I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Don't worry, be happy

Mama with her two girls
This lovely picture was taken in a studio long, long ago. How long? Well, the sweet blond toddler in front celebrated (if that is the correct word) her 75th birthday yesterday. Yes, my baby sister Norma Jean is that old, and I am even older. Mama, however, never even made it to seventy before she died. She and Daddy gave birth to a total of seven children, and she was a beautiful and accomplished mother to us. I feel fortunate to have been the firstborn and have nothing but happy memories of my childhood. That is not to say it was all perfect and without difficulties, but in retrospect, we were happy.

I finished reading Mary Trump's book about her own childhood and the dysfunctional family that created, as she says in her title: The World's Most Dangerous Man. That man is our president, and when I compare the way I was raised with the picture she paints, I can only be grateful for the love and relative harmony that surrounded me as I grew up. It's not a long book, but it's filled with descriptions of situations I shudder to consider having lived through. She, Mary, became a clinical psychologist to attempt to understand how her family dynamic affected them all. There is nothing uplifting or hopeful in the entire book, so I hesitate to recommend it to anybody. These days, we need to focus on the positive aspects that remain in our lives, as we navigate our way through this awful period in history.

And there are many, even though I never expected to live through a pandemic, a period of economic strife, and of political unrest the likes of which grow with every passing day. We are five months into this changed world. Much of my family lives in two states that are surging with Covid-19, Florida and Texas. Every day I read the news and wonder when we will make it to the other side of this. Not soon, I'm afraid. Perhaps a vaccine will be created by the end of the year, and we can make our way back to whatever our new normal will be. Right now it's just not normal.

Here in Washington state, we are doing relatively well. My county is in what is called "Phase 2" of the reopening plan, and we still are not meeting all the requirements necessary to move on. I think that's okay, since most of my county's residents are following the rules. Yesterday I went to the Farmers' Market and for a nice six-mile walk, and all the people I saw were masked as we enjoyed the sunshine and cool temperatures. Even outside on the boulevard, almost everyone wore a mask. Hand sanitizer is plentiful now, and although most public bathrooms are closed, there are a few that are well maintained and feel safe to use.
Don't worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy

Ain't got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don't worry, be happy
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry, be happy —Bobby McFerrin
Our governor has just extended the moratorium on evictions until the middle of October, meaning that landlords will not be able to evict people because of late or missing rent payments until then. Although it's not much, it's a help for the thousands of people in our state who are out of work. I feel very fortunate to be old and on Social Security, and I know that even if the worst happens, I'll be able to pay my rent and have enough money to buy food. I see so many homeless people these days, and my heart goes out to them. I simply cannot imagine what it must be like. I've always had a home and have never gone hungry except by choice.

Norma Jean and I were so fortunate, but we never knew it at the time. We were just kids who had parents who took care of us, and although we moved often, as my father was in the Air Force, it never seemed unusual. Mama always made a home for us, no matter how often we moved. When Daddy was TDY (on temporary duty), the dinners she fixed for us were much less fancy, but they were nutritious and reliable. I have never minded eating the same menu for days at a time, and I wonder if that's why. Some people need lots of variety, but I am not one of them. We were always secure in the love that surrounded us as we grew up, no matter where we lived. I realize now how fortunate we were.

I have so many memories of the two of us, Norma Jean and me, in our formative years, playing happily together. I am two-and-a-half years older, so I got to be the big sister and learned to be a bit of a brat. I did torment my sister now and then, but she was no shrinking violet when it came to getting even. We made each other better and stronger people, and we still have a close relationship, even if now it's virtual rather than physical.

If we lived close, I'm sure we would still be doing things together, and we have a gentle rivalry with each other about how much exercise we get each day. Since the pandemic, I've gotten much less exercise but try every day to get at least a short walk in. It's important to my mental health as much as anything else. And having so many green, lush parks around me, I have no excuse not to get outside a little.

And I am also very lucky to have a dear partner to share my life with, someone who takes such good care of me. I forget to notice so many things he accomplishes, because he never makes a production out of all the cooking and cleaning that he does. I keep thinking I will, but I've never been much of a housekeeper. Lucky for me that I married someone who is.

The world I share with you, my virtual friends, is also a blessing that I never expected to find, and without it I would be much less content and happy. I follow almost a hundred blogs, and fortunately not everyone writes every day or I couldn't keep up, and I write here every Sunday morning as my contribution to the virtual community. It's important, and I look forward to your comments, even when I know I've not written something wonderful or uplifting. In these trying times, I do attempt to find a reason to look forward to better times ahead. And since we know that nothing stays the same, I am determined to see the positive aspects we share. One of them is the ability to talk to one another like this.

And so, with that, I will wind up this post and start the rest of my day. After a quick shower and my daily exercises, I'll head to the coffee shop, where John and I will get coffee and put out our lawn chairs in the median outside and enjoy some conversation and company. We don't stay nearly as long as we once did, since there are no bathrooms close by and the ones in the coffee shop are closed. But it's still enjoyable and a nice break in the day.

I do hope you will find some way to be happy and not worry. After all, we are still ambulatory and, as they say, still on this side of the grass. We have found each other, and many of us are fortunate to have this virtual community to visit now and then. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear readers.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Halfway through the year

Bridge at Peace Arch Park
We are already halfway through this strange Covid-19 summer. Where we are headed from here is very opaque. But this lovely scene above is not. Yesterday my friend Melanie and I drove a few miles north to the closed Canadian border to walk around Peace Arch Park. This lovely scene in the park reminds me of some places I saw in China, serene and peaceful. At first I was drawn to those incredible huge leaves, and then took in the rest of the scene, to my delight.

The Canadian government has closed the border between our countries because we have been unable to gain control over our response to the virus, and it's frighteningly out of control in many states. Our state of Washington is not doing too badly, but we still have only been able to reach four of the five criteria for being able to move to Phase 2, where we've been for weeks now. I learned today that 5% of all citizens who have tested positive with the virus in our state have died. That's not making me feel very confident that we will be returning to normal any time soon, and that whatever "normal" turns out to be will not resemble where we were in the Before Times.

This is a tough time in the history of the world. The entire population in every country is going through something unprecedented, even in those places where they have managed to get the virus under control. That is not the US, for sure. I simply cannot see what the problem is with wearing a mask, why it has become such a political statement in many places, when all it does is keep the virus from spreading. But I guess there are places that believe the virus is a hoax, perpetrated on the country by liberals. What kind of logic is that, I wonder.

Am I living through the beginning of a revolution? The division in our country is so extreme that at times I can barely recognize it. And as I get older, I wonder whether I will be around to see how it all turns out. I hope so, because it's possible I can be of some help to those around me, and they can be holding my hand (virtually, anyway) as well. It isn't helping me to feel confident as I read Mary Trump's memoir about her uncle, our President. I read until I cannot stand to know any more, and then I put the book down for awhile and turn to something distracting and nonthreatening, like a new sci-fi series, or even some old friends, like Star Trek. (The Voyager series with Captain Janeway is my favorite.)

We have finally reached the time of year in the Pacific Northwest when the rain stops and the sun shines almost every day. We will move from what I consider to be perfect weather conditions to being too hot for comfort. But it always cools down at night, since I am only a short distance away from the cooling effect of the water in Bellingham Bay and the effect of onshore flow in the winds. I love living here. When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, we had the higher elevation in our favor, but it still got way too hot in the summertime. It was part of the reason we decided to retire here, and we have not been sorry. It is so green and lush, and I get to walk around in its beauty whenever I wish, even during a short walk from my front door.

There is much to be thankful for, even during this time, if I will only point my attention in that direction, rather than bemoaning our situation and concentrating on the negativity. I will head to the coffee shop this morning and will put my lawn chair up in the shade next to my friend John, enjoying each other's company while socially distancing. Our friend Gene might join us, but he's not as much of a regular as the two of us are. After that, before it gets too hot, I'll try to walk around enough to get some steps and try to get a little exercise. If the gym was open, I'd be going there in normal times, but from what I'm reading about the risk of getting the virus in certain places, including gyms, I suspect it will be quite a while before it will be safe to go there again. I've also decided to stop getting pedicures, since nobody sees my toes anymore except me. When I was attending yoga classes in the studio twice a week, it made sense. Now in my Zoom yoga, well... you know.

Some people I know have taken this time to reassess their lives, to decide what is still important to them, and what can easily fall away. Having been an avid exerciser for most of my life, I have found that I am willing to rearrange my days in order to get at least some movement into them. Although I am no longer getting nearly as much as I'd like, there are only a few days when I don't get outdoors at all. And reading has become a staple of my days, as long as I don't overdo it and tire my eyes. Ever since I got the cataract surgery, I am able to read for longer periods as long as I use reading glasses and remember to stop and rest my eyes now and then. This getting older business takes some adjusting, but I am so happy that I can still walk, read, and use my old noggin to write a post now and then.
Of all that is good, sublimity is supreme. Succeeding is the coming together of all that is beautiful. Furtherance is the agreement of all that is just. Perseverance is the foundation of all actions. —Lao Tzu
One of the things I like to do is find a quote that ties together what I am feeling as I write a post. I went looking for one about perseverance, and I found this one by the ancient philosopher Lao Tzu. I was curious about the exact definition of the word "sublimity" here, so I went on to discover this:
The noun sublimity describes a characteristic that's a little hard to pin down. When something is sublime, it transcends greatness or beauty for the observer — like a deeply moving film or a transcendent piece of music. So when something is truly wonderful, or someone acts in a truly noble way, it's an example of sublimity. The Latin root, sublimis, means "uplifted, high, or exalted." 
Isn't it wonderful to have the accumulated wisdom of the world right here at my fingertips? I just looked up the quote, and the definition, in a few quick moments. That is another thing I am so grateful for: that I have lived long enough to enjoy and appreciate the internet as it exists today. It also gives me one other thing that I sometimes forget to appreciate: the ability to write a post and put it out into the world in an instant, like magic.

And it brings me into contact with people all over the world, my dear virtual community, that means everything to me. Even if I were trapped in my home, I'd still have a window that looks out into the universe. I feel the presence of those I will never see in person, and I feel intense gratitude. Thank you for being there.

This brings me to the end of another Sunday meditation. I do feel better after having finished it, and I will take my empty teacup into the kitchen, trying not to bother my dear partner who is still sleeping next to me as I compose this. I wish that you will have a wonderful and safe week ahead, and until we meet again, be well, dear friends.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Long hot summer

Looks like a heat wave to me
One of things I dislike the most about summertime is the relentless heat, with little relief overnight, when it gets this hot. This temperature forecast extends well into the coming week and beyond. There is only one small segment of the states that has a below-normal forecast: the Pacific Northwest. Right where I live!

As you might imagine, I am not at all unhappy with the fact that our summer has not really begun yet, and it looks like we might make it all the way through the month of July without getting really warm temperatures, as opposed to the rest of the country. Before we moved here, we lived in Colorado, which is right in the middle of all that heat. A massive heat dome looks like it will stick around for awhile. How do you cope, or do you like all that heat?
The National Weather Service is forecasting 75 or more record-high temperatures to be approached or broken from Friday to Tuesday alone, and that number is likely to grow significantly into next week. Early next week a few cities in the Plains states may even flirt with their all-time record highs. However, when all is said and done, the bigger story will likely be how long this heat wave lasts.
 And this is all occurring right in the middle of the surging pandemic of Covid-19, which is continuing to spread unchecked throughout the country. It makes for a really scary scenario, and it's not easy for me to imagine what it would be like to be unable to safely leave my home, if I didn't have air conditioning. I remember once in Texas when my parents' air conditioner broke in the middle of a heat wave, and the only respite was to wrap up in wet bed sheets, using the evaporative cooling as a way to cool down. As if I needed any reminder that excessive heat is harder to cope with than cold.

Today we will have a high temperature of 68°F (20°C), with lots of sunshine mixed with clouds, and no rain for a change. I find that to be almost a perfect environment. You might not agree with me, as there are plenty of people who love the heat and would really hate our cool weather. I'm not one of them. You have my sympathy if you are like me and must find a way to stay comfortable.

As I age, I realize that my ability to cope with extremes of any kind become harder to deal with. I wonder if that is because the body's ability to adapt wears out, or if I am simply more aware of the changes. In any event, I try to maintain my equilibrium during these times, whatever it takes. This is a difficult time in the history of the world, not just here but everywhere. I envy those who have a strong faith, giving them a way to make sense of our current situation. I myself turn to prayer only when I cannot find any other respite from my fear and anxiety.

At this point in my life, I realize that what I have left to look forward to has diminished to only a few little pleasures. I love to read, and I am happy that my eyesight and continuing macular degeneration is not impeding that pleasure. And I also love to walk and hike, and so far all my body parts are hanging in there, giving me the ability to continue to enjoy the outdoors. My dear partner shares my days and nights, and he makes everything better, just by being there. I have a rich social life, even during lockdown, although much of it is virtual these days. Technology allows me to attend virtual classes, and I follow many blogs that show me how others are getting through their days. I learn from them and share my own ways to cope, and we offer hope to one another.

One of the benefits of these Sunday morning posts is that they give me a chance to stop whatever I'm doing and examine my life. The processing of writing gives me a chance to know what I'm actually thinking, gives me a chance to take stock of my life, of my blessings, and inevitably I find that life is not so bad.
You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it's important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages. —Michelle Obama
In fact, right at this moment, I am feeling quite a bit of hope and happiness, for many reasons. One is that this post, my self-imposed task of every Sunday morning, is almost finished.  Not knowing what might emerge is always a little disconcerting. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. But I always try and find a way to communicate with my invisible audience, try to find out how I'm really doing today, and I always try to give all of us hope for better times ahead. We will not always be in this situation; everything changes and morphs into something different.

And with that, I will wind up this post, bid you farewell for another week, and hope that you will be safe, and will stay well, until we meet again next week. My dear partner has managed to sleep through it all, and my tea is gone. It's time to think of what awaits me in the day ahead. I wish you all good things, dear friends.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Respect and disrespect

Misty forest
I found this picture, taken last month by Rita Eberle-Wessner on Flickr. I immediately started following her and simply love the feeling of this wonderful scene, first because it's in a forest, and second, the light coming through the mist. I'm not alone in liking it; I see it is cited in many people's favorites. The camera, a Canon EOS Mark IV is one reason Rita was able to capture such beauty.

But it takes more than a good camera to be a successful photographer. You've also got to be able to see the scene before you can capture it. Before the advent of the smartphone, I had a real camera, and I got some great pictures. Having the chance to take a picture and see it immediately has helped many fledgling photographers to change settings, try again, and improve the image. I wonder if anyone anywhere misses the days when you took a picture and had to wait until you got the prints back to see the results. Certainly not me.

Yesterday was the 4th of July holiday, and I didn't get much sleep last night. Although the city's fireworks had been canceled, and fireworks within the city limits are now illegal, it made no difference to the many people who decided to flaunt the rules and set them off. For hours! They didn't even begin to stop until midnight, and it was simply terrible to hear. I fell asleep several times, only to be awakened by an especially loud bang. Very disrespectful to others, in my opinion.

The idea of respect for others has been on my mind lately. It seems that as the world gets more and more populated, those who don't respect differences in opinion want to dominate and force others to change their minds. It happens in every aspect of life, but especially these days, in the middle of a pandemic. It never occurred to me that the simple wearing of a mask could become such a flashpoint. It's a measure of respect for others, it seems to me, and somehow it's now become a sign of political correctness. Some people see it as an infringement of civil liberty, but that makes no sense to me. You cannot walk around in public without clothes, and if you did anyway, you would be arrested.

When I look at other countries, wearing a mask is not seen that way, and we Americans are not making much sense. Our ability to keep the coronavirus contained has fallen apart, and the terrible damage to our economy, our lives, and our national standing is more evident by the day. Some mornings I wake up and wish it had all been just a bad dream. But it's not.

Yesterday I went for a nice walk in the sunshine and took a route that we had often walked during those days in the past when so many of us got together on a Saturday and took a brisk walk around town. The route took me up to the Western Washington University campus, and I ran into very few people along the way. Almost everyone, even outdoors, was wearing a mask. You could see people coming from a distance, and I saw they did the same thing as me: pulling up their mask as we got close to one another and then letting it fall back around the neck after we passed by. It shows respect, it seems to me.

As I left campus and grew closer to town, there were many more people out and about, enjoying the sunshine, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. As I got closer to the boardwalk and people were everywhere, our masks stayed on our faces. Although the buses weren't running yesterday because of the holiday, I have noticed that when I pass one these days, the sign on the front has changed to toggle between the route number and a sign that says, "thank you for wearing a mask." Our governor has mandated mask wearing whenever you leave your home and cannot socially distance from others. And that order seems to be widely respected in our town.
Respect is one of life's greatest treasures. I mean, what does it all add up to if you don't have that? —Marilyn Monroe
 Today will be another nice day, with lots of sunshine. It's often said that in the Pacific Northwest, summer starts after Independence Day, and this year it has been borne out: a cool and rainy June, followed by clouds clearing and temperatures rising after the holiday. Not too much, I hope, since I love the coolness and have a more difficult time when the temperature starts to heat up into the eighties and nineties (that would be 27 to 33°C). But it is usually late July to early August before we get there. I will enjoy the summer months but once it begins to get hot, I'll start looking forward to fall.

My goodness, look at the time! I've been sitting here pondering what to write and two hours have slipped away. I woke at the usual time, I can't help it, but my dear partner sleeps away next to me. No tea left, and nowhere to go today. No appointments, no yoga, just whatever presents itself, once my obligation to write this post is finished. I hope wherever you are in the world, and whatever your circumstances, you will find some time today to give thanks for the blessings that surround you. Even if they are hard to find, I have no doubt they are there. And know that I send you my respect for the life that we share. Virtual connections have become amazingly important to me, and the one I share with you, my dear readers, is no different.

Until we meet again next week, be safe and search for the sometimes elusive Easter Egg of happiness. It's there, somewhere! I wish you all good things.