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, November 24, 2019

Remembering my parents

Mama and Daddy
This studio picture of my parents must have been taken not long after they married in 1941. Mama was only nineteen when I was born, so I'm thinking that she was eighteen when she and Daddy got married. One of my nephews was married on their anniversary this year, November 16. It has got me to thinking about how different the world was back then. Daddy, as you can see, was in the Air Force as a Warrant Officer. During the war, he earned a commission as a lieutenant and retired from the service as a Major.

Just yesterday I finished a novel (City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert), much of which was set in the mid-twentieth century, when my parents were married and raised their family of six children (there was a seventh daughter who didn't live more than a few days). It made me think of that time so long ago (75 years!).

Rita Rice and Norman Stewart met at a wartime dance hall. These dances were all the rage during the war and the buildup to it, and I remember Mama telling me once that Daddy was instantly smitten. And of course, at this time in history many people were getting married, and hopefully starting a family, because they were not sure about the future. Many young men were drafted into the war and would not return. I don't think my parents had a long period of time getting to know each other before they married.

I was the firstborn and therefore the only child who never had to share my parents with my siblings, and I know I was not only cherished but very much loved. I was the center of the world, after all. Then when I was not yet three, my sister Norma Jean was born, and I must have been quite a terror when my world changed so drastically. But the two of us were quite close for most of our years growing up. I am still very close to her, decades later.

We lived in many different places as I grew up, but our time in California at Travis Air Force Base lasted a long time, and most of my childhood memories are of those years. And then when I was seven, my next sister was born, PJ. (Her name was Patricia June, but we always called her by her initials when we were young.)

Daddy moved from base to base during the 1950s, as he learned to be a navigator on Air Force bombers, and then was stationed in Puerto Rico when I was a young teenager. We lived in officers' quarters on base, not far from the ocean. It was an idyllic time for me, and my memories of that period are quite vivid. I enjoyed the attention of boys in my class and cared more about what I was going to wear to school than anything I might have learned there. In fact, I have little memory of that time that doesn't involve boys, clothes, or girlfriends. Some of the dresses I wore at the time still appear in my dreams.

My parents took up golf in earnest while in Puerto Rico. Mama was quite good and won many trophies in local tournaments. Daddy complained that all the trophies had skirts but was actually quite proud of her. He went on TDY (temporary duty) often and we would be without his presence for months at a time, when I was growing up, but that was a normal occurrence for those of us who were Air Force dependents. I didn't realize that moving around all the time and having him gone was anything but normal behavior.

My brother was born when we lived in Fort Worth, Texas, and I graduated from high school there. Although my memory is hazy, I think both of my youngest sisters were born when we moved to Albany, Georgia.

When Daddy retired from the service, my parents bought a home in Fort Worth on the lake, and that's where my three youngest siblings were raised. The home was in need of much work and repair (which my mother transformed almost singlehandedly), but it had a dock where those three took to the water like ducks. They were raised in one place, very different from the life that the three older children experienced. I visited from time to time, but I had left home before my youngest sister, Fia, was born.

Daddy died of a heart attack when he was only 62. It was a hard time for all of us, because we just didn't know how to carry on without him, but of course we did, as we all must when we lose a loved one. Mama still had young teenagers at home, but when they left, she decided to move away, to some land that she and Daddy had hoped to develop one day. She commissioned a friend to build her a home, and I visited often when she was there. But she was lonely and eventually moved back to Fort Worth, where her youngest children lived. She died fourteen years after Daddy, at the age of 69. So neither of my parents lived as long as Norma Jean and I have; I think it's fair to say that we still miss them.

Norma Jean and I are the only ones left who have memories of those early years, since PJ died in 2014 at the age of 63. Heart disease is what has taken so many of my loved ones, and it spurs me to continue to exercise and keep as healthy as possible. But I've lived a full life and don't really have any regrets. My parents were wonderful people who gave us the gift of life, and raised us to the best of their ability.

It was a very different time than today, where communication is instant, and I can keep in touch with my family through Facebook and video chats, so I don't really feel too far from them most of the time. Our parents would be proud of us, I think.

And with that, I should bring this lengthy post to a close. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, and my tea is long gone. The coffee shop beckons, and I look forward to our next meeting, which will occur on my birthday. I hope until then, you will be well and happy. Don't forget to count your blessings; you are one of mine, dear friends.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Another birthday around the corner

Exercise class ten years ago
I have always enjoyed showing off, the typical class clown, I guess. It was ten years ago (in two weeks) that I got my fellow exercisers to pose with me in this picture for my 67th birthday. I am still attending this class on Tuesdays, and the lovely lady on the right is Mona, who is 88 now. She doesn't look much different and shows what a difference getting regular exercise can make in one's physical fitness. She is the mother of the instructor, Robin, standing third from the right. I keep a copy of this picture inside the door of my locker, so I see it often.

Birthdays just aren't the same as they were when I was a kid. Then I looked forward to whatever I might receive from my family as gifts, and now that seems not only unnecessary, but unwanted. I do enjoy getting a small gift now and then, but I sure don't need any. In fact, I am in the process of getting rid of stuff I no longer use.

Yesterday I walked with the ladies, my usual Saturday exercise, and we were a little worried about the possibility of getting really drenched. Rain was forecast to start around 10:00, so we hoped we'd miss it, and that is exactly what happened: it didn't start until after we finished, but of course we all had to be ready for whatever was coming. I brought along my rain pants but didn't want to put them on, as they are very hot once I get moving. Instead, I carried them in the little pack I carry with some water and sunglasses (which we sure didn't need). The rain started right after, and it's still going strong, almost a day later.

This year, my friend Hedi will be having a small birthday party for me at her apartment here in the complex. She did that two years ago when I celebrated my 75th and had just finished recovering from cataract surgery. It reminds me that it has been two years now since I got my new eyes, and they are still so much better than before. No more glasses all the time, although I use them for extended reading, as well as distance glasses for driving and going to the movies. You get the choice (at least I did) to have either close vision or distance. Since I have been nearsighted my entire life, it made no sense to me to suddenly be able to see 20/20 but no longer able to see my watch without readers. I made a good choice, I think, and can certainly see well enough to drive without them if I didn't need to read street signs. What a boon that surgery has been!

It's that time of year when us old folks have a window of time to choose to change our insurance coverage. I have been using a Medicare Advantage plan and will try a different one, a bit cheaper with lower out-of-pocket costs. I just learned that our small COLA (cost of living adjustment) will probably not cover the increased Medicare Part A deduction from our Social Security benefits. I will be happy if it all works out to be about the same, and I realize how fortunate I am to be able to have health insurance coverage at all. So many young people who don't have coverage through their work cannot afford to have comprehensive medical insurance at all. I talk to some of them at the coffee shop and am just happy to have another year ahead with good health insurance.

At some point, I will probably have a health issue that will mean a hospital stay, although I sure hope it's not any time soon. But once you reach a certain age, it's important to have some way to pay the bills if you get sick. I am not so naive as to think it won't ever happen to me, because the older you get, the more our bodies break down. A hiking friend just died two weeks ago from cancer. I had wondered how he was doing; he told us he had pancreatic cancer a year ago, and now he's gone. It was a bit of a shock, since he seemed so healthy.

I also feel very fortunate to live in a place that has plenty of options for healthy exercise, both indoors and out. And now that I've reached the grand old age of 75+, I get to ride the bus for free. A sign at the terminal said that there will be a meeting to discuss raising the bus fares, which concerned me until I realized it won't affect me at all! I'll just continue to pull out my Gold Pass when boarding the bus.

I'm also thinking about buying myself a birthday gift, just for fun. It needs to be something I really want, not just need, and a few things come to mind. I read a review yesterday about the new AirPods Pro, which are expensive but also add a noise canceling feature while listening to music or watching movies on my iPad. That's one item that caught my eye.

I know I could go into the local REI and find something that I just cannot live without, but it seems I have little need for any new workout or exercise clothes. If I looked as fetching in leggings as so many young women do, I might consider buying a pair. But I feel naked in them and would then need to put a pair of shorts over the top, negating the intended look. I wear them in yoga class but that's different than walking around outside. However, they are ubiquitous everywhere I look. Do you wear them on the street?

We used to celebrate our birthdays by going out to eat, but that's not as much fun these days. I tend to overeat when I go out, and the food isn't as good as what my dear partner has prepared for me. He's the cook in the family, and it's so lovely to know all I need to do is rummage around in the fridge for something good and it's always there. He's a little proprietary about the kitchen, wanting things to be just where they belong, and clean, too. I'm not as persnickety as that; if I cook something and clean up, he will surreptitiously follow along behind me to make sure I do a good job. I don't mind a bit, as long as I have good food to eat and a wonderful pal to enjoy it with.
If you age with somebody, you go through so many roles – you're lovers, friends, enemies, colleagues, strangers; you're brother and sister. That's what intimacy is, if you're with your soulmate. —Cate Blanchett
That pretty much says it all for me: having a partner who shares my life in a perfect manner for both of us. It wasn't easy getting here, but I now would not change it for anything. He is still sleeping next to me, having gone to bed long after me (our usual evening activity), and I'll be getting up soon and heading off to the coffee shop. Today my friend Judy are going to see that new movie with Helen Mirren (The Good Liar). I'll be wearing lots of rain gear when I venture out, since the rain is still pounding the roof even now.

Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I hope that life brings you lots of love and, if you want it, some adventure too. I look forward to our next little chat in a week. Be well and don't forget to count your blessings. I am, and you are one of them.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Thirty years ago the Berlin Wall fell

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. That just astounds me, as I remember well where I was when it happened. Reagan was president, and I watched the news with real amazement that the Wall, which was erected in 1961, had fallen.

I was a young wife, pregnant in 1961, and had no interest in international politics. I knew little about why the Berlin Wall was built (you can learn everything you want to know from the Wikipedia link). In November 1961 I gave birth to my first son, Christopher, and nothing existed in my life after that except caring for the tiny infant.

But that was not the case in 1989. I was single and living in Boulder, Colorado, when the Wall fell. It was all over the news, and I watched with interest as I learned how it happened. Did you know it was by accident? Apparently in an effort to reduce tensions, a series of orders were issued to the German police, but nothing was very clear. Gunter Schabowski, the East German party boss, read the pronouncement.
Schabowski read out loud the note he had been given. A reporter, ANSA's Riccardo Ehrman, asked when the regulations would take effect. After a few seconds' hesitation, Schabowski replied, "As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay." After further questions from journalists, he confirmed that the regulations included the border crossings through the Wall into West Berlin.
Well, that was the beginning. People flooded out of East Germany and were embraced by West Germans and welcomed with champagne and flowers. It was late on the night of November 9 when few people in Berlin, both east and west, were swept into history. The evening of 9 November 1989 is known as the night the Wall came down.

Thirty years have passed since that night, and frankly, I was surprised to mark that so many years of my life are now behind me and never to return. Why, people who were born that night are now thirty years old! Their own youth is beginning to fade. There is nothing to make one feel more ancient than to consider that their children are middle-aged. My son, had he lived, would now be in his late fifties.

I was living in Boulder in 1989 and spending much time with a dear friend who was dying of breast cancer. She was my age, and although she lived in Denver and I lived in Boulder, I would drive to her home two or three times a week. And this was by someone who hardly ever drove such distances, even in those days. I needed to be with Marty, and she could no longer travel. We discussed the Berlin Wall, and she said she was so happy to have lived long enough to see it fall. She was very political and one of the reasons that I became more so.

My friend was one of those women whose diagnosis to death was quite short, just a few months from start to finish, less than a year. When I think of how many wonderful women have had their lives cut short by this dreadful disease, it saddens me. But then again, I wonder if I will maybe live long enough to celebrate the day when that will all change. Probably not, but there is a chance. And it will happen one day. Nobody expected that the Berlin Wall would just disappear overnight. Miracles happen all the time. After all, I have learned to love all those moments of my life that have come and gone: the good, the bad, the indifferent. Life sure looks good from here.

What happens thirty years from now will not be part of my own history. It would mean I lived to be a centenarian. I'm figuring that if I make it into my eighties, that will be unexpected, since my mother and father both didn't make it out of their sixties. I don't have what you might call good genetic makeup. Nevertheless, if I were to die today, or tomorrow, I would not feel that it was a premature death: I've pretty much exhausted my bucket list and have no regrets on a life lived fully.

Most of my friends are also in their seventies, and we enjoy each other's company and enjoy our twilight years together. My dear partner is the same age as me, although born a few months earlier and he dips his toes into the upcoming birthdays to let me know that the water is just fine, come on in.

Where does the time go? Now I'm looking at the day ahead, with little planned for the day, just the usual coffee shop visit. Since I missed yesterday's walk, I'll look for a way to get the juices flowing in the old bod, but other than that, I've got nothing on the calendar for the day. I am just now finishing up my Sunday morning task, this post, and I notice I've spent longer than usual writing it.

I had to read all about the Berlin Wall, and that took up some time, but now my tea is gone, my dear partner is still sleeping next to me, and it's now time to bid farewell to my readers and get on with the day. I do hope that the coming week will bring something delightful into your life. Please don't forget to count your many blessings, and I will also. Be well until then.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Swans and more

Swans in the Skagit Valley
I found this lovely picture on one of my Facebook friends' page, of the migrating swans that show up in this area every fall. I had been seeing some queries about whether they have started migrating yet, and then this picture. They sure are beautiful! Then, after reading about their journey on this page from Nature, I also learned that we have other white-winged birds in our area. From that page:
Swans migrate from Alaska down to Washington every year. Two kinds of swans make this annual journey: trumpeter swans and tundra swans. Both can be seen at places like western Washington’s Skagit Delta, where they may mingle together.
Now, considering the other information on that page, I'm wondering if maybe these are snow geese, rather than swans as they were labeled on my friend's site. The reason for that is I learned that the snow geese congregate in huge numbers.
For many, Washington’s flocks of winter snow geese are a favorite spectacle. While these birds come here every year, they never fail to amaze. Why? Because they come to western Washington’s greater Skagit Delta by the tens of thousands! When these flocks take off en masse – say, because a bald eagle flies overhead – they are so noisy and dizzying to behold that it’s easy to lose one's balance. 
So, that picture is either of swans or snow geese. Maybe one of my readers is more familiar with them and can tell the difference. In any event, I sure love to see so many beautiful waterfowl all at once.

* * *
 Last night, we gained an extra hour of sleep; it's only 4:30am on the clock, but 5:30am to my body's clock, so here I am writing my post "early" because I couldn't sleep any longer. Tonight I'll need to force myself to stay awake past my usual bedtime or this problem will continue again into tomorrow morning. It's funny, I easily adapt to the time change in the spring, when we lose an hour, much more than I do in the fall. Perhaps it's my own circadian rhythm to have shorter, rather than longer, days.

Many people tend to get depressed as the daylight dwindles, but it doesn't happen that way for me. In fact, I find recently that I have unexplained moments of happiness well up several times a day. Although I do get dragged down occasionally by world events, mostly I just live in the smaller community of my home town, where life is pretty good. However, tonight the sun will set at 4:46 and will continue to set earlier and earlier, until we get to the winter solstice on December 21st, when it will set at 4:15pm. I keep track by using timeanddate.com for my area. I find very interesting to peruse the chart and consider how different it would be if I lived, for example, in Florida. While we are experiencing a fairly normal fall, my sister is still enduring abnormally warm temperatures there.

I much prefer having a real change in the seasons. And since we live so far north, we also get the long days in summer and long nights in winter. I am also fascinated by the fact that in the Southern Hemisphere, it's just the opposite: they are moving into summer, and their days are growing longer. What a wonderful planet we live on.

Sometimes I wonder whether I will live long enough to see real positive change in the world. Probably not, since I guess it will need to get worse before we come to our senses and begin to take care of Mother Earth. I try to do my part by using less plastic, recycling wherever I can, and reducing my carbon footprint as much as possible. I ride the bus almost every day. When I walk to the bus stop on my way to the Y, I also get additional exercise and never miss my step count for the day. I'm rather addicted to the way I feel after I've had a dose of physical activity.

I recently learned that we have a serious obesity epidemic here in the United States. I kind of noticed that, once I moved here from Boulder, Colorado, where the number of overweight people is not as high as here. It's been awhile since I was there, so maybe I would see more obese people if I visited today.
Over 70 million adults in U.S. are obese (35 million men and 35 million women). 99 million are overweight (45 million women and 54 million men). 2016 statistics showed that about 39.6% of American adults were obese. Men had an age-adjusted rate of 37.9% and Women had an age-adjusted rate of 41.1%.
That quote is from the Wikipedia link about obesity.  Does this mean that almost all those overweight people don't exercise? I notice at the gym that there are very few obese people. It might mean they are leaner because they are more active, or it might be that some overweight people don't want to dress in workout clothes. I know that exercise and diet are essential elements to my own efforts to maintain a proper weight. Although I carry a few more pounds that I'd like, my BMI (body mass index) places me in the normal category. And every extra pound means that much more stress on my vulnerable knees.

Going back to the beautiful birds at the beginning of his post, they sure don't have to worry about getting too much food to eat. It is rather amazing to think about what the problems are that cause humans to overindulge. Are we looking for security if we keep eating when we're not hungry?
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do people as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. —Helen Keller
Yes,  a daring adventure. That's from the experience of Helen Keller, who managed to lead a wonderful life without being able to see or hear. She read and wrote numerous books, graduated from a prestigious college, and is an inspiration to many, including me. When she writes that avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure, she speaks directly to me.

And that brings me to the end of this rather self-indulgent post. I just followed wherever my thoughts took me, and now it's almost time to get out of bed and begin a new day. My partner still sleeps next to me, the tea is long gone, and the coffee shop beckons. Although it won't even open for more than an hour, I'll get up and putter around a bit before heading out the door. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things.