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, July 31, 2022

Happy 99th birthday to Mama

A toast

This lovely woman was my mother, who would have turned 99 yesterday, if she had lived that long. Unfortunately for her, and for all of us who loved her, she's been gone for thirty years. Gone, but not forgotten.
I feel like there are women who are genuinely born to be mothers, and women who are born to be aunties, and women who really probably not should be allowed near children. The tragedy that happens is when any one of those women ends up in the wrong category. —Elizabeth Gilbert
Mama was one of those who was born to be a mother. She was born in 1923 and managed to raise six children and give birth to seven. (Tina Marie was born prematurely and didn't have fully developed lungs; she only lived one day.) I was the oldest child, one who was blessed to have the undivided attention of both parents for a couple of years, and then who found a kindred spirit in my sister Norma Jean. We grew up together.

Mama was one of those people who was a genuine homemaker, and since we moved around a lot, with Daddy in the Air Force, she had plenty of chances to create a home that helped to nurture all of us who were in her care. Sometimes I wonder what she would have accomplished if she had lived longer; I know some people who are still alive who are 99. I don't think Mama would have liked to see herself grow old and frail; she was vibrant and active long after many souls less determined than she would have given up.

She survived heart attacks and breast cancer, and she raised the six of us to become strong, self-sufficient and productive people. She especially taught me the value of reading: she read constantly and widely. Those who worked in the local libraries always got to know Mama, who would check out so many books at a time that she would need a box to carry them out. And she read them all.

Mama lived to be 69 and died four months prior to her seventieth birthday. I remember talking to her on the phone about the big day, but I think she knew she would not live to see it. Mama had developed breast cancer in her forties and, although she survived it, her heart was damaged from the radiation they gave her. She suffered numerous heart attacks over the years that followed. She always rallied and sometimes came back from her trials seemingly hale and hearty, but she took a massive amount of powerful drugs daily to keep her that way. Mama was a fighter. She was the center of my universe in so many ways, but I didn't know it at the time. It was only when she was gone that I realized how bereft I was.

Mama in Boulder

I took this picture of her one fine summer day when she came to visit me in Boulder. She's wearing my scarf and shirt, which she picked out of my closet, wanting to wear something new that was not her own. It was a lucky capture, which I took once I arranged her posture on the bench, with one of the Flatirons that define Boulder in the background. We went out to breakfast that morning and then drove to the mountains so she could visit them. Her ability to walk very far was gone by this time, and she was very short of breath from the altitude (I think we were above 8,000 feet elevation.) Even  so, she looks the picture of health, and that's how I'm remembering her now, on the occasion of her birthday.

There are moments from my childhood that stand out in my memories, and almost without fail they involve my mother. I remember once when I was very sick and she was taking me to the hospital. I was feverish and felt awful, but she put my head in her lap (someone else was driving) and she stroked my forehead with such love and devotion that I remember it to this day. Once a child from a large family no longer needs that kind of care, it's memorable when it happens again. Mama loved me, and all of her children, I have no doubt whatsoever.

Mama never felt like she accomplished much in her life, since she never brought home a paycheck, never worked outside the home except for volunteer work. I think she had the idea back then that somehow her life was lacking an essential ingredient because she never developed a career. But she was so wrong: the career of motherhood at the center of her life gave every one of us the best possible start in our own lives. And we all end up having our children grow up and away from home in any event.

If I could invite myself to her party to celebrate her birthday, I'd be sure to have her immense fan club be invited, which would include all her children and grandchildren. It would also include Daddy, who was only 62 when he died. She had become a widow at the age of 55. He'd be there, but Mama would be the center of attention because of who she still is to all of us. I would dress her in jeans and jewels, and her hair would be long and tinted auburn, the way she wore it when she was young. We would have plenty of good food and martinis, the drink she and Daddy enjoyed for so many years (and is probably in that first picture). We would tell stories and laugh uproariously, keeping the memory alive of our very fortunate life together, which ended too too soon.

And I'd be sure to tell her that she is still missed, and that of all the possible mothers I might have had, she was the jewel in the crown, and I would not give up even one moment of the time we had together. Happy birthday, dear Mama, and don't forget to smile down on us today, as we raise a glass to you. 

And with that, dear readers, I leave you with a smile on my face, with my dear partner still asleep next to me, and the day to come just emerging from the dawn's early light. I know that many of you do not have mothers still around to celebrate with, but we don't need to let that stop us from having a fabulous day and remembering our one and only mother. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Choosing to remember

Lake Padden yesterday morning

 You know what? I'm actually accomplishing plenty of stuff in a day's time, but for some reason I can't appreciate it and think I should be doing way more. Yesterday I finally chronicled everything I did from waking until I climbed into bed, and it was, surprisingly, quite a lot. Certainly not nothing. But usually when I think of what I do in a single day, it seems inconsequential. Perhaps the passage of time has more to do with paying attention to the present moment than much of anything else. As many sages remind us, the present is all we have: yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not yet.

After all, what is there to be accomplished from one day to the next, other than taking care of our immediate needs and keeping our heads above the waters of discomfort that emerge as we watch and read about the ills of today's world? I can choose to focus on the positive, or allow myself to be pulled into the morass of anxiety that surrounds all of us. Nothing really changes in the world (for the better, at least) if I fall into the trap of unease that is constantly pulling at me. I get to choose!

So, today I am going to allow myself to play, have fun, and think about those I love who brighten my days. Like my sister Norma Jean.

Life is really pretty tricky, and there's a lot of loss, and the longer you stay alive, the more people you lose whom you actually couldn't live without. —Anne Lamott

She has a birthday tomorrow. My baby sister is turning 77, if you can imagine that. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

Me, Mama, Norma Jean with doll

You mean that adorable blond creature is that old now? It seems almost impossible that my baby sister is now an elder, one whom I still talk to and visit on FaceTime once a month. Although I do have other siblings, she and I grew up together and she has become one of those people I can't imagine living without. She, and my dear SG, are essential underpinnings to my mental health, so I cherish every moment of every day that we are still all together on the planet.

When Norma Jean was born, she entered a world where I had already staked out my claim for our parents' undivided love, and she usurped what I felt was a perfect life. Mama used to tell the story of how jealous I was and had to be watched to make sure I didn't harm my sister. I'm sure I must have demanded that they send her back. Fortunately for me, they protected her from her older sister who was in her Terrible Twos and quite spoiled. As the years passed, we grew closer and closer, and all the early pictures of the two of us show that we became inseparable. She taught me how to share.

We were very different from one another: she was shy and reticent, while I was outgoing and extroverted. We only became more so as we grew up. Since my father was in the Air Force and we moved around often, we became dependent on each other for stability. When I was seven, our next sibling was born, PJ, but she was far enough away from us in years that she didn't disrupt our bond. 

In school, Norma Jean would make one close friend when we first arrived in a new environment, while I made several acquaintances. It was very difficult for her when we moved and she would have to leave that friend behind, while I hardly noticed and was happy to be the "new girl" in the next classroom. This didn't change as we grew up, and we both learned to cope with our situation in ways that helped to form our adult selves. Through all our formative years, the one constant friend I had was my sister, and she was always there for me. Looking back, I wish I had learned how to be more like her. I didn't know how to develop close friendships, which I realize now was my own coping mechanism for our lifestyle.

I think that helps to explain how I never was able to have a stable marriage. By the time I had turned thirty, I had been married and divorced three times and pretty much felt that I would never find a true mate. For twenty years, I stayed single (or involved without marriage, anyway) until I met SG. It astounds me that we have now been together for almost thirty years. I am blessed to have him, and love the fact that my dear sister is still available to me for FaceTime visits. In this moment, I am surrounded by all the love and affection that I need. 

I have known more than my share of loss, and I can attest to the fact that as time passes, those losses fade from memory, and what is left behind are many wonderful moments of happiness I had with those who are now gone. I can only hope that this will continue into the future, as I consider a life where one of my anchors has fallen into the depths and left me behind. Or maybe I will be the lucky one and will leave first. Who knows what the future holds? But again, I must remind myself that looking forward into the future is fruitless, since none of us knows what lies ahead.

I am reminded once again that I have the ability to choose what I focus on, and whether I choose happiness and contentment, or allow myself to wallow around in "what ifs" and squander the incredible gifts that I have been given, that's up to me. This Sunday morning meditation, where I focus my mind on something that is foremost in my thoughts, is another gift I cherish. I've made some good friends here in cyberspace and feel the need to give you something to think about in the coming week. Who could have foreseen this incredible gift of instantaneous connection to others we will never meet in person?

My friend John will pick me up at 7:15, and we will make our way to Fairhaven for our usual Sunday morning breakfast. When I come home, I'll greet my guy, who will be up and about by then. Right now, however, he sleeps next to me as I tap the keyboard and think about how to wind up this post. 

How about with a fervent wish for robust good health and happiness to all? That seems like a good idea, since happiness is not in short supply, if I allow myself to have it and give some of it to you. It just spreads outwards like warm sunshine. And with that, I will finish up with the admonition that we all look to the present moment and choose joy. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

It's been a week

Cornwall Park

I walk by this spot several times a week. It's part of my usual path from the Rose Garden where John lets me off after we leave the coffee shop. From here, I can walk home and get the bulk of my steps for the day. The distance between my home and this part of Cornwall Park is about 2.5 miles. That, plus the distance from home to the bus early in the morning, gives me well over three miles of walking and close to 10,000 steps. 

Right at this point on the path, I can hear the pickleball players in the courts off to the left. The pok-pok sound of the ball hitting the rackets, along with groans of a miss, or happy laughter of a good play, makes for an interesting backdrop to the sound of my steps on the gravel. Plenty of birdsong and the raucous cawing of the crows adds to the symphony. 

As usual on a Sunday morning, I rise and make myself some tea and bring it into the bedroom with my laptop and settle in for the task of writing this post. It's become such an ingrained routine that I cannot imagine not sitting here, casting about for the subject of the day to emerge. Today, as most Sundays lately, I'm continuing to look for ways to take care of my hold on serenity and not allowing the world's ills to dominate my outlook. I read somewhere recently that this state of anxiety is not just happening to those of us here in the US, but it's become prevalent worldwide.

Therefore, what this says to me is that I am actually right in the emotional slipstream that many of us are experiencing. But one thing I have learned in recent years is that I am in charge of where I place my state of mind, and that I can choose to be happy or sad. Although many aspects of life's trajectory are not within my power to change, where I place my attention makes all the difference.
I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it. —Groucho Marx

 Truer words were never spoken (or written). It's what I've decided to concentrate on today as I write here: how to be happy in this moment of time. And I've got a head start on it, since I woke from a good long sleep in weather just right for me: cool with a light breeze fluttering the curtains at the open window. We are in one of the few places in the Northern Hemisphere with decent temperatures right now. I read that Europe is experiencing a serious heat wave, as is much of the US. Not us, though: yesterday was cloudy and we never reached 70°F (21°C). I know some people love the heat, but I'm not one of them. So that is another reason for me to be happy: I live in the Pacific Northwest, the place we chose for our retirement years.

Although I am approaching my eightieth birthday, I am still in good enough health to walk and hike in this beautiful environment. My friends and family keep me entertained and provide plenty of intellectual stimulation. I have subscriptions to many different entertainment venues and watch movies and series that I enjoy very much. Recently I re-watched the musical Chicago and really enjoyed seeing it again; after so many years it was like watching it for the first time. I am so happy that I can do that, watch old favorites or new series, with the touch of a button. 

I am also thrilled that the James Webb telescope has been officially considered an enormous success, and last week the first pictures were released, showing astounding images from galaxies, with light reaching us from more than a billion years ago! That reminds me of how much I appreciate being able to learn about our universe and the concepts that are still puzzling our astronomers. A billion light-years is mind boggling, don't you think? The concept of a billion of anything is hard to grasp. If you were to count a billion seconds, it would take 31 years! So a billion light-years is, well, impossible to wrap my brain around. But we now can see galaxies that far away and that long ago.

What else is happening in the world? Well, I could concentrate on the marvels of science, such as that new telescope, or what is available to me through the internet, which is considerable. I hardly remember a world where Google wasn't available to answer any question almost as quickly as I can frame it. And here I am sitting with a laptop that gives me instant results to my queries. Not to mention that once I finish this post, I will be able to publish it and send it into your home, almost instantaneously. I am grateful that I have lived long enough to see and experience the world of today. This also gives me the ability to know about all the ills of the world, and all those who are suffering, but I also get to choose where I place my attention. I think I'll join Groucho Marx is choosing to be happy today. 

My dear husband turned over and is awake, which is unusual for him at this time. But he'll most likely drift off again while I finish this post. My tea is gone, and this Sunday morning I'll head off to breakfast with my friend John. I'm going to take some time to stretch and do some yoga postures to help keep me limber. So far, my quest for a happy day is working out. I do hope you will have a good day and week ahead before we meet here again next week. Until then, please spend some time with me in being happy. I wish you all good things.

Sunday, July 10, 2022


California poppies and Dame's rocket

 Although it's not my favorite time of the year, it's certainly the most beautiful, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. I love to see all the flowers after a very wet and cool spring. And we are still having cool weather, although I think we may have begun that period when the rain pretty much stops, and we will continue to warm up, week by week, until we have weather that borders on hot.

But not really hot, not like what is happening in much of the rest of the country, and places around the world that are almost too hot to support human and animal life. With climate change causing disruptions to our weather, too much rain here and scorching droughts there, we are, I fear, going to be forced to get accustomed to change on a large scale. It's scary. I live in a town where home air conditioning is not all that usual, since we have a built-in air conditioner because of onshore flow, breezes that come in off the Pacific Ocean, cool and moist. It happens almost every night; the wind might come from land all day long (offshore flow), and then shifts to onshore flow and give us much cooler temperatures when the sun goes down. I love it!

I've been re-reading a favorite book, partly because I'm lazy and not wanting to start another book that might not deliver what I'm looking for. It wasn't all that long ago that I first read A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. While rummaging around in my Kindle looking for something to read, I decided that this book was such a winner the first time around that I'd enjoy a second reading. So far, I am. Ozeki's novel was a finalist for the Pulitzer and the Man Booker Prizes. I then read several more of Ozeki's books, but this was the one that I still think about. It's written from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old girl who wrote in her diary, and Ozeki herself narrates the present time. Nao (the teenager) wrapped up the diary and a few other things that somehow washed up on the Canadian shore to be discovered by Ruth. It is likely that Nao was washed away by the tsunami that killed tens of thousands in 2011. But the mystery that is gently revealed in the story still comes to mind. Once I'm done, maybe I'll move onto something new, but for now I am in stuck in Ozeki's novel.

It's not all that easy to take care of myself, my mental state, when the world is in such turmoil, but I'm managing. I am very grateful for my friends and dear life partner, so that I don't have to face everything alone. I'm still limiting the amount of news that I consume, since once you've learned the basic stories, the newscasters just repeat the same stuff over and over. And I am fortunate to have a massage therapist and an acupuncturist who both give me plenty of help in navigating through to the other side, where peace and tranquility reside. Or I could just follow Lily Tomlin's advice.

Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it. —Lily Tomlin

I read a wonderful and uplifting article about an elderly blind dog who wandered off from her home in Alaska and was given up for dead, but after three weeks she was found by a construction worker who saw her in a ditch and rescued her. Although she had lost lots of weight and was dehydrated, little by little Lulu is recovering. I found the story so moving, I think, because it has a happy ending for everyone. And her family was worried about the vet bills, but members of the community took care of that. It is inspiring to read about people coming together to help each other.

John is not picking me up for breakfast this morning; a friend who is in town has asked him and my fisherman friend Gene to join him at a favorite restaurant, and although I was invited, I decided not to go. It's uncomfortable for me, still, to go into crowded spaces, and more and more people seem to think that the pandemic is over, not wearing masks or keeping distance. The latest Omicron variant is everywhere, and it's especially worrying to think I might get it and bring it home to My Guy. So I am taking precautions and staying home, mostly. In all indoor situations, I'm wearing a mask except to take a sip or two from my coffee cup. It might seem like overkill to some, but it makes me feel better to be cautious.

I continue to be amazed at how quickly time is passing. The week hardly begins and then it's over. When I was working and had a schedule to keep, it seemed like the week had at least one extra day. These days, no sooner is the weekend over, but it's already halfway to the next one before I have a chance to catch up. Is this just because I'm getting older, or what? At least my days are pleasant, and I know that the seasons are only three months long and summertime will be over before I even get used to it. Fall is my favorite season, and it's up next.

Well, this has been one of those posts where I cannot seem to focus on anything special. That's partly because of trying to avoid all the bad news these days. I'm going to see if I can take Lily Tomlin's advice and avoid reality. It helps to have a book like Ozeki's to get lost in. My tea is gone, my partner still sleeps, and since I don't have to finish this quickly, I just might work the Wordle and mosey out of bed, in no hurry to be anywhere special at all.

I do hope you, my dear readers, will not be too disappointed in me not trying to inspire you, but remember that love and joy are not in short supply, and you are sent plenty of both from my small little corner of the world. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

A life well lived

Eight decades of of life changes you

There is no doubt that I was doted on by my parents. As the firstborn, I think I am the only one who was taken alone for a studio sitting; subsequent photos always have other siblings included. I love looking at how my mother curled my hair into ringlets. So pampered and secure in the love that surrounded me is in every aspect of this brief moment of time, captured in this picture. I was born blessed and surrounded by love.
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. —Dalai Lama

Kindness. Of course, that small little deed is more important than just about anything else I can think of. When I was a baby, it surrounded me. That, and laughter and plenty to eat, lots of fascinating toys to play with, a world to discover, and the belief that I was the center of the universe. And here I am today, still the center of the universe, since I'm the one who still sees everything through the lens of my own eyes, through the beliefs of my own heart.

I mentioned a while back that I was reading a book called "Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals," by Oliver Burkeman. I finished it recently, and I'm still pondering some of the concepts he introduced that were new to me. One is the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, who wrote a book in the early twentieth century suggesting that we don't actually have time, but instead, we are time. Somehow that makes sense to me, since the time before I was born and the time after I die are both infinite, and I am a finite being.

That, and the sense that if life has any meaning at all, it is only for the short period during which I am alive that it matters to me. If kindness is a philosophy that one can live by, then being happy and spreading joy into the world might be the only thing my life is about. I can live with that.

Yesterday I walked, as usual for a Saturday, with my friend Melanie. It's now summertime in my part of the world, and although it's more sunny than we usually experience here in the Pacific Northwest, it's not terribly hot. Yesterday we made it to 66°F with a brisk cool breeze and fluffy white clouds scudding across the sky. It was just about perfect, weatherwise. We walked for around five miles in Whatcom Falls Park, where the numbers of people out and about surprised me. Usually we see perhaps a dozen others, but yesterday it seemed like most of the town had also joined us outdoors, wearing summer sandals and shorts, mostly. After our cool and wet spring, everyone is anxious to get outdoors and enjoy the change in weather.

You might notice that when I'm at a loss of what to write about that I often throw in a quote or two. (I just spent a few minutes looking for one but deleted it.) I am especially feeling the need to find some direction for this morning, and there is always a need to remind myself of what is important, as I sit here staring off into the darkness of my bedroom. 

To set the scene, most of you know that my dear partner is asleep next to me. At this time of the year, there is light in the sky that slips through the curtained window, and I start the morning with a cup of tea, which is now finished. I have exactly one half-hour to finish this post before I must get out of bed and get ready for the rest of my day. My friend John will pick me up in front of the apartment so that we can head to Fairhaven for breakfast. We have become so predictable that our barista has our coffee ready for us when we arrive.

A change I can live with

I had decided that I would begin the post with that cute little baby and end it with the reality of today. Mel took this picture of me last Thursday, and it shows that the baby has been given the blessing of a long life, which still continues today. Although nothing is guaranteed, I do know that my life won't be snuffed out prematurely. So many people never get a chance to make it to old age, but I have, and I am trying to spend my days making my world a little better place. 

I started eight decades ago being surrounded by love, plenty to eat, a world to discover, and today I have much the same. With so much that has changed in life, one thing is still the same: I am extremely fortunate. Even if this were to be my last day on earth, I would not want to be anywhere else. Or anyone else. And to have this blog to share with my loved ones (I consider you to be in that group), is an incredible gift to me. I am surrounded by miracles.

Okay, with that realization, I will finish up this post by wishing you and your loved ones to also be surrounded by kindness, and that you will find some way to spread your joy out into the world. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.