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 23, 2017

Becoming older but better

Tulips, sky, tree
Last Monday my friend Judy and I headed off to the Tulip Festival in Skagit County, something we've done many times before. This is the latest I've been to visit the tulips and we were still early, with the majority of the tulips either at the beginning of their bloom, or not even open yet. It didn't rain on us, but it threatened to all day, giving us plenty of dramatic shots like this one.

We strolled through the gardens and enjoyed the early morning light playing on the tulips. W arrived at the tulip gardens just at the gates opened to the public, and perhaps fifty people where there with us. By the time we left, just after noon, there were long lines waiting to get in, even on a weekday, the Monday after Easter. I was really surprised, but it was partly because we've had so much rain lately that I think people were doing just what I was: taking advantage of a break in the weather.

I'm really getting tired of the incessant rain, and that's saying something. I can usually do just fine with a bit of rain, but we have had the wettest winter since I moved here almost a decade ago. I've learned to enjoy and appreciate the rain, the cool and glorious summers, and the lovely change of the seasons. In Colorado, where I used to live, sunshine was a given on the vast majority of days year round. When we moved here, it was wonderful to enjoy the difference. But this year, I'm ready for a change from dreary skies and mud puddles.

One thing I've learned to do well is exercise in the rain. My closet is filled with rain gear of every sort, and I make use of it all: raincoats, rain hats, rain pants, gaiters, waterproof boots and walking shoes, you name it, I've got it. One thing I am not willing to do is stay inside because of the rain, as I am one of those people who is addicted to exercise. It turns out that this may be a really good thing to be addicted to.

Recently I read an interesting New York Times article about how to become a superager. A "superager" is defined as someone whose cognitive brain functions remain youthful, rather than declining, in old age. The author of the article, Lisa Feldman Barrett, studies superagers to figure out what makes them different from other people. It turns out that part of the difference is the degree of effort they expend, either physical or mental, helps to keep the brain from deterioration. From that article:
The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment.
I have experienced that "yuck factor" of having pushed myself to my physical limits on many a hike with my fellow Senior Trailblazers. It never occurred to me that it might be good for my brain to do so, but it seems to be the case. I'm hoping that in pushing myself I'll keep my mental faculties sharp (or sharper than they would be otherwise). I doubt that I'll be solving many math puzzles or taking up tournament bridge, because I don't have the desire to do so. The article, though, closes with this intriguing line:
If people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it. So, make a New Year’s resolution to take up a challenging activity. Learn a foreign language. Take an online college course. Master a musical instrument. Work that brain. Make it a year to remember.
The one thing that really scares me about getting older is losing my memory. I follow a couple of bloggers who are dealing with dementia or Alzheimer's with their life partners, and their struggles are very enlightening. How would I deal with it? In this country we don't offer many options for our loved ones, other than caring for one's spouse at home, or eventually sending them to a nursing home until they finally pass away. Anybody who has been to a nursing home knows how awful they can be, although they vary in quality, often depending on what one can pay.

Recently I have been following Carole, who writes about her struggles with her husband's dementia on her blog, One of Life's Little Surprises. She is a gifted writer who brings to life the daily difficulties that she faces. At the end of this month, she has an intake session with a gerontologist, and I hope that there will be some medication that might make Carole's life a bit easier. I can't help but put myself in the same situation she's in, because it just might happen, either to me or to my own partner. What would I do? I used to think it was easier for the person who is mentally slipping away, but her blog has convinced me otherwise. It's hard no matter which side you're on in this awful scenario.

Years ago, I mentioned to my regular doctor at my checkup that I was concerned about forgetting things, about whether my cognitive decline was normal or not. She gave me a series of tests to see how I did, and I was surprised by some of the questions she asked. One thing she did was to recite to me a list of five things and asked me to remember them for later. I was able to recall four of the five at the end of the session, but it surprised me how hard it was to dredge them up out of my memory, after only a few minutes. She showed me a picture of a clock and asked me to tell her what it was by the hands of the clock. The hardest of all, for me, was to count backwards from 100 by 7. That was so hard for me that I went home and figured out how to do it: I could count backwards by 10 (easy) and then add 3. Not that it did any good for the test at the moment I was taking it.

She told me that, although I did have some problems, basically my memory seemed intact. It was a relief, but now it's been more than a decade and I figure I should probably do those tests again. I'll bet they are available online somewhere or other. It is hopeful to me to remember some of the difficult hikes I've been on lately and think that maybe they are benefitting me in ways I couldn't even imagine. Now that I think about it, all of my hiking buddies are pretty sharp mentally; maybe it's a side effect of our trudging up a mountainside, grumbling all the while.

One thing is certain: that every day that goes by is one more day to either enjoy one's life or experience regret for not having lived it to the fullest. I intend to spend some time every day giving thanks for all that I have received, and spend some time spreading it around. I do hope that you realize your own importance to your loved ones, and I'm hoping you count me among your virtual family. I certainly feel that way about you, dear reader.

Another post written, another day about to begin. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday 2017

Easter Sunday 2009
Eight years ago, I was in Skopje, Macedonia on Easter Sunday. Although I had retired by then, my old boss Mickey talked me into working for him one more time, for a conference he wanted to have in Macedonia, and I reluctantly agreed. It was pretty wonderful to be able to travel to such a distant country and have it all paid for, and the work I was doing was something I had done for so many years for him that I wasn't worried about whether I could do it.

We organized it for the week after Easter, but we had neglected to realize that in this part of the world, the Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter at a different time, since they figure the date using a different method. However, by some fluke, this year, 2017, Easter is celebrated on the same day by both Orthodox Christians and the Catholic and Protestant churches.That means that at this moment, everywhere in the world the commemoration and celebration of Easter is in full swing.

In preparation for the trip, I had to figure out just where in the world Macedonia is, since I knew it was in Europe somewhere, but where exactly I didn't know. It is just north of Greece, surrounded by Albania, Kosovo, and Bulgaria. Arriving in the airport in the capital, Skopje, it was a bit of a culture shock to see how dilapidated the airport was. But once we traveled into the town, it was quite an adventure to be exposed to a new culture. The one thing I really enjoyed about my job was that I traveled to many exotic places in the world. Perhaps that's one reason why I no longer have any wanderlust left at all. I'm happy to stay right here in the Pacific Northwest.

Looking back over the past few decades, I am struck by how much my life has changed and settled down into a comfortable routine. I was thrilled to be able to travel to many parts of Southeast Asia numerous times, as well as Europe and even Russia once. I think my favorite place of all was Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) many years ago. I have fond recollections of a trip we took to the countryside, and I was simply amazed at the sight of oxen-led carts sharing the street with cars, and the sense of happiness I felt from the people themselves. Everyone treated me with respect and curiosity, even though my country had waged a terrible war against them. I visited the Củ Chi tunnels during a tour, which should not be missed if you get a chance to get there. From that link:
The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.
It was simply amazing to see whole hospitals and living quarters underground like that, which I saw after crawling through several tunnels (widened for tourists) and going down to other deep levels. I have never forgotten that unique experience. It's easy to see why it was so difficult to conquer the Vietnamese people. And in my short visit there, they captured my admiration through their gentle spirit and willingness to forgive. I think that spirit of forgiveness is in short supply these days.

On this particular Easter Sunday, I am filled with foreboding when I read the news from around the world. We are apparently going on a path toward war, once again, this time with North Korea. It's difficult to fathom how this will be avoided, but on this day I want to concentrate on the resurrection of the light, of hope, and of joy, not on fear and dismay. Therefore, I am turning my eyes away from all the rumblings of conflict and instead concentrating on the positive side of life. The sun is shining today, the trees are in bloom (making me grateful for allergy medication), and at this moment my life is good, very good.

One thing about getting older is that it becomes easier to take a long view of history. When I was born in 1942, the world was so incredibly different than it is today, in so many ways, that I would never have believed it could change so much in a single lifetime. So when I take the long view, whatever happens in the world today will not be insurmountable. The world turns, the seasons change, and nature reasserts itself and heals the scars of humanity's folly. Eventually. Although I won't be around to see it, just knowing that helps me to find serenity in today's chaotic world.

Although I won't be attending church as I don't actually follow any particular denomination these days, I am very aware that Easter is a time for new beginnings, for me to find love and joy in my surroundings, my loved ones, and my daily life. I'll be heading off to the coffee shop and will truly enjoy my interaction with the people there. My friend John and I will share a bagel, and I'll laugh and carry on with him and Gene until it's time to go, and I'll step out into the magnificent sunshine and feel it on my face before deciding what comes next. One thing about living in a place where it rains much of the time, when the rain stops and the sun comes out, it's fun to see the faces around me break into smiles. You don't get that when you live in Florida or the desert.

My patent-leather Mary Jane shoes and Easter dress belong to another Easter, long ago, another time that only lives in my memory. I've got several months of Easters to look back on and as well celebrate the moment of today, Easter Sunday around the entire world. Hallelujah! Or, in today's vernacular, Woo-Hoo!

I just took the last swig of tea, my partner is still fast asleep next to me, and the sun, which is coming up earlier every day, is lightening the skies outside. I hope however you celebrate this day, whether Easter, or Passover, or Wicca, or nothing at all, it will be a good one, and one that you share with your friends and family in marking the coming of another season of love and joy. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

Sunrise from my front porch
I spent way too long looking for a picture to put up on my post this morning. I got lost in memories as I looked for something that would be a fitting picture for my state this morning. Yes, I've been lost in the past in recent days. I read a very good book by Annie Proulx that covered three centuries of life in the early days of logging (Barkskins is the book). I was glad, though, when I finally reached the end of the book so I could pick up my own life again. The book is more than 700 pages long!

For the past week I've been thinking about how much of my own early life I've forgotten. I suppose this is normal, but years ago I kept journals, and yesterday after finishing that book, I began to wonder when it was exactly that I traveled with my friend Donna on a bicycling adventure from Boulder, Colorado, to San Francisco. It was in the mid-1970s, it turns out. I had been living in Boulder for a few years but had not yet begun my career at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, starting in 1979. In the fall of 1976, the two of us decided to bicycle across the country together. I had a ten-speed bike that I loved. We prepared for the trip by taking day-long treks into the nearby mountains and thought nothing of biking thirty or forty miles in a day, so we felt we were ready.

We had panniers (saddlebags) on our bikes, with camping equipment pared down to next to nothing, along with lightweight sleeping bags. We decided to go without a tent because of weight, and figured that if we ran into much rain we would buy one, or hole up in a motel until it passed. Incredibly, in the six weeks we were on the road, we never had any rain at all!

We headed north from Boulder, hoping to make Medicine Bow, Wyoming, in a few days (175 miles away). We had no problems, and we camped in city parks on the way. It would be our first time in a larger city, and we weren't sure where we might stay once we got there. I had the idea of calling the police department and asking for their advice. This was in the days before cellphones, and I remember standing in a phone booth calling the police department, and while I was on hold, a woman cut into the call and said she was the switchboard operator and that we could stay at her place! Apparently whenever there was a call to the police department, she would listen in to see what the story was. And that's just what we did: I hung up from the call and followed the directions she had given me to her home. We stayed with her overnight and she made us a big breakfast the next morning.

This was the sort of hospitality we experienced all across the country. We took back roads because we wanted to avoid the traffic of the interstates and saw all kinds of wonderful sights. We went through Yellowstone National Park, and I remember well having to climb the passes and then whizzing down the other side. I think we went over five passes in Yellowstone, if my memory is right. We traveled through eastern Oregon, which I remember being very dry and unappealing. Other than a few flat tires, our bikes and our bodies functioned quite well. I remember realizing one day that my thighs were hard as rocks from all that biking.

By the time we reached Eugene, five weeks after we began, our friendship was beginning to fray at the edges. Too much time together, I guess. We decided to separate and go our own ways from that point. I traveled down the coast on Highway 1, and I will never forget the sound of the logging trucks approaching behind me. I would always stop and pull off the narrow road because of the size of those big rigs. And I learned how hilly that highway is: hardly ever doing anything but going up and then down on that road.

When I reached San Francisco, I called my parents to let them know I had arrived safely after six weeks on the road. And I learned that my grandmother who lived in Santa Monica was ill and she needed someone to care for her. Was I willing, since I didn't need to return to Colorado right away? I decided to do it, but nobody prepared me for how tough it would be to spend all my days in a small little house with my grandmother and her three cats, after having been outdoors constantly for well over a month! I managed, but I chafed at having to be inside for so long. I ended up taking long walks to the Santa Monica pier and around the area, but I was pretty unhappy. Grandma didn't need much care, just someone to shop for her and take her to the doctor for her treatments. Although she wasn't expected to recover, she did, and eventually I took the opportunity to move back to Boulder.

I still remember seeing her in the doorway as I left. It was the last time I saw her, and she really didn't want me to go but I had my own life to live, and she understood that. Donna had also made it to San Francisco, and she got a job as a bike messenger, with her strong biking legs carrying her up and down the hills of that city. Eventually we both returned to Boulder and moved into an apartment together, our relationship much better for having taken some time apart.

I have only a few memories of that six-week-long adventure, but they are strong ones. Often we stayed at established campgrounds in order to shower and clean up. Once we couldn't find a place to camp and bedded down in an orchard not far off the road we had traveled on. I put down my sleeping bag, with my water bottle within reach on my trusty bike. I woke in the middle of the night to see the stars so brilliant and thick above me that it took my breath away. My bike was my companion, as I turned over and went back to sleep, I felt blessed to be there right then.

Of course, that was more than forty years ago, and sleeping on the ground, even with a thin pad underneath my sleeping bag was something I could do then but have no interest in repeating! But it was an adventure well worth having, back then. I wish now that I had kept a daily journal during that time, because I would be curious to see what I wrote. Reading my old journals from more than three decades ago seem to be written by another person entirely. Much of what I wrote I have forgotten completely, and I mention names of people who are also gone from memory, but when I wrote it back then, I thought I would never forget. One cannot retain it all; there are too many hours in the days and months that pass to remember everything.

My life has been filled with adventures, and thinking back to those days when I was a young woman are rather delightful to remember, but I'm happy in the life I have now. Yes, things change, and activities that I felt I would always enjoy have passed away. That's the way it works, but there is an old saying that never does one door close than another one opens. I've found that to be true in my own life. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Today is the oldest you have ever been, and the youngest you'll ever be again." So I'll just keep on with the todays that I have left, and enjoy every last one!

And now I've finished my post, and it's time to get up and move into the rest of my Palm Sunday. It's the beginning of the final week before the Easter celebration. I hope it will be a good one for you, and for those you love and cherish. Partner is still fast asleep and I'm ready to get going. Be well until we meet again next week, dear reader.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My circle of friends

Sunshine on my shoulder
One of the best things that happened to me when I moved here from Colorado was the chance to meet new friends. It was hard to leave all the people I knew and loved in Boulder, but I am the kind of person who makes friends easily. It probably comes from my early nomadic life, when I moved from place to place as an Air Force brat, with a close family and lots of siblings.

I moved here in April 2008, and the first thing I did was join the YMCA and the Senior Center. I started taking classes every day, and I bought myself a bus pass and would sometimes just ride the bus for fun, to see where the different routes would take me. I found that if I didn't have a car, I could get just about every place in town I needed to go. At that time, though, I was still skydiving, so I needed to drive more than an hour south to Snohomish for that activity. Now, however, I rarely venture out of town myself, as we carpool on our various Thursday hikes. I will drive my fifteen-year-old car now and then, but mostly I pay my share for gas and let somebody else drive.

In late summer 2008, my sister Markee in Canada decided that she would like her family to join her in a half-marathon in Texas, and she invited all of us and of course I accepted the challenge. I had been going to the Y faithfully, but since this was a distance event, I needed to find some way to get longer hikes into my repertoire. The Senior Center offers several different hikes, so I decided to join one. In September 2008, I made my first hike with the Senior Trailblazers.

I was not a neophyte when it came to hiking, so I had a backpack with extra clothing, rain gear, a lunch, snacks, and water. I had learned long ago that when it comes to hiking where you'll be sweating a lot, you need to avoid wearing cotton, and I didn't want any of these veterans to think I was not aware of that. The synthetics I wore served me well. We drove for more than an hour to the High Country and once we got to the parking lot, a park ranger approached us to let us know that a storm was coming our way, and we needed to be prepared for wind and rain.

Once we started the hike, the weather was overcast but dry and rather pleasant. There were a dozen of us, and I chatted with those hiking nearby, learning names and finding out how long some people had been with the group. Before long, however, it began to rain lightly, and the fog moved in. We kept going, and every once in awhile someone would inform me that right here there would have been a wonderful view if we could only have seen it. The one thing I didn't have that everyone else did was trekking poles. I had never used them before but I quickly saw their usefulness on steep, uneven terrain.

Well, by the time we headed back to Bellingham, I was hooked, and from that day forward I have been a regular with the hiking group. The following week I borrowed Al's second pair of poles, and the next week I had purchased my first set of trekking poles. They make a huge difference for me in hiking downhill, since I can lean on them and save my knees. That was nine years ago, and I'm still going every week unless I'm sick or injured. Needless to say, I've made some fast friends from spending so many hours with these fine people every week.

I haven't made as many friends during my classes at the Y, but instead have many acquaintances who greet each other as we make our way to the classroom. Everybody has a "spot" that they prefer, and I've gotten to know several people around me quite well. One fellow, Joseph, who stands next to me is a retired professor from the local college and is exactly ten years older than me. Although I never see him outside of class, I miss him when he's gone and usually find out when he returns that he'd been traveling. The instructor of this class, Joanne, has been teaching it for well over twenty years and has quite a following.

Another class, Strength and Tone, taught every Tuesday and Thursday rounds out my exercise routine at the Y. Usually I don't make it to the Thursday class because I'm out with the Senior Trailblazers, but this class is where I met my friend Judy. She and I began having coffee together after class, and before long we would take trips together. In 2009 we traveled to the Tulip Festival in Skagit County, and we've taken day-long trips to various parts of the state. Now we see movies together and go out to dinner afterwards. She's become a very good friend.

And then there's the walk on Saturdays with the ladies. It was Peggy and Linda from the Senior Trailblazers who tried to get me to join them on this walk, and finally I did. At first I wouldn't go when it was rainy, but after awhile I got so I really missed the walk when I didn't go. This is the only exercise every week that still hurts my ailing hip: we walk really fast and I find that my hip will hurt me as I push hard to keep up. Yesterday was the first time since I hurt it that I was able to complete the entire five-mile walk. But I see the same women every week, and now it's been so many years that we ask where someone has been who misses several weeks in a row.

So this is the core of where I've made friends in Bellingham since moving here nine years ago. Of course, since these groups are filled with like-minded people who are around my age, the makeup of the group changes from time to time. People get injured or move on, and some people stay for the duration. If I am not going to attend, I find it important to let Al (our leader) know so people won't wonder if I'm all right. And I'm constantly making new friends, as people join and become regulars like me. You just cannot spend that much time with people without getting close to some of them. At least I can't.

The coffee shop I visit every morning also has its regulars that I have come to love and cherish. It makes me laugh to think that those old fogeys have wormed their way into my heart and that I miss them if I don't see them regularly. Plus it helps that we all have excellent coffee to enjoy. So that's my circle of friends who enrich my life every single day. My life partner also fills in the gaps, as he's my go-to guy when I need to have a good long talk about anything that's on my mind.

This morning I didn't have any idea what I would write about, and it's just become a soliloquy about my circle of friends, those who enrich my life in so many different ways. And I've somehow written to my other circle of friends, my virtual friends, who I visit every day on the web, and who also visit me. They say that keeping yourself surrounded by friends and family will help you to live a richer and longer life. And I can attest to the power of friendship to keep me looking forward with excitement and delight to each day as it comes.

I hope that you will take the time to think of those around you who enrich your own life, and if they are present, let them know. And if they are not, talk to them anyway. If they have passed beyond, I believe they will still hear you. But that's just me. Until we meet again, dear friends, be well.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Perspective

The Washington Monument
I took this picture in November 2005, when I was visiting my niece, who was living in Arlington at the time and working at the Pentagon. My sister Norma Jean and her husband Pete were also visiting, as we had gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I had never before seen the sights around Washington, D.C., so we toured all the memorials. This is taken from the Lincoln Memorial. I was very impressed with the Korean and Vietnam Memorials especially.

During this past week, the thought of perspective has been on my mind. I've lived a long time, and the perspective I have today of what is going on in the world is different from someone who has not lived so long. One's perspective changes with distance from the event. Or the object. The classic picture of a train track disappearing as you view the horizon comes to mind. When you get to a certain age, your perspective naturally shifts from looking ahead at the long decades of life to those already traveled.

We moved here to Bellingham to enjoy our retirement years, almost a decade ago. I started writing this blog in 2009, and the years have flowed along without much outward change. It's been seventeen years since the turn of the century, and when I compare my life today with that of almost two decades ago, it's very different. But the change has been so gradual, in most respects anyway, that there are only a few events that stand out for me. My son Chris died in 2002, that was one, and leaving my career of thirty years and moving to a different part of the country in 2008, that was another.

Last week I was lying on my yoga mat in class, listening to the gentle words of the instructor, and I was following my breath, with palms lying across my lower ribs and feeling the gentle rise and fall of the breath. A long-buried memory came into my mind: I remembered just having given birth and laying flat on the bed. I had placed my palms on my belly in just such a way, and the sensation of having no baby in there was shocking. It felt like my hand was going right down to the bed underneath me. During the nine-month gestation period, I had gradually grown accustomed to that mound underneath my fingers, and I would explore the movement of the baby inside with wonder and joy.

And then the moment of birth changed everything. In that instant I felt empty and the infant had not yet become real to me. The world had changed, and I was no longer pregnant with a big belly underneath my fingers. That moment long ago in time, more than fifty years ago, was suddenly present as I lay on that yoga mat following my breath. If I had tried to conjure up that image, from that moment in the past, I could not have done so. But there it was, and it's been close to my consciousness ever since. Remembering being a young mother, remembering from the perspective of being a septuagenarian.

When I was young, I remember an older person telling me that she felt no different at seventy than she did at twenty. The only difference was the way others reacted to her, and the change she registered at her reflection in the mirror. When change is gradual, as it is in aging, you don't notice the incremental loss of color in your hair, or muscle tone, or the accumulation of wrinkles. I sure don't remember when my hair changed from brown to white, but now I can hardly imagine it being otherwise. As I raise my leg to stretch it in yoga class, I notice how the skin has become loose and crepey, just like any other old person's skin. When did that happen?

Being an active person, I didn't realize how much I've changed over the years, because I am still active, but it's different now. Where did I ever find the energy to travel as much as I did, hold down a full-time job and still manage to spend every weekend and every vacation skydiving, going to bed every night looking forward to the next day's full schedule. That's what is different today: now I find myself getting much more tired after much less activity. I am still able to hike, take long walks, do yoga and exercise classes, but things keep breaking down: the knees or back, now that pesky hip pain to deal with. This is the same hip I damaged so badly in June 2000 when I broke myself up, and now I think the damage is catching up with me.

The only thing I know how to do, though, is keep going until I simply cannot do it any more. The perspective I have from this vantage point midway through my eighth decade of life is that it's been a good long run, and I'll keep on trying everything to stave off the inevitable. Bertrand Russell once said, "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” I've long taken good health for granted, and I'm thinking about how fortunate I've been in my life.

There have been some really good things I've experienced in the last decade, and one of them has been the luxury of blogging. What a fine world it is, with others like me, young and old together finding a community that helps me find my way forward. And you, dear reader, know just what I'm talking about. It's the perspective of others that I learn from, and I hope that my own perspective helps others as well.

And now it's time for me to start my day. I've fulfilled my first task, and now as I hop out of bed, not too vigorously so I won't wake my partner, I'll dress, do my exercises and other normal morning tasks, and then head to the coffee shop, my latte and my friends awaiting my arrival. Until next week, I hope you will be well and surrounded by love.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lenten ruminations

Norma Jean and me, long long ago
Do you know what Lent is? It's the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and was originally begun by Christians to fast and pray for those 40-odd days between, to purify the body and soul before the holiest day of the Liturgical Calendar, Easter. Those two little girls knew nothing about all this, but they were dressed in their Easter finery, on our way to an Easter egg hunt, where we would fill our Easter baskets with colored hard-boiled eggs and candy. Although we didn't go to any church, we followed the traditions of the season because, well, that's just what one did in those days.

Over the many years between today and when those little girls dressed up in their Easter finery, I joined several churches and actually learned the meaning of Lent. It's observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. (Information I learned from that link.) I first joined the Episcopal Church, which is Anglican, and that first year I gave up eating meat during Lent.

I think that was the first time in my life that I actually gave much thought to the ubiquitous presence of meat in my daily diet. We grew up in a family that always had some sort of meat, potatoes, and a vegetable on the dinner table. Usually a canned vegetable such as green beans or maybe corn. I remember when my mother discovered instant mashed potatoes, we endured them daily, because they were so much easier to prepare than peeling and preparing them from scratch.

But vegetables? They were nothing much, as I recall, and we ate them because we had to. Sometimes we had a salad, if you can call it that, just sliced or diced tomatoes and iceberg lettuce, along with maybe a bit of grated carrot. But when Mama really cooked, she made excellent dishes. It's just that in my memory, it was rare that we deviated from the usual fare. On Saturdays we had hamburgers, but when I try to recall any really excellent meals that we had, other than on holidays, my memory comes up blank.

However, that Lenten season so long ago when I gave up eating meat changed the way I thought about food. I never again ate meat every day, and many years ago I became a vegetarian. These days, however, I eat a bit of chicken every now and then, and fish more often. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and salmon is wonderful here, so we eat it a few times a month. For health reasons, I stopped eating red meat and now it's been decades since I had any at all. The smell of bacon is tantalizing, and it's the only one that even attracts me (although I don't eat it ever). For some reason, of all the meats I remember eating growing up, the only one that actually repels me these days is pork. I don't remember when it started, but it's been so long now that I wonder why I have such a strong aversion to it. Here's some information about pork:
Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, accounting for about 38% of meat production worldwide. Consumption varies widely from place to place. The meat is taboo to eat in the Middle East and most of the Muslim world because of Jewish kosher and Islamic Halal dietary restrictions. 
I remember when I was in western China and we had breakfast served in our hotel. There was a hot dish labeled "Bacon," but when I looked inside there were very thin slices of beef that had been fried in some kind of fat and seasoned. Definitely not bacon, but in that part of the world no pork was ever consumed, I learned. It was very easy to eat a balanced and healthy diet, though, because vegetables and legumes were plentiful. And during those visits to China, I learned to love congee. What is it? Congee is probably the most common mainstay of the Chinese breakfast, a mild-flavored rice porridge that has been cooked for a long time with plenty of water to soften the rice. To give the congee some flavor, it is usually served with different toppings, such as pickled vegetables, fermented tofu, peanuts, and eggs. I liked the pickled vegetables the most and piled plenty of them into the congee bowl.

How did I get off on that subject? I was thinking about how giving up meat for Lent that one time changed the way I approached my diet. And now I'm sitting here thinking about food, instead of my original thought about today's post. Frankly, when I first sat down to write, nothing came to mind, except that we are in the Lenten season, and that is the only reason you are reading about it. I was completely without any good ideas, so I decided to just wing it, and here I am getting hungry, thinking about that congee.

One year, I gave up chocolate for Lent. Interestingly, though, as soon as it was over, I went right back to enjoying and eating chocolate, in contrast to giving up meat. Have you ever thought of giving up something that you enjoy for any length of time? It's fascinating how we can get into ruts of thinking, or eating, or routine of any sort, that becomes a part of one's daily habits, and that we can continue those habits long after they serve any purpose. Sometimes becoming aware of them and making a change can alter one's life. It happened to me.

It's been a long time since I've observed Lent. And it's been a long time since I dressed up for Easter, like we did in that picture from long ago. Dressed in pretty pastel dresses with white shoes and socks, those little girls were the apples of their parents' eyes, and at that time it was just the two of us, Norma Jean and I, with our sister PJ not coming along until I was seven. I wonder if Mama made those dresses for us; I wouldn't be surprised, because she was an accomplished seamstress and made many of our special outfits. I am feeling a little nostalgic this morning, thinking about times past and beloved people long gone.

Soon it will be time to get up and start my day, going to the coffee shop to join my friends there. I'll be going to the movies this afternoon with my friend Judy, so the day has already got some shape to it. And we'll be expecting a little bit of sunshine for a change as well. I read that we have already had all the rain we usually have in an entire year, and it's only March. I usually don't have as much problem with the constant rain, but right now I'm sure ready for it to stop. Today would be lovely.

And with that, I find that I am at the end of my Lenten post. I hope that whatever you do this week, until we meet again, it will be fulfilling and satisfying. That's what I'm hoping for myself as well. Don't forget to appreciate those you love, be they family, friends, or furry companions. Be well, dear ones.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Family dynamics

Fia, PJ, me, Markee in 2008
After having written about my partner in last week's post, all week long I've pondered writing about my siblings, or my parents, or somehow tie together all that I am feeling about how fortunate I am to have my family. Mama and Daddy have been gone for a long time, but each of us carries within us so many traits that are part and parcel of our parents' personalities.

My sister Norma Jean did not come to Texas for Thanksgiving this particular year, so she's missing from this picture. I especially like it because it shows those sisters I know the least well. Fia and Markee are the youngest, and they are very close, like Norma Jean and I are. PJ was seven years younger than me, and she didn't have another sibling close to her in age, but she grew to be quite close to our brother Buz, who was nine years younger and lived nearby.

PJ died three years ago now, of heart disease, our family nemesis, and the reason for my parents' premature deaths. At least I consider them premature, since Daddy was only 62, and Mama was only 69. Both of them suffered for many years from the side effects of high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I feel very fortunate to have lived in a time when we have much better treatment for these ailments, such as statins. I believe every single one of my siblings takes them; I know Norma Jean and I have taken them for decades now. They make a huge difference when you have a familial tendency toward what is called hyperlipidemia, which we all have. My son Chris had it, too, not only from my side of the family, but from his father's side as well. He only lived to be 40.

So it was with much relief that I received the results of last week's blood tests, to find that my tendency towards heart disease seems to be in remission, as long as I continue with my healthy lifestyle and statins. The tendency is so strong in our family that it makes me wonder if there is some survival benefit to hyperlipidemia that has yet to be recognized by the medical profession. Maybe if we lived in a time when you had to be active from morning to night, it wouldn't have been so bad for you and had some beneficial effects. But these days we spend so much of our time sitting or lying around and not being active as we stare at some screen or other.

When I listen to stories of the family dynamics of others when they were growing up, I realize that our family was very fortunate to be as close as we were. Although I was not particularly close to any of the three sisters in the picture because of lack of proximity, I recognize them as my family because of the way they interact with me, and with each other. We are all outgoing and successful in our chosen professions, and each one of them reminds me in one way or another of our parents. I was thinking of writing about my mother this morning, but I went looking back in my archives here and realized that I already did it, and that there is no way I could much improve on what I wrote in "My Mama." I considered taking that post and reworking it for today, but once I read it along with the comments from back then, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead, I decided to give you the opportunity to read it as I wrote it seven years ago.

My sister Norma Jean and I talk to each other on FaceTime a couple of times a month, and I look forward to it with anticipation. It's so much more than a phone call, where we just talk to each other. Instead, we see each other in our own settings, and I can tell how she is much more than if she was only a voice. She also keeps me in touch with my grand nieces Lexie and Alicia, because she has become somewhat of a nanny to those two. Between Norma Jean and her son Peter, her daughter Allison has all the child care she needs. Alicia is now in her terrible two's and a handful, but Lexie has grown old enough now (she's seven) to be an actual person who can be reasoned with. I enjoy seeing them on FaceTime, but it reminds me how fortunate I am that they are so far away from me most of the time. You know that old saying about "absence makes the heart grow fonder"? It's sure true about small kids, for me at least.

This morning we go back to Pacific Daylight Time, and I'm losing an hour of sleep. I see it's later than I expected it to be by the time I've written this, but that's because we did our usual trick of taking an hour from the morning and tacking it to the end of the day. Tonight the sun won't set until after 7:00pm, but it also won't rise until almost 7:30am. So it will be dark for awhile in the morning as I set off for the bus, but since we are so far north it won't last long; our daylight hours are increasing by more than three-and-a-half minutes every day at this time of the year. We are not far from spring, but since we've been colder and wetter than normal for what seems like ages, our spring has been slow in coming. I read that last year by this time we had 17 days of 50°F or warmer, and this year only one. No wonder it seems colder: it really is.

And rain? I could grouse about the weather but I won't. It doesn't change anything, and I know for a fact that things will green up. All the rain in California has caused a Super Bloom in the deserts, something that happens now and then, and this year it's just started and is nowhere near its peak. I wish I could go there and see it in person, but I'll be busy here, starting my garden planting and visiting the tulips in the Skagit Valley before long. My favorite time of the year around here is springtime, and it's a-comin' faster than one can say "Yahoo"!

With that (hope it brought a smile to your face), I will wish you a wonderful Sunday and a blessed week between now and next week, which will only be a few days away from the Vernal Equinox. Be well until then, my dear reader.