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, April 30, 2023

Delightful heat wave

Lilac buds a day or two away

 I traipsed down the driveway yesterday afternoon to see if the lilacs have opened yet. They are close, but the purple ones always open a little after the white ones do. And yes, the white lilacs have made the transition already. We are experiencing full sun and days in the low 70s (21°C) for the first time this year. South of us, in Seattle, I suspect they got into the low 80s on Saturday, setting a record for the date. I would be happy if we never got any warmer than it is now. I can dream, but I know better.

Melanie is still in California, so yesterday I decided to do one of our favorite walks by myself: the trail from the Farmers' Market to Fairhaven. I could have gone with my old Saturday walking group, but they start an hour earlier and now I've grown quite happy to start later and then visit the Market, which is just what I did yesterday morning. And after the walk, I treated myself to one of those fabulous scones from The Scone Lady. I will always get the Bourbon Maple Pecan, if they have it. Otherwise, I get a Marionberry scone, which is pretty darn fabulous. 

On Friday I got my second bivalent booster dose for Covid. I was surprised that I didn't even feel the shot and wondered if I had actually gotten it. But no, by the time I went to bed, my arm was sore, and it's still quite warm to the touch. I slept just fine, but I did seem a little draggy on my walk. There's no way to know what is responsible for what. Maybe I'm still recovering from Thursday's eight-mile excursion. I am feeling quite happy that my knees and other well-used joints cooperated and I didn't have to pull out any of the many knee braces I hauled along. But being older does mean it takes longer to recuperate from strenuous activities.

And that is all I will say about my age. My sister has reminded me that I am constantly bringing it up and making a big deal about it. Everybody gets a little bit older every day, and I think it might be time for me to look up from my navel and take a look around me, enjoy my continued abilities and look for the bright side of life. After all, I do get to choose what I focus on, and there are so many reasons to be happy these days.

That is, if I stay away from the news of the day. It does seem like every time I turn around, there is another crisis happening, either in the nation or beyond. I am fortunate to be living in such a beautiful part of the country, and to have such incredible access to learn what is going on, but if I allow myself to dwell on the awful events, I will not be able to keep my head in a good place. And there is really no reason to wallow in it, right? Someone like me who doesn't have a job to go to any more, and gets to shape her days to her liking, well that means I can look around at the gorgeous springtime burgeoning everywhere, and look forward to the happy days ahead. 

A cool front moved in overnight, and our temperature should be a few degrees cooler today, with the chance of a few sprinkles, but otherwise perfect. I went shopping with my friend Lily and bought myself a new sun hat. It's lightweight and has a little flap that covers my neck. It's a new brand for me, Sunday Afternoons, and I am so happy I found it! Although I like my favorite baseball cap, it doesn't keep the wind out, or cover my neck. This one does both, and it's very comfortable too. I have found that my hearing aids just don't like the wind and the whistling that starts in my ears when I'm out in it is unfortunate. So now I have taken care of that little annoyance.

I really need to learn how to use my cellphone camera better. It keeps jumping into a different mode when I don't mean it to, and I sometimes don't know how to fix it. On my hike on Thursday with Group 2 of the Senior Trailblazers, one of the women took lots of pictures and also some videos. She sent one around in just a few hours after we finished, and I've watched it several times already. I could do that, too, if I could just figure it out. Maybe I'll watch a tutorial on how to do all that stuff, and I can then share them with you. Technology just keeps on improving, but it means that if I want to take advantage of it, I need to put my mind into the mode of learning something new.

There are really two kinds of optimism. There's the complacent, Pollyanna optimism that says, 'Don't worry – everything will be just fine,' and that allows one to just lay back and do nothing about the problems around you. Then there's what we call dynamic optimism. That's an optimism based on action. —Ramez Naam

Hey, that's what I want: to learn how to be dynamically optimistic. It's something I can easily do, since I have a good mind for study, and plenty of options for action. All I need to do is get going, and keep on searching for the correct action for the moment I'm in. Right? It seems so easy when I put it like that, so here goes. At this very moment, I'm creating a post to send out to my dear virtual friends, one that I hope will lift some spirits, including my own. It is springtime, all my body parts work pretty well and don't give me too much grief, and even if my possibilities are not limitless, they are abundant. Here I go! Don't try to hold me back!

And with that cheerful thought, I will bring this post to a close. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, John will be picking me up for our usual Sunday morning breakfast (he's still got a little cough but otherwise is just fine), and the day beckons, with me happily bounding out of my bed and starting my Sunday. I won't forget my new hat, with just the right name for the day. Until we meet again next we, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

April 2023 comes to a close

Endless rows of tulips

This has been a very unusual spring in many parts of the country, perhaps even in the world. I suspect that we will not end up having experienced the coldest April ever, since the last week of the month will bring us normal, or close to normal, temperatures. This picture was taken last Thursday and the tulips are just now mostly up and showing their colors, late in the month for sure. It was perhaps one of the coldest visits I've ever made to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. It was mostly the wind, and the fact that we never saw the sun while we endured a twenty-mile-an-hour north wind. But it was worth it; we really enjoyed seeing all the tulips, especially the gorgeous purple ones like these.

I really don't mind cool weather and prefer it to hot days. But there is definitely a limit; we have not seen many days so far this year when we even reached 50°F (10°C). We have been hoping for more sunny days and warmer weather, and I hope I will not be looking back at these days and missing them. We never have many days around here when it gets really hot, even in August. But the way the weather has been behaving, who knows what the summer will bring us? I am just glad that we are not experiencing terrible windstorms or a massive deluge of rain. Just our usual stuff.

I have had a hard time trying to decide what I want to focus on in this post. Although it's difficult, I am determined to stay away from politics and the awful epidemic of gun shootings around the country. But it seems to be everywhere this past week: so many people accidentally shot (or killed) for making an innocent mistake, such as knocking on the wrong door, or someone shooting into a car without knowing who or what might be in it. This happens every day, but lately it's accelerated, or at least it seems that way to me.

What that does is make me fearful every time I leave my house to walk to the bus, head into the coffee shop, or the Senior Center. Looking around to see if there is anyone walking around looking like they're spoiling for a fight and might have a gun  or a knife. This is new for me. In my neighborhood and downtown on the main street, there are plenty of possible assassins on every corner. It doesn't help that there are so many homeless people trying to find shelter on a street corner with a blanket and little else. It makes me jumpy and I feel scared. 

The world is so different today that it was before the pandemic. Only a few short years ago I didn't see so much suffering. Is this because so many people have lost their homes and now have lost all hope? I don't know what else might have caused so much change in such a short period of time. Or is it just that I notice now what has been there all along, gaining momentum but nothing is actually new or different?

Perception is everything. It makes me realize that there is plenty around me every day that I miss because I'm not paying attention. And I'm not alone: on the bus there might be two dozen riders but everybody is looking down at the phones. I'll bet many of the people I see every day don't actually see other people as fellow humans, or even have awareness of anything other than their own internal dialogs. I wonder sometimes what they are looking at or reading, or listening to. Whatever it is, they are not present. Sometimes I am the ONLY person not looking at my phone.

Well, that's enough time thinking about what's wrong, but what about what's right with it all? If perception is everything, then I choose to perceive the beauty and delightful parts of life. Why not? I've changed my perception easily in the past, so I can do it here, now, today as well. Instead of looking for the worst, I can look for the happiness that also exists around me. Children on the school playground across the street, shouting and screaming with exuberance, running for no reason other than they can. Dogs out walking their humans in the early morning, both groups caring nothing about the light rain falling around them. Flowers everywhere, birds singing in the trees, all this puts a lilt into my own step as I walk through my neighborhood. Imagining happy families behind the doors of their homes, everyone with a full tummy and warm clothes. 
Not what we have but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance. —Epicurus

 And while all this joy is happening around me, I am also thrilled to have finally become the proud owner of hearing aids. I look forward to putting them on again each morning, which I do while waiting for the water to boil for tea, knowing that I will hear the kettle as it begins its journey towards a whistle. I love my bionic ears! And the cacophony of birdsong I hear every morning is simply enough to bring me great joy. I know the song of perhaps a dozen different birds, but every once in awhile I hear a new one and wonder what it might be. What magnificent beings that can sing like that!

Ah, yes. What a difference perception can make. I now no longer feel that sense of fear, but instead look forward to my friend John coming to transport me to breakfast in a short while. He was down with a cold for four or five days, but he's back now. I missed him but managed quite well without his presence. I did feel a little lonely in the coffee shop, but he's back now and everything feels right again. I do hope you, my dear virtual family, will have a wonderful week ahead, and that you will also find out how to look on the bright side of life. We do have a choice here. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, and that you will have abundant joy every moment of every day. Be well.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Octogenarian's song

Some of last year's beauties

This coming Thursday, if it doesn't rain, Melanie and I will head down to the Skagit Valley and enjoy the Tulip Festival, since the early tulips have finally begun to show their magnificence to the world. We would have gone last week, but they weren't opening up quite yet. Here's what the Tulip Festival website says now: they're coming out, opening up to the sunshine. A little late, but still.

I have finally seen some early tulips around here, with many other gardens teasing me with their unopened buds, and just a few that receive south-facing sun have actually bloomed. Tulips are such pretty and ephemeral flowers (like most), just around long enough for one to admire and enjoy before they leave for another year. I have now visited the valley long enough to have seen them over many springtime flowerings. I cherish every single spring, and I've now seen more than most people are given: eighty! From the time I was a little toddler until today when I am now officially old, these springtime memories fill my mind and heart and I am overflowing with gratitude for my myriad blessings.

There's more to life than just existing, and I think I have been given the opportunity to know more of life's peaks and valleys than many other people have. For one thing, here I am beginning the ninth decade of life, when I know that not one day of one's existence is guaranteed, and in full knowledge of the brief time ahead. I have lost enough people during my life that I know the importance of celebrating the time we have together. SG and I have shared more than three decades, and I can only hope for a few more days, weeks, months, years to share with my life partner.

Looking back, I see how much the world, and especially my little corner of it, has changed during the time I've been alive. In 1942, when I was born, there were around 2.5 billion people alive on the planet. Right around the time I celebrated my eightieth birthday, the world population hit 8 billion. No wonder it seems more crowded wherever I go, it really is! Almost more than quadruple the number of people: that is not easy to overlook. And that's just the number; our world is drastically different today than it was then. I figure I'm lucky to be old because whatever changes are in store in the future, they probably won't all be rainbows and light. 

But then again, nothing is our future is written in stone. Nothing in our past, either. It all depends on one's perspective. I keep thinking about how quantum mechanics and Buddhists keep saying it's all in our minds, literally. That our experiences are created by our mental processes, and that they are not true for any of the other many minds outside of our own. And my memories of past events keeps changing as I continue to reminisce over this one or that one. I realized the truth of that when I found that I was alone in remembering certain events a certain way, and that when I recalled it once more, it had changed in the way I remembered it. 

You would think this would be disconcerting, but instead I find it sort of comforting, knowing that I can begin to remember people and places in ways that are happy rather than sad, if I (heh) put my mind to it. Sorry, I couldn't help myself with that thought. I'm sitting here in the dark with my dear partner sleeping quietly next to me, and the rain is pounding on the roof as I listen to what is happening outside. John will not be coming to take me to breakfast this morning, because he's sick with a cold. He tested twice for covid, but it appears it is either just a cold or maybe flu. He didn't give it to me, thank goodness, or I think I would have started to develop symptoms by now. I haven't had a cold since I started wearing masks during the pandemic, and I figure that the first one I get should be a doozy, after so much time not getting sick.

And of course, it will come sooner or later, because there are so many germs floating around everywhere, since we are perfect vessels for them to invade. I read somewhere that wearing a mask not only keeps one from being easily exposed to germs, but the warmth of your breath behind the mask also seems to offer some protection against infection during the winter months. 

We are now well into spring, and I am truly enjoying the blue skies (when we have them) and the incredible sounds of birds, now that I have my bionic ears functioning properly, and lovely green everywhere interspersed with the bright colors of flowers of every sort. The lilac bushes are showing big buds just a week or so away from flowering. One of my favorites, along with tulips. At this moment, as I sit here in the dark, I am feeling very content with life and hoping that I might find some time today between the raindrops to take a lovely walk in Cornwall Park, just a short distance away. The park has some magnificent old growth trees that greet me when I walk my normal path, and I greet them back with gratitude for their presence in my life.

I sometimes really wish I could sing, but my voice has become old, just like the rest of me. When I hear someone like Judy Collins (she's 83 and still singing) or Joan Baez (82, who I'll bet still sings in the shower), I figure I could work hard at it and find some voice that could carry a tune, but I don't even try anymore. I do sing to myself sometimes when I'm walking, which is how I know how much my voice has changed over the decades. The birds don't seem to mind, and I certainly love to listen to them as they call for mates or simply sing for the joy of it. I didn't realize how much I missed the sound of birdsong until I got my new ears.

Well, this has become somewhat of a meander through my disconnected thoughts, but it makes me happy to realize that I can still string together a bunch of them and get them onto the page without much difficulty. Another thing that has changed for the better as I have grown older is that the digital age has given me so much more connection that I ever thought I would still have after so many years of retirement. My entire virtual family is here, and we share posts and thoughts with one another that give me great satisfaction. And from all over the world, too! If I dreamed this up through my mind, it is simply one of the best things ever. You, my dear friends, are cherished and loved, and we get to share that with each other every day, every week, every year. To that, I give a resounding YES. 

I am overflowing with gratitude right now, which is how I really love to start the day. I'll search for some good coffee and wish John a quick recovery, and next week I'll be back here with some more memories. Until then, be well, and I wish you all good things.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Easter 2023

Early spring garden

I pass by this lovely garden on my walk home from the Rose Garden twice a week. I have been watching this place continue to grow more beautiful by the day, and I know it won't be long before I am seeing more blossoms appear. Our tulips are actually beginning to show their pretty colors, just a little, after having endured a long and cold winter and spring so far. I don't remember it taking such a long time to see the usual spring flowers emerge from winter's sleep. But today is Easter Sunday, a day that brings many memories from earlier moments in my life into my consciousness. 

I was not raised in a religious home; my mother had been raised as a Catholic and married outside of the Church. My father had never been exposed to religion as he grew up, and Mama, who was in love with him, married him anyway. I don't know what my grandparents on my mother's side thought about it, but his mother didn't seem to have any objections (my paternal grandfather didn't seem to have any say in the matter). It was one of those quick wartime romances, with Daddy being in the Air Force and Mama becoming a housewife. I was born almost exactly one year after they married. They were married for almost four decades before Daddy died.

I was given a very happy childhood, with me not doubting my parents' love, and when I was a toddler of two, my little sister was born. We moved around a lot because of Daddy being stationed in different places, and when I was three, we moved to Puerto Rico, and we lived just a few blocks from the ocean. It was an idyllic childhood, as I look back, but many people would not have found it to be so, since stability didn't come from our residence, but from each other, and we lived each day as it came. My playmates were often speaking a different language from me, so I learned to speak Spanish at an early age. I've forgotten most of it now, but the language is not unfamiliar, and when I hear it spoken I can understand some of it.

Easter Sunday. When I was growing up, we had new outfits and shiny patent-leather shoes, and Easter baskets filled with hard-boiled eggs (which we dyed and decorated in the days before), pretty fake grass, chocolate bunnies and candy. We didn't go to Church, so I'm not sure what we did after all that preparation.

Easter Sunday long, long ago

But it really didn't matter. We did what everyone else did, except for the church attendance, and I was very happy and content with my life. I didn't know anything else, so I never felt deprived, and Mama was very proud of her two little girls. She sewed a lot, and I think she might have made those dresses for us. In any event, Daddy took the picture of the two of us, situated in front of our car and our rented home behind. We lived in military housing, but Mama was a wonderful homemaker and knew how to make everything feel just right wherever we lived. 

Today, both my parents are long gone, although when I think of Easter, I think of them and realize they still live in my memories as if they were still alive. Last night I dreamed of them, so they are not far away at all. But much time has passed, and now I am feeling the years as they settle around my shoulders. The world has changed so very much, and since that picture was taken, the world population has exploded, and because of the internet, we are now able to see what is happening from one part of the planet to the other instantaneously. I think of those two innocent children and am so very glad I was one of them, able to enjoy such happiness, unclouded by world events.

I make an effort to leave what is happening in the world out of my blog posts, since I get more than enough of it on my laptop, or watching the news of the day, and I don't need to be reminded constantly about how many people don't have much happiness in their lives. There is little I can do about it, but I do spend some time every day in contemplation and prayer. Since I am trying very hard to practice ahimsa (compassion for all living beings), it doesn't help to allow myself to get mired in sadness. I can choose instead to look at the bright side of life. So that is what I choose.
I think we need to do some deep soul searching about what's important in our lives and renew our spirit and our spiritual thinking, whether it's through faith-based religion or just through loving nature or helping your fellow man. —Louie Schwartzberg

Yesterday I watched a favorite show, the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard, which is the final rendition of my old friends from Star Trek as they finalize the journey of many decades. I started watching the original series and then moved to The Next Generation, then the subsequent series as they evolved. I enjoyed every one, and many of the characters feel like old friends. Just like me, they are now old and the series is letting us wrap up all their journeys in various ways. This one brings back some characters from Deep Space Nine, as well as Next Generation. And Patrick Stewart (Picard) is as old as I am, and looks every day of his octogenarian years (he's 82).

For those of you who aren't familiar with Data and Lore, they are both androids who were created by Noonian Soong, with Data being a major character throughout the series. He has always wished to be human, feeling the lack of his ability to feel anything at all. Lore was Soong's experiment with an emotion chip to allow him to feel, but he was evil, while Data was an innocent. In this latest series, both of the versions of the android were put together into one brain, with a barrier between the two. In an attempt to bring back Data, they decided to remove the barrier and hope for the best. Either Lore would overcome Data, or vice versa. It didn't seem very hopeful, since Data's positronic brain had an ethics chip that wouldn't allow him to kill anyone, even Lore.

[Warning: the next paragraph is a spoiler alert! Don't read it unless you care to know what happens.] The two of them begin talking to one another, with Lore confident he would prevail, but Data began to share his memories with his brother, things that he cherished and people he cared about. Lore accepted these memories, since he had been jealous that Data was so loved. You might guess what happens: Data and Lore become one, with Data's consciousness ascendant. It was so wonderful to see that outcome, and to know that Data can now feel everything his brother felt.

It made me realize that humans really need ethics to become truly human and able to experience love and compassion. It's the same thing as ahimsa: dynamic compassion is essential to becoming a kind and loving person. When I fell asleep last night, I experienced joy in realizing that humanity is indeed capable of great love and great compassion.

With that, dear friends, I will leave you to have your own Easter experience, and truly hope that it is a good one, surrounded with lots of Easter happiness and joy, punctuated with the occasional chocolate bunny. Until we meet again, dear friends, be well. I wish you all good things.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Practicing ahimsa

Skagit Valley daffodils

I took this picture years ago when I first visited the Tulip Festival in Skagit Valley, just a short distance down the freeway from Bellingham, in Mount Vernon. I will be visiting at least once this month, but for now it's all daffodils, and on the opening day (yesterday) of the month-long festival, there are no open tulips to be seen anywhere. We have had an unusually cool spring so far, and although we have some upcoming warmer temperatures on the way, it's not been easy for those of us awaiting the beauty to come. They will be showing off their gorgeous plantings soon, just not right now.

No matter. I am seeing lots of beautiful blooms and flowering bushes around town, the early spring stuff that comes out quickly and leaves almost as fast. I have had to cart my raincoat around with me most days, since we are seemingly always having a chance of rain. Yesterday, we were not supposed to have any, or not much at all, during our morning walk. But when I left to head for the coffee shop, it was raining (albeit lightly) and cold. I hurried back inside to get the proper clothing for the weather. By the time we had finished our five-mile walk to Fairhaven and back, the skies were mostly sunny, even if the wind continued to make it feel quite chilly. I was grateful for warm clothing.

Now about that word in my post's title: ahimsa. It's likely you have never heard it before, and I first heard it years ago in a commentary that my yoga teacher gave before we began our class. She was describing the different principles of right living as practiced in many Eastern religions. I had never heard the word before, but over the years I learned quite a lot about the concept. It comes from a Sanskrit word, meaning nonviolence and loving compassion for all living beings. Apparently it started when monks and other religious persons wanted to find out how to keep themselves from being reborn in a lower form of life through bad karma. 

It makes sense to me that we would be better off by not causing harm or suffering to others, including animals and other forms of life. But we are certainly not living a life of ahimsa if we eat animals when we don't need to. There are so many awful feedlots and slaughterhouses around the world, and many people don't even seem to realize that other creatures might suffer, just like humans do. I remember reading about Temple Grandin, a woman with autism, who studied how feedlots and slaughterhouses can be designed to treat the cattle more humanely. Of course, it's a fine line between any sort of place designed to kill and ways to make it easier to lead a cow to slaughter. I have not eaten beef or pork in many decades, which all started from watching a documentary about how the meat is prepared for sale. It is all so gruesome, and even today when I see cows placidly munching grass in a field, I think about what's in store for them.

However, during the pandemic, I began to eat chicken and turkey more often than I did before. At one time I considered myself a strict vegetarian, but no more. And I must say that it doesn't seem to disagree with me. At first I felt very guilty about it, but now I make sure that any meat I eat is organic and humanely processed. I know it's a fine line, but it makes me feel a little better about eating a fellow creature. My thought is that I myself could kill and prepare a chicken for dinner, but certainly not a cow or a pig. 

In any event, while I was a vegetarian, I also ate eggs and cheese and all the things that come from animals, and I wore leather shoes, so the choices I made were not all that pure. It's not an easy thing to actually move away from all animal products, I found back then, but for a short while I did try. It was another one of those phases that people sometimes pass through, and I certainly tried for years to be vegetarian and someone who isn't responsible for the suffering of animals. I still go back and forth with ideas of how to become a more responsible citizen of the planet. How about you? Do you think about these things or am I an outlier?

I will try to get onto a more positive frame of mind to end this post, since it's springtime and the sun is bringing out all sorts of plants for us critters to eat, so maybe it might be time for me to consider other foods. With the enormous amount of variety I see in the stores, it seems impossible that I cannot find enough good food to eat that doesn't involve cruelty. I am beginning to find that life is filled with choices, every day, between right and wrong behavior, and that not all of it has to do with what I choose to eat.

Gratitude is probably the most important ingredient of every day. I find myself being thankful for so much of my world, and grateful for the ability to think, to write, and to communicate with my virtual friends all over the world. Hopefully you will have a wonderful day and week ahead, and that I will, too. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.