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 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.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Maintaining mental acuity

Rose from Cornwall Rose Garden

It turns out that tomorrow is World Mental Health Day. I didn't know this before trying to decide what to write about today, and when I asked SG what's on his mind, we discussed the need to keep ourselves mentally healthy. And a quick search on Google led me to find out that this has been an annually recognized day to bring attention to mental illness since 1992.
This day, each October, thousands of supporters come to celebrate this annual awareness program to bring attention to mental illness and its major effects on people's lives worldwide. In some countries this day is part of an awareness week, such as Mental Health Week in Australia.

There are many websites that discuss how best we can maintain our mental health, which is just as important as physical health in our quest to have a good life. And, of course, as we age, many of us wonder if we will be able to keep our mental faculties all humming along happily until we no longer need them.

 It turns out that there are several places that will give you a list of what types of activities are necessary in order to keep our mental health in tiptop shape. Here's one of my favorites.

Make social connections a priority

After the Covid pandemic and all the ways it's changed my life, I realize that my family connections, especially my dear partner, are more important to me than ever. I've lost my exercise buddies, since the YMCA closed its doors for more than a year and don't offer any my old favorite classes any more. I've continued my daily visit to the coffee shop for more than just coffee. I would truly miss my dear friend John, who I see and interact with every day. And I have my hiking buddy Melanie, who is a lifeline to me in many ways.

Stay active

I am very grateful that I live in a place where I can get outdoors almost every day to enjoy the beautiful trails and parks in my neighborhood. Once a week I get a longer hike (on Thursdays) that I used to spend with the Senior Trailblazers. I might one day join them again, but for now I'm happy to have a friend who makes our time together a priority, and we always get a good workout together. I realized when I had my bloodwork done recently that I've lost some "good" cholesterol, but my numbers are still good. You get those when you exercise, and it also contributes to a lower incidence of heart disease.

Talk to someone

This is where having a spouse comes in really handy. He's available for any heart-to-heart talks that I feel it necessary to have. But if I didn't have him, I would look for someone who might like to hang out with me and spend some time together. Just getting together for coffee is essential social activity for me. The pandemic cost me my good friend Judy, since I don't go out to movies any more, but I might start again one of these days. I don't miss the movies, but I do miss her companionship.

Appeal to your senses

Just like the pretty rose at the beginning of this post, walking outdoors and seeing my surroundings makes me happy. My eyesight is diminished because of AMD, but I still can see everything and know that this is one sense I truly appreciate and hope will last for as long as possible. Smell is also not what it once was, but I could smell the rose and it brought back memories of other flowers I've enjoyed in the past. The sound of birds calling, the distant sound of a train, these are all sounds I hear every day. And of course, a delightful meal brings me joy.

Take up a relaxation practice

Recently I have started a meditation practice every day, and I'm surprised at how much it gives me. Although those few minutes in the morning sitting on my meditation bench and following my breath seems trivial, I feel the effects of it for the entire day. I don't get quite as rattled as I once did when things get weird. Maybe it will keep growing and spreading through my days. I will continue to make leisure and contemplation practices a priority.

Don't skimp on sleep

I usually try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Last night I didn't, but most nights I do, and it makes a huge difference in the quality of my day. It seems important to me that we regenerate and the older I get, the more sleep I seem to need. I remember when I loved to stay up late, but I don't do that anymore and actually look forward to bedtime. For me, mornings are the best time of the day.

Eat a brain-healthy diet to support good mental health

Getting lots of omega-3 foods in your diet are important. These are things like walnuts, beans, leafy greens like kale, spinach, or brussel sprouts. They are way better for you than processed foods, even energy bars and other overprocessed items. They don't help your brain health. The more natural, the better.

Practice gratitude

There are, of course, many activities and other things we can do to help our mental health, but if you are really having a problem, please consider getting professional help. I am grateful that I have good health care and could find a pathway to a good doctor that could help me sort out any difficulties. But there are so many ways to practice gratitude, and I've been trying them all out myself. Feeling grateful for the blessings we have is paramount to a good quality of life.

* * *

And one thing that I have only skirted around the subject of is that of my virtual family. That's become a real benefit in my daily life. I would really miss it if I didn't know how my friends in other parts of the country, and the world, are doing. Some of you I don't even know your real name, or where you live, but it doesn't matter at all. You are still precious and valuable to me. Thank you for being my friend.

And with that, I have finished another Sunday contemplation. My tea is gone, my dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and John will be here in a short hour to take me out for our now-essential Sunday morning breakfast. Until we meet again next week, please be well and I wish you all good things.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Florida now and next month

I see this cart on my daily walks

 This lovely little flower cart is something I walk past during my walk home from the coffee shop. The lady who lives in this home has sweet bouquets available for purchase ($5), and I have considered buying one often, but I would have to carry it home, which is another two miles away. So I don't, but when I saw it last week, there was a ray of sunshine that broke through the clouds just long enough to brighten them and give me a good shot.

As many of you already know, my sister Norma Jean and her son Peter live in Zephyrhills, Florida, a few miles away from Tampa. When I saw the predictions of the recent hurricane heading for landfall, projected to make a direct hit at almost my sister's home, I panicked and called to find out what they were considering. It turned out that they had left their home just that day, both cars packed with everything they could fit in, along with both dogs, and headed north to Virginia, where Norma Jean's daughter lives.

Then the hurricane made a turn south, and instead of Tampa being wiped out, it was Fort Myers. I've seen the devastation that Hurricane Ida unleashed on Florida, but it turns out that her home and the area where she lives got off fairly easy, at least in comparison to other places like Fort Myers. The two of them will head back home probably today, Sunday, if the roads between the two places are all clear and passable. I truly feel terrible for all the people who have lost everything, and the many who have died because they didn't evacuate. But I am also guiltily happy that my family and my sister's home were spared. 

And, thanks to many thoughtful comments from my dear virtual family, I have decided to go ahead and swallow my fears and travel to Florida myself to visit them after a long hiatus because of the pandemic. It's been two weeks since I got the third Covid booster and I will get the flu vaccine in mid-month, so I'll be as prepared as possible for airplane travel. I am assuming that by Thanksgiving during the last part of November the state will be experiencing normal travel to Tampa. That's where I will arrive, if all goes according to plan.

It was when I learned that all of my siblings will gather in that part of Florida to celebrate those two big birthdays that are coming up: my "baby" sister Fia's sixtieth, and my eightieth. How could I not be there? So, looking online for available flights, I found two direct flights from Seattle to Tampa, with no changing planes, no stops at all. Unfortunately, the only one I could make will leave at 9:45pm at night and arrive the next morning at 6:00am (that is Florida time; it will be 3:00am to my internal clock). Yikes! Can I do it? Well, I decided that since the flights are already very expensive, I'd go ahead and book a first-class seat on my way there, for a mere $300 more. I figure I can sleep easier that way, although I sure won't be very rested, I can also arrive in Seattle in plenty of time to make use of the First Class lounge.

It was the awful hurricane and all those comments you made about how I should probably just bite the bullet and go ahead and go that made the difference. Of course, until I actually get to Seattle and board the flight, and it actually takes off, I'm skeptical, but I believe this can happen. Just in case, I bought trip insurance. Who knows what will be happening in the world, and especially my little corner of it, by that time?

In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present. —Lao Tzu

Something weird is going on with Blogger. I cannot cut and paste the way I always have, I must try three or four times to make it work. And fonts and other things are constantly shifting and appearing for no reason I can figure. That quote took me several tries to accomplish, so for now I'm giving up on trying to do anything out of the ordinary. I'll soon be getting a new computer (another MacBook Air), and hopefully the new operating system will have fixed things. It's hard to deal with, but it's only a minor annoyance, given all that is going on in the world. 

I am truly afraid of what will happen in the midterm elections. Hopefully they will proceed normally, but the way everything has been happening lately, I'm afraid of violence and people being unwilling to accept the results if they don't like them. Our country has never been in such a state, at least not that I can remember. And the war in Ukraine and Putin's annexations have also scared me. Are we at the beginning of World War III?

Whatever happens, the only place I can have any effect at all is within my own sphere, so I must try my best to stay centered and part of the solution by spreading love and light in every way I know how. It's been several months now since I started spending part of every day in meditation, and it helps me so much. I haven't missed a day since I started and look forward to those quiet moments where I simply follow my breath. Afterwards, I spend a few moments in silent prayer for all sentient beings. It might not make any actual difference, but the world around me sure seems brighter and happier when I alter my own attitude.

Nice color

I took this picture while on my Saturday walk with Melanie yesterday. It is definitely one of the most beautiful times of the year, and I am enjoying being able to walk more than five miles and seeing what my neighborhood looks like. There are so many things to be grateful for, and if I point myself in that direction, I believe that all will be well. 

With that, dear friends, I will get ready for the rest of my day, with John coming by to take me to Fairhaven for breakfast. My sweet partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and I can feel your presence in my heart. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

P.S. I accidentally posted this on my other blog, and had to copy and paste (with difficulty) and so I apologize for the mistake.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Buz and Pixie

A wintry day a few years ago

A few of you are aware that I've written about my brother Buz in past posts, but today I would like to take a longer look at my baby brother. My parents only produced one son among the six of us. I was the first-born and the biggest disappointment to my father when I didn't end up being male. (Back then, in the 1940s, it was a bigger deal than it is today.) When the next two children were born, Norma Jean and PJ, I think he sort of gave up on ever having a son.

However, my brother Buz was born when I was sixteen, when my parents apparently decided to start a second family. His full name is Norman Francis Stewart, but he's always been known by the nickname Buz, after a good friend of the family. My parents went on to have three more children, my sisters Markee and Fia, and Tina Marie (who was born prematurely and didn't live more than a few days). The second family were all pretty much raised in one place, Fort Worth, after Daddy retired from the Air Force and after I was married and gone. They bought a rambling house on Lake Worth. All of my siblings were like little otters, born to the water, and I visited them sporadically for years. Wherever my parents lived was home, even if I didn't live there growing up.

Daddy wasn't all that old when he retired, so he ended up with another job at General Dynamics, located on the other shore of the lake. Daddy "drove" to work via his boat, Gigi, but this was a part of their lives that I didn't get to know well. I was busy having my own trials and tribulations to pay much attention to their lives. Occasionally I would need to stay there for awhile, but I didn't stay long. Wherever my parents lived, however, felt like it was home.

That was all a long time ago, and all my siblings but one have retired from their professions. Buz was in Information Technology (IT) until he was forced out, partly because he was now older and making more money than his bosses want to pay him. It's an old story. I'm a little murky on the details, but he was essential to the company for many years. He has settled into retired life with his wife Phyllis, who still works, as far as I know. The two of them had a couple of dogs that they spoiled and loved immoderately.

I think they were both rescue dogs, and I got to know them a little when I visited over the years. Bella was a pretty Scottish terrier, and Pixie was the textbook definition of a "mutt," a small mixed breed terrier. Bella was Phyllis' dog, and Pixie and Buz were inseparable for a very long time. She died earlier this year at the age of 17, so it wasn't unexpected, but when you have a companion for such a long time, it's very hard to pick up the pieces once again after such a loss. Anyone who has loved a fellow critter who gives you unconditional love knows what I mean.

Back of Pixie's head and Buz's foot

Last week, Buz wrote a story on his Facebook page, which I read and re-read and decided I need to share it with my virtual family (that would be you guys) about a sweet love story between a man and his dog and how he is coping with her loss. He named his rowing machine Gigi, after Daddy's boat.

* * *

Every day we go for a boat ride. We used to go for car rides, but I donated her special car seat to Goodwill. Also, I can’t close my eyes while driving my car.

I sit on the rowing machine, tighten the foot straps, tap my Apple watch a couple of times, lean forward to grab the handlebar (i.e. “the oars”). Then I close my eyes and start rowing our little boat, gently down the stream.

Without actually pointing (because I can’t point and row at the same time), and somehow without speaking, I direct her attention to the myriad sights in the water, in the sky, along the shore. She doesn’t need me to do that, but she seems to enjoy the sound of my mental narration because her smile widens as she watches the world, as she watches the life around her. She doesn’t bark—she hasn’t barked in years—but she glances at me occasionally, just as she always did, to acknowledge our connection, our sharing of this experience. She smiles, and I row.

Of course there are always horses, with riders, trotting along the shore. And sometimes we see cows. We see fish and birds and trees and clouds. Squirrels. All the things she always loved. We can feel the breeze as it caresses the trees and ripples the water.

Sometimes we see new things. Penguins, boars, lions, tigers, bears. Oh my. No matter what she sees, she smiles. And I row and row.

Along the way, we also see signs and banners, intended only for me because she can’t read. Duh. There’s a sign I posted myself, and it changes every day. Today it says, “46 days and 46 nights.”

There are also signs from others. I never know when or where they will appear. Most are compassionate or at least understanding, but others are unwelcome, intrusive even, signs like, “What’s wrong with you?” and “She was only a dog” and “Get over it already.” The thoughts of others. Thoughts that resonate a bit too much, that make too much sense, that have the capacity to wear me down.

My rowing slows. I grow tired. My narration has already died away.

Exhaustion, both physical and emotional, eventually forces me to stop rowing. When I open my eyes, she’s not there, of course. It’s just my room, filled with emptiness. The ride is over. I wish I could lift her from the boat, feel her heart beating as my hand presses against her chest. Just as I always did.

I am healing, lest you think otherwise. I am able to laugh. Interacting with me, seeing me from the outside, you would say I’m perfectly normal, or at least as normal as I ever was. My wife sees a bit more. Fortunately for me, my wife is an angel, and she’s guiding me gently down the stream.

Sometimes life is pain, and sometimes pain gives meaning to life. Speaking only for myself, I’m okay with that. So many others know levels of pain that I will probably never experience. I’m lucky, I’m blessed, I’m privileged. I can’t deny it.

It’s a slow process, but I’m learning once again how to fill the days, and the emptiness. With meaning. Not to replace the pain, but to shape it into a more manageable form. I would never want to lose it completely. It’s mine.

Yes, I’m just fine. But for now, my little girl and I will continue to go for boat rides. In that special place where life is but a dream.

* * *

My heart is full as I read this, with the understanding that he will indeed heal and recover from the loss. We always do, but we are changed through the interactions we share with other blessed beings who die before us. It doesn't matter how short or how long the bond has been, it still hurts. I know many of you have shared your loss through your blogs and I have certainly done the same. Today I wish that all of you dear friends are able to have your loved ones close by, but if not, know that love never dies. It just grows and changes shape. Until we meet again next week, be well, my friends.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Solo walk by the bay

Late summer flowers

This weekend, Melanie is in the San Francisco Bay Area attending her high school reunion. Since she is out of town, I walked by myself down by the bay at Squalicum Harbor, one of our favorite Saturday walks. I enjoyed visiting the booths at the local waterfront, where the SeaFest annual festival was in full swing. It was fun, and just hanging out there and walking from the Farmers' Market gave me more than five miles and lots of steps. 

But still, I missed Melanie and hope she's having a good time. She left Friday and returns late today, a quick trip, although she's still having to navigate the airports. I'll be very interested in hearing what she learned about travel during the Covid era.

When I spoke to my sister Norma Jean during our monthly FaceTime call, she asked me to consider traveling to Florida to be with her and my siblings to celebrate both my big birthday (my eightieth) and my youngest sister's sixtieth. We were born almost exactly twenty years apart, the eldest sister and the baby. It seems almost more impossible for me to believe that Fia is going to turn sixty, than it is for me to consider that I myself am leaving behind my eightieth decade of life and beginning my ninth! 

Does she look eighty to you?

I am always surprised to see pictures of me; I look different to myself from inside my own eyes, looking out at the world. But recently I saw a picture of Joan Baez, who is almost 82, and she and I look similar to one another. She's prettier, of course, and was probably wearing makeup, but in the whole we look about the same age. Of course, we actually ARE, so it's not too unusual, but she made me feel good about it, when I studied her picture and found lots of vibrancy and health still evident. But see, there's the rub: the "still." Nobody ever says that about someone half our age.

When I was working, I traveled a lot, to many different countries and loved it, mostly. Although it was mostly positive, there were times when it was tedious and difficult, but life is like that in many ways, not just travel. These days, however, I find I am not wanting to go anywhere away from my safe and familiar surroundings.
No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. —Lin Yutang

But then again, we are all getting older and already one of my sisters has passed into the Great Beyond, and who knows whether we will get another chance to be together again or not. That makes me consider whether I want to go to all the trouble, expense, and hassle to travel somewhere I really don't want to go. Yes, I'd love to see family. But I am truly in a quandary about it. Travel is exhausting and I find myself protecting my daily routine from disruptions, and that would be a major one. The upside, however, is seeing my siblings and spending time with Norma Jean once again, in person. My birthday is ten days after Fia's, and Thanksgiving lies between the two, so maybe traveling on Thanksgiving Day would mean fewer fellow travelers, since everyone should have already arrived at their destination before then. I don't know what I'll end up doing, if anything.

Yesterday after my walk, I went to my friend Lily's home and saw that her furniture has been moved from their old place, and she drove me over to where they are moving to. It's not far, and it's conveniently located in a tree-sheltered large apartment complex. It's got a nice underground parking area for residents (which I immediately coveted) and they are moving into a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor (4 stories high). It's one of those places where you call whoever you are visiting and they are able to release the outside front entrance in order to give you access into the building. Very secure and nice. Plus never having to scrape ice off the car during the winter, that would be a big advantage. Anyway, seeing once again the chaos of moving reminded me I hope we don't have to move again soon.

Which reminds me, our rent is going up again come January, which is I guess to be expected if you don't own your own place. But Melanie told me her condo association fees are increasing, and property taxes as well. Everywhere is becoming more expensive with inflation, and landlords having to pay more for everything, too.

That's just the reality of the world situation at the moment. It's not just here in the United States, it's everywhere. When I see the awful situation in other parts of the world, like Pakistan, or Ukraine, I realize I have no room to complain. Instead, I'm going to concentrate on all the parts of my life that are positive and working well. 

Positivity is like a muscle: keep exercising it, and it becomes a habit. —Natalie Massenet

There are two things I think of immediately when I contemplate the good parts of my life. The first one is, of course, that sweet person sleeping next to me as I write this. Although we have our issues, as does every couple, they are miniscule when I think of how much I depend on him, how much I love him, and how much he adds to my daily life. I don't know what I did to deserve him, but whatever it is, I'm grateful.

The second is my ability to reach out into the world and commune with dear friends across the world. The internet, where the entire collection of human knowledge is available right here at my fingertips, well, it's a condition of living that was unimaginable just a few decades ago, but now is essential to my daily life. And having starting a blog and writing to you once a week adds an incredible amount of meaning to every day. I can picture some of you in your daily lives, even if I don't know your real name or where or live, but that doesn't matter. The fact that we are connected like this is an incredible gift that I don't ever want to take for granted.

I feel surrounded by positivity. The heat of the summer is past, and the cool, crisp air of fall will greet me when I walk out the door. Today I will wait for my friend John to pick me up in his truck and transport me to Fairhaven, where we will enjoy a good breakfast together before coming back home to spend some time with SG. Hopefully I'll get a chance to walk in Cornwall Park sometime today, look at the changing leaves, listen to the birds, and give thanks for all that makes my life worthwhile. I do hope that will extend out to you, dear friend, and that you will have a wonderful day and week to come. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Remembering bygone times

Returning from Chain Lakes hike

This picture depicts what has long been one of my favorite hikes, the relatively short (7-ish miles) hike from the Bagley Lakes area up to Herman Saddle, down to Iceberg Lake, up to Artist Point and then back to the starting point via the Wild Goose trail. Although there's some elevation gain and loss of around 2,000 feet, it's simply gorgeous and the views are without parallel in our beautiful Mt. Baker wilderness area. This picture was taken five years ago, in late August 2017.
Old age and the passage of time teach all things. —Sophocles

What I have learned in these past five years is how much I have enjoyed my hikes with the Senior Trailblazers, and how long five years can be in the life of one person. Although I can probably still make this hike if the weather is good, meaning not too hot, not too sunny and with all my faculties functioning properly (knees, back, and feet in good shape). I've done it many times but feel some trepidation just contemplating the excursion once again.

Last Thursday I accidentally went on a longer and steeper hike than I intended, and although I did it, I was so tired and sore at the end of it that I figured I won't be repeating it. I'm done with long and steep hikes. And yet... the call of the wilderness is so strong that I think I might end up pushing myself like that again in the future. As long as I can keep going, I'll probably be finding myself wondering how the heck I ended up trudging up a long and arduous trail again. But five years when you're in your late seventies is not the same journey as it once was. 

Chain Lakes wildflowers galore

How do I stop when the views are so glorious? When there are others even older and less fit than I who keep on going? I have been hiking with the Senior Trailblazers since 2009, more than a decade of going out in all kinds of weather, putting one foot in front of the other and making it mostly without serious injury. I have fallen more than once, but with the help of others have safely gotten myself back home. I miss these trips.

My spirit is still willing and if that was all I needed to be comfortable covering long distances in the mountains, I'd be there in a minute. But that's not the case, and I've been wrestling with myself all summer long. Melanie and I did one fairly long trip a month or so ago, and I did pretty well, but it was rather cool and she always allows me to set the pace to accommodate me. That makes all the difference, and I've been happy to take advantage of her stronger ability, which makes me feel safe when we're out there. I hope to make it up to Goat Mountain this fall, when conditions are good, since it's another of my favorites and no harder than last week's hike.

We had reasonable air quality when we went out for our five-mile walk yesterday morning, but then during the afternoon the air began to get much worse, as the smoke from a nearby forest fire reached our area. It was eerie as the sky darkened and got scary yesterday evening, with the air quality falling to unhealthy. This morning (I just checked) it's still bad, in the unhealthy category. That means we will have at least another day of bad air. Many places in the country have been dealing with this, too, but this is the first time for us this season. I pray they get the fire under control. This one is called the Bolt Creek Fire, and I've added a link from a local news outlet. Apparently the residents in the area have been evacuated for their safety.

Other than not wanting to exert myself much today, because of the air quality, I have plenty of indoor tasks to accomplish and keep me occupied. I just purchased a new (to me) Apple iPhone 12, replacing my 7. I loved that phone, and it took good care of me for years, but with the newest version (the 14) having been released, I would not have been able to update the old phone with the latest operating system. That means I have a lot of learning to do, since it's quite different from the earlier version. The hardest part for me is realizing that there's no "home" button, and everything now needs to be done with swipes across the screen. Mercy! But before long, it will be old hat and I'll be fine. Just a day or two of hassles. 

And I have been watching the goings-on with the passing of Queen Elizabeth. Nothing much else has been on the news, and I have truly felt the enormity of the change in the world with her gone. Melanie and I were on our Thursday hike when my Apple Watch sent out an alert about her death, so we stopped on the trail and acknowledged the significance of it. She was truly a dedicated servant to the Commonwealth, and she watched how much the world changed during her realm. We will not see the likes of her again. I wonder how the monarchy will fare without her. May she rest in peace, with her beloved husband with her once again.

Today is the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks 21 years ago. It changed the world in ways we could not have imagined at the time. Although it's been more than two decades, will any of us who were alive at the time ever forget where we were when we heard of it?

If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate. —Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl

What surprises me is that it has been 21 years since that happened, and it still remains vivid in my memories. My son Chris was in the Army and stationed in Germany when it happened, and since he died the following year from a heart attack, he was spared from having to be involved in the war that emanated from it. I suspect he would have died in Afghanistan if he had survived, and I am grateful he didn't go through that trauma. Many have died from it, both our soldiers and civilians as well. 

There are so many world events happening right now, and I am very much involved in their experiences, through the magic of the internet, as well as all my devices, including my new iPhone. And here we are, once again, joined as we are to one another through our blogs and comments. I know that some of you were not able to reach me for awhile, and I tried to fix it, but apparently Google fixed itself. One blogger was only able to find me through a Google search, but if you do find yourself unable to reach me, please let me know my email. I smiled when I wrote that, thinking of how you wouldn't know any of this if you couldn't get to this blog. 

My tea is gone, my dear sweet partner is still sleeping next to me, and I'm thinking of all of you, my dear virtual family, who are as precious to me as my "skin" family and friends. I hope that you will have a good day, safe and sound from harm, and able to experience robust good health. It's my prayer for you today. Be well until we meet again next week.