. But she will be on my mind until she's out of the woods.

When I left home, I was only nineteen. Looking back, I felt like I was an adult, but now that I am in my later years, I realize how young I truly was. So much life ahead of me then, and now a half century later, I've lived most of it, with my dear partner with me for a quarter of a century. I am so grateful for every single day of my life, both in the past and in the present, and although we can never see the future or know what it will bring, I can now look back over much of my life and see that it's been a good one. Family means everything to me these days.
What the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we lived. In the end, it's the family stories that are worth the storage. ― Ellen Goodman
Part of the problem of ageing is that those who knew us when we were young begin to leave us, and if we don't find out our family history, our stories, today, tomorrow might be too late to find out. There are so many questions I would ask my parents, if I could, and I wish I had been more aware of how much I would lose by not asking those questions long ago. These days, when I talk with my sister on FaceTime, we often reminisce about times gone by, and I am always amazed at how different our memories are of the same event. Now they are simply stories without any way to check their veracity. But really, who cares any more? I love the fact that we still have each other to share the "facts" with.

I am presently busy making memories with my dear partner, ones that are captured much more accurately because of this blog, for one, which gives me a chance to relive old times just by reading what I wrote a decade ago. And it also gives me a reminder that my memories change the past: what I wrote is not what I remember. Yes, it's important to chronicle our lives if we want to know whatever truths the past might hold for us.

And now it's time for me to move into the rest of my day. I haven't even looked at the news, which I often do before I begin to write this post, but today I have no interest in what's going on outside my own sphere. That won't last long, but for now it's enough just to remember my family, love them and be grateful that I have been blessed with such a great one. And I must also acknowledge how much I have changed my definition of family, because the one that is here with me in this blog is very much a part of my life: my virtual family. I care about those I will never meet in person, and our lives have intersected here in profound ways.

Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, and that you will have family of whatever sort you choose surrounding you through your days. Be well until then, dear ones.