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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas Day 2022

Linda H. Williams on Seeing Bellingham Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next Advent season, Merry Christmas!

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

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Dark days, long nights

An earlier Christmas Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snagged from the internet awhile back (click to enlarge)            

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

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

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

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Putting the birthday to bed

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

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

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

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

I think I need some more right this minute!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Seeing with new eyes

Whatcom Falls with a dusting of snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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