Sunday, August 30, 2015

What's the hardest thing about growing old?

It's been said that growing old 'ain't for sissies', and I have to agree. Not much about it is fun, down here in my income range anyway. I have friends in the income stratosphere who travel around the world, many trips every year to various far away places. They are filled with energy and good health and love of life. I, on the other hand, live with a lot of frustration. Whine.

You'd think that health issues might be the hardest part of aging, and of course, for too many of us, health is indeed an issue. I'm fortunate in that regard, although I certainly work at maintaining good health and have done so for 50 years. Guess it's paying off.

I knew, deep down inside, that the toughest thing I was likely to face in retirement was boredom, and that's certainly been the case, although it goes deeper than boredom, into deep frustration. Frustration that I can't afford to do much of anything -- travel of almost any kind is rare, even a drive to the coast for a day. That takes gas, and gas costs money, and I don't have any extra money. I'm generally happy if I make it to the end of the month with food in the house, and it's budgeted very carefully throughout the month. No whines about this -- I knew what I was getting into when I retired, although I did think I'd have more luck in finding part-time work to supplement my income enough to add a little fun.

The reason I bring this up now is because in watching (addictively!) the Exploration Ship Nautilus as it travels, watching the water and land and new places, the things they do in deep water, and listening to the various people on watch as they talk during dives, I want to be there. I would dearly love to spend some time on that ship, be a part of what they do for awhile. My age and income aren't really factors here -- I simply can't think of anything in my background that would lend itself to their mission in a useful way. Alas. They are open to questions and salutations and to listeners joining into their conversation when they are broadcasting, and they get many questions from others who'd like to join. Age, they say, is not a factor.

And it doesn't stop there. Recently I've been aware of how strong my sense of adventure still is, how deep my curiosity about the world and everything that's going on out there is. Remember when I wanted to go to Thailand for awhile to live and study? I'd still love that, but I realized eventually that I just didn't have the necessary gumption to go that far away with such meager resources. I'd have to sell my car, and then how would I ever buy another one when I eventually return to the states? There were just too many dead ends. Realities.

There is so much I'd still love to do, places to see, things to experience. I don't think it would take a lot more money than I have, but it would definitely take more to make me feel comfortable. And a better cushion in the bank. So I sit in frustration, knowing those things are not in the cards for me in this lifetime. And knowing that, I accept the reality. But that doesn't totally quash the adventurous spirit and curiosity. They are alive and well!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dogs -- REAL dogs!

I had the coolest encounter this morning! Really, hardly worth writing about, yet it was the highlight of my day.

Decades ago -- back in the 60s -- I raised and showed German Shepherd dogs. I had and still have a love affair with the breed, and would really love to have one right now. Unfortunately, it's not practical -- not to mention that I couldn't afford to feed one! My heart skips a beat every time I see one, although encounters are really few.

This morning I was walking through a parking lot at a market and noticed a gorgeous brown and black head at the rear window, poking its nose out the window, that was open a few inches. The dog wasn't barking, threatening, or anything, just curious. I said hello to him, although I'm not sure he heard me, and kept on walking. Then I saw a man who seemed to be headed towards the car with groceries in hand, so I asked him if it was his. He said yes, and I told him that I loved shepherds and used to raise them. He said, well, wait a minute, and headed to the rear doors of the big SUV, obviously going to let me get a better look.

He opened the doors and there were four of them -- four wonderful, big, gorgeous dogs all excited to see their owner, curious about the new person. I stuck my hand out and found utter friendliness (the really good quality shepherds are not vicious at all, merely protective if you threaten their people). I couldn't help myself -- moved in close to those fabulous heads for a hug and for a moment I was surrounded by doggie love. Real dogs -- not the overgrown rats like the one my roommate owns! I could have crawled in and sat surrounded by them, but after a moment I thanked the guy and moved on. I'm sure he had better things to do, but what a nice gesture. I'm sure he has no idea how much it really meant to me.

I smiled for a long time, and I'm still smiling when I think of it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Go Set A Watchman

I've been on the waiting list at our library for some time for this book, mostly out of curiosity. My number finally came up (or, the library finally got enough copies to meet the demand).

Maybe it's because the book is set in a time and place I know so well -- where I grew up, in effect -- but I was almost instantly transported into the book and story, far from the initial curiosity that led me to read it. I could so easily identify with the colloquialisms and descriptions of things that indeed existed at that time, were very true to the time and place. We weren't separated by all that many miles: the story is set in a small town in south Alabama and my own small town is in north Georgia. I had an aunt and uncle who lived not all that far from where Harper Lee lived in her small Alabama town. We're practically kissin' cousins.

So, I was wrapped up in the story and the people from the first page. I loved the references to earlier days in Scout's life (the times and people of To Kill A Mockingbird), and I loved seeing Scout's story fleshed out with more details, plus the added connections of so many of the same people being in both books. Beautifully written, as would be expected. Plenty of depth in characters and story, also to be expected. A book to be savored and contemplated, rich in language, writing skill and characters.

Granted, the story is not a pretty one, but it is a real and authentic one. I was there, so I can see the authenticity, even though Scout was maybe 12-13 years older than I would have been at the time. The book was written in and about the mid-fifties, which gives it a solid grounding in the realities of the time as only a writer who experienced it could do. Many people write about this era after-the-fact, but their words and opinions are based on history, rather than experience. Not that experience makes it any prettier, but it does make it authentic.

I had an experience similar to Scout's a few years back when I learned that my beloved grandfather, a man I knew to be as kind and gentle and good as a person could be, a man I idolized and loved above all others throughout my life, once marched with the Klan. I learned this from a cousin whose mother, my father's older sister, recognized her father's shoes underneath his white sheet as he marched through town with a large group. I guess the shoes were pretty distinctive, but she wasn't in any doubt who it was. So I can understand Scout's sense of loss at learning her own, idolized, father's views on the subject. Fortunately, by the time I learned it I was an old woman and my grandfather long dead. Scout was young, her father very much alive. I wasn't devastated as she was, merely surprised. People are human, even our idols, and don't always live up to our lofty expectations and sensibilities.

There's plenty of deep insight and philosophy scattered throughout the book; things that will (or should) make you think. They certainly made me think. That's particularly true towards the end, when the story reaches its turning point. Reading much of this enraged me once again, as the southern attitude towards black people has enraged me throughout my life. I had the good fortune to be born as color blind as Scout, and words such as backward infuriate me when used in this context. I would substitute other words, such as uneducated, for starters. Yet, pretty or not, it's true to the time and place. And no, I'm not going to get started on my own soapbox. Scout said it all for me.

A couple of quotes from the last few pages really caught my attention and made me think. One was's always easy to look back and see what we were,  yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. Another, Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's gotta be Monday

You know it's Monday when the world is all topsy-turvy, right? Or maybe my brain is simply malfunctioning because it only had a tad over 2 hours sleep last night.

But, that's the bad news, and it could be worse. Yes, it's thrown my plans for the day right off the rails, but I can live with that. The good news is that sometime yesterday afternoon I began to emerge from the state of fatigue that's been with me for over a week. I had energy again. And that's probably the reason I didn't sleep, because after sleeping and chilling for over a week, the body was ready to rumble. I went to bed at 10, but after being wide awake for over an hour I gave it up and turned on the telly, just for something to do.

This happens to me from time to time, for no discernable reason. It's happened after long drives when I've arrived home late at night and am still pumped -- and I get that. What I don't get is why an ordinary day can result in this wide-awake night. Whatever. I have learned that the best remedy is not to fight it -- just go with it, watch a little telly, and that'll eventually put me to sleep. And it did, towards 2am.

And then of course my bladder wanted attention around 4:30, so I attended to that and thought I'd go right back to sleep. Sure, I would. I should know better. So, I'm up. Groggy, sleepy, scratchy eyes, but still with a little energy. I think driving to town and working out would not be a good idea -- not sure I'm safe to even make the drive. So I'll have to ease back into this exercise thing more gradually, I guess. Try to get some sleep in the afternoon.

Not sure what causes these times of fatigue. Have I simply worked the body too hard for its age and condition, or is it my thyroid auto-immune disease wreaking havoc? Or something else? No real way to know, but I'm always glad when they are over.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Underwater life

The E/V Nautilus sent a tweet this afternoon of some video taken during a recent dive off the west coast -- presumably the most recent one, near Monterey.  The subject was the small yellow ghost-like blob on the bottom, which is a dumbo (I think) octopus. But I found the red jellyfish floating across the rich blues and greens to be ethereal.

It's a fascinating critter -- its tentacles are hidden underneath its body.  As the camera stays on it, the critter is moving, of course, poking its tentacles from underneath, seeming to be yawning and half asleep. Who knew things like this existed? I sure didn't.

The joy for me from watching the video live as they survey the dive sites is watching exactly this -- the critters of the ocean bottom, the very rich life that floats and swims past all the time. The scientists are talking about these particular critters on the video, and it's all much better in motion than in these screen cap photos, so have a look for yourself.

They're getting really rough seas as they travel north. Watching from the camera, the motion is so strong and the waves so big it almost makes me seasick, sitting right here! And no, I don't watch it all day, but I do check in from time to time to have a look.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Day in San Francisco

My latest online obsession is the live camera views from the E/V Nautilus, a research vessel that looks for and probes shipwrecks.  Last week they were looking at a known wreck off the coast of Monterey, CA. Yesterday they pulled into San Francisco and docked at one of the city-front piers, leaving both cameras live. I've had a fascinating day watching (on and off) all the action on the bay and at the docks -- including the big cruise ship coming in. They left promptly at 4pm, as advertised, and were well outside the Golden Gate an hour later. This ship boogies! I've noticed that at sea, before, but it was really evident inside the bay. I've been out on the bay many times, but never moved that fast. But then, I was generally in a sailboat. Next stop is Victoria, BC to explore a wreck site.

Needless to say, this made me homesick. I haven't lived in San Francisco since 1976, but I've always called it my spiritual home, and it still is, regardless of where I live.

The ship is 211 feet long and 35 feet wide, has a top speed of 10 knots. She carries two underwater research vessels and when those are in the water over the wreck, there is live video from them, plus audio of the conversations of the scientists on board, talking about what they are seeing. Pretty cool. Saw it on 60 Minutes last Sunday, and had to check it out.

I'm still feeling tired and puny -- not sick, just no energy. But, it'll pass.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Use it or lose it

I have stayed in bed for most of the last 23 hours, and will probably be headed back there soon. Why? Because I am pooped, that's why. Drained.

Yesterday I went to a local one-day Goenka meditation retreat here in town, and it did me in. I was tired when I woke up to begin with, but sitting still on the cushion from 9:30 to 4:30 really was too much. We had an hour for lunch, and a few 10-minute breaks about every hour. I realized halfway through the day that I haven't sat a retreat, or even a full day of meditation, for over a year and a half now, and it shows. My 'meditation muscles' are not in shape. For me, it hits mostly in the back and shoulder/neck region -- the trapezoids and latts. Those get a lot of use when sitting upright with no support. They get stronger with practice. But then, the Goenka retreats are the worst when it comes to physical torture. I don't think anybody who's been to one would argue that. At least this one was one day, rather than the normal 10 days. It only took me half a day to remember why I don't go to those very often. But -- they have these every other month or so, and I may try it again. Or not.

So today, I've gotten out of bed mostly to eat and pee. Hopefully, by tomorrow I'll be peppy and ready to hit the gym again.

Speaking of the gym, I was wondering yesterday why I take the time to go to the gym and do the treadmill. My neighbor, who is around 85, goes out and walks seemingly every day, right outside the door. I don't keep track of him, but I do see him out on the walking trail often, when I'm waiting for the bus, or driving past. He wears red running shorts and his shoulders are a little hunched, but he walks fast and it looks as if he works his upper body with weights, well and regularly, as well. Like I've always said -- use it or lose it. He uses it.

Sorry for such a boring post. Time to hit the bed again.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Milestones and millstones

I have a feeling that I've whined about this here before, possibly more than once. But here I go again!

It's all about this weight-loss game I'm playing. It's been successful, especially so this past week when I've been getting out and doing something 5 days per week. The frustration comes on Wednesdays, which is my 'weights and measures' day where I note and keep track of those things. Somehow -- by some diabolical force of nature -- no matter how much I weigh say on Monday, and Tuesday, by Wednesday it's always back up so I record a higher number than I feel is correct. And then a day later -- today is the perfect example -- it's back down, even lower. Yesterday I was up a few tenths of a pound from the previous days, and today I'm down 6 tenths. Not complaining about the loss, of course. Just the day of the week when it seems to fluctuate to a higher number. Maybe I need to change my weights and measures day.

But the good news from all this is that as of Tuesday (forget yesterday's number) I was down a total of 15 pounds since I started this trip months ago and with today's number the loss sits at 15.6. I like that -- milestones are always good. And, today, with that 6/10 I broke through another milestone -- one of those 'zero' numbers. All this, and the measurements, have taken me back to a place I haven't seen since 2010. Still not enough, but enough encouragement to keep at it, certainly. I'd still like to add at least another 10 pounds to that total.

Today, the urge is to hike up the hill and along the trail. I haven't done that for awhile, and it's calling. Hopefully, there won't be too many mountain bikes out there to spoil it for me. It's a good hike, lots of uphill through the peaceful forest and takes 45 minutes or so. That should burn off a few calories.

Other than that -- not much is happening here. Weather is good. Life is peaceful.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Turkey trot

Went out on the upstairs balcony to check on a basil plant I repotted earlier, heard a squirrel having fits, looked to see what he was upset about.

There's a flock of these critters that roam the neighborhood,  but this guy seems to be alone at the moment. When I first looked, he was roosting happily near the corner of the railing, but by the time I came back with the camera he wasn't thrilled with my presence and began moving off. Thanks for the zoom with this one -- that ground is further away than it looks here! The squirrel was unhappy because the resident next door, whose deck that is, puts out food and water for the squirrels, and of course the local birds take advantage, too. Guess this was too big a bird for comfort. This guy can probably eat a lot of squirrel food.

Not much happening for me this weekend. I opted to just take two days off for exercise -- makes sense, at my age and after 5 straight days of good workouts. Been doing a few other stuff, but not much. Weather here is fabulous. Warm, but not hot. Mid 80's, a little cloud cover today here and there. Nothing to complain about there. Tomorrow, back to they gym.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Life is good

This gal's had a busy day!

At the gym, tired of the treadmill and walking, I managed 15 minutes on the elliptical, which is probably a lifetime record for me on one of those machines. That's kind of a good feeling, really. Then, onto a bike for another 15 minutes. That one was easier, but I didn't have an urge to keep going past my 30 minute total. Lots of new muscles in use, which is a good thing, but they tire easily.

That makes five good workouts in a row, which will hopefully begin to translate into fat loss soon. Yesterday, I rode the bus to the nearest market to get a Kind bar (my latest food addiction) and to simply have a destination. Then, I walked back home. Google says it's 1.8 miles. I wanted to try it both directions, but wasn't quite sure I could make it, plus it was just past noon so it was warm and sunny. The 40 minute walk home was quite enough for now. I've also done my 'around the block' walk after lunch every day. Doesn't take long, but includes a walk back up the steepest part of the hill, so it has value.

Then, I created a Twitter account. Something I've been thinking about for awhile, although I don't really have much interest in sending anything. It just keeps track of the various football-related accounts I follow, so I can see them all in one spot rather than looking at each account individually. After all, football season is close at hand! Sometimes I see things I'd like to comment on, so eventually maybe I will. But you really need to have something to say before sending one! And no, I'm not going to offer up my handle here. Anybody wants it, email me, but I really don't think anybody I know who reads this has a twitter account! I could be wrong.

Also walked up the trail from the house in search of blackberry brambles, but only came away with maybe a dozen berries. Too shady in there for many of them to actually ripen, and many of them are out of reach. But they sure are good!

All this -- especially the emphasis on exercise -- is great for fighting off depression. Every day seems to offer up more energy, and I really feel great today. Happy, energetic, interested in life. And that makes me feel even better. Life is good.

Not sure what the weekend will bring. Hope yours is good!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A prowler?

We think we may have had a prowler last night! And of course the logical thing that popped into my mind was publish a photo of the house! Right? Not exactly.

Well, this is a photo of the dwelling, but I decided yesterday that I'd put it up here just for the heck of it. Timing was coincidental.

So here's the story. I went upstairs this morning at 6am to fix my breakfast smoothie, and found the front door standing ajar. That's never happened before. And, when I went up last night around 8pm, I did my usual glance at the door and I know it was closed and I'm pretty sure I checked that it was locked, as my glances tend to take in both. I emailed my roommate, who went to bed very early last night, to see if she'd left it open for some reason. She had not, but said she woke up around 11:15 and had an uneasy sense that she should go upstairs and check the front door, but she didn't follow that instinct. She did, however, flip on the light switch that lights the stairwell, so if there was somebody up there, that may have scared them off. She wonders if a noise woke her up, although the dog didn't bark. I don't really think the dog would bark at the sound of someone two floors up, as she's used to people living in this room who walk around upstairs, go in and out the door at all hours. My roomie mentioned that the previous tenant, who was a little odd, turned in her key before she left (last fall) but could have had a copy made. Just to be safe, she wants us to be sure and lock the screen door as well as the house door at night. I'm not scared -- not at all the scared type -- but admit that it's a little unsettling.

So back to the photo. Took it this morning a little after 9am, to illustrate the big trees that keep this place so cool. It's a clear day out there, but the sun (east is to the left) hasn't crested the trees on that side and the big trees on the right will start blocking it from the roof early in the afternoon. When these places were built, they only cut down enough trees for the driveway and buildings. If you look closely, you can see an outline of the hills in the background -- that's where I hike, all the way to the top. There's nothing between here and there except the power line right-of-way and trees. Not a bad gig.

Made it to the gym this morning, but it's hard, mentally, to do the full time. I upped it to 35 minutes today, and will do that until I'm back at 45. My body would do more, but the mind just doesn't like it, needs to be forced.

That's the excitement around here today.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Treadmill or hiking in the woods?

Getting back into the exercise routine always requires a certain amount of determination. Didn't have any problems getting to the gym yesterday, but last night I thought it would be fun (?) to add a morning hike or walk in the neighborhood to the mix, in between treadmill days. Didn't get quite as early a start as I wanted, but in the end I left home around 8am.

Some weeks ago I tried to find a connector between the trail I generally use to hike up the hill, and another trailhead a block away. I followed my instincts, came to a downhill trail that I followed for a long time as it became more and more overgrown and narrow, took me noplace. I retraced my steps, determined to try it from the trailhead next time. Today was that next time. Didn't take long at all to reach an intersection that was clearly signed, pointing to the left. But, the trail continued on up the hill and I have a hard time leaving a trail unexplored, so I followed it up and up until I reached what seemed to be private property. The trail appeared to lead to the driveway of a home not too far across the meadow and I didn't want to go there. The utility right-of-way was there, but again, seemed to be on private property, not far from the house, so I retraced my steps to the intersection.

Didn't get far on the designated trail before I encountered a stream crossing, sans bridge. Not a lot of water, but deep and rough with rocks and big tree roots, and wide. Once past that, I eventually came out on the utility right-of-way road, with good signage for the trail, and followed that back home. My error the first time was that I just didn't follow the road far enough to reach the 'real' trail intersection. That would have required hauling on up a steep section of that gravel road after my first effort led me nowhere, and at the time I wasn't interested. Now, I know.

There are benefits of working at the gym on a treadmill: good regardless of weather, I can set a fast speed and a hilly program that works me rather seriously at a steady pace. That's about it.

Benefits of walking through the woods for 45 minutes, however, are more numerous: there were lots of wild blackberries ripening along the lower parts of the first trail; walking through nature is always more pleasant and more rewarding than walking a treadmill; I always love exploring new paths, following my curiosity, doing something different; I don't have to get in my car and drive anywhere; and not least, walking up that last hill home is much harder, much steeper than anything I would ever select on a treadmill! Being out on a trail also requires that you keep at it at least long enough to get back home. No 'stop' button to hit if I get bored, although I never get bored out in the woods. 45 minutes of good exercise, vs. 30 minutes of forced exercise on a treadmill. Which would you prefer? Seriously? But realistically, they both have their good points and somehow, it's easier to get myself motivated to drive to the gym than it is to get dressed and walk out the door. That's the depression at work, trying (unsuccessfully) to take over.

Not today.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back to the gym

Is it hot enough for you yet? How many times have you heard that one this week.....

It's a tad after 6am and according to WeatherUnderground, it's moved down to 68.9 at a nearby station. It was a bit higher when I first checked, and should go down a few more notches before starting to rise again very early in the day. This is supposedly the last day of this current, short, heat wave (highs of 102, 104, etc) and some folks around here are ready to see the end of it. I can understand that, because last summer, in that little tin-roofed skylit cottage, I also suffered. This year, I'm really thankful once more to be where I am -- surrounded by big fir trees in a 3-level building that stays cool, other than the top floor which is also skylit and gets all the heat that rises from the bottom two floors. But that's OK -- nothing up there I need except the kitchen, and I only need that in small doses. My room stays nicely cool, especially with a little judicious use of night air for cooling. In fact, my room was cool enough yesterday that I was happy to go out in the sunshine for awhile around 1pm just to soak up some warmth!

But anyway. One thing you can always count on with the weather is that it'll change, and this is supposed to start cooling off starting tomorrow. For the sake of those out there who don't have cool, tree-shaded homes, I hope it does.

As for the rest of life: boring! I guess the good news is that my body is back to normal. Hallelujah!  Now to get the mind back on track. That's much harder than getting the body back on track. What I'm seeing is one of the prime signs of depression trying to take control, but this is something I dealt with for years and I'll deal with it now.

The fancy, clinical term for it is anhedonia. What it means is loss of pleasure, a lack of interest in doing anything because nothing is appealing, nothing is fun anymore. I learned decades ago that the best way to fight this one is to just do something. Anything. Pick up a broom or a mop. Walk around the block. Force yourself, because you'll need to force yourself when you're in that ugly state. What I found was that once I did something, I would inevitably continue and do something else, and something else without needing to force it. The main thing is to get off your butt and get started. Remember that old truth: a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

I need to put that into use starting Monday, when I plan to return to the gym on a regular basis. I still have a lot more fat to lose, and there's no time like the present to get started with that. No more excuses around feeding an unhealthy body the foods it needs in order to heal. It's diet and exercise time, baby! Do I want to do this? Hell no! But I will do it.

In the meantime, I'm transitioning the food products I have in my fridge and pantry so that by Monday, both the body and food supply will be all primed for diet foods. Not much chance I'll be out walking today, other than maybe a walk around the block, because of the heat. I'll continue to burrow into my cool little cave with books and TV for company.