Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tulip Festival 2014

RoozenGaarde display
Every year since I first moved here, my friend Judy and I have gone to the Tulip Festival in Skagit Valley together. This year, however, she's traveling and was unable to go with me. I planned to go on Monday, but since it was such a beautiful day this past Sunday, I decided to drive down there myself. It was also Palm Sunday, and I figured if I started early, maybe lots of people would be in church. No such luck.
Don't they look like fireworks?
The traffic was horrendous. For more than a mile before I arrived at the RoozenGaarde display, I was in a long line creeping to the gardens. I was pleased, once I got there, to see that there would be plenty of parking for all of us, provided free, which was nice. However, it cost $5 to enter the gardens, but it was sure worth it. The clear blue skies allowed me to take wonderful pictures, and the shadows of the trees gave me some wonderful light play.
It was difficult to get pictures without people in them, but in some cases they didn't detract. I heard what seemed to be dozens of different languages from passersby, and everyone was in a very good mood, me included. I found that I got the best photos by letting the strong sunlight illuminate the flowers.
These fields stretched out for miles
I then left the gardens and walked across the street to the amazing fields of flowers, tulips as far as the eye could see. They were right at their peak on Sunday, and I had a hard time trying to decide which pictures to post.
Lots and lots of people
This photo shows you how many people were visiting these gardens on Sunday. I also noticed that the red tulips, when the light catches them, were so brilliant they seemed to be on fire.  After about an hour of walking all over the place and taking more than fifty pictures, I got in my car and headed home. It was a wonderful way to spend Sunday morning.
Me amongst the tulips
A nice woman saw me taking pictures and asked if I'd like one of me, and I was very pleased with this one. I am very fortunate to live in such a place. Before I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I had never heard of anything like this outside of Holland. This festival continues through April, but you'd better hurry if you want to see them like this!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I sure like my home town

Blossoms, blue sky, and pretty clouds
After the heat of southern California, I continue to wake up in the morning and smile to realize my good fortune, that I live here in the Pacific Northwest. While the larger group of skydivers is still trying to make a new record in Elsinore (this is Day 5), I am content to have gone walking this morning with my usual Fairhaven walking group. Although the walk is open to both men and women, we had 19 women this morning and no men. One might show up once in awhile and feel outnumbered, and then we're back to all women again.
Waiting for the slower walkers to catch up
We went five-and-a-half miles this morning at a brisk pace, then sat in a coffee shop and chatted for awhile before going our separate ways. I know all the women in this group now, and it's fun to try to walk with someone whose pace is just a little faster than mine, so I can get a real workout. We covered those miles at a brisk pace, just under four miles an hour. My knee didn't bother me a bit, which made me very happy.
Flowering trees on the way to the bus stop
Although there was no sun yesterday morning, I just had to capture these beautiful trees in bloom on my way to the bus. It was my first time to see them since I returned home, and they are just spectacular. In no time at all, these blossoms will be replaced with leaves, and I'll have to wait another year to see this display again.

And now it's time to think about my garden, with a trip to the local garden spot to get some starts and seeds on my agenda for today. It's one of the most beautiful times of the year, with the days getting longer and the temperature starting to climb into the sixties. I hope you're having good weather in your part of the blogosphere, too!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Oyster Dome 2014

The hike starts up steeply from Chuckanut Drive
Wow. Just wow, for this beautiful, wonderful day. Eleven Senior Trailblazers headed up from Chuckanut Drive to visit Oyster Dome on a day predicted to be "partly cloudy." That's just what it was. As my first day back in Bellingham, I couldn't have been more pleased to be with my hiking buddies in 50-degree weather. After the heat of southern California, it felt like I was in natural air conditioning.
Al having lunch and contemplating the view
Although it was only 11:30, once we ascended the steep terrain, we stopped at Oyster Dome to have lunch and bask a bit in the sunshine. Last December we were in serious rain when we did this hike. It wasn't a lot of fun, as you can see here. But today, although there were a few clouds and when the sun disappeared it got quite cold, nobody was complaining. We had already accomplished the hard climb, and we knew that we would be taking a loop hike and not having to descend down the steep and rather treacherous trail that got us to the Dome.
Lunch at Oyster Dome
We spread out and enjoyed the sunshine for a half hour or so before heading to Lily Lake and Max's Shortcut. When we left the Dome, we were all bundled up and stayed that way while we traveled in the trees, with sunshine dappling the path now and then.
Soaking up the sunshine at Lily Lake
By the time we sat down at Lily Lake, we were just beginning to warm up in the sunshine. It was a nice respite as we watched the local drama going on. An eagle was perched up on the top of an old tree snag, looking for lunch.
Eagle at Lily Lake
Yes, there he is, surveying the lake below him. Some ducks were in the lake having a great time, and we all knew that the eagle was thinking about perhaps swooping down and capturing one. He might have done that after we left, but I didn't want to stick around to see it. We started down Max's Shortcut to Samish Overlook.
Skunk cabbage as it looks today
We saw lots of skunk cabbage on the way. We could also smell them, and we discussed how different the smell presents to different noses. I find it to be rather refreshing, Al thinks it smells rather sweet, and a few others think it's hard to detect. I smelled it before I saw it. It's definitely at the odiferous stage; there are so many of them coming up at once.
Trifecta of trillium
The other sign that spring is definitely here are the beautiful trillium flowers. I saw this group of three and smiled to realize that this is the sign of spring that I look for in the wilderness. They are so beautiful and delight me to no end. Three leaves, three petals, and three of them!
Samish Flats
Finally, we reached Samish Overlook, which also is accessible by car and overlooks Samish Flats. It was such a beautiful day, and a magnificent view, we stopped and spent another half hour just hanging out in the sun, the third time today we took the time to do that. We covered almost nine miles and climbed around 3,000 feet up and down, but everybody was happy and tired by the end of the hike. Who could ask for a better day? Not me! Aaaahhh....

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Holder of a new world record

Before our first jump yesterday
There we are, all nine of us WSOS (Women Skydivers Over Sixty), getting ready for our first jump of the day yesterday. Our coach, Jeff Jones, concentrated on getting us relaxed and gave us a skydive that was well within our abilities. In the back row is, left to right, me, Ronda from Michigan, Hollis (I'm not sure where she's from), Louise from Arizona, Chris (a local), and Alicia from Long Beach. In the front row, kneeling, are Monique (Canada), Sandra (another local), and Caroline from the UK.

To make a record, everyone must be in the pre-designated formation in her own slot, with the proper grip, and we must declare ahead of time whether it will be a one- or two-point skydive. We decided to go with the easier of the two, since we had not jumped together before, and we made the single point with time to spare. It was a wonderful feeling to be under canopy, realizing that we had just set a record. When we returned to the ground, all the husbands and other interested men were there to congratulate us, and we then watched the video and debriefed the skydive. We were so high from the experience that I cannot tell you how happy I felt.

Then we decided to go up and do the same thing again, but add a second point, which means that at least half of the people on the skydive must let go and re-grip again, in a different formation. Well, we had to try twice to get that accomplished,  but we did, and now I am the holder of several different world, country, and state records for Women Skydivers Over Sixty! I snagged a picture off Terry's Facebook page (our vidographer), which is why you see the little marks, but I paid him for some good resolution pictures, which of course I will frame and keep forever.
WSOS World Record 7 April 2014 (by Terry Weatherford)
That's me in the 3:00 position, in purple. My heart is full today, as we all said our goodbyes after a wonderful Skills Camp and Women's Record Day. I will not be returning to Skydive Elsinore, and we all got a bit emotional, but I am so incredibly happy that I decided to come here and make a wonderful beginning to my last season as an active skydiver.
Canopies landing at sunset
I took this picture from the packing area as the sun went down at Skydive Elsinore yesterday. It was a wonderful time, I'm plenty tired and sore, but I couldn't have asked for a better last day at this wonderful Drop Zone, with my friends, new and old.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Skills camp begins today

Gary, me, John
Well, I got my knees in the breeze with these two gentlemen yesterday, one I knew from last year (John), and a new friend, Gary from Italy. We went up in Skydive Elsinore's Twin Otter and played in the sky together, although I realized that it would have been much easier for me on this jump if I had had some weights to allow me to fall faster. But it was still a good jump and we had fun.

I found a packer and got ready to make another skydive, but it was almost noon so I skipped the second jump being organized with the SOS (Skydivers Over Sixty) crowd so that John and I could get some lunch (he was hungry too, while Gary was just hungry for another jump). When we returned, the jumpers were just packing up after having made an 11-way that they enjoyed very much, so I agreed to make another skydive with the group.

However, it had grown so large (16 of us, all men, and some very much larger than me) that I decided not to go. They went and had a so-so skydive, with some problems that continue to happen when skydives get bigger and people don't know each other very well. I was glad to sit it out, because today the Skills Camp begins, and I will make four skydives with organizers who will be working with our skill levels in small groups, appropriate to each person's needs.

After the day's skydiving, we returned to the hotel and John, who bought an incredible amount of beer and wine yesterday, had put some of the beer on ice. We gathered in the breakfast room to enjoy it, about ten of us, all guys except for me, from all over the world. As music was mentioned, one fellow, Joe, left the room and returned in a few minutes with... music!
Joe playing the bagpipes
If you can call it that; I have a hard time hearing the nuances of bagpipes. He played us two songs before putting his precious instrument on a nearby table and rejoining us with cheese and crackers. He also brought in two large sandwiches which he cut into pieces and shared. After awhile, some were interested in having a real dinner, so we made our goodbyes and went our separate ways for the evening.

These are great people, and I am glad to be here, looking forward to learning a lot with my friends. I've already told several old skydiving friends that this will be my last visit to Skydive Elsinore, as this, my twenty-fourth year of skydiving, will be my final season of playing in the sky. Most understood and some even felt honored that I chose to spend this time with them, here.

I'm a little superstitious about saying "last" and "final" in relation to skydiving, just as I'm beginning two days of making four jumps a day, and then there's the women's record attempt on Monday, which will probably be another four. I get tired just thinking about it, but really, I have every expectation that it will be an incredibly wonderful experience with some of the best people in the world, and everybody will be safe.

Although I will return home on Wednesday, most of the group will be staying for the rest of the week to attempt to make the largest formation of SOS skydivers ever. The record right now stands at 60, set in 2012, since last year they failed to make a new record. The organizers will have video of many of the skydives, so that they can pick and choose those who are most likely to be able to perform well. The rest will be "on the bench" and will make skydives together as well. I know from experience that these record attempts are stressful times for everybody, and I'm glad I'll be going home and skipping all the stress. It will be hard enough to make the women's record attempt, but there will only be 11 of us, not 80.

So that's it from my part of the world, sitting here in the dark with my laptop. I'll need to be at the Drop Zone by 8:00am, and there's breakfast here at the hotel. Time for a shower to begin my day. I'll be making another post on my other blog tomorrow morning. It's going to be a great day in southern California! Hope you will all have a wonderful day, too. Signing off from the world of palm trees and blue skies.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

First class traveling is the way to go

My iPad, coffee, snack, and travel pillow
Since I was given a $300 credit from Alaska Air for last year's tribulations getting down to Elsinore, I decided to try traveling first class for a change. Well, I could really get used to this, if more travel were in my future. I rode the Bellingham Airporter to SeaTac in order to catch a 7:20am flight direct to Elsinore, and I went first class; I will do the same coming home. Since I got to the airport two hours before my flight, I saw the Alaska Board Room and wondered if I could go in there with my first-class ticket. Yes! I had an espresso, a coffee, used their internet, and had a snack as well, free of charge.
Early morning flight, first rays of the sun
I was also able to board right way, as I was in the front of the plane, with a big cushy leather seat and lots of leg room. My, my! And they even fed me a nice breakfast. Do you know how long it's been since I got a "free" meal on the plane? I can't remember when.
Mt. Rainier from the airplane window
As we traveled south, beautiful Mt. Rainier showed its face. In just a few minutes after I snapped this, though, it was obscured by the clouds as we climbed into the gloom. And as we were traveling south, the sunlight became quite brilliant once we got above the clouds, and my seat-mate wanted to use his laptop. I was happy to oblige, since there was really nothing much to see. (I did keep taking a peek now and then.)
Southern California mountains and fog
Once we began our descent, I took a look out the window and was really surprised to see the fog in the valleys, with blue skies above. It was so lovely, but when we landed and I stepped off the plane, I was surprised that it was quite chilly, not even 50 deg F! But that changed quickly. Once I went through the rental car process and received an almost-new 4-door Nissan, it was already beginning to get warm. For someone who rarely sees full sun and 70 degrees, it was beginning to feel a lot like southern California. I drove south for an hour to get to my hotel.
My pretty room, with a sitting area and a view
I was really pleased to see the room I will inhabit for the next six days, with a fridge, microwave, sitting area, and a bed that looks out towards Skydive Elsinore!
Skydive Elsinore is at the base of the mountain in the distance
Sitting propped up on all those pillows, this is the view I see from that window. Right now, in the late afternoon, sunshine is spilling into the room, making me happy to be here, and looking forward to tomorrow. I went out to the Drop Zone to get my gear registered, and to sign all the waivers that are required when you want to hurl yourself out of airplanes. And I'll start doing that tomorrow. Tonight, I'll recover from all the travel and psychologically prepare for the adventure!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sugar snap peas are in

Sugar snap peas along the fence, strawberry plants in front
Well, March came in like a lion in these parts, and went out like a lamb! This picture was taken yesterday, the last day of March, with 60-plus temperatures and full sunshine in Bellingham. Since I'm leaving in two days, I decided to put some sugar snap peas into the ground, to join the only other intended bit of green in my garden. Last fall another gardener transplanted some of her strawberries into my area, and although I did nothing to help or hinder them, I've now got some strawberries to look forward to, along with the sugar snap peas in midsummer. They should germinate within the next two weeks, so when I come home I will anxiously peruse the area to see if any of them are coming up.
Me with fellow gardener Carol
Carol's son took this picture of the two of us soaking up some Vitamin D. Carol is a really accomplished gardener, and it was her efforts with the Garden Claw that got me started last week. Today when I went out to water my peas, I also looked to see what might have tried to survive my hard work of clearing out the weeds, and I pulled up another bin full of bluebell plants and the occasional dandelion. Everything that Carol plants comes up and looks great. I enjoyed some of her broccoli last fall and may try to plant some of my own this year.
Buds just about to pop into flowers
It amazes me how quickly the process of budding trees turns into flowers, and then leaves. Tomorrow I will capture this same spot and am sure those buds will have opened in all their glory. Every year I take a picture of this tree, since it's on my way to the bus stop. After I go to the Y tomorrow, everything will then shift to my upcoming trip on Thursday. I will try to document the journey so I'll have something interesting to post after I'm settled into my hotel room in southern California. I'm almost ready to go!