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, June 27, 2021

Coping with the heat wave

Front porch flowers

My front porch flowers don't get full sun all day long, just until around noon each day at this time of the year. Under the ray of sun in the middle of the picture to the right of the beam, you can see a teeny little bit of Mt. Baker, but for me it is the beautiful flower colors that give me so much pleasure. I tend these flowers a little bit each day, and talk to them about how much I appreciate them.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented heat wave here in the Pacific Northwest. A huge dome of high pressure is bringing us heat like we've not experienced since records have been taken here in Whatcom County. And it's not over yet. It made it all the way to 95°F here yesterday, and tomorrow is supposed to reach 100°F. It has never before been this hot in Bellingham, at any time of the year. We are just a quarter mile or so from the bay, so we tend to get cooling temperatures from the water, but not today. Or tomorrow. Until this heat wave breaks, there is no respite from the heat unless you have air conditioning, which we do not.

It usually falls in the evening and during the night to the fifties or low sixties, but last night's low temperature was 69, and tonight it will be a few degrees warmer than that, since nothing is having a chance to cool down before the sun bakes us even more. Fortunately this should pass by midweek, even though we will still be more than 20 degrees warmer than normal. I sure didn't sleep well last night, as the temperature in our apartment only fell to 81°F, even with all the fans going. And it's not even July! We laugh about the fact that our summer doesn't usually start until after July 4th, but this year, we have two months ahead of possible heat waves like this to endure.

I know it doesn't seem all that hot to many of you, but remember we don't quite know how to cope with extreme heat in these parts. Hardly anybody has a/c around here. Bellingham is opening cooling centers, and I'll bet the mall will be crowded with people trying to cool off inside. I might even be one of them. Certainly there will be no hikes and outdoor activities of any sort. Yesterday we walked in mostly shaded trees on the Interurban trail, but it was still hotter than I felt comfortable exercising in. I have to remind myself that I am one of those elderly people who just doesn't do well in the heat.

In other news, looking for some lighter fare to raise my spirits, I ordered myself a new Paperwhite Kindle during last week's Amazon prime day sale. Up to now, I've been using my Kindle Fire for reading books online, but I decided to pitch it out and go to a reader that is used for one thing: books. So far, I like it very much. I am actually quite surprised at how long the battery lasts, as I've been using it for hours every day and it's only lost 10% of its battery life. They advertise that you only need to charge it once a week, and it seems to be at least that good. 

I'm reading a new book by an author I've enjoyed for years: Lisa Genova. Her newest book is Every Note Played, a story about a pianist who develops ALS. All of her books cover something like this, since her debut novel Still Alice, which she self-published in 2009. It became a bestseller about a professor who got early-onset Alzheimer's, and she's written many other books since then. I'm enjoying this one as I get accustomed to my new Paperwhite. ALS is a terrible disease; I've known one person who died of it. It's also called Lou Gehrig's Disease, since that what he died of. I've already learned many new facts about the disease, and I'm not even halfway done with the story. If it follows the path of her other books, I'll be sniffling, maybe even crying, before it's all done. But it will hopefully be a good cry.

Everything seems a little off today, since SG is already up out of bed, and we couldn't sleep as long as usual because of the heat. The sun has just come up, and instead of looking forward to the brilliant sunshine, I'm cowering in fear of what the day will bring us. I'll definitely head to the coffee shop as usual, but I'll be drinking iced coffee instead of my usual latte. And I do have to admit that my mind is not working as efficiently as I'm accustomed to, as I keep getting distracted by the warm temperature. I'm doing everything I can to stay hydrated, and even forcing myself to eat, since I have little appetite when it gets so hot. A smoothie would be nice.

I will need to go out to the garden today to water my plot, and to help myself to the quickly ripening raspberries. If I wear a big sun hat and lots of light clothing, I'll be fine for awhile anyway. And I can always get in my car and drive somewhere with the a/c blasting if I just can't stand it any longer. I don't think Bellingham has ever experienced triple digit heat before; I know I am not alone in my suffering.

Just sitting here tapping on the keys has caused me to start sweating. It's already getting hot, and it's not even 6:00am yet. This just seems incongruous: it will be hotter here than in Florida today! And I can't seem to think of much else to talk about, unless I want to talk about what's on the news. Nope, I'll skip that. That is only likely to make me feel worse. I'd like to think of positive stuff to fill my mind with, rather than doom and gloom. Somewhere inside my head there's a safe place that will make me feel better, I just know there is. What do you do when you want to feel better about things? 

I think it's okay (I give myself permission) to cut this post a little short, since I do need to get up and get moving while the weather is still decent. I don't have any tea to finish, no sweet partner next to me (he's already up), and no words of comfort to offer to my readers, other than what I keep telling myself: this too shall pass.

Dear friends, I hope when we talk again next week that things will be looking up. It's inevitable! Until then, I hope you will give your loved ones a big hug and remind them that life is good. And in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, I leave you with this:
It ain't the heat, it's the humility. —Yogi Berra

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Daddy on Father's Day

My handsome parents

When I look at this picture of my parents, I realize that they didn't have any idea about what the future would hold for them, or for their children. They ended up having seven children (one who didn't survive a premature birth), and the six remaining were all industrious, productive members of society. PJ died in 2014 of heart disease, which is what took both of my parents as well. It runs in the family, and it took my own adult son when he was 40. But today I'm going to think about and celebrate my dad.

Daddy. I always called him that, from the time I was little until after he died at the relatively young age of 62. At least, from my perspective today, it seemed way too soon. Mama was only 56 when she became a widow. My youngest sister Fia was still living at home. It was a sad time. I traveled from my home in Boulder, Colorado, to see him one last time before he died. He spent two or three days in the hospital before he finally died, but all of us who were not living at home anymore had a chance to see him, and we stayed to help arrange a memorial service. At least I think we did: it was 1979, and I have no memory of the event. I only remember the crushing grief of our loss and my solitary trip back home.

By the time he passed away, Daddy had retired from his career as an Air Force officer, and my parents had decided to find a home in Fort Worth in Texas. They had lived in the area when Daddy was stationed there in the 1950s. They found "Windswept," a rambling home on Lake Worth, across the lake from Carswell Air Force Base. It had a dock on the lake, and Mama spent the next years of her life turning that place into a home for their three youngest children. Daddy worked at General Dynamics, among other places, before retiring for good. I visited many times, and during one of my divorces (I had a few), I lived there for about six months. My sister Norma Jean and her husband Pete lived for a few years in one of the small cottages that existed at the time on the property.

This meant that the three youngest children would not live the nomadic life that the three older kids lived. I remember being quite envious of their different circumstances, but I was glad to finally have a place that we could call home. Before that time, "home" was wherever they lived. Any readers who grew up as an Air Force brat will understand what I mean.

When I was growing up, Daddy was gone for long periods of time, in what was called "TDY," or temporary duty. In some ways, I think it helped their marriage, because they had time apart and learned to appreciate each other. And they had all those kids to raise!

My parents were very social and had plenty of people who would come over to their home to drink and party. As I grew up, I thought everybody had raucous parties going on in their homes. Apparently this is fairly common for military families, not so much for others. Both of my parents were drinkers, and martinis were their favorites. I never understood the allure of hard liquor but became a wine drinker as an adult myself.

My parents both played golf, but Mama was better at it than Daddy, and over the years she garnered many awards. They were displayed in the living room, and I remember Daddy commenting once that they all had skirts for some reason. I think he was actually very proud of her ability.  Daddy loved golf in any event, and they spent many days on the golf course, wherever they lived at the time. 

I loved my father so much, and when I was a young teenager, Daddy introduced me to science fiction. We both shared a love for it, and I read everything he suggested, and we would talk endlessly about the books we both adored. I still love science fiction, even though it's not the same without him. We speculated about the universe and its origins, whether there was other intelligent life, and more. I have wonderful memories of those conversations.

My Daddy was my hero. He was always there for me when I needed him. He listened to me and taught me so many things. But most of all he was fun. —Bindi Irwin

I was only in my thirties when I lost my father, so I miss all those other memories I would have had, if things had been different. It did give me another fourteen years to be with my mother, without Daddy, and that gave me a chance to learn to love Mama in a way that would never have happened if he had still been alive. So, life takes many strange and unseen turns, but we end up learning and appreciating it all, if we just open our hearts to it. I've tried to do that, but Daddy will always live in my heart, as will Mama, and my life is better for having lived and loved with my parents. 

This will be a bit shorter than usual, I suspect, because I am feeling the pull to begin the rest of my Sunday. I'll go to the coffee shop as usual, and enjoy spending some time with my coffee shop buddies, both of whom are fathers and will be honored in whatever way their families decide is best. Fortunately, I'll get a chance to be with them first.

I hope that you will have a chance to be with your own father today, and if that is not possible, that you will spend some time thinking about him and remembering whatever might prompt some happy memories. I know that not all of us are as fortunate as I was in selecting my parents, but I do hope that some semblance of happy times will emerge from your memory banks. I know that has happened to me today, in remembering that wonderful man who was my father.

Until we meet again next week, I hope you have a wonderful time, and that you can find some way to appreciate those who love you and wish you all good things. Like me. Be well until then, dear friends.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

A day in the life

Waterfall in Whatcom Falls Park

Last time I walked through Whatcom Falls Park, I saw this smaller but very beautiful waterfall away from the main falls and was enchanted with the sun shining perfectly on it, dappled sunlight on the trees. Just beautiful. I have been saving this picture to use when I couldn't find anything else to open my Sunday blog with. Today is that day.

Yesterday five of us ladies walked six miles together in full sunshine, walking from downtown to the Fairhaven ferry terminal and back, along Boulevard Park and the South Bay trail. Warm temperatures and full sun also brought out most of Bellingham, it seemed. People were everywhere; the pandemic is no longer keeping people indoors. It's been a long time since I've seen so many pedestrians, bikers, kids and dogs out for a stroll.

Things are opening up: I went to pick up a book at the library, which is now open to the public from 10:00am to 3:00pm. It's been redesigned and was refurbished during the lockdown. The computer systems are not up and running quite yet, and not too many people were inside while I was there, but it's looking good and will soon be swamped with users. Masks are required for the moment. I took a look around and was pleased to see such an improvement throughout the entire facility.

The Senior Center will open the first of July. For now, we are allowed to use the parking lot where the Senior Trailblazers can now gather to carpool for excursions into the High Country. On Thursday, three full cars went up the highway to Church Mountain, while another car of four made the long drive down to Maple Grove. I was in that car, and I wrote about the wonderful eight-mile-long adventure we shared last Thursday on my other blog. I learned that the High Country group made it all the way into the meadows, with plenty of snow still to navigate. Everyone did just fine, though, and both groups enjoyed themselves, even if clouds obscured the views. It didn't matter: we are back together and will enjoy a summer of great hikes. Last year's absence of High Country hikes is now in the rear view mirror!

After yesterday's full sun, today is forecast to be cloudy and rainy, which might be one reason why so many people were outside yesterday, enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures (well, relatively speaking: it got all the way up to 70°F (21°C)! I see that many parts of the country are sweltering in a heat wave, so I'm really glad I get to experience mild Pacific Northwest weather. I'm just not good when it gets above 80. Late July through late August around here we have some hot days, but not many, and I am grateful for that. 

We saw someone out in the bay who was kitesurfing. We thought at first it was a paraglider, or maybe a windsurfer, but after looking it up online, I discovered it was someone who was on a small surfboard and was dipping and swaying with the wind under (and alongside) a parachute. It was quite a sight to see, and the person was very accomplished, tacking back and forth along the bay, using the parachute expertly. It's a very different looking canopy than those used for skydiving, but it brought back memories of learning how to fly my own parachute. Ah, those were the days, gone now, but not forgotten.

I made my last skydive and parachute ride almost seven years ago now, but those times will never really leave me. I still notice the direction and intensity of the wind whenever I see a flag fluttering in the breeze. Every once in awhile I'll think of what it felt like to jump out of an airplane and enter into freefall. Even though each skydive only lasted around a minute in freefall, and another four or five minutes under canopy, those moments are part of me. After all, I have accumulated more than two-and-a-half days of time in freefall, one minute at a time. No wonder I haven't forgotten it.

These days, I get a thrill from being out in a forest setting, seeing all the gorgeous old trees and abundant ferns and flowers, with my feet firmly planted on the ground. Even though I have old knees and hips, I manage to keep myself going, even when I'm feeling some discomfort. On the walk yesterday, my left foot bothered me for much of the time, but it wasn't enough to make me turn around or stop. I wasn't alone, as I noticed Lily favoring her left foot, too. We talked about our various ailments but also shared our gratitude for having the ability to be out and about. She's in her mid-fifties and a generation younger than me, but also is aware of the need to keep our bodies in good shape if we want to keep going.

I talked to my brother yesterday, and he told me that today is a very special milestone for him: a while back I calculated the number of days I've been alive, so he did the same. He found the exact number of days that our father was alive, and today he will meet that number himself. After today, he will be older than Daddy. Once a person dies, they enter a new dimension of time and will always remain static in our memories. It's interesting that when I think of my son Chris (who died at 40), he is a young man in his late teens. I wasn't around him after he joined the Army and went off to Germany, so that might be why I think of him as being younger. When he appears in my dreams, he's a young man.

I'm sorry that I haven't been very inspired with today's post. I wasn't sure what I'd write about when I sat down to begin, and it's become just another "day in the life." As I age, my days and nights fly by, so quickly one week passes, a month, a season, a year. As I listen to the rain hitting the roof, I know I will enjoy walking around in my rain gear as I face the day ahead. But for now, I need to find some quote or poem that will summarize the way I'm feeling right now.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

 He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth,—the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

 And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

 Many, many years ago, I memorized this Emily Dickinson poem, because it spoke to me directly, and now with so many more of my dear friends and family on the other side of the grass, it is even more meaningful. And it says what I wish I could say myself, that as I sit here composing, it is the same as us talking between the rooms with like-minded brethren. I hope that as I move along in life that I will be able to continue to remember those who came before me, and give thanks for all who will come after.

And with that, I find myself ready to join the rest of the day. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, my tea is gone, and the coffee shop beckons. I truly wish that all good things will come your way this week, and that you will find some beauty in your days. Be well until we meet again, dear friends.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Farewell , dear Hedi

Me, SG, Rob, Lily (and Hedi's picture)

Yesterday, the four of us gathered at a favorite brewery and restaurant to give our own farewell to Hedi, and commiserate with one another about how much we'd give to know the circumstances of her death. Hedi's husband Dan is unwilling to tell anybody, and there will be no official public information, no obituary, nothing. He's not saying, and I guess everybody is entitled to their own grief process, but it's sure hard for those of us who would like to know more. She had just endured a long operation two days before, and it was her first day home from the hospital. 

All we know for sure is that she died not long after going to bed for the night. In an email, he said, "I helped her into bed and when I checked on her a few minutes later she was gone." Rob, a longtime friend who knows Dan's brother, said that he learned from him that there will indeed be no official notification, such as an obit, and that's what Hedi said she wanted. But that's so hard for us who are left behind, and I have a hard time not saying goodbye. So, we gathered to have our own little wake, and I brought my iPad and displayed a picture of Hedi with me and Lily at Hedi's birthday party in 2018. It helped me get some closure, and today I do feel that I can now let her rest in peace. I miss her and wish so much that I had gone over to see her last Thursday night, before she left us all for good. 

Hedi was a year younger than me, and she never let me forget it. We joked that we both had to make it at least until 2029, she even set a date (which I think was in May), but that is no longer something to look forward to. I still have a year and a half before I reach my 80th birthday, and I do hope I will be around to enjoy that milestone. But, as she has reminded me, nobody is guaranteed even one more day of life. She was very religious, and I hope that she is now at peace and sitting up there in heaven, smiling down at those of us still making our way through life, one day at a time. 

* * *

Let's see: what else happened this week? Well, we had a gathering of all the Senior Trailblazers to begin to plan our summer hikes. It was incredibly well attended, and as usual we walked on the horse trails behind Lake Padden before sitting down to a potluck lunch. The only thing different this year was that we didn't all share food, but brought our own and some people brought a few items to share with everyone. I unfortunately ate three truffles that one guy brought from Trader Joe's. He said they had to disappear as he was unwilling to take them home. They were delicious chocolatey delights.

Since we were instructed that only fully vaccinated people were to attend the gathering, nobody wore masks, and we decided that we would begin to carpool once again. We also learned that the Senior Center that sponsors our hikes will open to the public at the end of June. We are allowed to park and leave our cars there now, so that's where we'll begin our excursions into the High Country, starting this coming Thursday, if enough snow is gone in order for us to get to the trailheads.

I'm hoping I still have what it takes to climb more than 3,000 feet to the meadow at Church Mountain. At least I am sure I won't be the slowest hiker, or the fastest. Almost everyone has found some way to keep in shape as we made our way through the pandemic shutdown, although it's been difficult to find endurance hikes that simulate a day climbing in the mountains. Hopefully I'll be able to continue gaining strength as we resume our usual summer schedule. I feel very fortunate to have adequate well-used knees that take the brunt of the downhill stress, and knee braces to help as well. Between the braces and my trekking poles, I feel ready to give it a go. I sure miss the views and the forests I've visited every summer for more than a decade, except for last year.

In any event, I have so much to be thankful for, that I need to take a moment to acknowledge all that exists in my life today that makes me happy. First and foremost, it is my dear life partner, who sleeps quietly next to me as I write this morning. That's his usual configuration when I create this post on Sunday mornings. I think he hears the tapping of the keys, but it's so much a part of his morning sounds that hopefully it is soothing to him. I can tell by the quality of his breathing that he's content right now, at least.

Secondly, I am grateful for my ability to get out and about as much as I desire, with an old but reliable car and a coffee shop that, while still closed to indoor gathering, has an outdoor seating area that allows me to drink my morning latte with my friend John (and sometimes my friend Gene) before beginning the rest of my day. I am able to get in my usual step count by walking to and from the bus, taking a side trip through a local park most days, and enjoy observing the passing of the seasons as I walk.

I am also grateful that the macular degeneration, from which I suffer, has not caused me to lose my ability to read and watch favorite shows. Although my eyesight is not what it once was, it is something I cherish and do what I can to keep it healthy for as long as possible. I am missing big areas of vision, in both eyes, but one eye compensates for the other, and my focal vision is still intact. All I have to do to notice how much I need both eyes is to cover one and observe what I can no longer see. While it's scary, it is also encouraging in some ways. I am grateful.

And you know that I also cherish my online community, of which you are part. I follow many blogs, and although sometimes I get behind and have to skip leaving a comment, in most cases I know that you look forward to my comments as much as I look forward to yours. We are truly a community of like-minded friends, which means so much to me, and it enriches my life in myriad ways.

Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything. —Alan Cohen

And with that quote, dear friends, I will leave you for another week, and hopefully when we get together again, you will have spent some time in gratitude for all the blessings you have. I know I will definitely try to find more blessings in my own life. Until we meet next, be well.