I rarely permit myself to wax nostalgic or to indulge in a glance backward. Life is what it is, no sense bemoaning what's lost; besides, come to think of it, the "good old days" weren't all that good to begin with. Today, however, I'll go back to the time when I owned the horse Star Jasmine, pictured above, when my family celebrated gift-giving, as in the snapshot below, when a continuum of life with Darold seemed yet a possibility.

We had built a lovely abode on a small hobby ranch, a house Darold largely designed himself. The home featured a glass-enclosed hot tub that might find the two of us on a Saturday night, sipping sauterne, gazing out on a star-spangled canopy, and enjoying the California breeze through opened windows. We might listen to a favorite piece of music, for Darold did not care for intimate conversation, or we might just enjoy the moment-dare I say each other's company?-in silence. Sometimes we'd converse on an intellectual level on topics from politics to religion to parenting practices, though these talks got dicey when they turned personal.

I no longer purchase bottles of wine; my budget won't permit it. Not to mention, there's no one to share them. One habit from the past I clung to, however, was the enjoyment of hot pool, particularly after I moved from milder climes to Wyoming's harsh environment. Having long made it a rule to abide by regular exercise, on retirement I joined a couple of fitness groups at Cheyenne's YMCA. Following the hour-long workout, I'd slip into a swimsuit, shower off, and take a few laps. Before the swimming (usually, afterwards as well) I'd step into the hot pool. As a rule, I was thoroughly cold at the outset-the exercise rooms are kept nippy; my blood pressure, which tends to low, exacerbates the chill-hence, I was glad to get warm before my round of laps. Afterwards, sauna or hot tub constituted a reward to myself for having braved yet another workout routine.

Hot pool and sauna have become no-nos, for reasons of a discovery I made while two grandchildren resided with me for a few summer weeks. I caused them to accompany me to the Y, where they played basketball or read a book while I worked out, but to limit the time for their sake, I skipped the swimming and hot pool. That summer I noticed an amazing change for the better in my health profile.

About eighteen months into my residence here, I had developed health problems that sent me into two years of medical opinions, tests, diagnoses and misdiagnoses that nearly ended in heart surgery. Always I explained my symptoms as "feeling rotten after about an hour of exercise." I did not think to mention hot tub or sauna. There seemed no reason. None of the experts ever asked for details about the activities that gave rise to my troubles. Instead they jumped to conclusions, for heart-problem diagnoses lay readily at hand.

Years ago I was alerted to the existence of a heart murmur. Back then the cardiologist assured me that it was nothing to worry about; lots of people have the condition and live with it. Two years ago, however, I became convinced that the murmur was at the heart of what ailed me, pun intended, and that I needed the recommended surgery to fix it. Lucky for me, eventually a condition was identified, "oxygen desaturation," which I could correct via a "concentrator" to be used at night.

I no longer use the machine. Substituting the hot-tub indulgence with gardening and walking outdoors has eliminated the need. I now believe that living at altitude after a lifetime of sea-level residence, Germany to California to Tennessee, intensified the murmur. I still "live with it," but I have learned to take precautions. 

As we age, we must become skilled at identifying and letting go of the things we once took for granted, sauterne to sex to simple companionship. The secret to carrying on without falling into endless rounds of self-pity: substitute activities we can continue to enjoy. Playing classical guitar, reading a good book, taking walks in Wyoming's spectacular sunrises or sunsets and, last not least, writing for readers who value my input and whose comments I cherish: these are things by which I take pleasure in life, if not to its fullest, then to a "good-enough" level.