Sunday, February 27, 2011


I am more than halfway through my three-week stay here in Florida. This picture shows the current all-girl makeup of the household at Norma Jean's in Zephyrhills. On the left is the current Norma Jean holding a picture of herself with Farrah Fawcett hair back in the 1980s. Pete was a professional photographer and loved to take pictures of his beautiful wife. This one struck me as being particularly stunning.

Next are Allison and her daughter Lexie, a very interesting part of the Stewart clan. To learn more about Lexie and how she came to be born, click here. I wrote a bunch of information about her conception, which I find to be really interesting and definitely New Age. She will not have her biological father in the picture. Next in the above portrait is me, on the right. Tomorrow Lexie and Allison fly back to Washington, DC. I've been enjoying this beautiful child and her equally beautiful mom.
Since I don't have any grandchildren, I have been lavishing love on my grand niece without reservation. She has captured my heart and then some. She is very smart and just about ready to start crawling as we watch her play, three doting women smiling and laughing at her antics. She's a very good baby but has been teething and in some obvious discomfort. Allison is accustomed to her never crying, and when she is put to bed, she just smiles and coos and carries on until she falls asleep. I don't remember that EVER happening to my children!
Peter, Norma Jean's son, was here when I arrived and stayed through his father's celebration. He has returned to Michigan where he works, but he calls his mother at least once every day. Peter will return at the end of March for a week to do some work around the house and dog-sit the still-to-be-found rescue dog or dogs that Norma Jean is attempting to find. (She is traveling at the end of March for a week in Texas where many of our family members live.) One little chihuahua was scheduled to be euthanized this coming week unless a foster home could be found, so Norma Jean is in the process of getting certified to become a foster parent, and the dog (Chester) has been spared. She also has her eye on another long-haired chihuahua who just captured our hearts through the online pictures. However, it takes a few days for the process to be completed. They vet foster homes carefully, but Chester should be here sometime within the next few days and, hopefully, so will Socks (the other dog).

I think that rescuing these little dogs in need will help to fill the big holes in Norma Jean's life, even if, as she says, as a foster parent she might have to let them be adopted by another family. In the meantime, she will be able to provide them love and affection and can also learn something about herself in the process. More later.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The snowbird phenomenon

Down here in Zephyrhills, the sheer number of retirement communities blows my mind. Every time I drive down a different street, I see a road leading to a trailer park or another mobile home subdivision, and the traffic is pretty solid going in and out of them. My sister Norma Jean lives in Betmar Acres, a 55-and-older retirement community with 1600 homes. She tells me that at least half of the residents are snowbirds, most of whom come from the eastern part of the country: Ontario, Canada; Maine, New York, and Michigan.
This morning before 8:00 am, we went to the pool so Norma Jean could swim laps. It's right next to one of the golf courses, and here you can see the golfers heading out in the early morning light to beat the rush. I can see why people would like to escape the cold and snow of the fall and winter, since the temperature here in February is amazing, with an average daily high temperature around 72 degrees. Right now we are having a heat wave of 80 degrees or hotter, but this community has three nine-hole executive courses and two outdoor swimming pools, one of which is Olympic size. They also boast their own library, three clubhouses, and the largest covered shuffleboard court in Florida. Lots for the old folks to do.
Norma Jean and her other early-morning lap swimmer, Midge, are engaged in their daily meditation. Nobody talks or chats until the laps are done. Midge is 80 and has been swimming for her entire life. Norma Jean started swimming after her joints deteriorated from the pounding caused by years of running. After the swim, the residents have this lovely hot tub to soak their aches and pains away. (Okay, maybe not away, but it sure feels good. I swam with NJ yesterday, soaked in the tub, and plan to join her again tomorrow.)
The other thing the residents have in common here are a lot of widows and widowers, since so many of the people here are, well, old. Many are quite fit and work hard at maintaining their activity level. Being here in the winter, though, I see why the year-rounders have trouble with the snowbirds: the population of Zephyrhills triples and traffic everywhere is exponentially increased. Everywhere we go the lines are long, and the sound of Maine accents and Canadian brogues is ubiquitous. It's interesting for me to consider how many of these people must have residences in two places and the subsequent costs incurred in maintaining two separate homes.

While I walked around the grounds taking pictures this morning, I met a very nice couple, Vera and Don, who were out for a walk, her with a walker, him with a cane, and another friend also with a walker. When I took her picture, Vera kicked the walker out of the way, since she is recovering from a broken ankle and doesn't really need it. They told me they came to visit a friend a few years ago and within a couple of days they owned a home here and just love it.
Vera and Don, Betmar snowbirds
The old oak trees with Spanish moss make a nice backdrop to this happy couple out for a walk in the early morning. I went back to the pool and hopped on Norma Jean's golf cart to head back home. Until I came to visit, I had never understood the snowbird phenomenon, and now I do. Although it takes a certain level of income to maintain it, I think if I had the wherewithal I myself would be tempted!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Skydive City

In two days of trying to get a skydive at Skydive City here in Zephyrhills, I finally made one. Here's one of the most popular concessions at the Drop Zone (DZ for short): a place to pay someone to pack up your main parachute for $6, giving skydivers a chance to make the maximum number of skydives per day without getting worn out packing. If you look closely at the sign, under the price it says "experienced canopy compression engineers," reminiscent of the euphemism "waste management engineers" for garbage collectors.
I wandered around for a bit chatting with some of the local residents about the wind, which seemed a bit gusty and strong to me. I had not jumped for four months, never at this DZ, and with a new parachute, so my comfort level was very low and my anxiety level very high. They agreed that the wind was strong for 10:00 am in the morning and would probably get stronger. The first load of the day was on jump run and just about ready to drop its passengers.
Here is a tandem (an experienced skydiver with a passenger) coming in for landing. The people on the ground were acting as "catchers," ready to assist in getting the canopy under control once their feet touch the ground, allowing the pilot to concentrate on the passenger's comfort upon landing. Although at this very moment the wind sock was not showing strong winds, it was gusting up and down, so the DZ decided to go onto a wind hold for the time being. This gave me the chance to take care of getting registered and receiving the briefing about the landing area provided by one of the instructors. This is Scott, who showed me a picture taken from the air and told me how to easily find the DZ once I opened up under canopy.
Although Scott doesn't look like a professional (the hair, the t-shirt), he truly is, and as a skydiver, I recognized a young man who makes his living as a professional skydiver. He is a tandem master, AFF instructor, and camera flyer. He lives on the DZ. Over the years, I've grown to truly appreciate the ability of these young bright-eyed skydivers.
Meet Joanie, the DZ owner and operator. I met her years and years back at the World Freefall Convention when she was the owner of The Sunshine Factory, a pro shop for skydiving gear, providing everything a skydiver might need. Now she's got the same pro shop right on site at the DZ, and she was sweet enough to let me take a picture of her in her office.

I went home because of the winds and came back the next day, yesterday, and made a jump, since all my paperwork had been completed the day before. After wrestling my new parachute back into the bag, I was sweating profusely and discovered that the temperature was 84 degrees! No wonder this "rain bird" from the Pacific Northwest was so uncomfortable. The winds were still a little dicey, and since I only wanted to get my "knees in the breeze" and shake off some of the rust, I decided to come back this coming weekend when load organizers will be available and the DZ will have plenty of people for me to play with. As it was, it would have been another solo skydive or two, which just isn't as much fun as jumping with friends. I'll be back on Saturday, but it was fun, it's a great place and only five minutes from my sister' house!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pete's celebration of life

Today the day dawned clear and bright, which seems to be what will be happening for the foreseeable future while I am here in Florida. It was the day for Pete's celebration. Pictured above is Pete's, Norma Jean's and Moose's "ride," their Gold Wing motorcycle that allowed them to cover more than 70,000 miles together in less than three years. Pete's boots are in front, his helmet in the seat. At the top on the back, Moose's carrier is strapped on top of their luggage rack. At the very back, you can see they have a moose trailer hitch cover. The motorcycle was parked by the entrance to the clubhouse.
Seventeen Gold Wing motorcycles rode in formation up to the clubhouse with around thirty riders from their Gold Wing Chapter, and another forty people from various parts of Pete's life showed up to join us for the celebration. As soon as the bikes were parked, however, the riders lined up to give Norma Jean a hug and a "Riesen to live." Each one handed her a Riesen candy, which was put with the others into a bag.
After being received by Norma Jean, the chapter members came inside to join the others to watch rotating pictures of Pete's life, along with an amazing display of many of his artistic works. Peter had compiled pictures of Pete that we were given from different people into a lovely slideshow, and dozens of Pete's most impressive works of art were displayed on the tables. People talked, visited, and ate some of the snacks that Allison had provided until the celebration was scheduled to end, at 3:00 pm.
After we packed up all the things we had brought and headed back home, Lauren and Jim, old family friends, came back to the house to look at Pete's box of mementos that had been salvaged by Allison and Norma Jean, things he felt were still too good to throw out. This old scale is decades old and was once covered with fake fur, and those two cups of his had been used for so long that Lauren (the pretty lady in blue) refused to allow them into her house. 
Now it's 7:00 pm and I'm getting ready to post this, while Norma Jean is asleep in Pete's recliner (snoring vigorously), Peter is working away sitting in his desk chair, and Allison is cleaning up in the kitchen. Little Lexie is already asleep. Now that the celebration is behind us, I will be heading to the Drop Zone tomorrow to check out Skydive City. I'm pretty tired, too, but I'll try to stay awake for another hour or two. It was a good day, a good celebration, and after a day or two I think the closure will begin to sink in. We love you, Pete!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Laughter and tears

Here's the very best part of being here right now: my beautiful grand niece Lexie. She is so fascinated with the red light that comes on when the camera focuses that every picture I got of her has this expression. Otherwise, she is smiling, laughing, or giving all of us plenty of reason to be thankful. I arrived here yesterday afternoon after taking this picture as I left Miami after a five-hour layover for a one-hour flight.
The weather here is beautiful, right now the mid-seventies on its way to 80 degrees. Everywhere in this house, Pete's presence is felt. And then I remember that he's not coming back and feel a quick wave of grief. Then I see the little doggie carriers that Moose used for his home and I remember his little head peeking out from his "porch" and feel another wave of grief for my sister's losses. Then the tears fall again. I am so glad to be here, but it's not exactly a wonderful and joyous time.
Yes, Norma Jean is on her computer. I can also bet that her son Peter is somewhere in the house with a laptop on his lap, and Allison, too. We are a very connected family in this way. I haven't yet gotten a good picture of Peter but as soon as I do, I'll introduce you to him as well. Right now we have four adults and one infant laughing and smiling, mostly at Lexie, and then laughing when going through some of Pete's things because of his penchant for never throwing anything away. He even still had his old hairbrush from before they were married. ("Why would I get a new one? It still works just fine!")
BTW, I got a call yesterday from my doctor's office, and they have decided to biopsy that thyroid lump. I'll have it done a few days after I return from this trip. It made me a little nervous about what they might have seen they aren't sharing with me, but that is just me "awful-izing" as my sister calls it, jumping ahead to the worst possible outcome. But the really good thing is that whatever it is, I'll know for sure after next month. If it's not one thing in life, it's another, it seems.

But I am so glad to be here, laughing and crying with gusto. Please forgive any typos or errors I might have missed, because I'm trying to finish this before all of us girls head out the door.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Leaving on a jet plane

Moose begging from Norma Jean August 2010
I thought about calling this post "The Last Straw" or something similar, because that's what finally tipped me over the edge this morning. It's not enough that I am so far away from my wonderful sister Norma Jean, but to add insult to injury, her little adorable long-haired Pekingese Moose was run over and killed in her front yard today. Within an hour of the event, my niece Allison called to tell me that, well, it's not been the best week in the Stewart household. My heart immediately broke even more for my sister.

So, it turns out that I will indeed be in Florida for the celebration of Pete's life on Sunday. In fact, I'm staying for three whole weeks and will get a chance to jump my new parachute at the world-class Drop Zone, Skydive City, which happens to be about a mile from my sister's house. Yes, I am taking my gear with me, since I don't know that I will ever be back in the region, and it's been such a wet and rainy season here in the Pacific Northwest that I feel justified. Plus I will be able to take all my blogging buddies there to see what it's like. I hope none of you feel I am being totally crass doing this. Okay, I feel a twinge of guilt myself... but just a little.

Thanks to Allison, I will be using her accumulated Alaska Air miles to fly there. I couldn't get there using my own United Air miles, because they wouldn't let me use them until March 1 at the earliest. My days of flying everywhere are over, but if I compare the frequent flier programs of these two airlines, Alaska comes out tops in every way. I will be flying the "red-eye," however, which allows me to use the smallest amount of her miles. I will leave Seattle at 10:30 pm and finally arrive in Tampa at 1:30 pm the next day, with a layover of six hours in Miami. Not pretty, but I couldn't bear to pay the exorbitant airline prices they wanted to charge me in order to get there within the next few days.

One thing I want to say before my exciting journey begins: I am going to Florida first and foremost to help my little sister rebuild her life. There are pictures in my mind of the two of us talking far into the night, which might be a little dated... we are much older now and might fall asleep in our chairs instead. No matter, much personal history will be written within the next three weeks. Without a doubt.
They went everywhere together: NJ, Pete, Moose

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Scents and sensibilities

When I was busy composing my morning post over on my other blog, I started thinking about the time when I was a young girl in Puerto Rico. My father was stationed at Ramey Air Force Base when I was three, and I spent the next three years of my life playing and exploring in the tropical setting of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. I must have played with the flowers of this tree, known as the yellow flamboyant tree (Peltophorum pterocarpum). I spent some time on line looking for a picture of the tree that I vaguely remembered. But the reason for the title is that of another memory.

Years later I returned to Puerto Rico when my then-husband Derald was stationed at that same air base. I was nineteen, and my son Chris was born there. We also lived in the town of Aquadilla, since it was the closest town to the air base. I had a stroller with my infant son in it and I was walking somewhere, now lost in the mists of time. A flower from an overhead tree wafted down in front of me, gently falling just out of reach. I stopped in the benevolent sunlight, picked up the flower and smelled it.

Suddenly, I was transported back to a time a decade and a half earlier. The smell of that flower caused me to remember what it was like to be a little girl again, with images and emotions flooding through me. This tree only grows in tropical areas, and I had not smelled that particular scent in all that time. This morning, I swear I could smell that flower again as I brought up the memories of us playing with the flowers, making bouquet and garlands of them, I imagine.

I found some really interesting information about scents and why they are so powerful, on Discovery Health on line:
A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people's moods and even affect their work performance. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain's limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it's sometimes called the "emotional brain," smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously. The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren't for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment.
I really had no idea that the power of smell was so, well... powerful, but even today I can remember the emotions that I felt on that long-ago day when I picked up that flower. I also notice that several times I have looked at a picture posted by some blogging friend, and an emotion and a scent seem to waft through my mind. This happens often with roses, but the number of times I have stopped to smell the roses are too many to link to any particular memory.

Not at all like the yellow flamboyant tree, unique and very special in my memory, linked to a wonderful gentle time in my childhood and again another time as a young mother. It is a very special feeling to see a picture of that tree and be able to smell the flowers.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blustery day

Don't you just love some words? I love that word "blustery," which means something (or someone) characterized by strong winds. I woke last night to the sound of the wind, gusting right now to somewhere close to 50 mph. I almost didn't go on the usual Saturday morning walk with the Fairhaven walkers group because of it. I'm glad I went anyway, because although the first part of the six-mile loop was into the wind, the last part (pictured above) simply blew us right back to the Woods coffee shop.

That's Linda from the Senior Trailblazers with her dog Riley. Our leader, Cindy, is a former race walker who zips back and forth from the front to the back of the group of somewhere around a dozen of us. The pace is faster than I would be walking alone, somewhere around 15-minute miles, and it helps to complement the other exercise I get. Plus I knew I would be able to eat more food on my diet if I got this walk in. Keeping my metabolism up as I get older is something I work hard at.

I'm not sure when I'll be traveling to Florida to be with my sister during this time. Pete didn't want a funeral, but they will be having a celebration of his life on the 20th, with the possibility of Norma Jean traveling to Texas after that. The majority of our family lives there, and bringing her to them rather than having a huge inundation of family all at once makes more sense. I'm really wanting to do whatever I do for my sister, because I feel I made peace with Pete already. It hurts me to think of her being all alone, but her daughter and son are with her now, so that isn't an issue. It's later than I think I'll be needed. It's always a hard thing to figure out the details.

I just heard a wind gust that sounded very high, and after checking the weather I see we are under a wind advisory until 9:00 pm tonight. It's kind of scary; the winds here can be extreme. I thought I knew high winds in Colorado. As I look out onto the porch, the birds are hanging on the feeders as they swing back and forth. The birds are old hands at this, it seems.

Yesterday I had another ultrasound, this time to take a look at just the thyroid and its nodules. The blood work came back with my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) within the normal range, but definitely on the low end of normal, and now I suspect that the doctor will tell me they will just keep an eye on it. This technician (a woman this time) told me that almost half of all women have these nodules on their thyroid. I wonder why women are more prone to them and what they might mean.

Well, that's the news from my part of the universe. I am now heading downtown to listen to a free concert by the Interfaith Choirs. Our leader Al from the Senior Trailblazers told us about it; half a dozen or so choirs from different churches are giving this, something from each and then hundreds of voices together raised in song. He said he would have a solo but not to let that keep us away. It sounds uplifting, so I'm off to check it out!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Stewart Mountain 2011

Fourteen Senior Trailblazers carpooled to the trailhead at Lake Whatcom, seen as the blue expanse in this picture, our first view. That's Bellingham Bay on the left and the city below us. We had to pass through several icky parts on our way to a great view, including transmission power lines and areas of clearcut. One thing they do here in Washington state is cut every last tree when clearing an area of trees, it can be quite disconcerting. We had to gain our view of Mt. Baker and the Twin Sisters by climbing up through way too much of this.
We gained almost 3,000 feet on this hike, giving us a good workout, and if you look closely you can see some of my fellow hikers picking their way through the detritus. However, once we reached the summit, we have a really lovely view of the Twin Sisters, as you can see. There was a layer of cloud dissecting the Sisters, but it gave the view an especially mysterious feeling, to me.
That's the Nooksack Valley down below, with a little bit of fresh snow, and behind those clouds you can see that the wind must have been quite intense. You don't see those lenticular clouds without winds. And then this picture of Mt. Baker just looks like an ice cream cone hidden behind that cloud.
The full sun and the lack of any wind at the summit, where we were, allowed us to take a leisurely lunch and not hurry back down the road. It is always a good workout on this hike, much of which is on old logging roads. At the top, we had a skiff of snow, not too much to make it hard hiking, but enough to give some visibility to show our descent.
The days are getting longer, we are gaining more than three minutes of daylight every day, but you can see the afternoon shadows are still quite long as we head back down to our cars. We walked ten miles, up 2,700 feet in total, and to let you know HOW we knew the distance and the elevation gain and loss, here is our fearless leader (Al) on the right and Fred on the left, comparing their readings. You would think they would always agree, being GPS and all, but they don't. We take an average. As soon as we get to the cars, we all head over to find out how far, how high. I don't know why it matters so much, but it does. We had a good day, and it was exactly where I needed to be, to clear my head and make me feel gratitude for my wonderful hiking buddies.
 Am I lucky or what??

Goodbye Pete

My brother Buz took this picture of my sister Norma Jean and Pete last January at Disney World, where they spent a wonderful time together. (That's why Norma Jean has Minnie Mouse ears on her head.) I couldn't sleep this morning, tossing and turning thinking about Pete. I called yesterday to see how things were going, since I hadn't heard anything and no blog post from Pete. Norma Jean told me Pete had been taken to the Hospice quarters and she wasn't optimistic. The only posts we'll see in the future on his blogs will be put there by others, since Pete died this morning at 5:20 EST. His daughter Allison has put a short post on his blog, "Out of My Multiple Minds."

My heart goes out to all of us who loved Pete's incorrigible spirit, his multiple minds, and his incredible talent. He was good at anything he put his mind to (any one of them), and he died prematurely of pulmonary emphysema because of a lifelong smoking habit.

This is one of those very few times when I will be putting two posts up on the same day, since I will be heading out with the Trailblazers to enjoy today's sunshine while thinking of my family in Florida. Hopefully I will be heading there in the near future for whatever is decided to be done to honor him.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hospital food

From Now That's Nifty
I just read (link goes to ABC News) that Gabrielle Giffords has spoken; she asked for toast to be added to her breakfast. Her husband apparently has put this information on his Facebook page, along with the comment, "Gabby's appetite is back and – even though it's hospital food – she's enjoying three meals a day." The link under this picture of hospital food goes to a very interesting blog site displaying funny and nifty things from across the Internet. I found this picture there, and really, I do wonder about hospital food myself. Is it invariably terrible?

I was in Boulder Memorial Hospital for two days in 2005, and I can still remember the difference between the menu offerings and what I was presented. When you are supposed to get well from either illness or surgery, do they figure you won't have an appetite so they serve you this kind of food? The only thing on the plate above that I would be having on my own plate is the minuscule serving of broccoli, and I suspect it's overcooked. Wonder what that orange block is: sweet potato maybe? Surely that's chicken under the gravy. I remember ordering from the menu some "homemade stew with peas, carrots, and potatoes." What showed up was obviously from a can and everything in the little plastic bowl was incredibly unappetizing.

The link under the picture also takes you to scenes of hospital food from 11 different countries, and some of it looks pretty good. I guess it's not always terrible, but usually it is. Fortunately for Gabby, she's got family who must be helping and supplementing the hospital offerings, and, as I understand it, she's in the best facility in the country for brain injuries. Makes me wonder if there is a hospital somewhere known for having the best hospital food.

Oh, and I have to announce that I've lost another half pound as of this morning. In three weeks, it's been almost five pounds of weight loss, and I am now in the single digits of weight to lose. Giving myself plenty of time to get there, the real test will be to figure out, once I get to my goal weight, how to stay there. Having broken my taboo about getting on the scales, I now weigh at the same time every day when I go to the gym, just before showering.

Sometimes I realize how much less I'm actually consuming than I was before. I bought myself a food scale, and weighing out portions has been a real eye-opener. ("What?? THAT is 200 grams of potatoes? Is that all?") Where before I would open the fridge and unthinkingly take out a hard-boiled egg as a between-meal snack, now I count out 6 or 7 dried apricots and 24 almonds, put them into a baggie and carry them around as my snack allotment for the day. It really helps to have something to eat whenever I feel like it, except that when it's gone... well, tomorrow is another day.

Monday, February 7, 2011

All spaced out

I put this picture of a beautiful little owl on my blog a while back, and now that I need a picture of one of these little guys again, I'm reusing it. Sorry I don't know where it came from originally, but here's the story:

I was walking back from the gym on my way to the bus this morning, when I saw a sign that caught my eye: "WATCH THE SUPERB OWL HERE" Intriguing! But then I realized that it was a sports bar, and somebody had put a space between the B and the O, which changed the original meaning quite drastically. The sign was from yesterday, when everybody was watching the Superbowl. Interesting what just a little change in spacing can do.

I was also reminded yesterday of the difference a little spacing can make in different words. For example, the words "now" and "here" when added together make "nowhere," the opposite meaning of the two words apart. A few years ago I read a wonderful little book called "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" and wrote a blog post about it, which I called "My inner stickler," illustrating what a big difference a comma can make in the description of a panda. I have a link to the book in that post, if you haven't read it and want a good read about grammar.

When I was working as an editor, it was difficult for me to read anything without a red pen in hand, so I could mark up an article and correct common errors. The proofreading symbols were deeply ingrained in me, and it's interesting to notice that I'm finally released from the need to correct everything. When I read another blog post that has grammatical errors in it, I don't even flinch any more, just feel it flow over me, I notice it but feel no need to get all huffy and upset about it. As a detail-oriented editor, I soon realized that a single reading of an article would not be enough to catch all the errors. I would have to clean it up, reprint it, and read it again. It often amazed me how many errors I had missed on the first read. And today, when I post something new, often Smart Guy will read it and point out a typo now and then. I don't even get my feathers ruffled! I guess I've moved far enough away from performance anxiety to be moderately relaxed about these things. That's real progress.

This is not to say that I'm now above it all, far from it. The other day somebody saw my business card and asked if I am available for possible editing work. Two feelings emerged: one, I knew I could make his project better and thought perhaps I should; and two, I was sure I really don't want to get back on that bandwagon. Once I begin to get into the details, I can't lay it down easily. My inner stickler is slumbering; let's not wake her up again!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Introspection and celebration

My brother-in-law Pete has been keeping pretty busy lately, even though he's only been given a few days left to live. Here you see him in a daily video chat with my sister Norma Jean (on the right), his son Peter (left), and his daughter Allison holding Lexie. He put this picture on his blog (he's the guy in the middle), where he's been busy writing posts as much as he possibly can before he's not able to continue any more. He is now tethered to his oxygen and can't get off it for more than a few minutes. And he's written two three posts since this one: "My Last Post... Or Not!" which explains his circumstances. (He's also over on my sidebar, "Out of My Multiple Minds.")

Ever since Norma Jean called me on Monday to tell me that Pete's pulmonary physician said there is nothing more to be done and signed him up for Hospice, Pete has decided he's going to try everything he can to hang on for as long as possible. Hospice workers were in their home yesterday and he's being given all the help he needs. The thing about pulmonary emphysema is that it isn't as easy to predict when it becomes terminal as it is with cancer, for example. So we are all hoping that the end is not as imminent as his physician predicted, which was "a matter of days or weeks."

When I call their home, it sounds like a party is going on. People are visiting, both through technology as well as physically. His local motorcycle group lined up fifty deep waiting for a chance to talk with Pete through video chat, which both touched him and, I suspect, tired him out. It gives him such a boost to know how much people really care about him. And I never miss a chance to remind him that I love him and want to help however I can. I do that for me as much as for him.

Pete married my sister almost fifty years ago now, so he's been a part of my life for half a century. He was my first husband Derald's best friend for years, and I think the death of Derald at 51 was as hard on Pete as anybody. I was fortunate to reconcile with Derald a few months before his sudden death, and that was at my son's instigation. Chris wouldn't let it go until his parents had a telephone conversation that lasted for hours, and many old hurts and recriminations were laid to rest at that time.

I just called to see how things are going at the home of the Florida Stewarts (Pete and Norma Jean), and they sound better than I expected. Yesterday Pete was able to get his oxygen levels up to almost normal, but today, not so much. They toyed with the thought of venturing out, but as Pete explained to me, he can no longer count on portable oxygen to do enough for him. They probably will not try it, but you just never know. There's so much I don't know about emphysema and its progression.

On another note, the Boulder Hot Sauce Company finally did return the charge of $5,892 for all that hot sauce I was fearful of receiving on my doorstep. My bank account numbers returned to normal, making my weekend much more peaceful. And I lost another pound through my calorie counting efforts. I do have some periods of being pretty hungry; I woke up in the middle of the night fantasizing about eating a big salad covered with creamy dressing. I don't think I actually did it, though.

The word "celebration" in the title is because of the wonderful fact that Pete is getting to know how much he is loved and cherished BEFORE he leaves us behind. If anything is worth celebrating, that certainly is. If I were given a chance to choose a "good bye," that would certainly factor high on my list. I hope you visit his blog and say hello. His more than a hundred posts are well written and show who he is and why we love him. And if you needed any other reasons, Pete sent me this funny image, and although I don't know where it originated, I hope it makes you laugh.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lily Lake and water

It was a completely different day than we had on Tuesday. In fact, pretty much the opposite. We even had fewer people than usual; only eleven hardy Senior Trailblazers showed up for a hike in the rain. We drove 18 miles south into Skagit County and started our trek from the Samish Overlook. This picture taken at the Overlook shows the only rays of sun we saw all day, off in the distance.

As we started out in the wind and rain, anxious to get going so we could warm up, we headed uphill toward Lily and Lizard Lakes. After a few minutes, I realized that my Camelbak water bladder was missing the closing piece at the end, and when I tried to take a drink of water, it just kept on coming out! With my fellow hikers yelling instructions ("Hold it upright so it will drain back into the bladder!" "Don't lean forward or it will start again!"), I finally managed to stop the flow and we proceeded on with the hike. Rain coming out of the sky, water flowing out of the bladder, it wasn't lining up to be one of our best hikes. However, the ideas of how to title this blog began emerging from my clever friends: "My water broke and I lost bladder control!" was the best one of all.
We hiked up to the North Butte, which looks out over the bay and Lummi Island (the largish one in the middle), but we weren't happy about having lunch at this point (our usual stopping place), since we were being pelted with rain AND the wind was truly unfriendly. So we headed back down into the trees for this lovely lunch spot.
I know many of you were envious of our snowshoe trip on Tuesday, but I must say I'll bet there's not a reader out there who wishes you were with us today. However, you would be wrong. It was mostly the Pacific Northwest kind of rain, which comes and goes, varying from a light mist to some fairly large drops, but no downpour. We didn't spend lots of time at this lunch spot, getting up and moving on before we got really cold. This spot was sheltered from most of the wind and rain, but it wasn't a particularly enticing place to relax. Off we went to Lily Lake.
If you were to enlarge this picture of Lily Lake, you would be able to see myriad water droplets making pretty patterns on the water. Since this was our destination, we were all happy to head back to the cars and make our way to a drier environment. That would be pretty much anywhere inside, so some of us went back to the Senior Center to have a cup of coffee and dry out a bit before heading home. For the day, we covered almost nine miles and went up and down somewhere around 1,500 feet of elevation.

Although it seems like a bit of an ordeal in many ways, it was truly pleasant to be hiking in the rain, because of my companions, their great attitudes, and proper gear for the elements. Wish you were here!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Finding the time to post

Boy, I'll tell ya, it's been hard trying to find the time to get this post finished. I started to post this yesterday after our wonderful showshoe trip into the Mt. Baker area, but since we didn't get home until after 4:00 pm, I was famished and then got lost in the news coming out of Egypt. Now it's after 1:00 pm the following day, and I just now got a chance to settle down and write a bit.
Seven of us Senior Trailblazers answered Al's call about possibly going up to the High Country on Tuesday, with the weather forecasted to be clear and cold and, as you can see, we were happily snowshoeing on some rather pre-recreated snow. I think it snowed up there on Friday and the weekend warriors came out in droves. The snow was much more of the Cascade Cement variety than we had last time, but the sunshine was very much appreciated, and we enjoyed every second of the day. We headed up to Huntoon Point for lunch. We found that someone had carved a nice snow seat so we could all sit around and chat. Our old friends the gray jays showed up for lunch, too.
I especially love this picture of Mike feeding a jay some of his dried cranberries. If you enlarge the picture, you can see that the jay looks like he's laughing, or maybe talking to Mike about his choice of bird food. We actually sat around and had lunch for more than a few freezing minutes for a change before we headed back down the trail. I asked Mike to take a picture of me feeding the jays, so he did.
Mr. Gray Jay was less than impressed with my pumpkin seeds. I had counted out my almonds and only had 24 for the whole day, so I wasn't inclined to share them with him, but I was surprised to find that he wasn't really very interested in the pumpkin seeds. You can see he's inspecting my wares and didn't come back for seconds. They are wonderful cheeky birds, though, and I truly enjoyed having them around. By the time we reached the cars, we had covered a little more than four miles and 1,300 feet of elevation. It sure seems like a lot more on snowshoes, I have to say. I was really tired by the time I got home.

Earlier in the week I placed an order for a case of Boulder Hot Sauce, because I was sent a bottle of the pricey but very tasty sauce by a good friend. I gave the owner my credit card number over the phone, and he sent me a nice little receipt for $59.53. This morning I got a call from him, with an apology for an accounting error. Someone entered the receipt as being for $5,953.00 of hot sauce! And guess what, my bank took it without question. It showed up on my bill this morning, and when I talked with the bank clerk, I asked her if maybe it didn't look a little suspicious that I had decided to buy so much of the stuff. Nope. It went through without a raised eyebrow, which makes me a tiny bit nervous. I'm going to keep a much closer eye on my account from now on. I have been issued a refund, but it hasn't shown up yet. I'll breathe a big sigh of relief when it does.

I just love this picture of one of the jays I took yesterday. He is looking quite coy, or maybe just posing for the camera. They do get a lot of visitors up there.