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 27, 2022

Together again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob standing in his "backyard"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Traveling and remembering

Lake Padden last Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

Lovely Maria

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Dancing statues and more

Grace and unnamed heron

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Contemplating November

Fall carpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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