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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Pondering the virtual world

Final frozen rose of the year

 It's another one of those Sunday mornings when I don't really know what to write about, what's uppermost in my mind, or even what I might find interesting to share. Then my blogging friend John, who lives in Seattle, sent me an email yesterday, with this query in it:

In your very first post, Sunday, December 6, 2009, you said, "Already I feel the excitement of creation. I'm going to allow it to unfold and see where I go with it." So, here we are nearly 12 years later. From your viewpoint how has it unfolded? 

My theme for this day was born with that question! I won't be able to share all the wonders of more than a decade of this blog, but I can make a start with it, for sure. I began this particular blog with the idea of chronicling my life, covering all my marriages (I've had four but the best one is the present one) and the loss of my children, and how I fell into a job that became a career, with a boss who believed I could do anything and gave me the opportunity to try. He was a senior scientist at NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) and wrote many books, with me as his partner. We were a good team.

But then I got to the present moment, and it began taking a different tack: writing about my daily life, and things that interest me. It got more contemplative and introspective as the years went on, and John reminded me that all those posts (632 as of today) are still available for perusal, by me or others. Only writing once a week, on Sunday mornings, it amazes me that more than six hundred weeks have passed since I began this journey.

On my other blog, which I wrote daily until I ran out of material and cut back to twice a week, I have over two thousand posts, some good and some not so good, but heck, it's been quite an interesting journey. Of the two blogs, this one is my favorite, because I've given myself the option of going wherever the wind takes me. But being someone who falls into routine quite quickly, I have restricted myself in various ways. Can't be helped: I am who I am. But if I had to choose between them, I'd take this blog, hands down.

I don't go back and re-read much of what I've written, but I guess it might be a good thing to do, since retrospection and reminiscence come naturally to me. But there's still so much new stuff to read in the world that I haven't even started, that I probably won't. It is the difference between looking back and looking ahead at new ideas and new possibilities. 

John also asked me how I feel about the difference between real versus virtual friends. Well, John, that is a very curious observation, because I don't find much difference in importance between them. I get to interact with my virtual friends through comments and personal blogs much more than I do with "skin" friends, since we spend time together in both respects, but it's deeper and often more meaningful in the virtual realm. I have learned so much through personal blogs, and I see the virtual friendships as essential to my happiness and continued growth as a person.

As the Internet of things advances, the very notion of a clear dividing line between reality and virtual reality becomes blurred, sometimes in creative ways. —Geoff Mulgan

I have been heavily influenced by the interests and concerns of those people who have become my friends and who write personal blogs about their lives. Some are blessed with large families, and some have no family at all. I missed out on having grandchildren but truly enjoy watching the babies of other families as they grow up and become adults. And I am reminded once again how the fertile ground of human existence can be watered and fertilized by our interactions, changing the direction of many, the trajectory of our lives blossoming with creative energy. It's really rather astounding when you think about it.

There have been accidental (or maybe meaningful coincidences) stories and occurrences that my virtual friends have written about that changed my life for the better. I am reminded that I learned about Olga Kotelko from a Facebook friend when Olga died at 95. That sent me on a journey to find all that I could about her. She set more records as a senior athlete than anyone could have imagined, and she began her athletic career at 65 after retiring as a teacher. 

One curious thing I learned about her and her senior athletic friends is that many of them were followers of the Five Tibetan Rites, a series of exercises that many of them swore by. I started doing them, too, and still these days I don't miss a day. Once I get out of bed and get dressed, I step out onto my front porch and perform 21 repetitions of them. It only takes about ten minutes, but now I cannot imagine missing that practice. All because of a virtual friend who pointed me in that direction. I've written about them before, but they are worth checking out. I do have skin friends who have taken up the practice, too.

By the time I write here next week, I will have had another birthday. It's the last one in my seventies, and then I get to start being an octogenarian! Boy, the seventies sure have gone by quickly. I suspect that it will be the same with the eighties, which will keep me writing here until I cannot any longer. The practice of writing gives me so much pleasure, and the fun of reading the writings of others sparks new directions in my thinking and my life. So in conclusion, I can truly say I am enriched by this practice of writing in my blog and reading the reflections of all my dear virtual friends.

And with that, I will sign off for the week, and I will continue here once again next week with who knows what topic! Until we meet again next week, I wish you, dear friends, the very best week ahead. My partner still sleeps next to me, and I am finished with my tea and now looking forward to beginning the rest of my Sunday. Be well.

Sunday, November 21, 2021


Me and Markee

Most of the time on my blog, when I talk about a sister, it's usually Norma Jean. But the truth is, I have two other sisters I rarely see and so they aren't as much a part of my life as she is. Norma Jean and I grew up together, and the three youngest siblings weren't even born before I got married and left home. Well, my brother Buz was born when I was sixteen, but as anybody who has teenagers know, I didn't pay much attention to family; my social life revolved around kids my own age. Family was peripheral. I was a self-centered juvenile most of the time.

But that was then. My brother and two youngest sisters were only in my life when I visited my parents, or if I was between marriages and taking refuge in their home. That was actually the only time, really, when I got to know my youngest siblings. While I was busy with my own life, my career, or outdoor activities, they were busy growing up. Markee married Bob, a Canadian, and moved to Alberta, Canada, decades ago, where they bought a lovely ranch and raised three children. Now those kids are all grown, and their daughter Sarah was married in a beautiful ceremony in August. I wanted to attend, but there were no Americans present because of the pandemic and still-closed border. 

Now that the border is open, Bob and Markee bought themselves a camper-type vehicle and hit the road. They are traveling eventually to Florida, where they will spend the winter in their condo in Apollo Beach. It's about an hour's drive south of Norma Jean, so fortunately it's been well looked after by her and Norma Jean's son Peter. They have used it as a second home during the two years that it's been vacant. All that is about to change, now that the missing family can get there for the winter months. They will be snowbirds, traveling between Canada and Florida, which was their original intent when they bought it. They were only there for a few months before they had to return to Canada because of the pandemic. And now we can travel between countries once again.

Markee's name is actually Mary Katherine, but when she was growing up she was always called by her nickname within the family. Her husband Bob doesn't call her that, as I was reminded when he'd address her by that unfamiliar (to me) name. They came through Bellingham for us to have a nice lunch together before they took off for Texas. Driving diagonally across the country on their way to Florida, in order to visit family. I was so happy to spend more than three hours with them before they took off. They will be with my brother Buz and sister Fia and all their extended family for Thanksgiving.

We spent much of our time together looking at photos of the wedding, a huge affair with 175 guests and with a very professional photographic essay of the entire event. You know how they do it, starting with the bride and her entourage getting dressed and following through the day's proceedings. Now Sarah and her husband are happily married and living in their newly purchased home.

It was so lovely to catch up with her and Bob after so many years without much contact at all. We realized that the last time I saw Markee was at our sister PJ's memorial service in February 2014. And now Markee has turned sixty, my baby sister has grown up to become a senior citizen! Since I was already a mother when she was born, I don't like to think how old I have become. My birthday is in a couple of weeks, when I will enter my eightieth year (and turn 79). How quickly those years passed!

I am the only one of the six of us who doesn't have children (living ones, that is). Norma Jean had two, Peter and Allison, with two grandchildren. My brother Buz has one grown daughter, Trish, who has not had any children. Markee has three, as I mentioned, two twin boys (who are no longer boys), and Sarah. PJ had two sons, one of whom managed to have two sets of twins. PJ was so proud of her beautiful grandchildren. And last of all, my sister Fia, who had two children, a boy and a girl, both of whom are married and have given her lots of grandchildren.

When people ask me about my two sons, both of whom have died, I always say I have no living children. I was only 22 when my son Stephen died, and a matron of sixty when my son Chris died. No grandchildren for me, and that makes me sad. But it's through no fault of my own that I am the only one without them. That doesn't mean I don't have plenty of family, though, as you can see. My parents, who are also both gone, would be proud of the accomplishment of their children and grandchildren. As am I. 

Family. I married SG when we were both fifty, and now that is more than a quarter of a century ago. The time does indeed fly when you're having fun, an adventurous life, and a career. I have been retired now for thirteen years, and after having moved from Boulder, Colorado, to Bellingham, Washington, I have still been having fun, a good life, with lots of friends with whom I enjoy nature's wonders in the Pacific Northwest. And there was that quarter of a century I spent jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. So much of my life is now in the past, but I have enjoyed every bit of it, the bad and the good, the ups and downs, and am now settling into a more relaxed and serene existence. 

Part of what I have started is a journey into discovery of mindfulness and meditation. Although my dear partner has developed an illness that may become problematic, we have good healthcare and for now he is doing just fine. He's under a good doctor's care, one he trusts, and he's learned that he will not need to undergo any further treatment, other than keeping an eye on his blood count and keeping himself from getting an infection. Fortunately for us, everywhere we go we are masked, and that will continue for the foreseeable future. I venture out much more than he does, and we are both triple-vaxxed and have received our flu shots.

There are no guarantees that we will be in such good shape in the future, since everything changes and moves on, forward into time. There is little I would change about my life, and I count my blessings at every moment. I am filled with gratitude for having had such a wonderful life. And there's my virtual family: YOU! I enjoy reading about your own adventures and lifestyles, and I glean information and joy through you as well. Who could ask for much more?
One's family is the most important thing in life. I look at it this way: One of these days I'll be over in a hospital somewhere with four walls around me. And the only people who'll be with me will be my family. —Robert Byrd

While many of my dear virtual family will probably not be in that hospital with me, I'll have my laptop and we can Zoom together. These days, there is no excuse for not being surrounded by family and friends, since much of our lives has become available for anybody who wants to share it. I am so grateful for the internet, and for being able to "visit" you whenever we wish. 

And with that, dear friends, I've finished my tea, my post, and my ruminations. Now it's time to get out of bed and spend some time following my breath before heading out into the world. Another day without rain is a good one. The rain returns tomorrow, but it's nothing like the deluge we endured earlier. And my dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me as I get out of bed before the sun rises. 

I'm sending you all my best wishes for a good week ahead, our Thanksgiving week here in the US, and I'll be enjoying a quiet meal with just one other person: guess who? Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Rain and more rain

Fallen leaves

We are in the midst of a strong "Pineapple Express," or an atmospheric river that comes to the Pacific Northwest in the form of warm rain that dumps massive amounts of precipitation in our area. Right now, after having had several days of rain, we are supposed to get another four to five inches over the next two days. And it is warm: it is as warm outside before dawn today as it usually ever gets in our area at this time of the year. However, once this system moves through, the temperature will plummet and we'll get a good frost. 

But that is not what I wanted to talk about today. After carefully checking that I am in the correct blog for my Sunday post, I pondered what is on my mind and would make a good post. I came up with a phrase that resonates deeply with me: lovingkindness. The word originates from two sources: (1) an English translation of Chesed, a term found in the Hebrew Bible, and (2) an English translation of Mettā or maitrī, a term used in Buddhism. The Dalai Lama said it best when he reminded us to "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."
What we all have in common is an appreciation of kindness and compassion; all the religions have this. Love. We all lean towards love. —Richard Gere 

When I am feeling good and healthy, it's easy for me to feel lovingkindness towards others, but when I am grumpy or nursing a sore back, for example, it becomes much harder. Perhaps that is what I am trying to find in life these days: a way to be in a state where I can rise above it all and become a permanently compassionate person. Hmmm. There seems to be a disconnect here. Life doesn't work like that, at least not in my experience. It is easy for me to love those who already love me or that I see as good, but it's much harder when I come up against someone or something that really disgusts me.

But I also have to be kind to Yours Truly, and forgive myself for the shortcomings I see in myself every day. I guess it all boils down to my need to get away from my ego consciousness and learn to be more cosmic in my outlook. Sounds easy, but it's not at all. Every time I think I have "risen above" some small imperfection in my spiritual journey, it comes back in another form entirely. Take, for example, my need to give money to homeless people who are begging me for relief from their situation. I feel for them and reach into my pocket for a few dollars and then walk away feeling magnanimous. What have I actually done for them? Nothing. But I have given myself permission to feel virtuous for my generosity. Hmmm. 

I ran across a phrase that won't let me go: idiot compassion. For compassion to be effective, we need to discover if our actions are going to be of real help and value or if they may actually be supporting an already unhealthy situation. According to a blog I discovered, 

Developing lovingkindness and feeling compassion toward our fellow humans is one thing, while putting it into action is another matter. Without even trying, we cause suffering: we hurt ourselves, we hurt each other, we ignore each other's pain and create further pain. How do we stay open and loving in the midst of insult or conflict? Our caring and compassion are tested and challenged in every moment, every time we are tempted to ignore but choose to stay open instead. (Ed and Deb Shapiro)

 Now this doesn't mean I will stop giving money to homeless people, but it does make me aware of the actual reason I do it. The number of people in the world today who are desperate is growing. I can barely force myself to watch the news these days, with so many wars and displaced people suffering so much. Was the world really like this fifty years ago and I was just not aware of it? Or has it become much worse? I can't remember seeing homeless people wandering the streets like today. It does make me sad and I fight against a sense of hopelessness.

So I sit quietly in my living room a few minutes a day to calm myself and follow my breath. I also write this blog, hoping for inspiration and that I might be able to give at least one other person a little bit of optimism. That comes from my desire, a true one, to provide love and caring to others. The most effective way I have discovered, so far, is to be kind to myself and forgive those who don't see things my way. I am old enough to be looking out my eyes from a spirit that wants to change from despair to lovingkindness. Adding benefit to the world around me, rather than making things worse: that's my goal.

That said, I also must remember to give thanks for all that I have: a warm and dry place to live; a partner who loves me and whom I love very much; the ability to walk and play outside with good rain gear; friends and family who support me in ways I don't even know; enough nourishing food to eat every day. So very many people in the world don't have even one of those things I take for granted. 

I will leave you with a favorite Buddhist mantra:  Om Mani Padme Hum. Known as the Compassion Mantra, or the Jewel in the Lotus, this is a powerful Buddhist prayer. This mantra is a tool to train the mind to achieve ultimate peace and enjoyment. The mind dictates our experience of happiness and sadness, so we must learn to control our mind.

I would like to remind you to be kind to yourself, as well as others. This is something I am working on these days. Until we meet again next week, dear friends of my heart, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

After the storm

From  the Seeing Bellingham Group

I found this picture on my new favorite Facebook group, and although I neglected to note the photographer, I simply couldn't resist sharing this optimistic and beautiful picture with you. It was taken last Thursday, when Mel and I walked in the rain during the morning, and I got home soaked and a bit miserable from all the rain. As I sat down in my easy chair to compose my last post, the rain lessened, and then I looked outside as the sun was going down and saw everything lighted up, just as in this picture, although I didn't have a rainbow to enjoy. 
I'm continually inspired by nature, and the rainbow is one of nature's greatest optical phenomenons. The sighting of a rainbow never fails to bring a smile to people's faces. They signify optimism and positivity: with them comes the sunshine after the rain. —Matthew Williamson

Our walks lately have all been wet. The onset of normal fall precipitation seems to be going a bit crazy lately. The weather people are blaming it on La Niña, a phenomenon that will bring wetter and colder weather to us in the coming months. It's a lot easier for me to appreciate wet conditions when I am dressed for it. Unfortunately, I've been resisting, believing that the rain will stop before it does, and not realizing that I've got to be wearing more effective rain gear. 

Yesterday we walked twice around Lake Padden, one of our favorite places to go when we might not want to venture far because of the weather. Once around is 2.6 miles, and the rain was predicted to begin around 11:00am. So I wore a rain-resistant jacket and stuffed my raincoat into my backpack. A light rain started almost immediately at 9:00am, and I believed it would stop soon, so I didn't put on my raincoat. At least not until I was completely soaked through and had gotten a little bit grumpy. In any event, we did make two complete turns around the lake, which did help my mood a little, and I came home and changed into nice dry clothes.

We gained an hour of sleep last night, but of course I awoke at my usual time, and there was nothing for it except to get up, make my tea and start this post. So I think it will be posted sooner than it usually is, and I can get out to the coffee shop earlier than I normally would. It's not the same without John there, so I toyed with the idea of taking the bus instead of driving, but it is supposed to rain again today. Never mind: I'll drive.

I'm realizing that it won't be that many more years that I will want to drive my car anywhere. Now that it will be DARK so early in the evening, I'll take the bus most places, or let someone else drive (like Mel in her lovely SUV). I'm not sure if the macular degeneration I've been dealing with for years is the reason, but I seem to be losing my depth perception. That's not good for driving. Full sunlight sure helps, but as we venture into the late fall and winter months, there's not much of it around. Fortunately for me, I can walk or take the bus just about everywhere I need to go, thanks to the great bus system we have here in Bellingham.

I'm still meditating every morning, and the peacefulness and joy that I experience much of the time is spreading out from that short period of following my breath into more and more of my day. It is a little amazing to me to think that learning more about Tibetan Buddhism would have such a profound effect in my life. Just yesterday I got a new Kindle book from David Michie about the Dalai Lama's Cat (this one is called Awaken the Kitten Within), the fifth in the series about HHC (His Holiness' Cat), and it deals with her life as she begins her senior years. I've only just begun the story, but everyone who has already read it gives it a great review.

I had just finished re-reading the fourth story in the series about the Dalai Lama's Cat and the Four Paws of Spiritual Success. The characters in the stories all come to life in Michie's writings, and anybody who loves a cat will appreciate learning all about HHC's life. What surprises me is how much I am enjoying reading these books more than once, and rather astounded at how much more I glean from them about Buddhism with each reading. I feel like I've found a treasure trove of books to keep me grounded and peaceful. David Michie has found a new admirer (me), and I intend to study Buddhist philosophy for a long time to come.

Although to some people it wouldn't seem like a blessing, I think it truly was for me to be raised in a family that had no evident church upbringing. My father was an agnostic, and my mother was raised a Catholic. When she married a nonbeliever, she stopped going to church and we, her children, never ventured inside one until we became old enough to do so on our own. When I was in my early teens, I discovered Episcopalianism and began to attend a local church, and before long my siblings had joined me. I was so enchanted with the liturgy I would read the Book of Common Prayer all day long and thought about becoming a nun. 

That didn't last long, but my life was changed because I was no longer without a faith, and it stood me in good stead for many years. When I was a young woman, I began to study different religions and was drawn to Buddhism even then. Living in Boulder, Colorado, I was able to learn a lot about it, since Boulder has the only accredited Buddhist university in America. Well, back then it was anyway; I'm not sure about today. Since there were so many local avenues to learn more about it, I took advantage of classes open to the public, and I learned to meditate as well.

For many years, I meditated morning and night, and somehow it fell away without my noticing. But I wonder, since I have picked it up again, whether all those years had changed my mental processes somehow, because every morning I do feel like I've come home to a place that never left. All I know for sure is that I feel more centered and willing to see compassion and loving kindness in neglected places surrounding me.

I ran across an article not long ago that theorizes that much of the empathy that we feel is due to a genetic trait, rather than learned. You can read more about it in this article from Medical News Daily, which suggests that many of us are more empathetic because of our genes.

Some people are more empathetic than others, and the new study revealed that a significant part of how empathetic we are is down to genetics. In fact, 10 percent of the variation in empathy between people is due to genes, according to the research.

Well, I must have been born with plenty of that gene, because I tend to feel other people's pain and joy more than most, and I am happy that is the case. Of course, it makes it really hard when someone I love is hurting, but I'd rather feel bad for them than not to care at all. How about you? 

Well, here I am with an extra hour to spare, and I think I might actually spend a little more of it in meditation than I usually do. Why not? And then it will be time to head to the coffee shop, my usual routine, to quaff my usual latte. Maybe I'll be able to get a quick walk in later, in between raindrops. It's just not the same at the coffee shop without John around, so I don't spend nearly as much of my time there without him. Of course, there are other people to interact with, before coming back home. 

I do hope you will have a wonderful Sunday, no matter where in the world you are, I am so grateful for your presence in my life. My dear partner just turned over and is still sleeping quietly, but I am beginning to feel the pull to get out of bed and start the rest of my day. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things.