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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas Day 2022

Linda H. Williams on Seeing Bellingham Group

Looking for just the right picture for Christmas, I found this one taken by a local photographer, with Christmas lights shining behind branches covered by freezing rain that kept most of us in the region stuck inside during the last few days. It was right before the biggest economic holiday of the year. And today, as everything is now closed down to allow us to recover, I'm finally able to get to the coffee shop with John this morning. Not our regular one, which is closed, but one of the few we have found that is open on Christmas morning. He will be here in his big truck, which was completely frozen solid under a sheet of ice yesterday morning. He tried everything, but then, almost like magic, the severe cold broke and a warm rain began to cover everything. Of course, it fell on icy snow-covered streets, and it was treacherous to even try to make it down my apartment steps to see how bad the sidewalk was.

The warm rain continued to fall all morning, and as I looked out the front door in the dark before dawn, it felt almost balmy in comparison to the subfreezing temperatures we've endured for days. I listened to the ice cracking and falling from trees and nearby structures. Right now, before dawn, it's 45°F (8°C), while 24 hours ago we were in the deep freeze. Most of the country has endured some truly memorable weather during the past week. Here's hoping we are turning the corner on this day, the last Sunday in the calendar year, and the day when Christmas reminds us that the true meaning of the day is LOVE.
The festival of Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and conveys his message of love, tolerance and brotherhood. It is a celebration of humanity and mankind. Though Christmas is a primary festival of the Christian calendar, it still has a special significance in everyone's life.

 When I was a kid, I always hoped to find a special gift for me under the Christmas tree. I knew in my heart that my parents were the ones who found just the right gift (actually, my mother), not Santa Claus. I was never much of a believer, but played along because it was expected. In all the years of my childhood, I must have received hundreds of gifts, but only a few stand out in my memory. When I was around ten, I really wanted a bride doll, and I can still remember seeing it in the store and wanting it so bad. I guess I received it, but it was the wanting that I remember to this day. I suppose I would be wealthy today if I had kept it, pristine and unloved in its original box, but I'll wager that she was loved until she was used up and eventually discarded.

Far more precious treasures were given during those Christmas festivities: family memories, the closeness I shared with Mama and Daddy and Norma Jean, and then eventually the rest of my siblings as they showed up in my life. But especially my sister who was both my playmate and constant companion. As I grew from a toddler to an adult who went off with my first husband, she was always there. We were a very happy family, as I recollect the memories that still emerge when I think of that long-ago time.

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. —Richard Bach

 What do I remember from my childhood Christmases? There was always a well-decorated tree, covered with lights, ornaments and tinsel. I remember liking to lie down with my head under the tree so that I could look up at the beauty of it, and smell the pine scent, which seemed more intense from underneath. And I was also at eye level with the prettily wrapped presents, even imagining myself being one of them.

As I sit here writing this, in my dark room with my dear partner still sleeping next to me, I think of all the Christmas mornings we have shared together in the three decades we have been together. Since we met as skydivers, we would often spend our Christmas holiday in Arizona jumping out of airplanes. But that was then, and now we are both elders who marvel at what we did when we were young, with no real desire to return to those days. That is actually pretty amazing when you think about how central to our lives that activity was. Today, we will wake up and spend the quiet day together with little to differentiate it from other days. 

We no longer exchange gifts; we have no tree standing in the living room surrounded with presents; sometimes we have a lovely salmon dinner, but since the pandemic we haven't even done that. Instead, I will get in John's truck and we'll head off for coffee, much as we do every day, and SG will remain in bed until he's ready to start his day. When I come home, we'll spend some time together, perhaps reminiscing over past Christmases, but in reality just being grateful for our being together during these precious days in the twilight of our lives. 

Every year for the past several, I have received a wonderful Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar from a dear friend as a Christmas gift. Advent is finished today, after a month of wonderful videos and games to play every day, I'll miss it. I just watched the video from the final day that marks the beginning of the Christmas season. I took a picture with my phone to share it with you:

Until next Advent season, Merry Christmas!

My virtual family, my friends from around the world who visit me on my blogs, whose own blog posts keep me apprised of what is going on in their lives, and those who like to read and don't comment, to all of you I wish you the best of Christmas days on which your future memories will be formed. Until we meet again, dear friends, when we will begin another trip around the sun, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Dark days, long nights

An earlier Christmas Eve

I believe I took this picture on Christmas Eve back in 2016, which fell on a Saturday. Although it doesn't specifically say where it was taken, I suspect this was Lake Padden on one of our usual Saturday walks. This year, Christmas Eve is also on a Saturday, and given the forecast for the next week, it might actually look something like this. We have a patch of very cold and snowy weather ahead, but by the time we get to the weekend, and a possible repeat of this scene, it will be much warmer. Snow takes a bit longer to clear from the frosty trails, however.

Going back through my pictures of previous years, I see that there are plenty of them with snow, much of it still hanging around during the high mountain summer hikes we used to take each year. And there's even a few that I took in the wintertime on snowshoe trips, which I haven't attempted in years. I'm beginning to feel like those days might be behind me, but you just never know for sure. There are other Trailblazers still going up there at this time of year. I don't even consider myself to be an active Senior Trailblazer any more. Just Melanie and I, and sometimes a few others, make it onto those old favorite trails together. The pandemic changed my desire to gather in large groups, and I am still feeling a bit vulnerable and unwilling to catch one of the many viruses making people sick these days. I'll continue to mask and keep my distance.
The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.—Gary Zukav

And yes, the winter solstice, just a few days away. After we reach that dark night, the light begins to return. This year, the solstice occurs here in my little corner of the world this coming Wednesday at 1:48pm. Today the sun will set at 4:14pm. Even  when it's a sunny day, the temperature never gets too warm, and we have already had much cooler fall days than usual. I'm not sure what the winter will be like, but I will do my best to stay warm when outdoors. I worry a little about the wildlife.

By and large, however, life is pretty good. I have a warm and safe place to live, and unless we lose power, we can stay very comfortable in our little apartment. That's not true for so many people these days. I look at the citizens of Ukraine trying to maintain some semblance of normal life as they are continually being bombed; I see the homeless people all over here in Bellingham. They have mostly stopped sleeping on the streets as the weather changes, but I don't think they will have a safe and comfortable place to live in the long run. When I was young, I never saw such scenes, but then again I wasn't paying much attention. And there were so many fewer people: the worldwide population has more than tripled since then. The world population was 2.3 billion when I was born; now it is more than 8 billion.

It's the season when many of us take the time to recollect earlier days and remember what no longer exists. I lost my parents when they were much younger than I am now, and I lost my two children long, long ago. Friends who are my age are beginning to pass into new stages of life, and sometimes are passing away. I learned yesterday that one of my old hiking buddies has died; he was ill with Alzheimer's Disease, which came on rather suddenly and took him down that awful trajectory of loss quickly. He was 77, but he went from being an active senior to a memory care home in just a few years. He was a gentle and fun person to be around and told jokes that were often really funny and had us all in stitches as we walked. Steve will be missed.

I do have to remind myself that this is the normal path of one's life: a newborn becomes an octogenarian in the blink of an eye. Well, eighty years isn't exactly a blink, but it does seem like it when I look back on my life. Since we don't live all that long, it's important to take stock and appreciate it while we still have the ability to do so. The one constant in life is change, and as I sit in meditation in the morning, watching my breath, I try to remember that each moment is precious and irreplaceable. Sometimes routine and habit get in the way of that remembrance, but just a quick perusal of the news of the world can snap me out of it. 

Snagged from the internet awhile back (click to enlarge)            

I found this cartoon one day many years ago, and it was so profound I decided to save it for a special occasion. Here it is, and here we are, together at the end of 2022, looking ahead to the bright future when the butterfly emerges from its cocoon and we begin another journey around the sun, with flowers and summer and falling leaves and friendship and love everywhere we look.

You, my dear friends, comfort me in myriad ways, just by being there, and for sharing your life with me. I am truly blessed that I was born when the world was beginning to get connected and that the entire world, with all its joy and sorrow, is within my reach. My heart is full, and I will approach this day as if it were the only one I have (because indeed it is) and will love as much as I can, and laugh as much as I can.

My partner still sleeps quietly next to me and gives me comfort just by being there. My tea is long gone and the world beckons to me to rise out of bed and start my brand-new irreplaceable day. I wish all of you, who are so dear to me, the very best of holiday seasons and lots and lots of laughter. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Putting the birthday to bed

All those milestone reminders
I have been incredibly moved by all the friends who have reached out to help me celebrate this big milestone, turning eighty. My friend Lily and her significant other feted me Friday night with a fabulous birthday cake and signs and portents everywhere that remind me that I am starting my ninth decade of life. I took home the gifts and a generous portion of the cake, but I refused to carry out that big balloon shouting "Eighty"!! What does one do with those enormous balloons?
All birthdays are good. You're getting closer to death. You're getting older. You can smile and laugh at it. It doesn't have to be bad. —Randhir Kapoor

Yeah, right. I thought so, too, until I hit this big one with a zero on the end, probably the last one like this I'll see in this life. I don't actually expect to see the age of ninety, but you never know. If I do, I'll most likely be blind from my ongoing macular degeneration, and more hard of hearing than I am now, with other bits and pieces having stopped working very well, not to put too fine a point on it. It's what happens as we age, and there's no getting around it. I recently filled out a form that asked for my age, and when I put "80" in that spot, it startled me and I realized once again that time continues to flow from age to age, and the only way it stops is when you get off for good.

However, that doesn't have to be bad, as the quote reminds me. Aging is not a choice we make, no matter how much our society tries to convince us that there are plenty of ways to avoid it. Nope. You cannot, and I am reconciled to being in my eighties, even if I don't have to like it, I won't hide the fact. But I ask you again, what does one do with those huge balloons shouting out your advanced age? I'll let other people figure that out.

It sure has been good to receive many thoughtful gifts as I have for this momentous birthday. I traveled to a warm climate and enjoyed the company of my siblings and their families. I received a wonderful package from Minnesota, one of my blogging family members, with six jars of chokecherry jelly. Oh my is it good!

I think I need some more right this minute!

I had to stop just long enough to make myself another piece of toast with chokecherry jelly on it. I had never before tasted this fruit, but it is a bit like cherry with a different tang. I have to say thank you once again to my dear blogging friend for giving me a little more knowledge of the world and letting me taste this delight.

I have received much more than I expected, and now it's time to put this enormous birthday to bed. I'll have more in my future, most likely, and I don't want to use up all my future birthday karma quite yet. It is the most significant event in my current world, but it's not the only one. I'm also trying to keep up with current events, and learning a bit about soccer and, after having watched my first match, trying to figure out how the game is played. Those penalty kicks have me baffled, but I'll figure it out sooner or later. Soccer is fun to watch, especially when your team wins. All that running, up and down the field, with no time outs! I guess you must be incredibly fit and talented to play at the level of the World Cup. Only four teams are still in the running, as the US was eliminated a while back. I'm rooting for either France or Argentina, who are the two favorites still standing. Croatia and Morocco are the two underdogs. Do you watch or play? I can see why it's the world's most popular sport.

My task for the next couple of weeks is to find another yoga studio, as mine has closed for good. It's very sad; I walked by there yesterday as Melanie and I were finishing our Saturday walk. I still have half a dozen Zoom classes available for the next few months, thanks to those who are helping us make a transition to a new studio. There are no Iyengar studios left in Bellingham, and I am not a fan of classes that include music. I'm looking for a serene, although challenging, studio. I have a few more to check out but have already eliminated a couple located nearby. It's not like I don't already know how to do the poses, but having the community helps me in my practice.

We are in the last days of the current year, 2022. It's been momentous and quite interesting to follow the news, but as I wind down into more reflective activities, such as reading and watching favorite series on TV, I find myself settling into the shortened days and long nights, enjoying the season as it flows from fall into winter. We only have a few more days before we experience the longest night and then they begin to shorten just a bit each day. By the end of January, I'll begin to see more light in the sky as I walk to the bus. Right now I couldn't do it without a headlamp, since the sun rises a full hour after I leave the house. I saw a young man with a headlamp both on his head and on the head of his dog: two little bouncing lights as they crossed the street.

How about you? How are you spending your time these days? I know that at least one of my blogging friends is getting ready for summer, as we approach our winter months. I will continue to play Wordle every day; I'm on a long streak and want to see how far I can take it. And I will finish the final episode of a favorite program today, and just about all the others I've followed are done for the season too. Time to pick up a new one; there's so much to watch that I occasionally get bogged down by all the choices. Any favorites?

It's a quiet time of the year around here. Although we do get some sunny days, it seems like the sun barely makes it over the horizon before it begins to slip away again. We are far enough north that our days are less than eight hours long at this time of the year. I'm glad I don't live in Canada where the days are in the dark for the entire time. Don't get me wrong, I really do enjoy the change of seasons and would never want to live close to the equator again. The world quiets down as we approach the first day of winter, and that means I too become immersed in quiet activities and serenity. 

And we continue to have our health, which is a great blessing. My dear partner has makes me laugh at least a little bit each day, and as we stand in front of the heater, holding hands, we are both filled with love and joy to have each other for the near future. You just never know when it might change, and I don't want to find myself wishing that I had acknowledged our good fortune while we still had it. The world is a beautiful place, and I'm so fortunate to be in my own little corner of the universe, surrounded with love and peace. My friend John will be coming by in a little more than an hour to transport me to Fairhaven for our usual Sunday breakfast. 

And I again find myself at the end of a Sunday morning post, this one a little poignant but it matches my mood, as I look around at the world I've found myself in, one that includes you, my dear friends, souls that reach across the world to touch my heart and fill me with gratitude. I am hoping that the coming week will find you surrounded with all that you desire, and that you will join me here once again next week. Until then, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Seeing with new eyes

Whatcom Falls with a dusting of snow

The rocks on the left of the waterfall are an unfamiliar color: white, from the snowfall Friday night. After a sunny and cold day, nighttime brought enough snow to cover the ground and make driving a little treacherous. Fortunately I have good friends who worry about me attempting to navigate in it, so John picked me up from my apartment and transported me to the coffee shop. Then Melanie stopped by to take me to Whatcom Falls park, where we walked a nice four miles (along with friend Chris) in a light dusting of snow in freezing temperatures. Then, as predicted, the sun came out and gobbled up all the moisture.

I am slowly reintegrating back into my old routine. It helps to have somewhat of a regular schedule, and today it is the ruminating and pondering about what I will write about. It seems like perhaps going back through the events of last week would be a good idea, but I need to process it all first, so that's not happening. I've managed to get eight hours of sleep for the last two nights, which is helping me recover, and I also seem to have avoided catching any germ cooties during my travels.

One little snippet of delight has been finding that, once I admitted to myself that I have hearing loss, suddenly all sorts of avenues towards getting the problem fixed have revealed themselves. I asked my friend Melanie if she thought I had become hard of hearing,  and she was quite matter-of-fact that yes, she knew and didn't think twice about it. I knew a little bit, of course, but I didn't realize how bad my hearing loss had become, until last week's trip. I was in denial, it seems, and nobody actually brought it up, so it was an invisible problem to me.
I always say deafness is a silent disability: you can't see it, and it's not life-threatening, so it has to touch your life in some way in order for it to be on your radar. —Rachel Shenton

It turns out that our local Senior Center is starting a series of consultations to help people find out how to evaluate the exact nature of one's hearing loss and how to proceed in choosing the correct type of hearing aids. There are plenty of options to consider. From the Senior Center Bulletin:

Joel Bergsbaken from the Hearing Speech and Deaf Center in Bellingham will be on-site monthly at the Senior Activity Center to meet with individuals for one-on-one consultations to discuss hearing change, hearing loss, communication, community barriers, and listening technology. 

 One thing I have learned of real interest is that most hearing aids are much less expensive today than previously, and most have bluetooth options, which would allow me to connect it to my iPhone and use it for yoga classes and other activities easier than using my AirPods, which tend to fall out of my tiny ear canals rather easily. I'm excited to get educated about this and will of course share it with you, dear readers.

My birthday is now behind me, but a party is in my future. My friend Lily is recovering from a serious cold, and another friend (fisherman Gene) was exposed to Covid, so he's isolating himself from others until he knows whether he caught it. I'm in no hurry; I'll still be eighty.

Eighty! It's a watershed moment when you reach that milestone, whoever you are and however you get there. No one in my immediate family has reached it, that I know of, and I feel extremely fortunate to have gotten to this place in relatively good health. I am grateful for my extended family and all the wonderful places I have available for hiking and walking. Since I got home, I've reached all my exercise goals.

But, sadly, my yoga studio has closed for good, and I need to start thinking about another place to take classes. I wish I was one of those people who was motivated to get on my yoga mat without instruction (because I certainly know what to do), but I'm not. It tends to be put aside for one reason or another and I don't do it regularly on my own. Plus there will be new people to meet and get to know, and that also is a good thing. I'm also looking for another place to get some upper body workouts. The pandemic was hard on everybody, but I did get through without getting sick (other than a light bout with Covid in March 2020). I still wear a mask inside grocery stores and the like, and I admit they make me feel safer when I hear an ugly cough somewhere close by. Apparently the flu season is in full swing also, and after three years without catching something, I think I'll try to avoid getting sick. I am boosted with the latest version and got my flu shot. I think I'm prepared for the season.

One might think I mislabeled this post when I called it "seeing with new eyes," but I meant it figuratively. My world looks quite different here in the Pacific Northwest after having been in the heat and humidity of Florida. I much prefer a dew point of 25 to that of 72! Right now, early in the morning, it's actually 19 with a temperature of 30°F, but the dew point will rise to around 28 during the projected sunny afternoon.

Although I don't have hibiscus in bloom (or much of anything, really) and there's a lack of palm trees, instead I have beautiful old-growth evergreens that greet me on my walks through the park. Lots of leaves carpet the ground, and everyone around me seems to be in a good mood and happy, as we enter the first days of winter. It starts on December 21 at 1:48pm PST in just over two weeks from today. Then the days will begin to lengthen, slowly at first, and then around the end of January, I'll notice there is imperceptibly more light in the sky as I walk to the bus in the early morning. I don't mind the dark, as long as I'm armed with a headlamp for the dark days as I walk my familiar paths. And of course I don't drive any more in low light so I am very grateful for the seven-day-a-week buses that take me wherever I want to go in town.

If I were to count my blessings, there are so many I'm sure I simply take for granted, because I don't think twice about them. Traveling and leaving my comfort zone helped me realize some of them, but certainly not all. However, it will be awhile before I go anywhere by plane again. Although it was almost incident-free, it was stressful. More than I expected, because I still think of myself as a youngster, not a crotchety ancient senior. Don't we all do that until we are forced to look squarely in the mirror at the person we truly have become?

It's definitely a blessing to have the blinders fall from one's eyes, to really see the world around me with new and more realistic eyes. I was never without my iPhone and therefore connection to the news, but it also seemed a little distant as I navigated my way through the week. There was plenty of immediate drama, so the war in Ukraine fell a little in the worries I carry within my heart. I know I probably won't live long enough to experience a world at peace, but that doesn't mean I can't hope for it and do what I can to progress my own small consciousness towards the light. One day there WILL be peace and prosperity for all, and I will continue to imagine that it's just around the corner.

A dear virtual friend has gifted me once again with Jacquie Lawson's Advent Calendar, which gives me such delight as I visit the virtual community, with a divine pretend world, filled with all sort of wonderful things to see and do, a different story for each day of the month, with the countdown to Christmas Day. This year there are little elves hiding in the scene for me to find each day, decorate my own virtual Christmas tree, and play the games I've become quite fond of. It's a lovely gift! Thank you, Dee.

I am so happy to have this virtual community that has become a very essential part of my life. Although I have plenty of actual family and friends, this connection has only grown with the years. And to think it all started with a single blog post in 2009! My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and my tea (some of which I managed to spill) is gone. Dear friends, I really hope that the next week will bring you happiness and plenty of hugs, whether virtual or actual. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Together again

Fia, Markee, Buz, PJ (the balloon), Norma Jean, me

 The picture was taken the day before Thanksgiving at my sister Markee's home in Apollo Beach, Florida. We didn't want to leave out our departed sister, so we decided to represent her with the pretty pink balloon. It's been eight years since she died, but it makes no difference in our memories or hearts: she is still missed and will always be present when we gather.

Fia had just had her sixtieth birthday, and I will have my own eightieth birthday this coming Thursday, when I return back to my home in Bellingham. We spent the last three days in Apollo Beach, all of us together, along with Markee's husband Bob (the hosts for our gathering), Buz's friend Vic (both traveling together here by car from Fort Worth, and Fia's husband Russ (who also traveled there by car from the Fort Worth area). I was the only one who arrived both by plane (in Tampa, picked up at the airport by Norma Jean) and then by car when she drove the two of us to Apollo Beach, where Markee and Bob spend their winters instead of their home near Calgary, Canada. It was also the first time we had been together since PJ's death in February 2014. 

It was wonderful to reunite, and, as usual, we had to have our picture taken with all of us in birth order, youngest to oldest. My life in the Pacific Northwest seems so remote from here, both in distance and in time.  This place is almost as far from my home in Bellingham as you can get and still stay in the United States. Three thousand miles. But probably the biggest difference is that we haven't all been together since the pandemic hit the world. And there is quite a difference, all right. We are not the same people, for many reasons, than we were when we last gathered in Texas for PJ's memorial. It's probably true for many people that, as we reemerge from our different environments to reconnect, things have changed. We have changed. Those years of separation were not kind to our connections to one another. It's like I emerged from a cocoon of comfort into the world for the first time in a long, long time. Maybe this is the way people feel when they visit a foreign country for the first time. I don't know, but although I was able to connect with my siblings, it's just different. All of us have aged, of course, but some of us (I'm actually mostly talking about myself) have lost significant physical abilities. 

It's time for me to bite the bullet and get myself some hearing aids. I thought I had lost significant hearing, but this environment has clinched it. I have lost huge segments of conversations, and it's been obvious to everyone, especially to Norma Jean, that I cannot hear properly. She gets pretty upset with me when she has to repeat herself over and over. I will not put anybody through this again, if I can help it, and I can. All of my siblings already wear them, but they also grew up in an environment where huge B-52 bombers passed overhead constantly. Their home in Lake Worth was right across the lake from Carswell Air Force Base (now a Navy base) and I remember when talking on the phone with Mom, we would have to stop and wait while one passed overhead. It took a toll on all their hearing abilities. I have advancing age and probably ear wax problems to blame. 

But hearing is just part of the problem. My ability to see in low-light environments, especially, has become pronounced, which I sort of knew, but in a place I don't know at all, like the cupboards in Apollo Beach, would throw me for a loop almost every few moments. And the entire experience of being somewhere I didn't know at all was upsetting to my sense of equilibrium. And the incessant cacophony of so many people interacting all at once did not help me cope, either. So, as you can read here between the lines, I was experiencing a lot of stress, pretty much constantly.

Now, as of yesterday afternoon, we have returned to Norma Jean's home in Zephyrhills, where I am in more familiar surroundings. Yesterday all the siblings drove home, and then there were only the two of us, Norma Jean and me, and the house felt cavernous and empty. Bob and Markee can now enjoy their own home together, after just ten days since they arrived from the frozen North, by themselves. I was amazed at the beautiful place they purchased a few years ago, but were unable to visit because of the pandemic and the closed borders. They live on a salt-water channel off Tampa Bay, with their own boat dock, and a beautiful boat of their own, not too big and not too small.

Bob standing in his "backyard"

It's a pretty serene environment in a secluded place, tucked away from the wider world, and very much a paradise, with hibiscus flowers in bloom everywhere, palm trees, and also, of course, heat. It was in the low 80s (26°C) the whole time, and it's only a few degrees cooler here in Zephyrhills, 35 miles north. For a Pacific Northwesterner, it sure feels on the warm side. I've enjoyed the change, in many respects, but not the extreme humidity. I'll be needing some time to adapt to my normal environment and the Pacific time zone, when I return in four days. How is it possible to get accustomed so quickly to such a different world? It's a good thing we humans are so adaptable.

One good thing about the time together is that the entire world of politics faded away, as we dealt with the need to find common ground among each other. No need to add to the stress by talking about the world situation, not to mention that we cover the gamut in political views. And I am in Florida, after all. 

It's a good thing we love each other, and that all the difficulties could be overcome with a little kindness and a bit of time. I am afraid that my declining abilities added to my sister Norma Jean's stress level. She's not used to her big sister having become, well, a little senile. Hey, there's a reason that we call old people seniors. We definitely are in our senior years. It can be a blessing and a curse, losing the ability to see, hear, and smell, and walk without assistance. Yes, I can still do that, which is an ability I will continue to appreciate for as long as I have it. I cannot pretend that I am not a senior, nor would I want to.

Leaving my familiar environment has been enlightening. But I can't pretend I am not looking forward to returning to the evergreens and forests that are now my home, with new eyes (figuratively speaking) and new understanding of how different life is for my extended family. My heart is full, but not in the way I imagined before I came into this experience. Isn't that the way it always happens?

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. —T. S. Eliot

I am hoping that your own holiday, if you have one, has been one as fulfilling and expansive as I have been enjoying. I will continue to explore the depths of emotion, I am sure, and then when I am able to lay on my head on my old familiar pillow, with my beloved beside me, perhaps I will know the place for the first time. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things and abundant health. Be well.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Traveling and remembering

Lake Padden last Thursday

It was such a lovely day last Thursday, and this is one of my favorite pictures of the lake that I captured, as we walked around it for one loop. We'd already walked almost four miles on the back trails, but we wanted to get a bit more distance, since Mel is always trying to improve on her exercise levels. Me, I was just happy to have covered more than six miles and kept up with her the whole time. When she hikes with our friend Peggy, Mel says she has to hustle to keep up. I'm glad I can give her a more relaxed regimen. I just can't go that fast, but I do my best.

Just two more days before I catch that late-night flight to Florida to visit my family and celebrate our two big birthdays. Yesterday was my sister Fia's sixtieth (she might already have arrived there with her husband Russ). And my own birthday is in just over a week. Twenty years between the oldest and the youngest. Our dear sister PJ died in 2014, so there will be five of us siblings getting together for the first time since she died. My brother Buz will be driving to Florida on Tuesday and staying until the following Sunday. I just hope we all make it there without mishap.
A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. —John Steinbeck

 This past week I learned of the death of a dear friend in Colorado. Maria and I worked together for decades at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and she was more than just a co-worker but also a good friend. She was my boss for several years, and I learned so much from her about how to craft a good book without the need for errata slips and how to avoid minor mistakes. After she stopped working with Mickey Glantz, I sort of took over her role, without actually taking on the title itself. I ended up traveling all over the world with Mickey, and although I loved that period of my life, I am also a bit startled at how much of it I have forgotten.

I found her book on my shelf, which she wrote in 2009, Made in Hungary: A Life Forged by History. I pulled it out and re-read several chapters, remembering her telling me of some of her past recollections. But most of it surprised me. I never knew she was Jewish and escaped the Holocaust, because she kept her personal struggles to herself. I knew that she had a son whom she doted on, Christopher, and over the years I watched him grow up and go off to college. Her mother lived by herself until Maria had to move her to a nursing home. After a long struggle, Maria divorced her husband of 30 years and ended up involved with her closest friend, Mary. They were together from the mid-2000s until her death on November 9th. 

I found Maria's obituary in the local Boulder newspaper and realized how much of her life, after retiring from her job, she spent volunteering for various causes. She had been a member of the Boulder Quaker Meeting for years, and she took me there a time or two. But what I most miss about her were the amazing Hungarian dishes she introduced me to. Every time there was an event that gave her a chance to bring in something to share, she would bring a delightful sweet treat from her kitchen. I found this picture of her online, and it reminded me so much of the many times we shared food together.

Lovely Maria

I'm not sure what she is eating here, but I suspect it was something she created. All that powdered sugar, and probably lots of layers of poppyseed filling, that's what I remember the most. She spoke four languages fluently and, in her words, none without an accent. She was an exceptionally kind and wonderful person whom I was privileged to know. I will miss her presence in the world. Every year on her birthday (April 24), I would send her an email to wish her a good year ahead, and every year on my birthday (December 1), she would do the same. Once or twice we used FaceTime to communicate, but it wasn't our smiling faces and laughter I remember, it's the sweet kindness that emanated from her across the miles.

I kind of wondered if she was doing well, since last April she didn't respond to my email, which she always did in past years. But I didn't think much about it. This year will be the first in many that I will not hear from her. Maybe she will visit me in a dream, who knows? More and more of my dear friends are passing from this realm, which is to be expected, I guess, as we age and all move inevitably towards our own demise. The days pass without much change, and the years accumulate, but sometimes we are reminded of who and what we are, and how little time is left in our own journeys. Taking a few moments to reflect on our own lives, and those we love both here and now, and those who have moved into the next world, is essential.

I will be writing this post from my sister's home in Florida this time next week, and I'll be (hopefully) surrounded by my siblings and their families, with more memories being made. (During the day, that is: I cannot write well while in a crowd.) There will be one sibling who will be there in our conversations but missing from the festivities, my sister PJ. Although I am definitely not looking forward to the travel both there and back, I am very much looking forward to seeing everyone once again.

And it's another Sunday, with a post being forged while sitting in my bed with my dear partner sleeping quietly next to me, the last dregs of tea gone from my cup, and another frigid but sunny day ahead. On Tuesday, my travel day, the rain returns after a long break. I'll be warm and safe inside the shuttle bus, then the airport, and finally the airplane. I have lots of packing and considering what to take and what to leave between now and then, but it is beginning to look like an adventure!

Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things and hope you have a safe week ahead. Don't forget to be grateful for all that we share, because I certainly will not forget. You are precious and very special. Be well, dear virtual family.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Dancing statues and more

Grace and unnamed heron

I've been a fan of Grace for years now. She's a beautiful welded statue that appeared overnight on an ugly pile of compressed cans in Bellingham Bay. She was created by an unknown artist and was around for awhile before being removed from the site and disappeared without a trace. That was about a decade ago. The story eventually came out about where Grace came from.
After her completion, the anonymous welder didn’t try to sell the 400-pound sculpture or work with a gallery to exhibit it. Instead, an extremely risky guerrilla install on a dark October night placed “Grace” on the aforementioned island of compressed cans—and in the direct sightline of the many pedestrians, bicyclists, babies in strollers, dogs on leashes and other assorted two- and four-legged beings that daily traverse the scenic waterfront trail leading from downtown Bellingham to historic Fairhaven. (from Cascadia Daily)

Apparently she was removed by the City of Bellingham, since she was an "illegal." But eventually the welder and the city came to an agreement, and she became a legal resident and was re-installed in the same place. I found the above picture on the Seeing Bellingham website on Facebook. Grace has been back where she belongs for well over a year now, and I really hope I'll continue to see her, and her admirers (like this heron) who was serendipitously captured by a photographer while sharing a moment with Grace.

* * *

Nine days. That's all the longer I have left to wait before I will be heading to Florida for Thanksgiving and two big birthdays, one of which is mine. My sister Fia will be turning sixty in a week, but she is driving to Florida with her husband to be with the family in order to celebrate over the holiday. I will also be turning eighty on the day I will return from Florida to my home and beloved partner, so my special day will be spent mostly in travel, but I don't mind. There are few better ways to give thanks for my wonderful life than to have the ability to travel thousands of miles to visit family and return home to Bellingham.

I received some sad news this week; my dear friend and co-worker at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Maria, died on the 9th, at the age of 78. We sent each other an email for our birthdays every year after I retired. Her birthday in April of this year wasn't returned with any email response, and now I wonder if she was too ill by then to say anything. It didn't bother me much, but I did wonder if I would hear from her on my own birthday, but now I know I won't. Maria has moved on from this life, and I hope that her memory will remain alive with her son Christopher and her life partner Mary. I always thought of the two of them as the M&Ms, and the last time we FaceTimed, a couple of years ago, she was happy and doing well. Apparently she has been ill from Parkinson's for a long time, but I didn't know that and was stunned to learn of her passing. Her mother lived well into her nineties, so I thought it would be the same with her. Dear Maria, I will always think of you smiling and laughing the way you were when we last connected electronically. 

Maria joins a long list of dear friends and family who have passed over the veil, from life to death and whatever happens to us, if anything, afterwards. It's a journey we will all make sooner or later, and I realize that my memories are all that I still retain of my beloveds. That, and dreams where they still visit me occasionally and give me a chance to open my heart to their love. My mother and son Chris are the ones who still visit me the most, after all these years. And here I am, still writing blog posts, still thinking of what my life was then and what it has become today.

The pandemic changed the lives of so many of us. I no longer attend the gym at the YMCA, but I consider going back now and then. I will probably join a new gym, however, since my favorite class is gone, and the women's locker room is still closed. My yoga studio is closing in a few weeks, and although I will still have some Zoom recordings from favorite classes, I will need to find another place. I've found some possibilities, but for right now I am just using the recordings. My focus is mostly towards my adventure heading to Florida. It's been three years since I've gotten on an airplane. You would think that someone who has flown in small planes for decades wouldn't have any anxiety about flying, but I realize it's there, just a little but sitting in the back of my mind anyway.

The only place I can find true solace these days in inside my own mind. I love routine, but the trip will squash that place of contentment, at least for a few weeks. However, I will be with my sister Norma Jean once again, and all the rest of the cacophony of a very large gathering. I'm hoping I'll have a few days of quiet with her after Thanksgiving is over. I gave myself almost a week of time after the holiday, when hopefully things will be a bit less chaotic and I can swim laps with her in the outdoor pool at her Y. And I will surely find many enjoyable events to spend time with my other siblings, too. We will all hug each other and spend lots of time feeling the love.

Ah yes, the love. I feel surrounded by it, most of the time. I have my wonderful dear partner whose presence in my life is better than I have any right to expect. And I have my friends, and soon I will be reminded of the love I share with my family.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Lao Tzu

Love is abundant in the universe, and I intend to find more and more of it to share with my loved ones. "For true love is inexhaustible; the more you give, the more you have. And if you go to draw at the true fountainhead, the more water you draw, the more abundant is its flow.(Antoine de Saint-Exupery) What a wonderful thought! I will continue to find and spread the benign virus of love, as long as I can, to as many as I can. It's one reason I love the internet so much: I have found loved ones I will never lay eyes on, some who are as precious to me as family members. That includes you, dear reader. 

Whatever this day and this season of Thanksgiving brings into your life, I hope and pray that it will soothe your soul and give you the abundance that you deserve. You are loved, don't ever forget that. And now that my tea is gone, my post (such as it is) has been written, I will turn my heart towards the rest of my day. Dear Partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and I am filled with so much love that I will spread out into the world today. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Contemplating November

Fall carpet

 I'm trying to figure out what to write about on this November morning. I've got an extra hour of time, since we switched over from Daylight Saving Time last night to Standard Time, giving us the illusion of an extra hour. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: you cannot cut a piece off the blanket and sew it on the other end to make it any longer. It doesn't work. But maybe, just maybe, one of these days they will actually get rid of the practice of changing our clocks twice a year. Some places in the world are already there. 

I am so ready to get back to standard time, since at this latitude the sun is presently coming up at 8:00am, but as of today, it will rise at 7:00am. Of course, this means that the sun will set before 5:00pm, gradually getting earlier and earlier, until we have days that are only a little longer than eight hours (with the rest being spent in the longest night of the year). And then when we get to the winter solstice at the end of December, the days will begin to lengthen and the nights shorten, until we get to the opposite solstice, the summer solstice) in June. There's lots of information about the seasons at timeanddate.com, if you're interested in learning more.

Another event happening here in the United States this week is the upcoming midterm election. Being in Washington State, as I've mentioned before, we have mail-in voting everywhere. We received our ballots and filled them out, and got them into the mail at least a week ago, so the only thing I've been able to do now is give small amounts of money to support candidates I hope to see win. I get an incredible amount of email asking for more, but I've done my part and know when enough is enough. In only a few more days, all those pleas with stop filling my mailbox. I've decided that I will probably not watch the election returns as they come in, since I am hoping to keep myself feeling positive and not get wrapped up in something I have no control over. I'll know the outcome soon enough. 

Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work— that goes on, it adds up. —Barbara Kingsolver

 Instead, I'll concentrate on what I can do to protect my own peace of mind, and add in a few extra little tricks for the duration. Some things are part of my daily routine anyway. I'll spend some time in meditation and will get some exercise. Hopefully it will not be raining, which we have had plenty of lately. Friday we received more than three full inches of rain, and every time I would look outside to see if it had slowed or stopped, it hadn't. It wasn't all that cold (that's coming within the next few days), but it was wet enough and dark enough that after having walked the half-mile to the bus in the pouring rain, I had had enough. John brought me right home after having enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and company at the coffee shop. Although I was well dressed for the weather, my headlamp wasn't able to help me see the puddles very well, and I splashed through them as I walked, rain splatting on my raincoat and making quite a racket. That was the extent of my exercise on Friday.

Amazingly, yesterday was supposed to have rain in the morning, but we awoke to scattered clouds that ended up giving us full sun for most of the day. It was glorious, and Melanie, Chris and I walked around five miles on our usual Saturday walk, enjoying the change, and we even stopped by the creek on our way to the Arroyo Park bridge to see the salmon beginning their return trip to spawn. Yes, it's November and the wildlife are following ancient urges as the earth turns, and we find ourselves well into the fall season.

 Although we gained that extra hour last night, I am pretending that it is still the same hour that it was before we sewed that hour onto the blanket of time. Therefore, I woke at 4:00am instead of 5:00, which is when my eyes naturally opened anyway. My iPhone and Apple Watch switched over without incident, but I wasn't having it. This gives me longer to write this post and read the news and my comics, as usual. Then John will pick me up for our breakfast in Fairhaven, which has become another part of my Sunday routine. Today, however, it will be light outside, not pitch black as the days have shortened. I think I would prefer to stay in standard time all year round, but that's not up to me, either.

So here is my plan for keeping myself in good spirits during the month of November. First of all, I will continue to get as much exercise as possible, and of course there will be the travel to Florida in just over two weeks. Once I recover from the travel, there will be all the disruption of many family members to deal with. But the good part is that I will once again be with my dear sister Norma Jean (along with the rest) and we'll have a chance to reconnect in person. This Wednesday we will have our last FaceTime before I travel there, and we'll certainly be talking about our plans for the holiday. And the momentous birthdays as well, with my "baby" sister Fia during sixty and me turning, well, you know: eighty. Twenty years between the oldest and the youngest sibling. I haven't seen the rest of my siblings since our sister PJ died February 2014, when we gathered in Texas for the celebration of her life. I wrote about it on my other blog here. It's been almost a decade since then, which is hard for me to believe. 

Hopefully the weather will cooperate so that we can all get to Florida for Thanksgiving. My brother and sister will be driving in their separate cars from Texas with family, and my sister Markee and her husband who lives in Canada will be arriving mid-month to spend the winter months in their Florida home. It was Markee who suggested that we all get together this year to celebrate the big birthdays over Thanksgiving. I wasn't sure about whether I wanted to travel there, since I've been unwilling up until now, and Covid is still not done with us. I'll be wearing masks for my travel, and hopefully it will all come together as we planned, with good traveling weather and lots of time to enjoy each other's company.

The first thing that I'll do differently to stay positive is to start each day with gratitude. It turns out that the brain tends to be most susceptible to our mindset in the first and last half hour or so of each day. So I will continue to count my blessings when I wake up, and again before I slip into sleep. Secondly, I'll find plenty of time to laugh. It turns out that finding ways to laugh and spend time in lighthearted happiness is key to maintaining a good attitude.

I found these tips on a website (of course) that lists "Five Keys to Maintaining a Positive Mindset." The third tip is to get connected. As the website reminds me, humans are social creatures and we need to connect with others as a basic human need, after food, clothing and shelter. I'll be continuing to do this every day, with SG, my coffee shop friends, and others, like you, who bring me such joy. 

The third tip is to contribute. During the election cycle, I give as much as I can, and I also write these blogs for my own contribution to the community. When we give to others (either of our time or financially), it connects us together and makes us feel part of something larger than ourselves. And the last tip is to grow yourself. Learning new things is a really good way to stretch your mind and feel good about life. My most recent foray into learning something new is about Buddhism, and how much it resonates within my own mental processes. At first I felt it was not appropriate for someone who considers herself to be a Christian to study Buddhism, but I've found that they are not incompatible at all. I'm benefiting from both.

So that's my special tips for today, and I will continue to find ways to maintain happiness in a world that seems to be falling apart. Each one of us needs to grow a little, laugh a lot, enjoy each other's company, contribute however we can, and be grateful. Just writing this post has made me feel better. I hope it helps you, too, dear friends. 

My tea is gone, my dear partner sleeps quietly next to me, my post is finished, and I'm ready to continue to enjoy the way this day has begun, with my extra hour wrapped around me, giving me time to smile and get on with things. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Voting is easy here

Bellingham Bay on Saturday

Yesterday, I walked by myself from the Farmers' Market to Fairhaven and back, in blustery but dry conditions. Melanie is on another quick trip to California, this time to attend a memorial for a dear friend. I texted with her while she awaited the arrival of her flight. As you can see in that picture, yesterday's weather was mostly cloudy, but we are expecting the arrival of an atmospheric river today, with around two inches of rain expected to fall here before it leaves on Monday. I'm glad we had a little rain ahead of it, making it easier for the ground to absorb so much moisture. I liked seeing the sailboats on the horizon in that picture, tiny but mighty.

I do hope you don't forget to vote during the upcoming midterm election. I am so incredibly tired of seeing all the political ads on TV, and I have basically been unable to tolerate too much TV because of them. That, and the news cycle seems to be stuck on terrifying me with dire news from around the world. That does me no good, so I pretty much choose what I want to see and hear on my laptop. I slap on my headphones and enter another world. No commercials, either!

Here in Washington State, we vote by mail. We got our ballots last Friday, and we sat down and figured out how we wanted to fill them in. We didn't have much to figure out, two advisory votes and two propositions, with the rest federal and local government races. I remember times past when it wasn't all that easy to figure out what the advisories and propositions were about, but this time it was easy. So we got our ballots all filled out and SG mailed them in the drop box outside the County Municipal Building.

When we lived in Colorado, we voted in our local precinct and always got there before they opened, so we could be done quickly before the crowds showed up. I was working then, and I didn't even have to take any time off. These days, however, Colorado has moved to all mail-in voting, too, just like Washington. I kind of miss walking to our precinct spot and chatting with other early birds. I usually needed a "cheat sheet" with a sample ballot filled out in my pocket, so I could be done quickly. It's not the time to ponder your vote while standing in the booth.

On our local Nextdoor app, I see that some criminals had stolen mail from some neighbors and dumped the unwanted mail, including their ballots, into the mud. Someone picked up all the mail and asked online if anybody was missing their ballots. He said he would give them to anyone who claimed them. Of course, they are invalid for anybody except those who they are addressed to, and if you don't receive yours for whatever reason, you can go to the courthouse and vote in person. They must also be signed on the outside with the voter's signature or they are invalid. 

In any event, it is a civic duty to vote, and I am grateful that I don't live in one of those places where armed militia are watching and filming me as I come to mail my ballot. Our system of government has always strived to be free and fair, although there are some people who have been intimidated over the decades, and that has not changed in many places in the South. But I'll take what we have here over what I would have to face in many other countries.
As I have done in every election since I started voting so many years ago, I always like to take my time and examine the two candidates, see not only the two candidates but the policies they will bring in, the people they will bring in, who they might appoint to the Supreme Court, and look at the whole range of issues before making a decision. —Colin Powell
I do hope that whatever impediments you might face in this upcoming election, that you will be able to overcome them and vote. It's a sacred duty, to my mind, and having never missed so much as a local election, I feel good that I do still have a way to make my voice heard, even if it's just a little squeak in the maelstrom. It's all I have available, so I'll continue to try to make a change. 

What else has been going on in my little corner of the world? Well, I am only three weeks away from my excursion to Florida to visit my entire family, and I'm getting anxious. It seemed very far into the future when I first made my reservations, but now I spend some time every day thinking about the trip and what I need to take, what clothes to bring, and the actual travel from one corner of the US to the other. Before the pandemic, I made a trip every year and thought little of it. But that was then. Now I have become a homebody who doesn't travel far from her home. I'll be fine, and I'll have plenty to blog about as I make my way through the next few weeks.

I just finished a wonderful book that was recommended in a comment on one of my posts. I downloaded it to my Kindle and continue to think of the story, which is set in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl and Depression days, but is written from the point of view of a young teen who escaped it, even though he suffered mightily. It's a fairly new book from Lynda Rutledge, who has written a few other books, but this one is not to be missed. It's called West With Giraffes, and I highly recommend it. It's not an easy book, but well worth it. Based on an actual event, the author also has some information at the end of the book about some of characters.

For one thing, I didn't know that giraffes occasionally "hum" or make a vibrating noise, for no reason that scientists can figure out. I also didn't know how one might be able to travel with them in a crate from one part of the country to the other. They survived a capsized boat in a hurricane and were driven all the way to the San Diego Zoo on the other coast, and the author wrote a truly memorable book about the event. It is historical fiction, and I'll reread it at some point in the future, so I can enjoy it again. I'll also look for some other books about that period of time in our history.

I've started doing that more often: rereading stories I enjoyed once, and I've found it rather amazing that a second reading brings me much more information about the story than I thought possible. Of course, it's also because in reading, I tend to take in the essential story but not the nuances, until a second read. Plus it's nice to have a Kindle that makes it easy for my old and tired eyes to make the text bold and large, giving me a chance to read far longer than otherwise. And all the books I've downloaded are still available at my fingertips. 

We are almost finished with our wonderful Indian Summer weather, and the next week will bring us our first freeze of the season. That means it's time for me to take the covers off the bed and put my trusty down comforter in place of the several layers that I've accumulated as the weather changed from warm to just right but not cold. Now it's gonna be cold. I really like snuggling up under my comforter, with my dear sweet partner next to me. 

Life is good. And I am busy trying to appreciate every little bit of it as I make my inevitable journey towards elderhood. I guess there's no way to call my age anything else, because in a few weeks I'll leave the decade of my seventies behind and begin my eighties. That seems almost impossible when I think of it, but I've managed to appreciate every moment I've been given here on this beautiful planet that still has such incredible creatures on it as giraffes.

My tea is gone, it's getting to be time to continue with the rest of my day, and I'll leave you with a wonderful picture from one of my blogging friends, who lives in Australia and is beginning her summer period. Isn't that amazing? We are on the same planet, but she's got flowers and kangaroos!

Thanks to Elephant's Child for this

And with that, I finish my Sunday morning meditation and begin the rest of my day. John will be here to take me to breakfast, and I'll be thinking of you and your lives, wishing you the very best week ahead, and hoping that you will join me here again next week. Until then, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Breathing deeply once more

Taken Thursday at Lake Whatcom

 See all those clouds on the horizon? That is haze caused from wildfires that have been burning in our beautiful state for months. They might still be smoldering a little, but basically the air quality around our state is once again GOOD. This area has had one of the driest summers on record, and with no rain to scour out the air, plus we were under a persistent heat dome that has now moved on, giving us much higher fall temperatures than we are used to. We couldn't take deep breaths without endangering our health. I read somewhere that parts of Seattle in the past few days experienced the worst air quality in the world. That is terrifying.

But then it all changed. Our temperature dropped by about 20 degrees overnight, and here in Bellingham we've received about a half-inch of rain since Friday night. That might not sound like much, but we have been way drier than usual. I never thought I would miss the rain, but I sure did when I realized we couldn't go on our usual Thursday hike because of very unhealthy air quality. Happily, we are back to normal!

All of our apartment windows were closed up, but during the night we slept with an open window in our bedroom, with the door closed, figuring we are doing little activity while we sleep. I didn't realize how much the poor air quality was affecting me, until it improved and we returned to our usual good air. I woke early in the morning, realizing that my throat no longer felt scratchy and I could breathe much easier. I wonder how people who have real breathing issues fared during the event. You cannot get away from the air and still be alive. I don't know how people who live in Beijing or New Delhi, where this is normal air, manage to cope. I guess they don't realize how bad it is, having gradually grown accustomed to it.

In any event, we are now in a much more normal environment, with the downright chilly outside temperature making it very nice to be warm and cozy indoors. Last night as I waited for sleep to come, I finished reading a book I started a week ago, about a dog rescued from certain death because of a floppy ear, and the dog became one of the Queen's much-loved corgis. The writer used the book to explain and develop some Buddhist truths that I have been pondering lately. I have now read and re-read several of David Michie's books, since he portrays many of the tenets of Buddhism in a way that I can relate to quite easily. Not to mention that I've found that reading something relating to philosophy of any sort tends to help calm my mind.

And, of course, it's always easy for me to get lost in pondering the meaning of life, and wondering where mind and consciousness fit into my awareness. I am fascinated with the fact that still, today, we have not been able to figure out exactly what mind is. Buddhists believe that mind is separate from consciousness, and that mind continues to exist after the body dies. That some enlightened beings have conscious memories that migrate into new bodies. They call this reincarnation, and I've wondered for years whether there is any possibility it is real.

How do we explain near-death experiences, where people are able to "see" outside their bodies and can recall all sorts of things that are impossible, if we only think of ourselves and finite and limited to our present-day reality? I remember reading a wonderful book years ago, My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor. She describes changes in her attention following a stroke to the left side of her brain. Immediately after the stroke, she found it exhausting to focus on what someone was saying. Once she allowed herself to rest in the experience of her right brain, however, she was only aware of the present moment. She says:

In this altered state of being, my mind was no longer preoccupied with the billions of details that my brain routinely used to define and conduct my life.... As my consciousness slipped into a state of peaceful grace, I felt ethereal.

I have experienced similar altered states of being in my own experience, and sometimes I am amazed to hear my preset alarm sound after what felt like just a few moments in meditation, because it felt like I just sat down and got started. And I am always more peaceful after my sessions. 

I have followed the saga of the James Webb telescope's amazing pictures of the universe as it existed millions of years ago, and looking at incredibly distant galaxies that we can see for the first time is simply awe-inspiring. Every morning I look at the Astronomy Picture of the Day and imagine myself being out there amongst the stars. Or at least my awareness. I am so glad that I have lived long enough to see the telescope's development, giving us a close look at the origins of the universe. Already I feel that I have been enriched by the creation of that wonderful telescope.

It also gives me a vantage point that I would not otherwise have been able to experience, to realize that life is so much more than just the small little bit I know of through my eyes and brain alone. Hey, there is a good sci-fi story percolating in my mind, thinking of somehow becoming a dust mote that can travel to the stars. Oh well, there I go again with my thinking brain going out there on a limb. No matter, it's all fun to contemplate, and it also gets me away from burying myself in the problems that we humans have created here on our beautiful planet.

Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. —Joseph Campbell

Yes, that's it! I choose to live in joy, which means I will stay away from the news for the next month or so. Or at least limit myself in order to keep myself living in joy, rather than despair. That does nothing to make me feel better about the world, and it only brings me down. I will instead write my posts, read about what my dear virtual family is doing today, and consider it to be enough. 

My tea is gone, my dear friend John will be picking me up soon to transport me in his magic chariot that looks suspiciously like a truck, to a wonderful breakfast in Fairhaven. Then I will come home and spend some time with my dear partner. He's gotten out of bed for a moment to visit the bathroom, but will soon return to snuggle back under the covers and get a bit more sleep. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Feeling the love

Whatcom Falls yesterday

Yesterday, four of us went for a lovely walk in Whatcom Falls Park to enjoy the colorful scenery, as well as not actually wanting to exert ourselves too much, since the air quality had moved from "moderate" to "unhealthy for sensitive groups." It almost made it up to the next level before it started moving back down the scale. Today is supposed to also be less than perfect air quality.

However, our air quality is relatively good, compared to many other areas nearby, all because of the smoke from some persistent wildfires that just don't want to stop. It's been unbearably dry and the wind, such as it is, comes from the land rather than the sea, meaning there's nothing right now to cleanse the air. That should change by Monday, and we have a good chance of at least a little rain by this time next week.

From AirNow.gov Saturday afternoon

It was so nice to walk outside with my good friends, with the golden light from the haze and smoke making it look like a fairyland, even if it was not really good for our lungs. We are located just about equidistant between Vancouver, BC, and Seattle. You can see that presently we are being spared from the worst of it. The red is "unhealthy" and the spooky dark color is "hazardous." 

But what I really want to talk to you about today is how much I am feeling the love of my friends and family. As I get ready to travel to Florida next month, I have been in the process of communicating with my sister Norma Jean about how it will all work, to have five siblings together, with myriad other family members. My sweetheart will stay here and keep the home safe and sound while I immerse myself in the riotous cacophony of my extended family. It will take me the weeks between now and then to gird my loins (so to speak) for the experience of eight days outside of my comfort zone. Norma Jean told me she was really surprised when I decided to fly down there, dealing with the upheaval as well as the excitement of it all. Me, too.

I am so glad to be able to see them once more, not knowing if it will be possible for us to gather again in the future. I haven't seen my brother Buz or my sister Fia since our beloved sister PJ died in early 2014. And I am also looking forward to seeing and visiting with Norma Jean's two dogs, Charlie and Icarus. I am a pet person, and until I met my sweetheart thirty years ago, I always had a cat. He, however, is not a fan, so I consider that SG has taken their place in my heart, and the tradeoff isn't even close. I love and cherish him just as he is. But I'll get my pet fix next month, for sure.

I love most animals and love to read stories about them. Right now I am reading a good story, The Queen's Corgi, by David Michie, about a sweet corgi who was almost euthanized because of a floppy ear, and ended up being adopted by Queen Elizabeth as one of her royal corgis. It's written from the point of view of the dog, which is probably one reason I am loving it so much. Corgis are rather unusual looking dogs, and you can always tell them from others because of their very short legs and (usually) lack of a tail. Last week when we were returning from our long hike in the mountains, I saw a beautiful corgi in the parking lot, this one with a very long tail! I learned from his owner that there are two very different breeds of corgi. The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is a bit heavier than the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and it has a tail.
Besides the tail – Cardigans have a long, foxlike tail whereas Pembrokes have their tail docked close to their body. Cardigans are slightly larger with heavier bone, weighing up to 38 pounds, while Pembrokes only weigh up to 30 pounds. (from this website)

I also learned that although the two breeds may look similar, they are truly very different. The Pembroke tail is sometimes missing when the pup is born, but Cardigans have a magnificent tail, just like the one I saw in the parking lot. The owner also told me that docking dogs' tails is going out of fashion, and I for one am glad to hear that. I will be checking out corgis more closely from now on. Pembrokes are descended from the Spitz family of dogs, while the Cardigan descended from the Teckel family of dogs, which also produced the dachshund. Pembrokes were originally bred to be cattle herding dogs. It's funny to me to think of a herding dog with such short little legs!

But in any event, they are purported to be wonderful dogs to own and love. Like every dog I've ever been around, they exude unwavering love and devotion to their owners. To me, the biggest problem with dogs is that they don't live long enough, and if you become attached to one, you will need to let it go long before you are ready. It's worth it, though, as any dog lover will attest.

My sister's dogs are Papillons; Icarus is a purebred, and Charlie is a mutt with mostly Papillon characteristics. They are also small dogs, and that's good because they tend to live longer than larger ones. In fact, Norma Jean reminded me that Icarus is now twelve! How did that happen so quickly? The older I get, the shorter the years seem to be. And I will be turning eighty in a few weeks, and the years will probably pick up speed during my ninth decade, if I am graced with such a long life.

I recently read a story that David Michie wrote about an experience he had while on safari in Africa (not the kind of safari where you kill animals, but one where you bond with them emotionally). He decided he would meditate while surrounded by elephants. Here's what he wrote:

For the second part of the session, I chanted, out loud, the mantra of Green Tara the Buddha of compassion-in-action. Om tare tuttare ture soha is a mantra I usually say in the presence of animals, having found that they can sometimes respond to it very quickly. Back in Australia, for example, when I chant it to the galahs – pink and grey parrots – who visit, they may pause with drowsy eyes and seem to go into a trance-like state occasionally for periods of quite a few seconds.

As soon as I started reciting this mantra with the elephants, Kura was on the move, his majestic, tusked form approaching me, closer and closer, until he was right beside the rock where I was sitting, reaching out to me first with his trunk, then shoving his whole head on the granite boulder.

It was a moment of the most extraordinary connection. There was a very real sense that Kura was responding to Tara, whose presence was the focus of my heartfelt invocation. 

When we say the mantra of a Buddha, it is understood that that Buddha is immediately present. In particular, it is the practice of Green Tara, the mother of all Buddhas and the embodiment of compassion-in-action, to move swiftly to the aid of any being who is suffering, and to relieve whatever pain they may be experiencing.

That day, I had the strongest sense of Kura being powerfully drawn by Tara’s presence, that he came towards me at that time because he wanted to be physically closer, to bathe in the energy, to drink it in. During those timeless moments of connection, the very long lashes of his eyelids were half-closed as I rested my hand on the smooth, grey expanse of his mighty forehead. 

But at the same time too, in the most uplifting and extraordinary way, there was no meditator, no elephant, and no act of meditation. In that boundless spaciousness, there was only the presence of compassion and the wellspring of love from which it flows.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.


I was so moved by this account. And I have begun to realize that during my own meditation sessions every day, I am finding myself feeling more and more a sense of wellbeing and, well, feeling the love. Instead of immersing myself in the distressing news of the world, I want to be surrounded by the immense love of the universe, which is not expressed or covered at all in the daily news. That doesn't mean it isn't there, that it doesn't exist, but it's apparently not newsworthy.

I'd like to change that, and spend my days basking in the presence of love and joy. It doesn't make the negative stuff go away, but there is only one consciousness that I can directly change: my own. It might even be possible for me to spread some positivity through this blog post, but I cannot be responsible for that, for where my good thoughts emanate as they extend beyond my own spiritual center.

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity. —Henry Van Dyke

And with that, my dear friends, I will leave you and hope that your day will be filled with love, as I intend mine to be. My tea is gone, my dear partner still sleeps next to me, and I am ready to move into the rest of my day. My friend John will pick me up soon, and we'll head out for breakfast and coffee. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.