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 25, 2020

Explorations and ruminations


Shaggy parasol mushroom

During our hike last Thursday, we four women saw dozens of different kinds of mushrooms and spent quite a bit of time taking pictures of the most interesting ones. This one was as big as a dinner plate, and some of us recognized it as a Shaggy Parasol, a purportedly edible mushroom that looks a lot like others that are poisonous. "Young shaggy parasols look identical to the poisonous Chlorophyllum molybdites (the mushroom that causes the most poisonings in North America yearly)." The link I've provided gives you all the information you would ever need to know about this mushroom.

I have been able to get enough exercise each day to feel pretty good during this extended lockdown period. In my part of the country, we are stable in regards to the coronavirus, while much of the rest of the US is spiking to the highest infections since the pandemic began back in February and March. And here we are at the beginning of the cold weather. I found this scary statistic online:

The US has marked a harrowing milestone: It recorded its highest one-day number of Covid-19 infections Friday at more than 83,000 — more than 6,000 higher than the country's previous record set in July.

Other countries are also having spikes in infections, but we never got our numbers down in the first place, so we are in trouble as we go forward into the holidays. I cannot imagine getting on a plane these days and traveling to a family gathering. It would be scarier than any skydive I ever made during my decades-long career. Some states are asking people not to gather in person for Thanksgiving, but that is not likely to happen, unfortunately. Some Americans feel it would be restricting their freedom, while others (me included) consider it our duty to protect each other from harm.

We will get through this, I'm sure, but we won't be the same once we get back to "normal." There is no normal anymore, and anyone who thinks we can return to the lives we had before this pandemic are in for a rude surprise. Even if a vaccine was developed within the next few months, it would not mean we could start gathering in large numbers safely any time soon. The virus will be with us for a long time to come, and it will continue to kill the old and infirm among us. I wonder if I will live long enough to attend a movie theater or a concert again. It's doubtful. Maybe they will become a relic of the past. 

I'm sorry to be so negative, but the news is dragging my optimism down a bit. There really is no safe haven in the world today, so I have no other option than to look within. There are many positive techniques for finding peace and serenity within oneself, and that is where I need to concentrate my efforts. I am fortunate to be able to attend Zoom yoga classes, where I am guided into 90 minutes of stretching and attempting new postures, concluding with several moments of savasana (relaxation). Three times a week I gather my yoga props and mat and enter a safe and loving environment, with others I cannot see. Afterwards, I always feel more centered and more able to gain a positive perspective. It doesn't help anybody, especially me, to allow myself to fall into despair.

Between regular exercise, including long walks and a weekly gathering (five or fewer) to go on a hike, and the yoga classes, I am able to keep myself fairly centered, but I do have my moments when I need to look beyond my own situation for inspiration. That is where books come in, for me. My sister Norma Jean and I share book recommendations, and I am currently reading one that I'm enjoying very much. It's a bestseller, and I decided to indulge myself and load it onto my Kindle. It's called 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand.

Based on the classic film Same Time Next Year (which Mallory and Jake watch every summer), 28 Summers explores the agony and romance of a one-weekend-per-year affair and the dramatic ways this relationship complicates and enriches their lives, and the lives of the people they love.

That's a teaser from Amazon. I am not devouring the book in one sitting, because I really am enjoying taking my time and thinking about the relationship and how it might be to love someone but live the majority of one's life with someone else. And the best part of all is that I have discovered another prolific author whose work I enjoy! That has opened up a whole new literary world for me. I am always looking for a new author whose books are right up my alley, and I think I've found one. Thanks for that, sis!

We had a cold snap come in overnight, and I just looked at the temperature and see that we are right at freezing, which means I'll be scraping my car's windshield this morning before heading to the coffee shop. Normally I'd just make coffee at home on a day like this, but my friend John called yesterday to tell me he's actually going to drive there, the first time since his operation on October 8th. He had a major shoulder surgery rebuild, and his left arm is in a sling but he's gotten the go-ahead from his doctor to start his regular activities (that he can do with one hand, that is). He managed to drive himself to the local store to shop for groceries, which pretty much amazes me, but he's determined to get back to normal as soon as possible. So I'll go there, too. It will be great to see part of our lives beginning to resume. A little, at least, since we can't hang out in the coffee shop yet; I'll climb into the cab of his big truck and quaff a coffee with my friend. 

Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak. —Thomas Carlyle

I think of John as someone who is determined to regain as much strength and mobility as possible, even at eighty, so that he can continue to do what he loves for as long as possible. And he's got friends who help him. He wants to be able to dance again, ride his tractor again, and be ready for plowing once we get to springtime.

And yes, springtime will come again. Hopefully we will all be there to enjoy it, and that it will be a new year, with this awful year of 2020 behind us, never to return. Who would have guessed at the beginning of this year that it would end up with the entire world suffering through this pandemic? That we would be unable to gather with our friends and family for so long?

But we will get through it all, and I again pause to count my many blessings. You, my dear friends, are part of my blessings, and I have so much gratitude for your continued presence in my life. I have managed to muddle my way through another Sunday post, and I can feel myself anxious to get up and start a new day. Hopefully you will take a few moments to count your own blessings, too. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will be well and all good things will come your way. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Gearing up for winter

Mushroom village

I am constantly surprised by the green forests I visit here in the Pacific Northwest. They never stop being green, even in the winter. Just look at this old tree, cut down sometime in the past, sawed into segments that are now a village for moss and mushrooms. And although in some places the ferns die back in the winter, here they are still around to grace the forest paths all year long. They do sprout new growth in the spring, but they never seem to totally die off. Maybe it's because it doesn't get cold enough during our winter season.

Rain fell last night. We sleep with our window open, even during the colder months, and bundle up with warm blankets. When I woke in the middle of the night, I could hear the gentle sound of rain and fell back asleep to the sound. It is still raining a little this morning, but now I've closed the window and turned on the heater. I've opened my laptop and am now trying to think what to write about today. Sometimes I've got a good idea of what is coming, but not today. It's early in the morning and the day is still quiet; other than the tapping of the keys as I send out a message to you, there is no other sound. 

We are likely to have a dreary winter, since the pandemic is surging all across the country, and we are being admonished to continue our limited activities.  When I learned last week that my gym is open for business, if you make a reservation and join the very few people allowed inside, I was looking forward to it. But then I thought about whether it's really a good idea or not. I was given a chance to take a look at how much they have changed the layout, with cavernous distances between equipment setups, and the use of all the large workout spaces now filled with stationary bikes and treadmills set far apart. Only five people are allowed inside at a time in some rooms. No, I think I'll wait awhile longer before I return to exercising indoors. It's going to be necessary to take my walks in the rain, wearing my rain gear and hoping for the best.

We are now only a few short weeks away from the election here in the US. I will be glad when it's behind us, when I will no longer be subjected to the endless political ads on TV, the enormous amount of campaign literature that builds up in our post office box, or to the sense of anxiety that many of us are feeling. As I watch the news for signs of hope, I realize that in this particular time in the history of the world, we are caught in a collective sense of change that is coming to us all. Change in our daily lives for the foreseeable future, a change in the direction of my country, and a hope that we will emerge from this time of upheaval stronger, more coherent, and with us being more united. 

I was born during World War II, and no one could have imagined how the world would evolve from then until now. And this means that no one can really predict how our world will be in another fifty years. It won't look like today's world, of course, and I can only hope that by then we will have given up war and conflict and found a way to coexist on this tiny planet, caring for each other, caring for the environment, and having decided to limit our population so that all the other creatures on the earth can thrive. It could happen, and if I can imagine a peaceful world, I know it's possible. 

Humans aren't as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were 'reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.' —Neil deGrasse Tyson

Yes, a different world indeed. And how does one start gaining empathy? Well, part of it is looking around at my own little world and figuring out what I can do to make other beings happier. There's the neighborhood cat that has been hanging out for months on my front porch. I have discovered that he belongs to a nearby family, but he wanders around with an imperious air and doesn't seem to want to be "owned" by anybody. We enjoy each other's company without having to do anything about it. He brings me joy, and I provide a place for him to feel safe from predators. At first I thought about feeding him, but he seems to find plenty of food without my help. So we are simply fellow travelers who acknowledge each other's existence.

Every morning when I set out in my car for the coffee shop, I know I must be careful of the deer that might appear in the road. Almost always I see at least one of them, and yesterday I saw an entire family: father, mother, and two fawns. They emerged from the shadows and set off in the direction of breakfast, whatever it might be. They looked healthy and well fed, where in this part of the country there is plenty to eat year round. They also bring me joy, just seeing them doing so well.

The squirrels around here have been frantically stashing nuts for the coming winter. Our neighbor has a walnut tree, and the nuts barely have a chance to hit the ground before the squirrels come to haul them away. I saw one enterprising squirrel with a nut in each cheek as he hurried by. They are getting ready for winter in the only way they know how. But isn't it curious how well they do? Nobody taught them but they still know from genetic information passed along through instinct. At least that's what I think, but I don't know for sure. Perhaps there are little classrooms set up inside old trees where the grownups impart knowledge to the little ones. (smile)

We are all gearing up for the long winter ahead, one unlike any other we will see in our lifetimes. Mostly because of the pandemic and its effect on everybody in every country. I feel very blessed to be in a relatively safe environment, with enough food to eat and a dear partner who shares the burden of living with me. He is doing quite well, by the way, shopped for veggies yesterday and prepared lots of steamed kale and broccoli for us to enjoy for the next bit of time. He now has doctor appointments regularly, and I am also feeling gratitude for our ability to have health care that we can afford as we age. I wish I could wave a magic wand and give that blessing to the entire world.

And now I am gearing up for the rest of my day. I will go to the coffee shop, although my friends won't be there (but I still need my caffeine fix). In the late morning, I will go to a favorite place to share breakfast with my friend John, who will be driven there by his lady friend who has been caring for him since his shoulder surgery. I haven't seen him since the operation, but he is doing well, he says, and although we won't hug or anything, I will be happy to lay eyes on him today. 

I have so much to be grateful for, and it's such a wonderful thing to count my blessings and share my life with you, dear friends, who are more than just friends but my virtual family. I hope that you will find some time to count your own blessings and gear up for the coming winter surrounded by only joy and gratitude. Along with a nice warm blanket, too. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Keeping my head above water


Waterfall behind me

I smiled at the double entendre in the title of this post and the picture of me, taken by Lily, with Whatcom Falls in the background. We took a walk in the park while her car was getting serviced, with the mild weather and no rain contributing to a lovely morning stroll. We didn't go far, really, but it was nice to be together during this season of social distancing. I have my mask around my neck, which I pulled up whenever strangers approached, but Lily and I consider each other to be family. She is part of my Covid "pod," one of those people with whom I feel comfortable breathing the same air.

I wanted to spend some time with her, since her mother died a few days ago, and she is hurting. Lily is from Guatemala and has a green card to live and work in the US, but with the politics being what they are these days, she didn't want to leave when she has no assurance that she would be able to return. Earlier this year, she traveled through Canada to Guatemala City to spend time with her ailing mother. Today, the border is closed to Canada. Lily was able to "attend" her mother's funeral through FaceTime; she is coping with the help of her family and the friends she has made here. She took the entire week off from work so she could grieve in private. And with close friends, which includes me.

My friend John had shoulder surgery last Thursday, and although I have sent him some emails, I still haven't heard from him, so that weighs on my mind, too. It was a fairly extensive rebuild of his right shoulder and rotator cuff. He is staying with a lady friend who agreed to take care of him for a couple weeks until he can function on his own. I am certainly willing to help, once he's in need and lets me know. I'll pester him until I get some answers about when that might be.

The weather is turning cooler now, and the leaves have begun to turn colors. On my walks I see leaves gently falling from the branches, creating a carpet under my feet. It is usually my favorite season, autumn, but this year the pandemic has created uncertainty in much of my daily life. The coffee shop, which has been a source of enjoyment for so many years, is still unable to open its doors to customers. We must sit outside, and with the weather changing, it's much less appealing than it was during the summer months. And John isn't there, so I am now making coffee at home and missing the social interaction I crave, even if we have to keep our distance from one another. I miss my life in the Before Times, before this pandemic upended the lives of millions of us around the entire world.

I got my flu shot last week, and I was able to get the high dose version of Fluzone. I didn't realize there are two kinds of flu shots being offered this year, until my blogging friend Kay alerted me to the difference. Most places around here are not able to offer the high dose, either, because of such high demand for it. My arm was very sore for three days, but now it's fine and I'm glad to have that behind me. I sure don't want to get the flu. I think I had the coronavirus back in March, considering my symptoms, but there were no tests available at the time. I had a cough, low grade fever, and lost my sense of taste and smell (such as it is). Now I am back to my version of normal and am doing all that I can to stay healthy. I sure miss the gym, but I wouldn't go back there right now, even if I could. When you work out, you breathe hard, and the virus is airborne. And there is the matter of my age.

Joe Biden is my age, born just a few weeks before me in 1942. So I know what he is dealing with and know how difficult it must be for him to be taking on the task of running for President at his age. He was not my first choice, but as a lifelong Democrat, he's what I've got. We will receive our ballots in the mail this week, and we'll sit down at the kitchen table and discuss our choices and then will drive our completed ballots to the drop box in front of City Hall. Washington state has had mail-in ballots ever since we moved here in 2008. At first I missed going to the polls early on Election Day, which is what we did in Boulder, Colorado, for decades. We tried to be within the first dozen voters, and usually we were. One year we got to our polling station fifteen minutes before opening, and there was already a line. I don't remember why, all these years later.

I truly hope that everyone who wants to vote this year will get a chance to, but there seem to be real problems in some other states. So this year I'm glad I don't have to venture out and stand in a long line, which will most likely happen all over the country. I have never missed voting in any election since my first one, when I voted for John F. Kennedy. Boy, that was a long time ago! How much the world has changed since then. And how many more people are alive today than back then: the United States had 186.5 million people, and now we have 328 million. That's 142 million more Americans! No wonder it seems crowded in so many ways: it is.

This is a tough time in the history of the world. I am privileged to be alive during it, and I hope I will have many more years of living to see how we get through this. No matter who wins the election next month, we will not return to any kind of normalcy for a long time to come. Sometimes this scares me, but other times I realize that what is happening in the world today is a struggle between different ideologies. It is not the first time this has occurred, and it won't be the last. The only thing any of us can do is keep our heads above water, so we can continue to breathe. Everybody uses different methods to cope with difficulty. And I do realize that the difficulties I have are miniscule when compared with others around the world, and even in my own country.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' —Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt went through trials that I can only imagine, and she continued to live a full and meaningful life. When I was young and she passed away, I thought she was ancient, but now I realize she was only 78, which I will be in December. And I'm not ready to leave quite yet. I will use her life, however, as a bellwether for what it is possible to achieve in the remaining years of my life. She had strength, courage, and confidence in abundance, and I believe I can have the same if I just continue to look for those attributes within myself, and incorporate them into my little corner of the world. 

Because of the internet, I am able to have instantaneous news from around the world, and I do pay attention to what is happening in remote regions, as well as right here in Bellingham. I am blessed to have dear virtual friends around the world, and they give me a sense of what their lives are like, as well as those who live nearby. It always gives me great pleasure to look at the posts I receive from my friend in Canberra, who calls herself Elephant's Child, where it is springtime and the abundant spring flowers in her garden make me realize that I must expand my understanding of the world. Here the days are becoming shorter and the nights longer, but on the other side of the equator, the opposite is happening. Isn't that wonderful? It reminds me that what I see around me is only a small slice of life on our planet.

And with that, dear friends, I think I might have finished this post. It's become a lifeline for me, a chance to spend time sitting in my bed with my laptop, with my dear partner next to me, asleep through the clacking of my keyboard, and take stock of where I am today, and where I want to be tomorrow. There are always places one can look to see the good surrounding us, and to give thanks for friendship, which exists in myriad fashions to help us through these difficult days. Until we meet again next week, dear ones, I wish you all good things. Be well and don't forget to count your blessings.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Finding serenity every day

Arroyo Park bridge

 Yesterday I walked with Melanie (my usual Saturday walking companion), along with my longtime friend Chris (one of the regulars when we had a Saturday walking group). Chris will join us every Saturday now, since she's unable to hike on Thursdays as she will be homeschooling her grandkids during the weekdays. In any event, we met in Fairhaven and walked to the Arroyo bridge together. It was foggy when I woke in the morning, and it stayed with us all day long. The temperature never even got to 60°F (15°C) during the day. But for walking and being outdoors when active, it was just fine.

With all that's happened in the news this week, I've been looking to find some pockets of serenity so that I can function and not let current events drag me down. It hasn't been easy, and now the president is in the hospital with the virus. He has the best care available to anybody in the world, so I'm trying to stay positive with the news.

One of the ways that I'm able to keep my equanimity is to continue with my three-times-a-week yoga classes on Zoom, and to continue my exercise routine: trying to get at least 10,000 steps a day and hiking once or twice a week (although not long when compared to my pre-Covid routine, it's better than nothing). I miss riding the bus to downtown, which I've only done twice since the lockdown began in March. I might try to start again, since the buses have added lots of sanitation protocols, and no one can board the bus without a mask. Stores in my community also have plenty of safety measures, which is good, since it looks like the virus will be with us for quite awhile longer. Who would have believed that we'd be entering the cold months with such high viral numbers around the country? Certainly not me.

And I've got a new toy, which arrived last Thursday: an Apple watch. I decided to go with the less expensive (but brand new) version, the SE, which doesn't have oxygen saturation levels and an ECG built in. I figured I don't need those, and I really wasn't sure just how much I might use and enjoy the watch. There is so much I still don't know about it, but I've gotten the basics down. I chose a watch face that shows the moon in its current phase, and also displays the time and date, along with the Bellingham weather conditions. It is a watch, after all, so I can see the time and date with a flick of my wrist. The fancier and more expensive version of the new watch line stays on constantly, which didn't appeal to me. I'm quite happy with what I know about my new toy already, and there's so much more to learn.

Yesterday, when we began our brisk walk, the watch face lit up and said, "it looks like you're working out. Would you like to record the event?" So of course I said yes, and I found out several things: we walked at an 18-minute per mile pace, we traveled just under five miles, and the device has a pause button in case you want to stop for a bit. And I could choose to stop it at any time. It was fun! The watch also has a fitness feature that keeps track of my steps, and has three "rings" of activity to prompt you to close them each day. So far on the two days I've worn it, I have managed to do that with little problem. I might decide to up the activity goals, once I've gotten used to it.

So far, I'm thrilled with the watch. It also has an app that seemed a little cheesy to me until I tried it: a reminder to sit and follow your breath. Once you get settled and focus on your breath, it vibrates as you take in a breath with a cloudlike circle on the face, and then as you slowly exhale, the little circle slowly disappears. Then another breath, and so on. It's really very calming, and I have already used it a few times. There are plenty of other features like that one to explore, when I can find the time.

Three weeks ago, I fell while on a walk, and I think I might have broken the little finger on my right hand. As I fell, it hit a rock, and it hurt like crazy. Although a prudent person might have gone to the doctor, I just came home and taped it to the adjoining finger to immobilize it. It's stiff and a little bent, but it's getting better every day. I think I might finally get it checked out, but what can they do when you break a little bone in your finger?  Not much more than that. And the skin was never broken over it. In the meantime, I'm finding it doesn't quite bend all the way into a fist, but that might come with time. I've "liberated" it from its neighbor. That's when I realized that it's a little crooked. Since I don't play the piano or need anything more than the ability to type (which I can), I'm probably going to skip the doctor visit.

Speaking of doctor visits, my dear partner had his first checkup with his primary care physician since his stroke on August 9. It went very well: he is coming along nicely and is doing much better than the doctor anticipated. He doesn't need to return for four months, and is already driving himself around town and going up and down steps without having to stop to take a breath. When it first happened, it was a very different story. I'm so pleased that he is doing so well. Life will never return to what it was before, but it's sort of like my little finger: well enough to count our blessings. 

And life in the world will never return to what we had before the Covid crisis hit. It is now normal to see everyone masked, and keeping their distance from one another. I still have to remind myself not to queue up behind someone when standing in line, but otherwise I'm pretty good. I saw some cute little toddlers yesterday playing on the Village green, wearing their masks and not seemingly bothered. They of course didn't practice social distancing as they ran around and tumbled in the grass, but that would be hard to explain to a two-year-old. Still, I was impressed with their masked nonchalance. 

I am happy to wake up each morning filled with energy and basically pain free. I am grateful to my acupuncturist, whom I visit every two weeks, and to my massage therapist, who has returned to work and sees me once a month. In both offices, I must put my coat and other clothes in one specific place, and everything is sanitized thoroughly between clients. I know some people would be uncomfortable with it, but there are some things I am willing to risk for the larger benefit. Plus, I'm pretty sure I already had the virus and just want to make sure I don't risk anybody else's health.

So that's what is happening in my little corner of the world. I managed to get through the entire post without mentioning politics (other than about the president being hospitalized), and that did take a little bit of doing. As we approach the election in less than a month, I am hoping that everyone will be able to cast a ballot safely, and that you, my dear virtual friends, will remain safe and free of disease. And that you will find your own ways to find serenity every day. It is available to each and every one of us, if we give it some focus and energy. And every one of us has the ability to find happiness in our daily life, if we will look around to find and count our blessings. 

Always say 'yes' to the present moment... Surrender to what is. Say 'yes' to life—and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you. —Eckhart Tolle

And with that quote, I will leave you until we meet here again next week, and I truly wish you all good things. Be well.