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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Peace and Love

Raindrops on Peace and Love

It's the name of this beautiful rose, which I photographed on Friday, after John dropped me off at the Cornwall Rose Garden. So pretty, don't you think?
Love and peace of mind do protect us. They allow us to overcome the problems that life hands us. They teach us to survive... to live now... to have the courage to confront each day. —Bernie Siegel

This has been quite a week of hard news, and I'm working hard to find some peace and love to bolster me. And the Rose Garden handed me this rose to admire, smell, and appreciate. Wouldn't you know it would be entitled "Peace and Love"?

There are plenty of other events going on in the world, but in my own news cycles, with two January 6 hearings that had me wide-eyed at times, the war in Ukraine not going so well, and then Roe v. Wade being overturned, with many more similar rulings likely in our near future, well, I'm finding it hard to just stop and smell the roses.

But really, what else can I do? Yesterday I just had to turn off the news, since the news anchors just keep going over and over the same facts, and after awhile I could feel myself shutting down, a heaviness coming over me as I reached for a glass of wine. Of course that only helped temporarily, and I knew that I needed to face what is bothering me so much. I'm old enough to know that nothing stays the same, life is constantly changing, in flux, and that nothing lasts forever.

On top of all that, we are also experiencing a warm spell that is allowing us here in the Pacific Northwest to share what most of the rest of the country has already been feeling. Until yesterday, we had not gotten much above our normal temperatures, but now we are under a heat advisory until late tomorrow night. Then we'll return to our normal moderate weather, at least for awhile. My friend Melanie and I decided to walk the Interurban trail yesterday, which is shaded and quite comfortable. It was only when we were out in full sun on city pavement that it really felt hot. Plus I was able to stay inside, with fans and cool drinks, where it was quite nice during most of the afternoon.

Last year at this time we had a very unusual heat wave, setting temperature records for highs all over the area. I remember sitting in the living room with the TV on, fans on full blast everywhere, and barely able to tolerate the heat. We even reached triple digits on one day before it let up. We had never before gotten that hot in Bellingham. So, when I look back, I can be grateful that this heat wave is just normal, not exceptional. I do, however, realize that the discomfort we are dealing with is nothing compared to many parts of the world. So yes, I am grateful.

I looked up online what ways people can use to deal with despair and found this wonderful article on Psychology Today, which I also discovered has numerous blogs on every possible human condition. This one, however, is about how to deal with despair, and lists these five coping mechanisms:

(1) Take your despair for a walk. Good advice. I always feel better once I get outdoors and into the beautiful green environment that is my neighborhood. And after a few minutes, my perspective usually changes for the better.

(2) Give your sorrow words. It always helps me to find other people who are feeling the same as I am, and to read words of wisdom from authors and poets who know how to articulate what it means to be a human experiencing a tough time,

(3) Honor your despair. The article points out how pushing away or avoiding the situation doesn't help, but really makes it worse. Everyone in every life will have moments of despair, and acknowledging it actually helps to make it better.

(4) Seek out fellowship. Finding others who you can share your feelings with will definitely help everyone. I spent some time talking with my neighbor yesterday, and both of us shared tears over a glass of wine. Both of us felt somewhat better afterwards, I think.

(5) Avoid toxic positivity. This was a new one for me. I realize after pondering its meaning that what it is saying is that it doesn't help to put a happy face on it when you're feeling really bad. I cannot hide my despair, and I surely shouldn't even try.

Maybe it's time to start to think about all the wonders that surround me here. First of all, I'm sitting up in my bed, as usual, tapping away at my laptop, and looking forward to purchasing a new one in a month or two. I love my MacBook Air from 2019, but now that Apple has upgraded it, I'll be buying a new one. You wouldn't think that three years is a full lifetime for a laptop, but it really is. I use it every day, and it's become the main way that I watch videos. When I binge-watch a series, it's usually on my laptop with headphones. 

I talk to my sister Norma Jean once a month on here, too, and seeing her face in even more detail on FaceTime will be like she's right here with me. She's still swimming a mile every morning, and she looks good, which makes me very happy. My connection to her is essential to my continuing happiness. Between Norma Jean and SG, I have two wonderful people with whom I can share my ups and downs, and that makes all the difference. So, looking at my life from a new perspective, I realize that I will get through this rough patch without any permanent scars (at least that's what I'm hoping). How about you? How do you deal with... whatever? 

And yes, it's that time again. I am finished with my tea, my dear partner still sleeps next to me, and the sun has already raised the temperature, even early in the morning, by a few degrees. I'll put on my Big Girl shorts and sandals and share a nice breakfast with my friend John, before returning home for some good conversation and hugs with my guy. Yes, life is good, still. I have so much gratitude for everything. That includes you, my dear readers, and I do hope you find a way to experience the wonders that are everywhere, if we just stop to look. 

Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, and that you will find a way to remain comfortable in your own world. Be well.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Bringing up the past

Norma Jean and me, picture by Daddy

I looked back at previous Father's Day posts, and all of them have pictures I've used before. Maybe it would be fun to remember Daddy from another angle, looking at who he was to those two little girls when we were growing up. For the first seven years of my life, it was just the two of us, and then my sister PJ was born.

He was a big man, especially to us, who were much smaller and dependent on him and Mama for everything. Daddy would often be the one who would send us off to school with our lunch pails, with sandwiches he prepared. He often told me stories of how life was for him when he was a little girl (which of course he wasn't, but I didn't know that then. I thought I'd grow up to be a man like him.)

Daddy was very soft-hearted. He would cry at the drop of a hat and often lost his composure when reading stories to us at bedtime. I don't have any memories of Mama reading to us, but plenty of them when he did. As a child, I didn't wonder about why it was always him, because I thought that it was the same in every family. These days, I do wonder, since I remember that Daddy was a morning person, like I am, and Mama was not. Maybe she had her nose buried in a book she was reading and Daddy preferred reading bedtime stories to us. Who knows?

My parents went on to have a big family of six (seven if you count our sister who died after having been born prematurely and only lived for a few hours), but the second family didn't come along until I was a teenager. My brother Buz was born when I was sixteen, and then the next two sisters were born after I got married and left home myself. I have never been as close to them as I am to Norma Jean, since it was just the two of us for so many years. Daddy looms large in my memories of growing up, although as an officer in the Air Force, he was often absent for months at a time.

Daddy had a darkroom where he developed pictures and was a pretty good photographer. He took many pictures of his two daughters, like the one I've included here, and Mama was always nearby if not prominent in many of them. She was the one who kept us looking presentable and probably sewed those little beach outfits for us. I well remember the smell of the chemicals in the darkroom, although I was only allowed in a few times. It's a very clear memory, flat pages with the images slowly appearing as he carefully worked with them until they were developed to his satisfaction and then placed on a clothesline to dry. I suppose there are still darkrooms like his somewhere, but it's really a relic of the past for most of us. Now I take pictures with a simple click of my camera phone and if I don't like it, off it goes into the ether. No more waiting to see what you captured.

Daddy liked to read, but nothing like the way my mother did. She had reams of books from the library surrounding her, and she would read in bed, while Daddy was asleep next to her. (This was when we were older and no longer had bedtime stories read to us.) The activity never seemed to bother him, and I remember sitting and talking (quietly) to Mama at night while Daddy snored away. As a teenager, Daddy introduced me to his favorite science fiction books, some of which I have reread as an adult. I think he would have loved the way so many of his children became avid readers. He was a philosopher at heart, too. He filled my head with some amazing ideas, mostly when he'd become a little inebriated, which might explain why many of those thoughts are still so vivid in my mind. I blame Daddy for my overactive imagination.

Daddy was only 62 when he died, and I was 36. My sister Fia was only 16. Events like these take a huge toll on us all, but at least I was an adult and had some life experience that helped me put it into perspective. My youngest siblings, Fia  and Markee, were just high school kids. We all suffered through, and gradually, as it always happens, we took up the threads of our lives and moved on. Mama was devastated, having lost her husband of 37 years, but she also managed to establish a good life for herself in the fourteen years she had left on the planet.

Mama was only 69 when she died. It astounds me to realize she was only 55 when she became a widow. To me, at the time, she seemed much older than that. Of course, I realize that as I grow older myself, what once seemed to be ancient is now, well, not so much. Someone who is 55 seems young as I look back at the almost three decades that have transpired since I was that age. When I see in the obituaries that someone died at 85 (for example), it feels a little premature. But it's not, is it? In the Bible (Psalm 90:10) the length of a life is supposedly 70 or 80.  
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Although my father didn't get to be very old, he lived a very full life, filled with love and laughter, family and friends. After he retired from the Air Force, he continued to work at General Dynamics (GD), which is now Lockheed. Although I had left home long before and wasn't around at that time, my brother saw this side of him: he often piloted his boat to work, since GD was located across Lake Worth, where my family lived. It was remarkable watching him take off into a strong wind with lots of white cap waves on the lake, on his way to the office.

That's a memory my brother has of our father that I didn't know anything about. I had started making my own way in the world. And now, here today, many many years later, I'm taking this time to remember and reflect on a wonderful man, my father, who gave me part of my genetic makeup (along with Mama), and who counseled me over the years we had together. The sense of loss is gone, replaced with a deep appreciation and indebtedness for having experienced it at all.
Thanks, Daddy, for being my father and giving me so many vivid memories of you. I hope that someday in one of our future lives we will again have a chance to compare notes about what we learned this time around. The bonds of love and happiness are very strong when I think about my childhood, and you are very much a central figure even today. 

If there is a heaven, I like to think my parents are together on the celestial golf course, where long drives and accurate putts are the norm. And that Daddy outdrives Mama most of the time.

And that's it, for this Father's Day remembrance, and me hoping that your week is a good one, with lots of love and laughter in whatever is just right for you. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me as I finish up this post, and I look forward to the rest of my day ahead. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you call good things. Be well.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Roses and rain

Cornwall Rose Garden first blooms

We seem to be stuck in a never-ending loop of rain one day, partial sunshine the next, and cool temperatures overall. We're lucky if we are able to leave our gloves at home. But I do know that I'll be complaining about the heat at some point this summer, the start of which is less than two weeks away. We have yet to see any really warm weather. I've learned that in the local gardens, everything is delayed one to three weeks because of the cooler and wetter weather. 

I really don't mind, since I am not a fan of heat. But there are many people who miss the summer sun and warmth. My favorite temperature is right around 60°F (15°C). Right now my old home state of Colorado is baking in triple-digit temperatures, which is one reason why we decided to move to the Pacific Northwest when I retired from my job at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. We've lived here fourteen years now and we've never been sorry we moved here.

Today I think I'd like to explore some old memories of memorable events that I've experienced in the past. As many of you know, for more than two decades I was an active skydiver, and for many of those years I was an instructor. For years I taught the First Jump Course at Mile-Hi Skydiving Center in Longmont, Colorado and took students out on their first jumps. These were not tandem jumps, since I don't think I was ever capable of such feats of strength. Few women are tandem instructors; instead, I became an AFF (accelerated freefall) instructor through a rigorous process. I failed the first time I took the week-long course. But in June 1994, I became licensed to take students on their first jumps.

Looking back, I realize I truly enjoyed that time in my life, and the people I taught were fully capable of saving their own lives in case of an emergency. The first line of defense is always teaching a person what to do in every possible circumstance. Since they would need to land a parachute for the first time, they were given a harness and container system with a large main and reserve parachute and needed to know how to use them. Once they were trained on how to activate the main, and what to do in case it failed, I made sure they had practiced enough to gain muscle memory in that event. I taught hundreds of students.

There is a real sense of accomplishment when you help someone learn a new skill and know that if they needed to, they could carry out the appropriate activity competently. Of course, I had to learn all this myself in my early days of my career. Under my tutelage, few students ever had to use their reserve, but there were plenty of other things that could happen. The way AFF works is this: two instructors are holding on to either side of the harness of the student, right at the center of gravity at the hip. Then the threesome moves to the door of the airplane and jumps out together. The student is taught to give the count and upon exit, thrust their hips forward as they leave the airplane. This helps us keep the threesome stable, and just like that, we're in freefall. The student then has tasks to do: touch the main ripcord handle three times, look at the instructors for instructions, and then to keep looking at the altimeter on their wrist to keep track of their position in freefall. We exited at 13,000 feet and by the time they get to 5,000 (about 30 seconds later), they were to pull the main ripcord. This would then cause the two instructors to let go as the student is pulled out of their hands and is now under a main parachute.

At least 99% of the time, that is exactly what happens on a student's first jump. While the student is left to orient themselves and fly the parachute back to the Drop Zone (DZ), the two instructors track away and open their own mains, locate the student (now above them), and fly back to where we began the adventure. The student had a radio attached to their chest strap, and someone on the ground usually directed them back to the DZ, while we landed ourselves safely. I would take as many as six or seven students in a single day during the long summer season.

It makes me tired just to think of how much work that all was, but I was younger then and could deal with it well. Tired and happy was the way I usually went home after a long day at the DZ. Occasionally a student would twist an ankle or land in an unceremonious heap, but hardly anybody was anything other than ecstatic and happy after having accomplished such a life-changing event. A good number of them returned the following week for another jump.

It was an exciting time in my own life, and I am very glad I never had to deal with a student fatality. One time a student was flying his parachute back to the DZ and hit a barbed-wire fence and ended up with a broken pelvis. That was the worst accident I remember, although other instructors did have students with more serious injuries. Broken bones were the most common, and the student was whisked off to the local hospital. Sometimes they would return to proudly show off their cast and let us know they were all right. But injuries didn't happen often; it was much more usual for the students and instructors to be just fine after a day of jumping out of airplanes.

Today, my excitement comes from more sedate activities: wearing myself out on a long hike or learning a new yoga posture. How grateful I am for those years of such adventure and accomplishment. Those memories will never fade completely, as long as I am alive, and it gives me great pleasure to reminisce with you, and relive those days.

With that, I've gone as far with this digital adventure as I can for today, but perhaps I'll recall more of these activities in the future and share them with you. For now, I've got to begin the rest of my day, now that my tea is gone and my dear partner still sleeps next to me. It's time to move on. I do hope that you will find happiness and love in your week ahead, and when we meet again next week that you will have had some adventures of your own. Until then, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Four thousand weeks

Whatcom Falls on Saturday

Yesterday Melanie, Dianne and I walked just under five miles in Whatcom Falls Park, stopping (as usual) in front of Whatcom Falls to see how the water is running. As we expected, it's totally roaring, with all the rain we've had lately. We were so lucky to have had a dry day on Thursday, when the Senior Trailblazers had their annual Start the Summer potluck and hike. I joined the group, but Mel went out on a solo hike. The group was really large, with around fifty Senior Trailblazers from two different hiking groups all gathered together. It's too many people for comfort on a regular hike these days, but I sure enjoyed myself. You can read all about it on that link.

But today I'm going to talk about time, once again. The title of this post is referring to the number of weeks that a usual mortal gets to spend on earth during one lifetime. One of my blogging friends pointed me towards a book by that name: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. And you know how much I enjoy writing about, and trying to figure out, what the heck the whole concept of time really means.

Although I haven't finished this book yet, I'm finding it fascinating to consider how time has been perceived in earlier civilizations. It's interesting to think what it was like before people had any sort of clocks or need for them. In medieval times, people woke at sunrise and went to bed when the sun went down. Burkeman says that monks had to figure out how to get up before the sunrise, so they assigned a monk to stay awake all night and watch the stars to tell when it they should wake up, but if he fell asleep or it was cloudy, it didn't work. I laughed at that, realizing that something else would have to be considered. We humans are nothing if not a resourceful lot. 

But to come all the way from sleepy monks to thinking of us as being stuck on a conveyor belt that constantly speeds up to help us get everything in our lives done, well, it's a real stretch. When I consider how little actual time we humans have to get anything done before we die, it's amazing that we actually accomplish anything. I am beginning to understand why some people have long to-do lists and are constantly trying to keep up within the constriction of our short lives. Four thousand weeks is surprisingly brief, isn't it?

I looked up on one of my favorite sites, timeanddate.com, how many weeks I've been alive and found that I've already had 4,184 weeks of life and have another 26 weeks or so before I turn eighty (and might have another 500+ weeks after that. Who knows?) It's not much time, but then again, the whole of human civilization is only four to seven million years old. We are definitely a young race, but look at how much we have accomplished, both good and bad. We've changed the entire world, and explored much of the universe beyond, but look at what we have done with time itself. We have become its slave.
There is an alternative: the unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history. ― Oliver Burkeman

And we are actually standing at a critical place in history: right at the end of a pandemic and trying to figure out how to use our limited time more appropriately. I know that I am endeavoring to enjoy each day, especially when I consider how lucky I am, having a warm and safe roof over my head, enough food to eat every day (too much sometimes), a partner to share my days with, and friends and family who care about me, and whom I also care about. I can still read, even if my eyesight is not perfect, and I can sit in the dark and type on my laptop and reach out to infinity through the miracle of the internet.

But still, I am also lucky because I can look back on a life well lived, with lots of memories of people and places that I cherish, and it feels like enough to me. I had a productive career as an editor and helped to create many books that now sit on countless shelves; I had a productive avocation as a skydiver, piloting canopies, teaching others how to fly their bodies in freefall, and I am satisfied. Getting up and greeting each day with a sense of wonder and happiness, happy to have another day to find a way to manage time instead of letting it manage me. I'm determined to change my vision of time from being on a conveyor belt into one of being a creature IN time, with infinite possibilities ahead.

Using that calculator on the timeanddate.com website, I realize that I've also been alive for almost 30,000 days (29,040 to be exact), and have breathed in and out for 41,900,000 minutes (almost 42 million!) and find it possible to inspire myself to continue creating many more Sunday posts, one a week here on this blog. Why not? I enjoy it, and some of my followers enjoy it too. While my time might not be infinite, it's enough once I step off the conveyor belt and consider the expanse my consciousness can reach. 

I have all the time I need. And I am hoping that you will consider for yourselves what you would like to accomplish in your own life, hoping that the possibility of rethinking your life to become one filled with infinite possibility will give you another way to ponder how to spend your days. It's possible to find fulfillment with every breath, if we allow it.

It's time (!) to wind up this post and begin the rest of my Sunday. I do hope you will find love and joy in your day, and that you will smile as you consider your options. I am listening to the drum of rain on the roof, and realize that I'll need to wrap myself in some of my rain gear when I go outside to meet my friend John for a breakfast trip to Fairhaven. Until we meet again in another week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.