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, October 27, 2019

Time of the year for spooks

Pumpkin patch and Mt Baker
I wonder why so many people enjoy all the scary movies and programs that are everywhere during the Halloween season. I've never enjoyed being frightened, whether on purpose or by accident. Halloween falls on this coming Thursday, with Mexico's Day of the Dead following right after. I have to say I really enjoyed the animated movie Coco, which is all about this day. It's still available on Netflix, and I just might have to watch it again, just for fun. If you haven't seen it, maybe this is the time for it.

When I was a kid, I loved to dress up for Halloween. I remember one year when I was about ten, when I dressed up as a grown-up lady, complete with a sequined dress, a fancy hat, and lots of makeup. I thought I was gorgeous, but somewhere there is a picture (which I cannot find) that shows it was just a little ridiculous, instead of what I imagined myself to be. But mostly I dressed up as a witch or a ghost, which back then was pretty common. Or a princess, maybe.

Today I live in a place that gets few, if any takers for candy. Of course, I always have to buy some just in case, and I turn on my porch light, always hoping for a few little ones to make their way up the stairs and to my door. This year, any takers will get a whole Kind Bar, since I bought them for myself and will share them with anybody who shows up. Over the years, I've had fewer than a dozen trick-or-treaters all together. It means I need to keep something at hand, but making sure I don't use buying candy for the nonexistent kids as an excuse to have too much of it around. I'm sure you understand and have probably eaten a little Halloween candy yourself.

In any event, this time of the year is a little sad, as the days get shorter and the nights longer, even as one gets to enjoy the falling leaves and brilliant colors of fall. My birthday is now only one month away, and if anyone were to ask, I'd tell them my age as if I had already had that birthday, just so I can get used to it before it befalls me. I've done that for years now, and it makes me realize that once a woman gets to a certain age, you no longer need to worry about trying to look young, because, well, it doesn't work. Inside my own head, I'm much younger than my actual years. In Bellingham, once you reach the age of 75, you ride the bus for free. Nobody exclaims in surprise when I pull out my geezer card to board the bus.

Yesterday I walked with the ladies as the clouds cleared and it became sunny, although not warm. My knee is behaving and I seem to have regained my ability to hike at a normal pace. Although I will never walk with the fastest of us, I am still able to keep to the middle of the pack rather than lagging behind. This makes me very happy, meaning that for now I am back to what I consider my normal routine. I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Probably the one thing that bothers me the most these days is my inability to remember things. I misplaced the key to the laundry room the other day, and after a couple of hours of panic, I found it in a pocket, right where I had placed it so I wouldn't lose it. I was wearing a top that has two small pockets that I keep forgetting about, and after having searched everywhere, I felt really embarrassed that I had not thought to look there. And I wear over-the-glasses sunglasses and place them on my head when not needing them. You can probably guess how often I've searched for them, only to find them right there on my head. Yes, I've always done this, but not to this extent. Or looking for something that I had just moved and forgot where I put it.
The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time. ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Yes, this is the best part of misplacing things: once you find them again, it's like a gift of joyful reunion. I was uplifted for the rest of the day, after I found that key. So there are upsides to just about everything, if you look for them. It's also true that the loss of anything, including loved ones, fades with time, and then you can enjoy remembering them without the searing pain of loss. The important thing, for me, is to think about my loved ones, both living and dead, with gratitude that they will always be part of my life. Nothing is permanent, all is transient, so to remember to enjoy what I do have right now is a key part of my enjoyment of living.

Right this moment, my dear partner sleeps next to me, and I need to remember to tell him how much I love him at least once today. I will tell my friends at the coffee shop how much I care about them. Oh, and there you are, dear friend of the blogosphere: have I told you lately how much I appreciate you? Although you are a virtual friend, you are no less important to me.

Until we meet again next week, I hope you will be well and will remember to tell your loved ones how glad you are to have them in your life. Or in your memories, if they are already on the other side. I wish you all good things, dear ones.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Accepting changes

After a skydive
It's been a long time since I've made a skydive. More than four years, in fact. I was an instructor when this picture was taken. I've always liked this photo, because it shows how happy I felt afterwards. That was true more often than not. Skydiving is part of my personal history, and like so much of my life, while in the past, those memories continue to surface.

For some reason, my dreams have lately taken me back into those years. I loved what I did, and I had many friends who were also with me when we jumped out of perfectly good airplanes together. I woke from a dream the other night where I could feel the air when I leaped out into space. It was very vivid and real. The colors were brilliant and all my senses were engaged. Except I was dreaming it all.

Sometimes I wonder if I could even make a skydive today. I've still got all my faculties, my knees and body still work well enough, and after more than four thousand skydives, surely I would remember how. But would I want to? What compelled me back then? I never let anything stand in my way when I wanted to jump, and long days out at the Drop Zone always left me feeling blissfully tired as I drove home.

Ah, but that was then. Who in the world was that person? Is she still a part of the present day me? Changes sometimes come slowly, and other times they come all at once. Today the injuries I sustained during my skydiving years are beginning to remind me that they will always be there, alongside my happy memories. That is normal, and I have been incredibly fortunate to have become a senior citizen, made it through all these years, with who knows what adventures still to come?

One of my favorite blogging friends, Doris, is now celebrating having written her 100th post. Now for some of you, this doesn't sound like much, but she started writing Engaging With Aging when she turned 95. She's now 97, twenty years older than I am, and she writes with honesty and vigor about her ARCs (age-related changes) and how she copes. Her past posts are essential reading for me these days.

She's got one adventure ahead of her that we will all share: leaving our bodies behind as we pass from this earth. I wonder if I will be able to have so much of my essential me-ness with me as she does, as I move through the rest of my life. Even now, she looks forward to each day and her blog gives her (and me) plenty to ponder about what's left as we each deal with our own individual ARCs.

My biggest fear is losing my eyesight. I realize that it would be harder to lose my sight than just about anything else. Dealing with AMD (age-related macular degeneration) has given me more appreciation for my ability to continue to see well enough to read as much as I want, drive, walk to the bus, perform my yoga routine, or head out on the trails with friends. Of course, anyone who has AMD knows that it doesn't lead to complete blindness, but takes little bits of sight away as it progresses. I have lost much of my ability to see details with each eye, but for now, one eye takes over for the other, and my central vision is unaffected. That's not exactly true, but it's good enough to do all I require of my eyes. For now.

And I've got so much to be grateful for. The place that we've chosen to retire, Bellingham, is filled with all kinds of activities that people across the aging spectrum can enjoy. Art walks, museums, walking trails, and a great bus system that will allow me to get anywhere around town I wish to visit without using my car. Physical activity is possible with even limited mobility. I watch with interest when someone in a wheelchair waits to board the bus. A ramp is extended, and the driver assists the person onto the bus and folding seats give the chair a place to be secured. Even people with rolling walker seats can ride the bus and are able to get just about anywhere they need with our bus system.

And of course, I've got all those memories that resurface in dreams. Have you ever woken from a dream thinking that it happened? Those kinds of dreams have been coming to me more often lately. Last night I dreamed that I was getting ready to leave a party, and the two people who came with me didn't want to go quite yet. I convinced them that I needed to leave, and then we had to travel through an intricate maze back to the car. I lagged behind as they chatted and I used their voices as a guide. Just as I was beginning to lose my way, I woke up.
Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world. —Oscar Wilde
And now I am awake and ready to start another day. My tea is gone, this rather unusual post percolated its way out of my fevered brain and will now enter the world. Sometimes I wake up with a sure idea of what I will write, but as you can see, this was not one of them. I hope that the coming week will bring you much joy and happiness, and until we meet again next week, be well.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Beginnings and endings

Leaves and water
I had a bit of a scare this morning when I went to turn on my laptop. It was dead. No nothing, and I tried everything I knew to make it turn on. Then I got my iPad and searched for what to do if such a thing happened, and I found the solution. Why in the world it just didn't turn on was rather upsetting. After a "hard restart," everything seems to be normal again.

After having read about the problems with the new operating system that Apple just released, I decided not to put it on my laptop. This dear friend of mine (my MacBook Air) is now four years old and it doesn't seem to like the latest updates very much. It's getting to be time to replace my old friend. After having checked online, I realize it's becoming a necessity. Sigh. More things to get used to, different plugs and ports, as well as a new operating system. But at least I've got my laptop up and running for the moment.

Yesterday I went to the outdoor wedding of my friend Carrie, who runs my favorite coffee shop, and Tim, who started out as a customer and became her boyfriend. They are now married. It was brave to have an outdoor wedding at this time of year, because it could have been raining, freezing cold, or even snowing. But the weather cooperated: it was a little cool but pleasant, cloudy with no wind. It was a lovely ceremony and then afterwards they had arranged for a reception at a local brewery (Twin Sisters). We were all given one drink and a selection of sandwiches and the usual trays of cold food. I enjoyed a turkey sandwich and a lovely IPA.

At the same time, another dear friend of mine, Lily, who lives in our apartment complex, filed for divorce on Friday. She is sad and still living here until she finds a new place that she can afford. She pays an enormous amount every month for her year-old car, so her options are limited. I think she has found a coworker to move in with, until she has time to find something more permanent. She is a very hard worker and has become a good friend.

So some things have just begun, and others are ending. I think Lily will be just fine once she has worked everything out. She knows she has my friendship, and we will still be seeing each other often, hopefully. And of course I'll see my friend Carrie almost every day at the coffee shop. She and her new husband will be continuing their lives as before, since they had already been living together. Not much will change for them, but the commitment and ceremony always make a difference, in my own experience.

I've been married four times myself, with those old relationships long in my past. Although I was very young (and pregnant) with the first one, it lasted five years and produced two children. By the time I had turned thirty, all three marriages were behind me, and I embarked on a two-decade period of not being married. Then at fifty, I met my current and forever partner, and we have now been together more than a quarter of a century. We have grown old together, and I cannot imagine my life without him. I cherish every day we share.

All of my family members will be gathering in Texas to celebrate the marriage of my nephew. It's a big affair and I decided not to attend, although all the rest of my siblings will be there. They have a formal dress code, with the women expected to wear a cocktail dress or a formal jumpsuit. Even if I had been thinking of attending, I haven't worn anything like that in decades, and it would have been enough to give me pause. I'll see plenty of pictures, I'm sure, and I'm just a little sad not to be there with them, but also relieved not to have to deal with the travel headaches.

The older I get, the less I want to leave my own routine and home. It's not that I can't, but I sure don't want to if I don't have to. My sister PJ died in 2014, and that was the last time I visited Texas. Perhaps it would be prudent to attend when it's a happy occasion, but I just can't get excited about traveling right now. Am I becoming an old fuddy-duddy? It sure looks like it. When you're approaching eighty, it's almost expected. (I've still got a few years before then.)

Physical changes are expected, definitely. I've slowed down considerably, and yesterday I decided not to try to keep up with the ladies' walking group. I started out with them, and as hard as I tried, I could not stay with them, so I just turned around and headed out to the nearby park for a nice solitary walk at a reasonable pace. It just occurred to me that I am by far the oldest member of this group, so there might be a reason I'm lagging behind. Usually other women are available for me to walk with, but they had the good sense not to even come out for this particular walk.

It's becoming obvious that I've been in a bit of denial about what I can and cannot do these days. My seventy-seventh birthday is right around the corner, and I keep forgetting that my days of challenging myself to do harder things, go faster, and keep forging ahead as usual are over. At least I'm in fairly good shape, and if I can keep myself active and healthy, I can continue at a slower pace for a good long time to come.

As I sit here in the dark with the laptop illuminating the room, I realize that my life is pretty darn good, and I've got lots to be grateful for. Not the least of my blessings is my dear husband sleeping next to me, and my absent family and friends. Although my sister Norma Jean is the only one with whom I keep in constant contact, they are all there if I need them. And they know I am here as well, even if I am not traveling to Texas next month to attend the wedding.

And I know that you, my dear blogging family, are always there. I follow your lives and enjoy seeing what you're up to, and I look forward to your comments. The beginning and ending of life's ups and downs goes on with all of you, too, and I am always happy to hear of joyful events in your lives. I am there with you when you face some of life's ordeals. That's what community is all about.
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. —Richard Bach
Well, with that delightful quote, I'm off to find out what today will bring me. First of all will be the coffee shop, of course, and then perhaps a nice walk if the weather cooperates. Until we meet again, dear ones, I wish you all good things and hope that you will find much to be grateful for.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Happiness and the mind

Lake Padden in sunshine and mist
This time of year, it's so easy to find beauty all around me. It makes me feel good to walk around Lake Padden at any time of the year, but when the brilliant colors begin to come out in the trees and bushes around the lake, I find that just being outdoors in the clear, crisp air makes me happy.

That made me wonder: is happiness a trick of the mind, or is it inherent in all situations? I know when I am feeling happy, the whole world looks better. There is plenty of research on positive psychology, and I find that most of what I've read assures me that it's possible to be happy by simply training my mind. My yoga practice teaches me that "A stable mind is like the hub of a wheel. The world may spin around you, but the mind is steady (BKS Iyengar)." And a quote from that link:
It’s well-documented that negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness can impact our health in negative ways, such as triggering our stress response and contributing to chronic stress, making us more susceptible to disease. But Positive Psychology research has now found that positive emotions can aid health by undoing the physical reactivity that can lead to these problems.
Well, the world has certainly been spinning lately, and I am constantly trying to find my own equilibrium in the turbulent political atmosphere, both here and abroad. I've tried staying away from the news, but that doesn't make me feel any happier, just less informed. So, I'm busy trying to make sense of it all, with the help of my daily routine and activities.

When I am getting ready for a good night's sleep, which always makes me feel better, I have found that not eating too late always helps me get a better night's sleep. After climbing into bed and opening up my Kindle, I read for a few minutes from Light on Life by BKS Iyengar, which I was introduced to during one of my yoga classes. We usually receive a short lesson from the instructor before we begin the asana practice, and I was intrigued enough by this book to download a copy. It's not the sort of thing that grabs you and makes you want to read ahead, so it's perfect for giving me something positive to focus on before I drift into slumber.

Last night I read about the five qualities of mind. They include a dull state, a distracted monkey mind, an alternating or oscillating mind, a single-pointed attentive mind, and finally the the timeless state of absorption called "samadhi." I have experienced all of these except samadhi. Maybe one day I'll experience it, but I have certainly felt the monkey mind state, which certainly keeps me from feeling much happiness. When I'm in that state, I know that if I stop trying to figure everything out and lead my mind to focus on just one thing, like gratitude, reminding myself about what is positive in my life right at the moment, I begin to feel better.

Everyone has much to be grateful for, no matter what your situation might be. Well, most of us, anyway. I just flashed on what it must be like to live in a war zone. Could I find happiness there? Years ago I read Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, about his experiences in a Nazi death camp. There are scenes from that book that stay with me. He was able to find purpose and meaning during those years, and several times he found real joy and love in such circumstances. Yes, it's possible to find happiness even there. He not only survived, but he has helped many others find our own way to a better life.
With every experience, you alone are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice. —Oprah
As I sit here with my laptop perched on my knees, here in the dark, with only the light from the screen illuminating the room, I look around me at what many aspects of my present situation make me feel grateful. First and foremost, it's my dear partner sleeping next to me, making little puffy sounds as he breathes. He's so accustomed to the sounds of my tapping on the keys that it probably makes him feel safe as he subliminally hears it. Looking to the window, I notice it's dark outside, since we are losing more than three minutes of daylight as we move towards the solstice in just a few short months, and I look forward to the march of the seasons. Autumn is my favorite season, although I'm not quite sure why.

Another thing that gives me so much gratitude is the fact that I am not alone in my world. Not only do I have friends and family to be grateful for, but I also have this electronic community of friends, like you, who give me so much to appreciate. Every day I learn something new from my blogging friends, and there is a fertile interaction between us that gives me much satisfaction. I've been blogging for more than a decade now, and not only has the world changed greatly during that time, so has my community as it has grown and flourished. So much to be grateful for!

Today my friend Judy and I will see the new Renee Zellweger movie Judy. From the reviews, I'm pretty sure it will be enjoyable. Everyone is saying that she's perfect in the role of Judy Garland. And the sun should be shining most of the day, which will also be a nice change from all the rain. My tea got cold before I finished it, but I just swigged the last cold remnant and will now begin my day. I've done my first Sunday duty by writing this post. Then it's off to find happiness in the rest of my day. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.