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, December 29, 2019

Back pain and more

Coffee shop celebration: John, me, Theresa, Gene
On Christmas Day, trying to find somewhere to have a decent cup of coffee becomes a real task. Those of us who hang out at Avellino's are spoiled, and regular coffee from Starbucks just isn't the same. The coffee shop is usually closed on Christmas, but two of the employees agreed to open from 8-11 just for coffee, no food, not even regular cups, just to-go paper ones. We didn't even hesitate: we were there before 8:00, waiting for the door to open.

And then here comes Theresa, loaded down with a piping hot quiche right out of her oven, a wonderful fruit salad, champagne and orange juice, with silverware and enough for everyone in the whole place. What a treat! We were intending to go out for breakfast after coffee, but there was no need. Theresa said she was honoring her mother, as Theresa is spending her first Christmas without her, since she died a few months ago. It was lovely and much appreciated. Festive and totally unexpected.

Sort of like my back pain: totally unexpected. I slipped and fell on our Thursday hike, scraped my knee and took a hit on my right hip as well. Since this is becoming a usual thing with me, I didn't think much of it. I was able to get up and keep going, and as soon as I got home I cleaned up the knee, which wasn't as bad as I thought. The hike had been pretty wonderful, a perfect thing to do after all the Christmas festivities. But then on Thursday, when I woke I had a little twinge in my right sacrum area. Nothing I hadn't experienced before.

But as the day went on, although I did all my usual walking and exercises, that area where those pins reside in my lower back began to get really sore. I figured it's another one of those sacroiliac joint pesky pinched-nerve situations. But it feels different: it's so painful that I had trouble sleeping Friday and Saturday nights, and today, Sunday, it's not any better. I've had many back pain scenarios before, where moving in a certain way will make me cry out in pain, but it came and went, depending on how I moved. This is pretty constant pain.

One of the nice things about keeping a blog is being able to go back and search for things that happened earlier. I remembered something similar having occurred back in 2011, more than nine years ago, and I went to a chiropractor who had been recommended to me. His name was long gone from my memory, but there it was! Tomorrow I'll call first thing and see if I can get in to see him. Tuesday I already have an appointment scheduled with the acupuncturist, and he always helps. But until then, it's pretty much all that is on my mind.

One of my blogging friends, Rian, who writes on Older But Better, has recently been dealing with terrible back pain, that just appeared suddenly. Mine was caused from trauma upon trauma, but in her case, she couldn't even walk. It's been almost a month and she's still in serious pain, with diagnostic tests showing nothing, no reason for it. I know why mine is hurting: I keep getting sciatic pain from two six-inch-long pins that reside in my right sacrum, from a pelvic fracture and trauma that I experienced almost twenty years ago. (If I could just fall on my left side, for heaven's sake.) As my sister has reminded me, any of these earlier injuries will come back to haunt us as we age.

I missed the walk with the ladies yesterday, because even though I can walk around, I cannot stride and move fast without discomfort. Getting up from sitting is the most painful movement, but after a few minutes of loud moaning and exclamations, it gets better and I can walk around with difficulty. Yesterday I went off to the pot store for some strong CBD that I can take internally. While I was at it, I also purchased a topical cream to add to the one I already had. Since the old one wasn't helping, the new cream was an effort to see if another formulation would work any better. It doesn't.

But I do have to say that the strong CBD tincture gives me some relief, but not for long. It does take the edge off for a few short hours, and I could sure tell when it stopped working. CBD doesn't make you "high" at all, and the difference with and without the tincture is noticeable, but I'm still in pain. As I sit here in bed with the laptop, I can feel that radiating pain from the pinched nerve, but I can deal with it. My friend Rian couldn't get out of bed for days, so I'm counting my blessings. Today I'll try going to drive to the gym and see how riding the stationary bike works with this pain. Plus, there's a sauna that might feel really good right now.

It's not like pain and I are strangers. I have experienced really serious pain, and I was addicted to OxyContin when I broke my pelvis. Back then the doctors didn't know how hard it would be for people to stop taking that awful opioid. Yes, it's effective with pain, but it's also extremely difficult to stop taking it. My doctor in 2000 had prescribed it without my knowledge; it was just one of the pills that the nurses gave me when I was flat on my back with the external fixator holding my pelvis together. It was a desperate struggle to free myself from that drug, so I can understand why so many people are unable to do so.

These days, I don't even like to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain. I will take two or three tablets, but they really don't do much except mask the discomfort, and anything that does that encourages me to overdo. Pain can be a friend, if we allow ourselves to pay attention to what it's telling us. What it's telling me right now is to be good to myself and stop worrying about the number of steps I'm getting in for the day. It's amazing how strong a motivator my step counter is for me. But that should be secondary to getting better. R&R is hard for some people (rest and relaxation) and for some of us, it takes effort to relax!

Today I might get into the pool at the Y and see how swimming feels. Since I decided not to visit my sister in Florida next month, as I've done for the past eight years, taking a new look at the pool here is on my list of things to explore. When I first started swimming with Norma Jean at her pool, I would come back home and try to keep up the activity here. But the difference between swimming outdoors in a wonderful pool and struggling with the heavy chlorine and very crowded indoor pool here caused me to give it up. Time to see if I've changed my mind.

Well, here I am again, having written a rather mundane post about getting through my most recent misadventure, instead of remembering to count my blessings and be glad I'm still functioning, mostly. My dear partner sleeps next to me, my tea got cold before I finished it off, and the adventure of getting to the coffee shop looms ahead of me. I've got lots of things to watch on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, so there no way I'll be bored, but I prefer working up a sweat and feeling my muscles getting a workout. I think I can still do that, so I'll give it a try today.

Until we meet again next week, I sincerely hope you have a wonderful New Years holiday and take care of yourself. Hopefully I'll be back to my old self by then. Sending you all many virtual hugs and thanking you for being there.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Winter musings

Advent calendar on my laptop
Looking for some inspiration for the first full day of winter (in my hemisphere, anyway), I visited the Jacquie Lawson Cotswold Advent calendar that was gifted to me by my blogging friend Dee Ready. It showed up in my e-mailbox right before my birthday, and I've been visiting it every morning since. Every day there is another delight to see, a game or a scene that shows the animated village of Cotswold, with puzzles and clues that enchant me for hours. First thing every day I go looking for the sheep hidden in the scene. This morning I see him there in the lower left. I click on him and he disappears, until I get to find him again tomorrow in another part of the scene.

This is the second year in a row that she has gifted me with this calendar. Many of the games are the same as last year's, but my memory had forgotten so much, until they popped back up into consciousness when I see them again. Memories are such strange phenomena, aren't they? Somewhere vast storerooms of my past lie dormant in my brain, and something jogs a memory loose and an explosion of thoughts fill my mind. There is so much available if I only knew how to access it all.

But why would I even want to do that? It's hard enough to remember where I put my shoes yesterday, and I guess my mental processes are conveniently taking old memories and storing them without my knowledge, so that I can concentrate on the present. Like so many other seniors, I fret sometimes that I'm losing my grip because I cannot remember names or where I just put my glasses. (They are often on top of my head and therefore invisible to me.) There is no doubt that some slippage has occurred, but right now it doesn't seem terribly worrisome. Many people my age experience mental cognitive decline.

A dear hiking friend has slipped into that state, and it's hard to watch him struggle to figure out how to put on his backpack, or remember how to use the car seat belt as we head up into the mountains. He no longer drives; his wife drops him off and then picks him up afterwards. We keep a close eye on him, and everyone is glad he can still get out and enjoy the outdoors, where he is himself again. It's odd what he remembers: names and faces are easy for him, but spatial orientation is slipping away fast.

Years ago I took one of those cognitive tests to determine the state of my own cognitive abilities, and the test was pretty easy for me, except for that pesky problem of counting backwards from 100 by seven. I just couldn't do it, until I figured out that I could count backwards by ten and then add three. Not exactly elegant, but I could manage. It just occurred to me that these days, there are probably plenty of online tests one can take to see how I'm doing. I might do that one day, if I can remember to (smile).

* * *
What is on my mind these days is how to keep myself from gaining any more weight during this holiday season. Mostly I allow myself anything I want, but that daily weigh-in has become annoying. It shows that I have definitely been eating more calories than I am burning. It's a problem that many of us experience at this time of the year. I read an article recently that studied whether getting on the scales often makes any difference. It said that yes, those in the study who weigh themselves daily gain less and have an easier time losing the excess weight. (I tried to find the article again and had no luck, but I'm glad to know it works.)

It does make a difference what I allow myself to eat on a day when the scale says I'm maintaining, and when I realize I've indulged too often. I weigh myself at the same time every day, after I have my tea and read the news on my laptop (or, in the case of Sunday mornings, after I write this post). If I've been particularly indulgent, I will hold onto the nearby table and ease myself on the scales. Not that it makes much difference, but I've been able to fool the scales once in awhile. I know when I see a number that doesn't make sense that I've got to get on again. I keep gaining and losing the same five pounds and I know by the way my clothes fit whether it's time to get serious.

However, the older I get, the less I seem to care about those extra pounds. Well, that's not exactly true: it still matters to me that I am able to keep my knees happy, and any extra weight makes it harder to walk up and down hills. I learned that every extra pound is a four-pound stress on my knees, which makes me hesitate when I get ready to bite into that wonderful Christmas cookie. Maybe it's true that a daily weigh-in helps to keep one honest. But I no longer feel like I need to get on the straight-and-narrow path of eating. Some people eat to live, and others live to eat. Mostly I see myself in the first group, but the enjoyment of good food helps me understand the second. Plus, food tastes better when you're hungry.

I found this lovely quote from Peace Pilgrim, which deals with the first and second parts of this post: "I don't eat junk foods and I don't think junk thoughts." If I could remember to follow her precept, I'd be a much happier person. She was quite an inspiration to me for years. If you don't know who she was, you can find out about Peace Pilgrim here. She was only 72 when she died, but she created a legacy of peace and wonder in the world that continues today.

And with her admonition, I finish today's post and look forward to what the rest of the day will be. Every single day is one to be treasured, and the company of good friends and family always lightens my heart during these dark days of winter. I hope you will have a wonderful holiday season, and that you will come back to visit me here next Sunday. Until then, be well, dear friends, and don't forget to count your blessings.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Continuing to examine my life

My guy and me on my 75th birthday
How is it possible that two years have passed since this picture was taken? I think we still look pretty much the same, but it really does astound me how quickly the years fly by as I get older. In two years, my friend Leo from the coffee shop has changed from a pre-teen to a young man. I can see the change so easily when I look at him. He doesn't much care to engage with us old folks any more, but it was only a decade ago that I dandled him on my knee.

It's nice to look at pictures to see times past, long ago and not so long ago. As you know, I take pictures with my cellphone almost daily to chronicle my current life. And as anybody knows who has been around for long, things change and nothing is permanent. That's both a good thing and a bit scary, when you consider that our short time being alive is rushing right on by, inexorably carrying us from the present to our unknown future.

One of my blogging friends put a picture of a yellowed newspaper cutting in a post that has got me thinking. Since Trish MacGregor of Synchrosecrets and her husband write books (as well as their blog) about synchronicity and other supernatural phenomena, I have followed them for a long time. This particular item is worthy of examination. In the Tacoma News Tribune on April 11, 1953, this short little article appeared:
There'll Be No Escape in Future from Telephones: (Pasadena, AP) Mark Sullivan, President and Director of Pacific Telephone and Telegraph said in an address Thursday night: "Just what form the future telephone will take is, of course, pure speculation. Here is my prophecy: in its final development, the telephone will be carried about by the individual, perhaps as we carry a watch today. It will probably require no dial or equivalent, and I think the users will be able to see each other if they want, as they talk. Who knows but what it may actually translate from one language to another?"
When he made this uncanny prophecy about our phones, it would have seemed impossible to fathom how this might come about. In 1953, we didn't even have computers, much less those little magical devices we take for granted, carried around like yesterday's watch. When I started working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 1979, I remember we typed manuscripts onto Selectric typewriters, without so much as a a floppy disk in sight. Then we went to our first "computers," Micom, which allowed us to transfer our typing onto an 8-inch floppy disk and insert it into a huge machine that typed out the manuscript, one character at a time. That was the beginning, and we quickly moved to personal computers. Well, "quickly" took several years.

And now I sit here with this lovely little laptop, which is rapidly becoming obsolete. I will probably replace it with a later version sometime this year, but I still am often astounded at how much has changed during my own lifetime. Who knows what the future holds? I remember that sometime in the 1980s, I went into the bowels of NCAR's basement to examine its Cray Computer, which took up a space about the size of half of a football field. It needed to be supercooled because otherwise it would burn up. I still remember walking around the dark towers of computing technology in awe.

These days, I have a smartphone that I carry with me everywhere, and it not only allows me to call someone whenever I have internet connection, but it also allows me to ask questions or get information instantly. The telephone aspect is rather incidental to my use of it. I also have a tablet, an iPad, that allows me to stream movies and news whenever I have internet. These items have become essential to my daily life, and they are not likely to be left behind as I continue to take a look at what's become extraneous to my enjoyment of life.

Yesterday I watched several episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on my tablet, which is currently set in 1960. The difference in life today and back then kept reminding me of how much has changed since those days. If you haven't been watching the series, you probably don't know much about her, a young woman who decides to become a standup comic. That was simply not done by many women back then. The character of Lenny Bruce, a comic I remember from those days, has been re-introduced to the series, and he becomes a mentor and friend to Midge Maisel. I woke in the middle of the night (it happens often to me) and suddenly remembered that the real Lenny Bruce died at a young age in 1966. I wonder if the series will be around in that time period and how they will deal with it. (That link in the beginning of this paragraph is to a Washington Post article that examines the question.)

The series has reminded me about how much more people drank back then, and how cigarettes were ubiquitous. I myself smoked for over a decade during the 1960s and 70s, and realized I would have to give it up if I wanted to stay healthy. It was a really hard journey to become free of nicotine, but I managed it over a period of years of backsliding. Research shows that after a few decades free of cigarettes, my lungs are probably no longer at risk of cancer. Of course, something is going to fail, as that is the inevitable direction of life. I do the best I can to keep myself healthy, but as the years pass, it gets harder to keep up.
You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.—Marcus Aurelius
I will continue to struggle to rid myself of old habits that hold me back from enjoying the life I share with my dear partner. It's coming along, but it's also interesting to notice what matters the most to me, what I definitely don't want to let go of. Part of what gives me pleasure is sitting every Sunday morning in my darkened bedroom writing this post. Time is passing, and the coffee shop beckons, as it always does early in the morning. My friends await.

And of course, with that, I must also remind all of us that the power of connection, family and friends, is the lifeblood of our happiness. My tea is long gone, he's over there snoring lightly, and it's time to start the rest of my day. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, be well and don't forget to count your blessings.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Surrounded by technology

Fragrance Lake reflections
I took this picture of Fragrance Lake last Thursday on my hike with the Trailblazers. It's a miracle to me that such a lovely scene can be captured with my cellphone, but these days nobody is surprised that we carry such advanced technology around with us all the time. We are accustomed to it and consider it unremarkable. But every once in awhile, I am reminded that this is a very recent phenomenon, and that taking it all for granted is causing me to forget to appreciate how amazing it all is.

Steve Jobs introduced the smartphone to the world in 2007, not much more than a decade ago, and now you rarely see anybody walking around without one, either staring down at the screen while sitting on the bus, hanging out in the coffee shop with heads bent over their phones, and very occasionally having a conversation with someone. What do people mostly do with their phones? I sometimes take a peek at a screen or two as I'm standing up to exit the bus, and I see some are watching movies, others shopping and looking at (for example) dresses, or texting, little balloons filled with words sent to carry on a written conversation with another. Or checking emails or Twitter accounts. Now that our bus system has onboard wifi, I often join them with my own phone, although I've already done all that before boarding, so I have little incentive to continue. We are tethered to our phones, in any event.

Last Thursday, my friend Melanie realized that she had lost her phone while hiking, and I learned that it's possible to locate your lost phone by logging into iCloud on another phone and putting in your own ID. I wrote about this on my other blog, but it still continues to astound me that it's even possible. We were able to backtrack and find the phone, which was hidden in bushes, but it is possible to instruct it to make a sound when you think you're close to it, and that's how we found it.

Once I got home, I pulled out my tablet, logged into iCloud, and discovered that it and my phone are located on a map! Although this is wonderful in one way, it also reminds me that technology knows where I am at all times, as I walk around with my phone in my pocket. The only way to remain incognito is to turn my phone all the way off, which of course I'm not going to do while out and taking pictures. When I'm in the High Country, we have no internet, so I guess that means I'm also not findable at those times.

When I think about it, there's no doubt that our lives are better off because of technology, but it's also impossible to keep up with it. I read recently that some voice activation technology can listen to you while you're going about your business at home. In fact, that's what much of it is designed to do. Fortunately, we don't (and won't) have any such thing in our own home, but many people are fine with it, wanting the convenience of simply talking to the device and turning on the TV to search for something they want to watch. It's all a bit scary to me.

We seem to be headed to more of the same, with self-driving cars a reality in my own lifetime. And that astonishes me. Of course, here I am sitting in my bed with a laptop as I write this post, early in the morning before the world comes awake, and I'll be able to send it out into the world with a touch on the screen. It will make its way across the planet, to my readers in Australia and Europe, as well as to those close by. It is a different world than even a few short years ago.

Yesterday, I just finished binge-watching the third season of The Crown on Netflix, about the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It is most enjoyable, and now I will have to wait for season 4 before taking it up again. I really like the ability to watch shows I enjoy when I choose to, rather than waiting for a pre-scheduled moment every week or so when a new episode is released. I have subscribed to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and now Disney+. It makes for an incredible number of shows of all varieties to choose from, keeping me not only informed and entertained, but also overwhelmed at times. But it's also on my own personal schedule, rather than a network's, which is delightful.

So, technology has its pluses and minuses, as do most things in life, but keeping up with it all is almost impossible. Without the assistance of my friends, who point me in various directions when needed, I'd never be able to figure out how to proceed. It was our leader, Al, who introduced me to the advantages of iCloud last Thursday, and I'm passing on the information to you, who might not have known about it either. Who would have guessed that we would be talking about clouds in such a manner? Although I can literally say I've seen clouds from both sides now, I have just been introduced to the electronic cloud as well.
Success in creating artificial intelligence (AI) would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks. —Stephen Hawking
*  *  *
A week ago I had a most enjoyable birthday, from start to finish it was exceptional. Now I am seventy-seven and seven days old, and I'm feeling incredibly blessed as I find my way through these next days, weeks, and months. It would be possible to focus on what is difficult in life these days, but it's also quite possible to be optimistic and delight in the world around me. As I continue my journey towards letting go of habits and daily chores that bind me, I find that each day I wake with hope and joy in my heart. This Advent season moves inexorably towards the shortest day and the longest night of the year, but in compensation I see holiday lights everywhere, and it seems I see more smiles and happiness on the faces of those around me. Maybe they are reacting to my own smiling face, but for whatever reason, life is good and filled with love and laughter.

And that is what I will leave you with today, my dear readers: hope that your own days ahead will be filled with much of the same joy. My dear life partner still sleeps next to me, my tea is gone, and the coffee shop beckons. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Old and new beginnings

Seventy-Seven today
I woke this morning after a wonderful sleep, tucked into my down comforter while the temperature fell outside to below freezing. And today I am older, according to the calendar, anyway. I feel the same as I did yesterday, but nobody can say that old lady is anything but, well... old!

Yesterday when I ordered my coffee at Avellino's, I received a surprise: it was paid for and this lovely carrot cake muffin as well. Although it wasn't yet my birthday, a dear blogging friend had sent a letter to Avellino's, with instructions to surprise me with this, with a $10 tucked inside, too. Far Side of Fifty outdid herself this year with this surprise. They were supposed to do it today, but yesterday was Carrie's last day, so they went ahead and sang to me, and I burst into tears when I saw the card. I cannot tell her enough how touched I am by her kindness, a woman I will probably never meet but feel like is family. Over the years I have received her unique wood carvings and homemade cards, and they have all touched me, but not quite like this.

I took a blogging break from my other blog on Thanksgiving Day, because I'm feeling the need for some changes in my life. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for many years I have written a post on DJan-ity, my other blog, and I just didn't feel much like it, so I did what I've seen other bloggers do: take a break. Nobody but me set up the schedule, and although I do appreciate routine, it had become a burden. I don't feel the same about this one, because it's quite a different animal. Once a week on Sunday morning, I sit down and pour out my feelings and concerns about life right here. Sometimes it's hard to find a topic, but by the time I've finished, I always feel like I've figured things out a bit. Roaming around inside my head, looking for words and thoughts of consequence always helps me start my Sunday with a more focused outlook. Today is the same, but it's also my birthday. Time to take stock and consider where I'm going from here.

I started writing here almost exactly ten years ago. Here's a link to the first post on December 6, 2009. I have written 1,825 posts since then, always on a Sunday morning, whether in Florida or Istanbul or here in Bellingham, my adopted home. The third picture in the masthead is now more than ten years old, but I'm not actually able to change the heading unless I start over, since the software I used to create it is long gone. The world has moved on, too. A decade more of life under my belt, which is fortunately still the same circumference as it was then. That has been a struggle, but trying to stay healthy and relatively fit is an important goal, one that will not change for as long as I can continue to walk, hike, do yoga and work out at the gym.
Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you're aboard, there's nothing you can do. —Golda Meir
Have you ever been on a plane during a storm? I have, many times, and I know that the only way to keep myself from panic is to clutch the armrests and take deep breaths. That's sort of the way I feel about life these days. Every day takes every one of us closer to the end, but that's the genius of life itself: we need to clear off the dance floor so others can have room to dance. When I was born, there were fewer than 3 billion people on the earth; today, it's 7.7 billion. No wonder the world seems so much more crowded now, it actually is. There's no reason to try and move to a less densely populated place, because all the good places are overrun with people already. I will probably see more changes in the world before I die, but the world will continue to attempt to deal with the enormous difficulty of exponential population growth. One day I will not be here to worry about it, and there will be a bit more room on the dance floor.

I am feeling the need to change some of my restrictive behaviors, but I don't feel any need to sweep everything away in one fell swoop. When I first began to experience the need for change, that's what I wanted to do, but the simple act of removing one of my self-imposed limits on myself changed the dynamic. Now I can look at my life and take positive steps to find more happiness in each day. My relationship with my family is changing, too. Ever since my brother-in-law Pete died in February 2011, I've spent several hours a month talking with my sister Norma Jean on FaceTime, and I think we are both finding the routine a bit of an unnecessary restriction. I'm not sure exactly how to change that dynamic, but when we talk next, we'll figure out a solution, I'm sure. It feels good to allow myself to move ahead and not drag past routine along behind me.

Of course, I am a person who loves to have an ordered life, a way to differentiate the days now that I'm no longer working. And blogging has not only served to fill my need to write on a schedule, publish my pictures on a platform easily accessed by others, but also to continue the incredible connection I've formed with so many fellow bloggers. My friend Rita in North Dakota sent me a lovely handmade birthday card, and I've already told you about Far Side's gift, and I know I will receive more good wishes generated by this post from my dear friends. Through blogging, I know of the trials, tribulations, joys and celebrations that we all share with one another. Ten years ago, when I started this blog, I decided not to court followers, so every one of you has come to me because you wanted to. That carries a great deal of significance to this humble and dedicated blogger. We come to Blogaritaville together to share our lives fully with one another. When I stumble, somebody comes up with an idea to help me along, and I hope I've done that for others, too.

And with these final words, my post for this special Sunday morning comes to a close. My dear partner sleeps contentedly next to me, the coffee shop will open soon and I'll join my friends there, before heading off to the movies this afternoon with my friend Judy. I will spend some time this evening talking and laughing with SG before the day ends. But right now, I am feeling like one of the luckiest people in the world, to have started my day with you. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.