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, September 29, 2019

My favorite season

Me at Lily Lake last Thursday
Melanie took this picture of me last week, and I didn't see it until I checked her Facebook posting about the hike. Lily Lake is still pretty, but as the season progresses, all the brush in front of me will begin to change colors and thin out. I love this time of the year, when it's cool for hiking but not yet cold, and the foliage brightens the landscape. My favorite season.

I am so pleased to be able to join my hiking friends once again, feeling like I'm almost back to normal. But not really: I really suffered on the downhill section of the hike back down the steep trail. Without my hiking poles, I wouldn't have been able to do it. But once you're out there, you don't have a lot of choice about it, you need to get back down. My knee is still sore, but now I'm beginning to think this is as good as it's going to get. I'll manage. It's not the distance that gets me, but the elevation change, especially navigating the steep downhill.

Yesterday I walked with the ladies around Lake Padden, a trip we make at least once a month, and for the past few months I've only gone once around the lake, but yesterday I went twice around, so I am slowly making progress. At my age, I should be happy that I am able to see a positive difference, but I am still in denial about my abilities. Just because it was easy a decade ago doesn't translate to the present day. Why is that so hard to accept?

One of my blogging friends, a new one I just recently discovered, hosts a blog she calls Engaging with Aging. She just wrote her 100th post, which is pretty amazing, when you consider she started writing this blog only two years ago, when she was 95. Her writing is clear and concise, and she talks about ARCs and how she deals with them. ARC stands for age-related changes, and I find her optimism and mental acuity inspiring. Here's an excerpt from her 100th:
Looking ahead, I foresee postings that reflect my accumulating, progressing ARCs, their effects that are creating increasingly difficult challenges and the constant, conscious adaptations that fill the minutes and hours of my day. I’ll continue to share what I can of my ongoing journey.
When I begin to feel grumpy about what I can or cannot do any more, I find myself gravitating over to her blog and reading one of the previous posts. She has not lost one whit of her sense of humor or joy at being alive, and she rarely communicates dismay over her ARCs. I figure if she can do it, so can I.

The internet and the community it has created through the blogs of everyday people has truly changed my life. Doris (the blogger in question) says that her blog allows her to "wake in the morning, ideas churning, eager to start the day." As I sit here in the dark, writing to fulfill my Sunday morning meditation, I now think of her, waking up and raring to go. I discovered that she was an RN for much of her life, so she knows how to help people, and those around her are now helping her in much the same way as she did when she was working.

But Doris is just one person within the pantheon of the blogosphere. I also have so many others who brighten my days with their posts. And they are all over the globe: some are here on this continent, but I also share community with one in Australia. I keep forgetting when I mention winter or summer, that it's opposite for her. She displays spring flowers while I enjoy the bright colors of fall. Some of my favorites live close to the water, while others are urban dwellers. One friend in Canada had a serious brush with his mortality and almost died during an operation. He is now in a wheelchair and writes of the changes he faces, having been an avid hiker before becoming paralyzed from the waist down. And there are so many others who feel as close to me as family members.

My sister just sent me a text, wondering where my post for this morning is. She's three hours ahead of me in time, so I guess she forgot. This post is taking a bit longer than usual, because I'm thinking about what I want to communicate, and it's elusive. Sometimes when I sit down to write, it all just pops out without much effort, and other times I struggle to find a direction. I am looking forward to a beautiful day, but this part of it takes as long as it takes, there's no shortcut. Oh, I could just throw some words on the page, but then I would feel bad about not having done due diligence in composing this properly for my readers.

And so, I just went looking for a quote (I always like to include one) about aging, and I found this succinct one from Betty Friedan):
Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.
I think Doris can attest to that. I encourage you to explore her world, and her incredible writing. And now, perhaps, I've gotten to the place where I can begin to wind this up and begin the rest of my day. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, it's still dark outside, and my day beckons. The coffee shop awaits my attendance. Until we meet again next week, dear readers, I hope you will have lots of quiet adventures and happy times with those you love and who love you. Be well.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Last day of summer

Misty late summer scene
The autumnal equinox happens early tomorrow morning, in my part of the world at least. I took this picture last Thursday, and I like the mood of it, along with my true happiness at having been able to complete this favorite hike. I've missed so many this season, because of one injury after another. I guess it comes with the territory: you don't get to be a septuagenarian without having aches and pains.

That said, there are two people in this picture, both dear hiking friends, who both will be celebrating their eightieth birthdays early next year. I am a few years younger, but I am not far behind them on the aging spectrum. After having missed several hikes this summer, I had hoped my knees and back would be healed enough to accomplish this one, and sure enough they and I did. Even though one does take longer to get over things, you still do, given enough determination and help with exercises and, in my case, acupuncture.

I am wrestling with whether or not to go on next Thursday's scheduled hike, one of the more difficult ones: long with lots of elevation gain and plenty of rocky trails to navigate. In past years it's been, if not easy, at least well within my ability. Now I am not so sure, but I will probably go anyway, depending on the weather. As the days grow shorter, I want to be as active as I can while there is sunshine to enjoy. I feel so much better at the end of the day when I've had a chance to move enough to get my steps in. It's a good kind of tired, then.

This has been a very full week. Last Sunday I woke with a sore throat and cold, and I had to make my way through that, feeling pretty terrible for two days. When I realize how miserable I can be with just a simple cold, I'm reminded that I'd better go get a flu shot because I sure don't want to multiply that misery. A distant memory of my last bout with the flu is not a pleasant one. I've also been considering getting the latest shingles vaccine shots (there are two of them, six months apart), because that's another way to prevent or at least mitigate that awful virus.

 After recovering from the cold, I began to feel good again, and it was possible for me to have the energy I needed to complete the hike on Thursday. In fact, I've noticed a sort of rebound effect that happens after illness: I feel ridiculously happy and glad to be alive. And it helps to have plenty of good books to read, especially ones that give me a chance to ponder what makes one person thrive, while another experiences nothing but difficulty and unhappiness throughout life.

I usually have at least one long book on my Kindle, and I will read it for a few minutes before retiring. Sometimes it will be longer than a few minutes, but mostly that's all I need before drifting off. One book that I've been making my way through gives me plenty to think about: Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life by George Vaillant. I think I've written here before about the book. Last night I finished it, and I realize I've got to find another similar one to take its place. George has also written another that looks interesting, so it's probably going to be my next one. I'd like to share the last part of Aging Well, because it's something I'd like to keep uppermost in mind.
Besides my sister, my favorite teacher is a two-inch-tall mouse named Stuart Little. Stuart told the children to remember three important rules: (1) Be a true friend. (2) Do the right thing. (3) Enjoy the glory of everything. ... 
A person who is looking for something doesn't travel very fast, and waving farewell to his childhood and boyhood, that secure and sun-warmed past that is over and done with and gone for all time. Yet Stuart knew this: "If a flower blooms once, it goes on blooming somewhere forever. What is changed is never gone unless we let it go."
This is a quote from a valedictory address by Timothy Coffeshall. He mentions E.B. White's character Stuart Little, a very human modern mouse. The above quote ends the valediction, and George uses it also to end his wonderful book.

Today will be a very full day. After heading off to the coffee shop, I'll join my friend Judy to see the new Downton Abbey movie. The reviews suggest that it will be enjoyable for fans of the series, but not so much for those who don't know and cherish all those characters. Since I'm one of the former, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. Afterwards, I'll join my dear friends here at the apartment complex for a birthday party. Because I'm someone who needs to go to bed rather early, it's starting at 4:00pm and will end no later than 7:00pm. And of course I can enjoy some wine, because my walk back to the apartment doesn't require driving. Yes, another full day.

I just checked the weather and, as expected, it's raining right now and will continue to rain all day long. I probably won't get a walk in, but Sunday is my usual day to relax and not worry about getting my steps. I can do that, but it's not easy. Instead, I'll enjoy a day filled with lots of companionship and joy. Just thinking about it all has brought a smile to my face. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, the tea is long gone, and the day beckons me out of bed. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things and truly hope that you will enjoy lots of smiles. Be well.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Romance on the hiking trails

Bob, me, Al, silly kid, Frank, Victoria, Gregg, Carol
Yesterday I went to an open house hosted by two of our hikers, Bob and Victoria, who have bought a home together, not only because of their mutual interests, but because they found love as well. It's not the first romance that has blossomed because of our hiking group; Gregg and Carol are also a couple and have moved in together, and they also met while hiking with the Senior Trailblazers. I asked for a picture of the group of hikers that attended the open house. Victoria's grandson had to show off and join the group. I don't know his name, but I know he's obviously an extrovert. It was a fun affair, with lots of guests, kids, and dogs.

I suppose in earlier times, people who fell in love and wanted to become a family would get married, but once you're a senior, that can be inconvenient. Because of our country's social security rules, it can mean that one or both of you stand to lose some of your income through marriage. And it's not like we seniors are still going to be producing children. It was lovely to see the way Bob and Victoria's combined families have meshed.

My beloved and I met through a mutual love of skydiving, and we did decide to get married, but we were relatively young, each of us in our early fifties. We jumped together for several years, but fortunately for us, we have many other activities that connect us. Our skydiving days are over, but our love for one another only grows stronger with each passing year.

*  *  *

Another thing on my mind lately is how much our lives have changed because of technology. Those pesky cellphones are everywhere these days, and I hardly ever see anybody looking up from their phones while on the bus. Since our buses are now wired with free wifi, I too occasionally check my email on my phone. But I resist being caught up in it all. I wonder what all those people are actually doing on their phones. Occasionally I'll see that someone is playing a game, like Candy Crush, but surely that's not what everybody is doing. Nobody is talking on them, even though that is ostensibly their primary use. And everybody has, right there with them, a quality camera and video available at their fingertips.

Now everyone can be helpful in cases of criminal activity that can be caught on phones, or videos of wrongdoing that confirm who did what. That is a new feature of our lives that is welcome, in my opinion. But really, what has happened to us that we no longer pay much attention to our surroundings and we stay hunched over our devices, lost in our own little worlds.

It would be one thing if this were an isolated activity, but it's becoming more and more widespread, with so many of us no longer present. What an opportunity for mind control. It is a little scary to realize that is the direction in which we are headed, with everyone needing to be connected every moment of every day. When I travel up to the wilderness areas to hike, we have no internet, so for most of the day I use my phone as a camera and place it on airplane mode so that it will not continue to search for a nonexistent connection and drain the battery.

Yes, I am definitely hooked on the need to be connected, but as an older person, I remember the days when we actually looked at our surroundings and didn't need to have a smartphone available 24/7. It's only been since 2007 that smartphones have existed, and look what has happened in a mere twelve years! What does the future hold, I wonder.

It's possible that this is all just a passing phase in our development, but who knows for sure? Certainly I won't be around in another couple of decades to see where it all leads, but my inquiring mind looks at our future and sees all kinds of possibilities, not all of them positive.
The human spirit must prevail over technology. —Albert Einstein
Before I started writing this post this morning, I made a quick check of my favorite news sites, just to make sure nothing much had happened since I went to bed. So I am just a much in need of my internet as anybody. And I just now pulled out my phone from my bathrobe pocket to check the weather, so I can know if I need my raincoat this morning (I will).

But another thing technology has given me is this: the ability to sit in my dark bedroom with my laptop and communicate with the world in an instant. I'll hit "publish" and anyone out there with a internet connection can read what I just wrote. Not only that, but the reader can also comment instantaneously, without the need to wait. I suppose this wasn't fast enough for some people, and that's why Twitter was created. I don't use it, thank goodness, since I cannot imagine spending any more time than I already do involved with my screens.

And now it is time for me to put away this Sunday morning duty and continue on with my day. My tea is gone, partner is still sleeping quietly next to me, and this blustery rainy day ahead needs me to join it. Out of bed, conduct my daily activities, and never ever forgetting to give thanks for all the blessings that surround me. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Doing hard things

Crossing Heliotrope Creek
It may not look as scary in this picture as it felt, but without that rope in my left hand, I would not have attempted to cross this roaring stream. The water was glacier melt and not only very cold, but also rushing by at a terrifying clip. My friend Chris took this picture and sent it to me, with a note reminding me that I can do hard things. This year, Frank brought that rope along with him that made it possible for people like me to attempt the crossing. The feeling of accomplishment was tremendous.

And I was also thrilled to be able to join my companions for a hike, after having missed so many because of injury. Without the help of acupuncture, and the exercises assigned to me by Warren (the acupuncturist), I don't think I would be as good as I am today. Yesterday I went walking with the ladies and was grateful to learn that my knee is coming along quite well. I'm beginning to think that the discomfort I'm still having is related to arthritis and might not ever go away completely. That's okay, if I can still do hard things.

It might seem to be a curious saying for someone to appreciate who has already jumped out of airplanes more than 4,000 times, but that was then. This is now, and I am a little incredulous that I did that. The memories of my skydiving years have now faded completely into the past, feeling like another lifetime ago. Although I was active for a quarter century, my last skydive was more than four years ago. Now, crossing a raging stream like this one is plenty of thrills and chills for me.
It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things. —Elinor Smith
 Probably one of the hardest things I have ever done has been to find a way through soul-crushing grief, the loss of my children. The first loss was much harder than the second, because I was so young, just in my early twenties, and during those days there were not the wonderful support groups that exist today. It took a long time, but even such tragedy can be overcome and placed in the vaults of one's memory. In earlier times, it was rather common to lose a young child to illness. Not everyone gets over it, and it took a long time, but I was able to feel love and joy again. Just going through life has given me the perspective that nothing lasts forever: the good, the bad, the difficult, or even the joyous emotions of the heart.

Yesterday on our walk, someone slipped on the gravel and took a spill, scraping up her knees. I was reminded that it is usually me who takes a fall. Betty was helped up by her friends and finished the walk. It reminded me that when you are out and about, it's easy to go from a brisk walk to a plummet, and there's nothing you can do about it but get up and keep going. The fall I took on my tailbone six weeks ago is recent enough that I can remember how hard it was to get up, assess the damage, and keep going. That was doing a "hard thing" but I really didn't have any choice. Nobody was going to carry me down the trail.

I wonder if I really do fall more often than other people, and if so, why that might be so. It always seems to happen on the return trip, so maybe it's that I stop paying close attention or maybe I'm just anxious to finish and don't watch my steps as closely as I should. On that last spill, it was the slippery boardwalk that exacerbated it, because I was striding along ahead when I should have been more careful. And just like that, I was down, without any warning.

When I visit my doctor, I fill out a questionnaire about my yearly activities and am always asked if I have taken a fall recently. Well, yes, I have, now that you mention it. And then I am reminded that I never have the opportunity to say no, not recently. And I have the scars to prove it.

However, yesterday it was not me who fell. I think it's partly that I am being more careful not to slip on loose gravel, and also that I'm still paying the price from my last spill. I hope I have learned my lesson, but you know I will probably fall again while striding on ahead, thinking of other things than where I'm placing my feet. I wish I could say I won't do that again, but it would not be realistic. I'm not willing to stop, not yet anyway. I want to continue to do hard things for as long as possible.

Sitting here in my bed, with my dear partner still sleeping next to me, the sun not yet risen, I am content. The day beckons, with my coffee shop friends, a movie with my friend Judy, and my most recent novel is calling me to finish it soon. One day, just getting out of bed and making my way through the day will be a hard thing, but that's not now, not today, not yet.

I always need to stop and say thank you to the Powers That Be for all that I am blessed with at this moment. I love my friends and family, and the ability to write and create this post, for the mental acuity to enjoy your responses, and taking the time to stop and smell the roses. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Slow but sure

Snail making its way to somewhere else
The other day we had a light, cleansing rain shower. It always brings out these little snails, who then show themselves on the sidewalk where people walk, right there in harm's way. I took this little guy off the concrete and placed him carefully on the dirt and watched as he inched back out to inspect his new surroundings. These tiny little creatures are much easier for me to enjoy than their close relations, the slugs. I've never thought of slugs as cute, but I think this fella is rather fetching. He also reminded me of a message about perseverance.
Be of good cheer. Do not think of today's failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourself a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. —Helen Keller
If you want to be inspired, read Helen Keller's life story on Wikipedia here, or get a copy of her autobiography, The Story of My Life. Even though she was blind and deaf from the age of 19 months, she wrote 12 books during her lifetime and graduated from Radcliffe College as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. After reading that Wikipedia entry, I went to my local library's website to put a hold on her autobiography. I look forward to the inspiration I know I will find in her book.

Being one of those people who always seems to have at least two books going at the same time, I'm finishing up one that I have been reading on my Kindle at night when I climb into bed, Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life. This book follows 824 subjects from their teens into old age. I will be sorry when I've finished, because it's been an interesting read, learning about what makes some people happy and productive during their lives, and others just plain miserable most of the time. One of the most important aspects of a happy life is beyond our control: being well loved when we are infants and young children. I was very lucky to have been so loved and so cherished.

I thought I was the center of the universe until my sister Norma Jean was born when I was two-and-a-half years old. I resented that little interloper, but then we ended up growing close and were inseparable as we made our way through our childhood. I have plenty of pictures of the two of us, and the memories I cherish of our time together, as we grew from young children to the septuagenarians we are today. We still talk twice monthly on FaceTime, which I think I need more than she does, but she tolerates me and is always available. She has been my guidepost throughout life.

There is a certain rivalry or competition between us, though, at least from my side. I always try to keep up with her activities and match them in my own way, and we both are avid readers and share with each other our latest finds. We don't enjoy the same books, however; it's been interesting to learn what each of us prefers. We both are fond of books about animals, but I love science fiction and she prefers mysteries. We are also both physically quite active.

Earlier this year, she had a routine colonoscopy, which was completely normal, no polyps, no nothing. Since I had been having some problems with constipation, I asked my doctor to schedule one for me, since I had not had one in a decade and a half. I fully expected nothing out of the ordinary; I remembered that the one I had in Colorado was normal, except I have a memory of the doctor telling me that I had some serious discomfort during it and that I was given a higher dose of sedative. When I had my own recent colonoscopy last week, I was surprised to find that I not only had polyps (all rather small, but still), but that I also have what is referred to as a "tortuous colon." Apparently this is rather rare, and one of my commenters asked if this means I can say I have "knots in my stomach." I smiled at that, because my research about this condition has taught me that it puts me at a higher risk for bowel obstruction and also suggests that it is probably the reason for my chronic constipation.

I had been a little depressed over it all, but until last night, I couldn't put my finger on the reason for it. It occurred to me that in my competition with my sister, I fully expected to be completely "pink and pretty" inside there, and I'm not. Once I receive the (hopefully good) pathology report from the doctor, I will breathe a sigh of relief, but I will still be a little sorry that my insides are not perfect. I keep forgetting to be grateful for all that is wonderful in my life and not holding on to what I have decided should be different.

And what do I have to be grateful for? Just innumerable wonders and delights. My knee, which has been giving me trouble, is getting better, albeit slowly. My friends are numerous and my dear partner with whom I share my life continues to give me lots of reasons for happiness. I guess one of my biggest problems these days is that I continue to push myself too hard, too fast, wanting to return to my usual activities before I'm actually ready to do so. And then being upset when I get injured again.

That cute little snail has a lesson for me: slow but sure is the ticket, not going into denial about what is really happening to me. I'm reminded that Denial is a river in Egypt (ha ha) and not a good coping strategy. Yes, I'm learning the lesson of patience, and perhaps that is a good thing for one who has never really learned it before. I've lived a good long time but have much to learn.

Well, one thing I've learned is that I truly enjoy my daily routine, and soon I will be able to return to it. My gym has been closed this last week and will open again after tomorrow's holiday, and my classes at the Y will also return to normal. I've missed them but my newfound yoga activities have taken up much of the slack.

Yes, I have successfully found more joy and happiness than I had before I began this post. That's one of the reasons I do this activity every Sunday morning. On top of all that, I've got other readers who tell me they look forward to my ruminations. Sometimes the magic works. With that, and one more swallow from my now-empty teacup, I'll begin the rest of my Sunday. I do so hope that you will find yourself in tune with your surroundings on this wonderful first day of September. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.