Sunday, January 31, 2010

Those pesky journals

I've been re-reading the journals I kept all through the 1980s, finishing in the early 1990s. A few years ago I numbered them all with white-out but I didn't open them. It's been several decades since I looked inside them, except for an occasional perusal to find some event I almost remembered. You can click to enlarge but there's not much to see in this picture.

I am reading a journal dated fall and spring 1985-86. I visited my mother's home at Christmas 1985. I found this lovely description of my mother, who died in 1993, which is almost as if written by a stranger (I don't remember writing it at all!). Mama was born in 1923 and died before she turned seventy. I found this description of her, dated "Saturday night after the Winter Solstice 12/21":
I watched Mama today make fudge and noticed that she "fudged" often on her no-sugar diet. She often waxes eloquent on her lack of a sweet tooth, but I know better. Somehow it doesn't count when you're cooking. But I watched her being happy today, too. We worked hard, her harder than me; she made four loaves of homemade bread (yum!), more cheese balls, and, of course, the fudge.
Tonight I watched her become animated as she talked with Richard about her golfing days. I thought of her damaged heart as she poured in the alcohol and sugar, but somehow it didn't matter in the way it did before. I recognize her loss to me will be great, but as hard as it is to picture this vital loquacious woman gone from the face of the earth, no one can deny that she is enjoying herself today. She lives close to the edge and I admire her immensely -- once I remove my judgment about what she should be doing... Many lessons here for me to learn for myself.
A description: She sits in a chair as though at a bar after 18 holes of golf, relaxed and talkative. Her left hand holds her drink, her right gestures characteristically, almost royally, as she tells her story. A flush creeps into her cheeks and across her nose, giving the illusion of health. Ruddy-bright, eyes sparkling with good humor and wit. Her torso is thick, but somehow she carries it with good grace, and the long slim legs give her the look of a dancer, a chorus girl perhaps. One can imagine her as a young beauty queen. And she is still, to this day, a beauty.
When she is home during the day, unmade-up, no prosthesis covering the mutilation performed a decade and a half ago upon her body, she is even more interesting. Her left shoulder is higher than the right, the scar tissue having drawn tight across the collarbone, and the strange flatness across her chest is somehow protective of that area. Great trauma has visited this body, and the spirit has molded it and made it beautiful, in defiance of the cold merciless surgery that has been perpetrated upon it. She is my mother, and I love her.
And yes, now she is gone, and the journal entry made her presence jump out of the page and into my heart. I still miss her after all these years, and I am blessed to have her with me once again in memory. I took this picture of her when she came to visit me in Boulder.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rolfing and me

Picture from The Rolf Studio
In my other blog I mentioned in passing that I had been Rolfed, and my brother Buz asked me in a comment if I gained any height. And Star had never heard of Rolfing Structural Integration, so here's a brief explanation and some links I found.

First of all, if you have ever received a professional massage (I get one every three weeks), you are familiar with the height and shape of the massage table: wide enough for one person to lay comfortably on it, and a little more than waist high, so the massage therapist can put strength behind her strokes, and it's easy for anybody to climb up on it. The Rolfing table is half as high and twice as wide, because the Rolfer gets on the table with you. And instead of being naked and covered with a sheet, you wear at least your underwear so that the Rolfer can work on you and see what to do. You get off the table often and walk around during the session. No oil is used.

The name comes from the woman who invented it, Ida Rolf. The main Rolf Institute is located in Boulder, and I looked through my old journals and found when I went through it. Usually a person pays at least $100 a session, and ten initial Rolfing sessions are usually performed.

Since I lived in Boulder, I was able to sign up as a model in 1984 and be used to train new Rolfers. All of the trainees are closely monitored by the expert Rolfers, so in effect you get to be Rolfed by a beginner but examined by lots of experts, and you pay much less. I paid (in 1984) $300 for ten sessions, and the schedule was twice a week instead of once a week. Usually at least a week needs to pass between sessions, but these people were being trained. Robin was my trainee. I found this entry in my journal, dated August 1, 1984:
The Rolfing is finished! I am really amazed at the difference in my body in the five weeks since Robin and I began the process of becoming Rolfer and Rolfee. See the next page [two pictures of me in my underwear which I am not going to show you!]: it's not as obvious in these two series that the length I have gained is mainly in my torso, but you can see it if you study the elbow placement and the smoother lines in the right-hand torso. My head is also back rather than forward as it was before. So I am pleased I am now 5'5" tall, which is taller than I've ever been. I feel much more integrated in my body now, and the Rolfing should continue to change my body for another seven months.
I also found some other earlier entries where I complained mightily about the pain. It does hurt, and the Rolfer uses her elbow, hard pressure, and her fingers to shape the fascia underneath the skin. I found a link to a woman's page who went through it to help her overcome past injuries. I gained almost two inches in height at the age of 43, and I kept it for several years.

As the years wear on, the effects of gravity begin to pull you back down. (I'm back to 5'3".) I went through two series of five to gain back the height, and a couple of sessions of three. Although it's been at least five years since I had any Rolfing at all, I learned so much about how to move around from my core. Sometimes on the street I'll see somebody and unconsciously think how much Rolfing could improve them. Almost every city has some Rolfers, if you decide to give it a try and spend a fair amount of money!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hypochondria and me

I already covered my issues with OCD, so I thought I'd move on to something just as much fun: hypochondria (or hypochondriasis, as it's also called). This disorder is characterized like this (of course by Wikipedia):
Hypochondria is often characterized by fears that minor bodily symptoms may indicate a serious illness, constant self-examination and self-diagnosis, and a preoccupation with one's body. ... Some hypochondriacal individuals are completely avoidant of any reminder of illness, whereas others are frequent visitors of doctors’ offices. Other hypochondriacs will never speak about their terror, convinced that their fear of having a serious illness will not be taken seriously by those in whom they confide.
Although I don't have the above symptoms to a noticeable degree, I do detect any differences in my body from day to day, and sometimes I really worry about having a disease and that I should be doing something about it by going to the doctor. But the truth of it is this: none of us are going to survive forever, and something is going to get you eventually. So I have a real dilemma: am I being a hypochondriac by worrying about these things, or negligent?

Both of my parents died in their sixties, both from the same cause: heart disease, or what is also known as coronary artery disease. They didn't have statin drugs available to them, or I think they might have survived longer, but for sure they wouldn't be alive today because, well, they didn't pick their parents carefully. Another interesting quote from Wikipedia:
It is common for serious illnesses or deaths of family members or friends to trigger hypochondria in certain individuals. Similarly, when approaching the age of a parent's premature death from disease, many otherwise healthy, happy individuals fall prey to hypochondria. These individuals believe they are suffering from the same disease that caused their parent's death, sometimes causing panic attacks with corresponding symptoms.
My constant habit of exercise and taking statins do, I believe, cut the possibility of developing heart disease prematurely, but then I think: what do I want to keel over from? Uh-oh, my OCD is kicking in, I'd better stop now! But not before I share this perfect (for me) cartoon from the web:
I don't think I'm alone out there. What do YOU think?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Deception Pass

Today, 17 Senior Trailblazers headed south of Bellingham to Skagit County's Deception Pass State Park. We had a 20% chance of rain, but instead of rain we had clouds, full overcast, all day long. This made for some dramatic pictures, though, as you will see here (click to enlarge). The entire hike ended up being a little more than 8 miles and, although we never got more than 700 feet above sea level, went UP and DOWN for a total elevation gain of 1,500 feet. No wonder I'm tired. The above picture shows Deception Pass Bridge  that joins Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island. From a travel agency's website:
In the spring of 1792, Joseph Whidbey, master of the HMS Discovery and Captain Vancouver's chief navigator, sailed through the narrow passage that is now called Deception Pass and proved that it was not really a small bay as charted by the Spaniards (hence the name "Deception"), but a deep and turbulent channel that connects the Strait of Juan de Fuca with the Saratoga Passage.
While we were there today, it was smooth as glass, no turbulence at all. First, we headed up past Pass Lake, a fairly large freshwater lake, to an old abandoned orchard. Once we got there, we saw an old tree with a couple of makeshift swings in it. Mike was willing to swing on the tree so I could snap his picture. We all know Mike is still a kid at heart.
Next, we headed over to Lighthouse Point for lunch, it being near noon and all, which showed us some of the miles and miles of the State Park's shoreline. We walked along this lovely beach to reach the point on the other side of these trees.
Although there was no lighthouse at Lighthouse Point (only a small beacon), we found this beautiful spot for us to have a nice lunch. We looked out over Bowman Bay, watching seals (which I was unable to capture with my camera), birds, and humans in boats. The only annoyance of the entire day was the jet flights from the nearby naval base, which made me wish I had my earplugs!
After lunch, we headed back to the Bowman Bay parking lot and stashed our packs while we walked another mile or so to Rosario Point. By this time the clouds had begun to lift over the Olympic Mountains across the water, and I saw this low cloudbank light up, with the mountains behind, and I could not believe my luck. Hopefully you will see how gorgeous this shot is, if you enlarge it.
This area is now known as part of the Salish Sea, which I wrote about a while back here, if you're interested in a little more information about this area. (There are maps and information about why it's called that.) Tired and happy, we piled into our cars and headed home, and I walked in the door, kissed Smart Guy, and started this post. Now I can have that wine! Thanks for coming along with me to Deception Pass.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The I Ching

Well, now I've done it. I started re-reading my journals that I kept during the 1980s, and I have remembered something I never use any more, but for two decades I wouldn't make a move without consulting it: The I Ching, or Book of Changes, an ancient Chinese text used to guide the user to understand the present moment and give an idea of how to proceed correctly to the next moment in time. It has been used in one form or another for 5,000 years.

The way it works is that you have somehow to produce six lines, working from the bottom to the top to build a hexagram, which is made up of two trigrams, which are one of these eight here in this diagram.

As an unrepentant hippie, I learned to use this method of divination during those years, using sixteen stones to find my hexagram, and thereby tell me where I was at and where I was going. Seven stones were white, five were orange, three were grey, and one was a bloodstone. I would draw out six stones. If I drew a white or orange stone, it would mean it wouldn't change, but if I drew a grey or the bloodstone, it would change to its opposite, so you end up with two hexagrams, one for the present and one for the future, with moving lines.

Well, I've explained enough of how it works, I think, for my readers. What I wanted to tell you about is how much I followed this method of divination and that I believed in it implicitly. It is not an exaggeration to say I never made a move without consulting the I Ching for guidance. Once I got my hexagram, I needed to interpret it, and I used the Wilhelm/Baynes book to tell me what the ancient Chinese text meant. Usually it was pretty esoteric, but really you had good and bad things come from it, much like (I guess, knowing nothing about it) the Tarot deck.

The one thing I remember is how I needed to formulate my question and find a place of peace and quiet. The whole thing took hours, first to gain a contemplative mind, and then to "throw" the hexagrams, and finally to interpret them. In many ways I now realize that I needed to cultivate a prayerful attitude in order to approach the I Ching. Just for fun, I opened it to a page and took a picture of it, so you can see how esoteric the words of the book are (click to enlarge). That's my handwriting saying "The Ultimate Answer," whatever I meant by that.

Over the years I have lost the stones, but I still have my old book, which I have carried around with me, much used and with so many passages underlined and filled with old memories of hopes and dreams I don't remember any more. I doubt I will ever use it again, but I wouldn't even consider not having the I Ching in my house... just in case.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Facing the inevitable

I'm on the last chapter of a book I've enjoyed a great deal: If I Live to be 100, published in 2002 by Neenah Ellis. She was formerly a staff producer for National Public Radio's All Things Considered and is now a freelance reporter and producer. The link above will take you to a short description of the book and of each of the centenarians she interviewed.

 In 1997, Neenah got a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to do a radio series about the twentieth century. She decided to talk to centenarians and ask them about their lives, which would encompass the entire century. In 2000, she did a series on NPR's Morning Edition based on these interviews. And then she wrote the book for those of us who missed the radio show. Most of the people in the book lived alone or in assisted living, but all of the ones she interviewed, even one at the age of 117, are all "there" upstairs. I think now, in 2010, I can assume that all of them (okay, most) have moved on.

I don't know about you, but one of the scariest parts of facing old age is this: dementia, Alzheimer's, the loss of cognitive ability. I already feel this at 67. Forgetting names, having a word on the tip of my tongue but not being able to access it, these little annoyances are now part of my everyday existence. But these centenarians give me hope that a long life does not necessarily equate with madness.

I remember long ago hearing a quote from George Orwell: "At age 50, every man has the face he deserves." Well, what about at 100? If you live that long with all your faculties, your face, man or woman, has a sameness about it. Of course there are wrinkles and no teeth (or a whole lot fewer teeth), because I don't think the human body is designed to last much longer than 80, or (at most) 90 years, but gender differences seem also to have moved into the past.

In reading the book, one thing kept jumping out at me: how every single one of these centenarians has learned to live for the moment, and most of them are truly happy individuals, even with all the physical ills they deal with. Two of these centenarians are married to each other, Sadie and Gilbert Hill. A quote from the book (p. 103):
The researchers at the New England Centenarian Study say the odds of a married couple both making it to one hundred are six million to one. Sadie and Gilbert are maddeningly nonchalant about their incredible feat. "It just kind of caught us standing still," says Gilbert.
They live alone, do all their cooking and shopping together. Neither of my parents made it out of their sixties. I guess it's true that picking your parents is the best way to ensure a long life. Until I read this book, I was just not sure I even wanted to live that long. So for now, I'll try to eat right, keep exercising, and hope for the best. Will I still be blogging at 100?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The expanding blogosphere

While I have been known to think about writing a blog post while doing something else, and I can relate to this cartoon, I'm not at all sure why I blog. To chronicle my life? Maybe.

I have been mulling my reason for blogging ever since Nancy at Life in the Second Half wrote a post about the whole business of followers and the widget in Blogger that allows you to parade your followers on your blog. I did a little research.

The expansion of blogging in the past few years is phenomenal. I myself follow 47 blogs, using Google Reader or the Dashboard to show me when someone has posted something new. I try to acknowledge anybody who leaves a comment on my blog, whether a follower or not. And some comments I even delete, because they are either trolling or sending people to some place with an agenda I don't share. This requires some diligence in staying in touch with my own personal blogosphere. I write a personal blog (from Wikipedia):
The personal blog, an ongoing diary or commentary by an individual, is the traditional, most common blog. Personal bloggers usually take pride in their blog posts, even if their blog is never read. Blogs often become more than a way to just communicate; they become a way to reflect on life. Blogging can have a sentimental quality. Few personal blogs rise to fame and the mainstream, but some personal blogs quickly garner an extensive following.
Almost all of the people I follow or who follow me use or to create their blogs and most allow comments. I chose to use Blogger because I don't need to use any cool stuff in my posts. I did find out, in my research, that Blogger has the following limitations (none of which I was aware of):
  • Number of blogs = Unlimited
  • Size of pages = Individual pages (the main page of a blog or archive pages) are limited to 1 MB
  • Number of posts = The blogger editor can only access the most recent 5,000 posts
  • Number of labels = 2,000 unique labels per blog, 20 unique labels per post
  • Number of pictures (hyperlinked from user's Picasa Web Album) = Up to 1 GB of total storage
  • Size of pictures = If posted via Blogger Mobile, limit 250 KB per picture; posted pictures are scaled to 800px
Did you know about these limitations? I realize I'd better go in there and clean out my Picasa album, since that's the only limitation I'm likely to come up against. I'm not likely to write 5,000 posts! And there are search engines out there that spend their time seeing what trends are developing in the blogosphere, such as Technorati. Technorati, which is among the most popular, provides current information on both popular searches and tags used to categorize blog postings. It's also a cool place to visit. They index around 113 million blogs!! I still don't know why I write, but now I'm REALLY self conscious about my posts...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pain threshold

Did you know everyone has a different pain threshold? They can measure it with a dolorimeter, which shows when you begin to feel pain. Everyone is different. I used to think I have a high pain threshold, because I've had a fair amount of it and think I must be used to it. This, however, is known as your pain tolerance, and you don't get more used to it the more you have it. Wikipedia tells me this:
It is widely believed that regular exposure to painful stimuli will increase pain tolerance - i.e. increase the ability of the individual to handle pain by becoming more conditioned to it. However, this is not true: the greater exposure to pain will result in more painful future exposures. Repeated exposure bombards pain synapses with repetitive input, increasing their responsiveness to later stimuli, through a process similar to learning. Therefore, although the individual may learn cognitive methods of coping with pain, these methods may not be sufficient to cope with the boosted response to future painful stimuli.
I know that I've had quite a few accidents and operations in my lifetime, and I don't like to use even tylenol or ibuprofin to mask pain. But this is also because I've discovered that I just keep going and hurt myself if I don't feel the pain. Just ask Smart Guy.

When I broke my pelvis in six places and shattered my sacrum in 2000, I was laid up for several months. After waking up from an operation with an external fixator drilled into my hipbones, I learned what pain could really feel like. I wrote about the incident here.

But that's not the reason for this post. I wonder about pain medication. As I was recovering, I discovered that the doctors had put me on oxycontin, which is a nasty drug to kick. The doctors were no help at all, either. (This was before it was a street drug.) They just told me to cut the pill in half, which I found out, by looking it up, would release the entire dose all at once!

Getting free of that drug required me to deal with the feeling of ants crawling under my skin, day after day. I weaned myself off by using percocet, which is also addicting but I could stop it once the pain of the addiction began to wane. I think I must have a high pain threshold because I keep doing things that push my limits.

I am always in some pain: either from the nerve damage down my right leg, or sore knees, or my rotator cuffs, both of which send signals down my arms now and then. The problem with pain medication is that you continue to need more of it to get the same effect. So, I live with it. What do YOU do to deal with pain? Or is your pain threshold so high you don't feel any?

Friday, January 22, 2010

OCD and me

I guess I let the cat out of the bag with my post about "Playing Games" a couple of days ago. Several people (not the least of whom were some family members) pointed out that counting steps is a symptom of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Playing games with yourself is, too.

This is not the first post I wrote about all this. I remembered back when I first started this blog last year I wrote one called "Brain Lock" that talked about OCD and how it runs in families.

I don't feel weird about having been labeled with this disorder but strangely feel some vindication for the choices I made in my working life. I love to compile indexes, and yes, that picture bothers me. I think it's criminal that the erasers all have uneven wear on them, and the pencils are not sharpened properly. I would also like to have the paper clips moved down so they are centered instead of all pushed to the top. And I'm only kidding about this a LITTLE.

When I compiled an index, I would have at least six different colored highlighters and I would read a paragraph in order to think of all the different ways a person might want to find this information. Then I'd put every possible permutation into the computer on different lines with the page number, and when I would finish a chapter I would hit "sort." The fun really began then, finding all the different places that the same information occurred and consolidating it. I could not put an index down until I had finished it, and sometimes I'd wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea and write it down to deal with in the morning.

Considering this, I find it odd that I have found labeling my posts to be a chore, because I never thought about them like an index. I have been faithfully labeling them since the day I figured it might come in handy sometime, but I don't really want to go back and do the ones from a year ago. I wonder why that is?

When I get a comment from a new reader (or at least someone who finally leaves a comment), I smack my lips with anticipation as I head over to their blog to find out who this person is. For me, the most daunting part of the blogosphere is its huge size. I have to find a way to visit a small enough number of blogs that I can get my attention wrapped around the process. Sometimes I'll check my followers list and someone has been added, or (gasp!) someone leaves me. I think this is also part of my OCD symptoms, but I get over a loss or check out my new followers pretty quickly.

And I love to find a funny, or quirky, or even stream of consciousness blog that I didn't know existed before, since my world expands with each one. Right now my eyeballs are falling out of my head from having spent the last few hours without looking up from the computer screen. I do have a tendency to go off on tangents now and then...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lost Lake 2010

Last year on January 15, the Senior Trailblazers headed up to Lost Lake. It was frozen solid when we got there. Almost exactly one year later, today (January 21), we got to the lake to see absolutely no frost or ice anywhere (click on any picture to enlarge). The picture above shows the drainage from Lost Lake. I heard yesterday that Seattle, just down the road a piece from Bellingham, is on track to have its warmest January ever. Our temperature today was in the mid-50's (around 13 C) in the middle of January!!

Seventeen of us met at the Senior Center, a large group. This was probably due to the balmy weather and the promise of sunshine. Although we did have the sun peek out from behind the clouds now and then, it was mostly overcast. The hike to Lost Lake took us up and down about 2,000 feet as we covered more than ten miles. As I'm sitting here in front of the computer, I can feel that I will not only sleep well tonight, but I am sore just about everywhere.

When we stopped for lunch, we didn't have to bundle up as we usually do when we stop to eat after hiking. We chatted and shared stories before starting back. We actually circumnavigated the lake, going up one side and down to the lake, then up around the other side, and finally back to the trailhead.

Do I live in a beautiful part of the country, or what? I am so blessed to have not only these incredible people to take me places I wouldn't know about otherwise, but I have YOU, my very special blogging friends, to share it with!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Playing games

I play games with myself. Do other people? Looking for an image for this post, I found this very amusing picture of a kitty who seems to enjoy playing Solitaire. Looking around at other people's blogs to see what they are writing about, I noticed that some people tend to play games with themselves, just like I do. Sometimes it's to get psyched up to exercise, or stay on a diet, or keep some other New Year's Resolution. I would guess it's pretty common, but I don't know for sure.

I went into the kitchen just now to get myself a glass of wine. I don't allow myself more than one, because I know I will just keep going if I don't have a limit, and feeling good from a glass of wine is great, but getting drunk is a real bummer. So I play a game with myself: I will get four glasses from one container, and I don't fill the glass to the top. If I am really stingy for three days, when I pour the wine into the glass on the last day, it will be a little more, and I am pleased with myself. If I've been unconsciously giving myself a little bit more, on the last day I will have less.

Smart Guy asked me why I don't just put a line on the glass, but that would take all the fun out of it. I am on Day Two today and when I poured the wine, I intentionally gave myself a little less in order to have more later. That's just one of the games I play with myself.

Board games often seem boring to me, but I have family members who love them, and sometimes when I am visiting my family I will play one and have a great time. Scrabble is fun, but I have intentionally kept myself from downloading it onto my iPod for fear that I will end up spending way too much time in that activity. So you could say that's yet ANOTHER game I play with myself: keeping myself focused by limiting my diversions.

Now if I could just find a way to keep from always counting stairs. It doesn't matter how often I go up or down them, I count them every single day. Is this a game or a compulsion? Just wondering if I'm alone in these activities.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A fine bromance

I subscribe to Netflix, which is a great way to see movies these days. I spent some time looking at different "best of" lists, which give me ideas for movies I might want to rent. Even though Netflix itself does a good job of finding movies I might like, it's nice to get ideas from other sources. I saw the movie "I Love You, Man" on a couple of lists, and since it's a comedy, I put it on my Netflix queue.

Although I had also decided to watch "Little Dorrit," a series from PBS's Masterpiece Theater that is also available on Netflix, somehow or other I got sent the DVD for the comedy because I didn't pay close enough attention when arranging my queue. Disgusted with myself, I decided I'd better just get it over with and watch the darn movie.

Well, I loved it. It's what is known as a "bromance" (combination of "bro" and "romance"), which is defined as a non-sexual close relationship between two men. A sort of man-crush, if you will. Although the movie stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, I had never seen either of them before. The movie's premise is that Peter (Rudd) proposes to his girl friend and while they are planning the wedding, it occurs to him that he's never formed any close male friendships and has nobody to stand up for him at the wedding. So he starts going on a series of "man-dates" that are disastrous, although pretty funny. Then he meets Sydney (Segel), in many ways a rather disgusting guy, but they hit it off. The premise of the movie sets up a way for these two actors to show how funny they can be.

I smiled a lot while I watched it, laughed out loud a couple of times, and if you can stand a fair bit of sexual innuendo (some not so subtle), I think you might enjoy it as much as I did. Not a great movie but actually quite a good diversion. Now back to Little Dorrit.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Dracula sneeze

Do you do the Dracula sneeze? I found out recently that this is the term schoolkids came up with to describe the method of sneezing into the crook of your elbow, since it looks like the way Dracula covers up the lower half of his face with his cape. If you normally cover your mouth with your hand when you sneeze, you are likely to touch something in a public place (doorknob, grocery cart, etc.) before you have a chance to wash your hands, and then those germs will be there just waiting for the next unsuspecting person to come in contact with them.

I don't want to become germophobic, but I haven't been able to ignore all the people I see sneezing without doing anything to cover their mouth, or using their hand and then wiping it on their clothes (ewww!). If nothing is done to capture the sneeze, it's very easy to see the spray enter the air we all must breathe. These days, I'm also careful not to touch any common surfaces, and when I open a door during the winter months, I usually keep my gloves on until I'm inside.

And then there's that old hand washing thing. In the ladies' restroom at the Senior Center, a sign reminds me to wash my hands for 20 seconds, or the equivalent of one chorus of "Happy birthday." I find it easy to sing happy birthday to myself while washing to make sure I use the full time.

If we all did the Dracula sneeze, there would be a lot less flu passed from person to person. I'm not quite flexible enough to get my arm all the way up there without pushing the outside of my elbow with the other arm. I've gotten good at doing this, and I notice I'm a left-handed Dracula sneezer (always sneeze into the crook of my left elbow). Have YOU got any ideas of other ways to keep from catching a cold or the flu? I'd love to hear!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Raptor rapture

A friend of mine invited me along on a field trip to visit the Pacific Northwest raptor country, headed up by raptor biologist Bud Anderson. He took us out for the day to learn about the raptors that populate the area. Was I ever surprised at how many of them there are! We saw three different kinds of merlin falcons, bald eagles (which were so numerous that they were ho-hum), red-tailed hawks, rough-legged hawks, peregrine falcons, kestrels, harriers, and even a short-eared owl, all hunting for prey. We also saw trumpeter and tundra swans, and the beautiful little dunlin sandpipers that swim through the air in swirling clouds, wingtip to wingtip.

The day's first sighting was of a Merlin falcon in this tree. Bud said it is a kind rarely seen on this side of the mountains. I know so little about these birds, but I learned that they are very fast, smaller than the  Peregrine falcon, and can snatch birds in midair. After a while I could see the difference in the way they fly (at least as compared to more common birds).

Next we saw this hawk, or is it a Peregrine falcon (I am not sure now, I had so much information coming at me all day long). We were looking at them through our binoculars most of the time, but occasionally they would stay in a place long enough for one of the birders to set up a scope so we could watch them for a long time. Occasionally I was able to get these pictures with my telephoto lens.

We headed to an area with lots of dunlin, and we watched the way they avoid falcons by flying in vast clouds. There are literally thousands of them all flying together, and they are impressive to watch. I learned that the weak or slow ones don't last long, because they are picked off if they vary even a little from the others.

And then the final excitement of the day: Bud had a little cage with a starling in it, and filament on the top, which he placed in the road after locating a red-tailed hawk. He was able to capture it in order to catalog, weigh her, and place a band on her leg. Here she is after Bud freed her from the filament (click to enlarge).
He said the larger ones are always female, and this one weighed 1400 grams, or almost three and a half pounds! Look at that beautiful tail, and those wings. He said she was born not last summer but the summer before that.
Then after putting a hood on her and wrapping her up, he placed a band on her leg.

After each of us had a chance to hold her and feel her heart beating under that yellow bondage, he removed everything (except the band, of course) and let her go. She flew off, none the worse for wear, and all of us not only learned how wonderful these red-tailed hawks are, but had a chance to be a part of this incredible experience. We came home from this wonderful day filled with wonder and gratitude for having the chance to do this. Thanks, Bud! Thanks to Cindy for inviting me!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sweater in progress

Today I'm going out to a wildlife preserve to watch a raptor specialist capture and tag (hopefully) a red-tailed hawk. I'll have my trusty camera and hope to get some great pictures for you. In the meantime, I thought all of you knitting buffs out there might like to see my latest project: a sweater!

After working on scarves (two) and hats (five), I decided to try something a little different and finally decided on this sweater (click to enlarge). It's knit on circular needles from the neck down, with raglan sleeves. You can see I've already gotten to the body and will go back later and knit the sleeves afterwards. The neckline curls up, so I peeked at the directions to find that I'll go back later and pick up stitches from around the neckline and knit to make it lay flat (whew!).

Other than the tedium of knitting all the time with no purling or increases, I don't have to count any more, like I did when I was increasing for the raglan, just knit. It's a nice thing to do while sitting in front of the TV watching reruns of NCIS. And I'm having fun! I just hope this sweater won't be so warm that I'll never get a chance to wear it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Urban adventure

Today, my usual hiking day, we went on an urban adventure in Bellingham, walking from the Senior Center in this picture to the ferry terminal in Fairhaven, and then turning around and walking back through the Western Washington University campus. Twelve Seniors braved the wind and rain (neither of which was terribly bad) to cover a total of more than eight miles before we got back.

Our first section took us by the trail next to Whatcom Creek, which empties into the bay, with a Maritime Heritage Center and lots of ducks and cormorants. (I now know there is a difference between those two!) The cormorant was fishing and would stay under the water for so long that I never got a good shot of him. These ducks will have to be enough for now.

I saw this bird's nest right in downtown Bellingham just over my head. If you notice (click to enlarge), it's made up of lots of plastic things as well as sticks. This is a very urban bird indeed! (She wasn't home at the moment.) Our trip then took us down to Bellingham Bay's waterfront, and I was able to get a picture of lots of cormorants, one on top of the pole, and some sea gulls, which are ubiquitous here in Bellingham.

Returning from Fairhaven, we walked on some of the trails on our way to the university. I loved this picture of the ferns growing out of the tree, and all the moss. I'm sure that people who have grown up in this area are not as thrilled with all this moss as I am, but I think it's beautiful.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Blind Side

Yes, I'm definitely going to see a LOT of movies these days. I saw "The Blind Side" with two girlfriends on Monday, the day before "Avatar." It was a really inspiring feel-good movie, but I hadn't gotten around to writing a post about it before I saw Avatar, which knocked my socks off.

The Blind Side received a 70% freshness rating from Rotten Tomatoes. (As usual, the link takes you to the reviews over there. I like to give people a chance to see what all the positive and negative reviews have to say.) The film is another one of those movies that made me smile when I walked out of it, which is one of the things I hope for, rather than all down and depressed, like I felt after "Up In the Air," which is a fabulous movie, but I know way too many people who have been displaced and ruined in this economy for me to appreciate how good the movie actually is.

The story of Michael Oher, an NSF football player, is a true story, based partly on a book named "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" by Michael Lewis. The book is mostly about football and only partly about Oher, but the movie is completely about Michael Oher and how he was rescued from his impoverished childhood by Leigh Ann Tuohy, the wealthy mother who ends up adopting him. The actor who plays Oher was an unknown before this movie and does a great job. Leigh Ann is played by Sandra Bullock. Michael Medved gave The Blind Side four stars out of four, calling the film "funny, touching, [and] enormously satisfying." Medved added that, "Sandra Bullock's Oscar worthy performance is without question the best work of her career."

Not being much of a Sandra Bullock fan, I can't speak to that comment, but I do have to say if you want to see how a high-class Southern Christian mother became involved with this unlikely young man, and the wonderful things that came from her efforts, this is a movie you will enjoy.  Next week we are going to see another movie, not sure right now which one, but I'll definitely give you a review!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Avatar in 3-D

We just got home from seeing James Cameron's Avatar movie with a "freshness" rating from Rotten Tomatoes of 82% (meaning most of the reviewers liked it). (The link takes you to all the reviews at the site.)

Briefly stated, I loved it. The 3-D is so much better than any I've ever seen before, and I soon forgot I was watching anything other than real life. Of course, the world of Pandora, a planet far, far away in Alpha Centauri, is so beautiful and exquisite that anybody would love to be there rather than here.

My favorite review of the movie comes from the New York Times, Manolha Dargis, because the reviewer agrees with me that we were both transported into a new world that really seems to exist, if only on the screen. There are all the parts of a hero's journey that Joseph Campbell spoke of, along with a love story between species, and a world that can exist in peace and harmony with all its inhabitants, if you have the right mindset. The hero, Jake Sully, is a marine who has become a paraplegic and is set free when he inhabits his "avatar" body which looks like the natives who live on Pandora. Dargis echoes my sentiments here:
If the story of a paradise found and potentially lost feels resonant, it’s because “Avatar” is as much about our Earth as the universe that Mr. Cameron has invented. But the movie’s truer meaning is in the audacity of its filmmaking. Few films return us to the lost world of our first cinematic experiences, to that magical moment when movies really were bigger than life, if only because we were children. . . What’s often missing is awe, something Mr. Cameron has, after an absence from Hollywood, returned to the screen with a vengeance. He hasn’t changed cinema, but with blue people and pink blooms he has confirmed its wonder. 
 I think the movie would  be good even in 2-D, but I absolutely loved it, and now I'm thinking about going to see it again before it leaves the area. Now that I know the ending, I think I can relax a little bit more into the story line.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Feeding the birds

 Last Thursday, while on our snowshoe hike into the wilderness, I fed one of the gray jays from my hand. These cheeky birds will land right next to you and even try to snatch food from your lunch, so this picture is really not all that unusual. You don't leave anything laying around or it will be carried off. Notice he's got one of my almonds in his beak (click to enlarge).

Nevertheless, it was an interesting feeling to have the bird use my hand as a perch. They are strong, you can feel it in those feet. One posed for me on a hiking pole. You can see the direction of the wind in his feathers. He is beautiful, isn't he? Or is it she?

At home I feed the birds and have a constant battle to keep the squirrels from the bird food. I've found that I can distract the squirrels for a few minutes, even an hour, by placing peanuts in strategic places outside near the big tree. They will spend their time burying them -- I guess you could say squirreling them away. I haven't seen any sign of the black squirrels lately, but maybe the gray ones told them to get out of town, this is OUR territory. Whatever, I prefer the black ones because they are much less common. In any event, they vie for the same food as my birds. These squirrels are not underfed; in fact, the oldest one actually waddles and (ooops! gotta go yell at him for a minute) is a preferred guest to some apartment residents.

I can spend hours looking out my front window watching them. One house sparrow had an injury and has a broken wing, but he flies just fine. He must have learned to adapt. I can spot him right away because he has a bunch of white feathers sticking out right at the base of the wing, and that wing hangs lower than the other. I can't see any problem when he flies away.

Don't tell the squirrels, but I even enjoy watching them. I thought they were eating the bird food on the porch and not letting the birds get any, but I just watched a whole batch of juncos, sparrows, and goldfinch put it all away with no help from the squirrels! Feeding the birds has become a very important part of my life. Just for fun, I took this picture and downloaded it a few minutes ago, taken through the front window. I leave some seed on the porch here because the juncos won't go up to the feeders, and there are a lot of them at this time of the year. In the picture you can see goldfinch and sparrows, and I'm looking out now at the juncos, even though there aren't any here.

Gotta go, the squirrels are calling! :-)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is this normal?

When I was young, anybody whose teeth were this white would really have stood out in a crowd, especially if he had wrinkles and was obviously not born yesterday. Today nobody even looks twice. I did whiten my teeth once, but it made them so sensitive I didn't like the way they felt, so I didn't keep it up. I use some whitening toothpaste but I don't see much difference in my teeth with it.

Now every time I turn around there's another whitening advertisement in the sidebar of several of the websites I visit. There's one about some mom who learned some simple trick, but I don't go to those sites just in case they carry viruses or some trojan software.

Fashions vary, but I'm happy to find that I can just whiten my teeth after the fact, while I'm busy airbrushing out wrinkles and fixing up my crepey neck. People who know me might notice that my teeth are not glistening white, but frankly, I think they look more normal than the guy's teeth in the picture. What do you think about it? Do you whiten your own pearlies, and if so, why? Fashion? To look younger? I'm curious.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Discovering kamut

When I went to the Great Harvest Bread Company yesterday on my way back from the gym to catch the bus, they had a new kind of grain for me to sample: kamut (pronounced ka-moot'). Mishearing the unfamiliar word, I said, "What? Camus bread, named after the French philosopher?" I was informed that kamut is a new grain and our local GHBC is experimenting with it. Of course I had to go right to the internet and find out what it was I was eating.

It turns out that kamut has a very interesting story. It is a big fat humpbacked kernel, as you can see from the picture, related to durum wheat. I learned from an informative Purdue website that the name is trademarked by a Montana wheat farmer named T. Mack Quinn. The name comes from the ancient Egyptian word for wheat. And what a story it has:
Following WWII, a US airman claimed to have taken a handful of this grain from a stone box in a tomb near Dashare, Egypt. Thirty-six kernels of the grain were given to a friend who mailed them to his father, a Montana wheat farmer. The farmer planted and harvested a small crop and displayed the grain as a novelty at the local fair. Believing the legend that the giant grain kernels were taken from an Egyptian tomb, the grain was dubbed "King Tut's Wheat." But soon the novelty wore off and this ancient grain was all but forgotten.
But leave it to time and the desire to promote sustainable agriculture for this grain to come back. And then some: it's very sweet tasting, with superior qualities, such as containing up to 65% more amino acids and more lipids and fatty acids than regular wheat. The most striking superiority is its protein level: more than 40% higher than the national average for wheat. How it came back into the mainstream is also very interesting (also from the Purdue website):
In 1977, one remaining jar of "King Tut's Wheat" was obtained by T. Mack Quinn, who with his son Bob, an agricultural scientist and plant biochemist, soon perceived the value of this unique grain. They spent the next decade propagating the humped-backed kernels originally selected from the small jar. Their research revealed that wheats of this type originated in the fertile crescent area which runs from Egypt to the Tigris-Euphrates valley.
If you read the Purdue link in full, you'll find that scientists don't agree at all about where it originated, but it sure tastes good, I can vouch for that. And with all that other good stuff, it is also resistant to pests so needs little to no pesticides and fertilizers. It's easily grown by organic farmers, so I'm an instant fan. It should become more and more popular as the word gets out.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Artist Point snowshoe

Today, ten of the Senior Trailblazers decided, instead of taking an easy hike in town to Teddy Bear Cove, we would head up to the High Country to the Mt. Baker Ski Area and snowshoe up to Artist Point, a two-mile hike up more than 1,000 feet. And that's what we did. I hadn't been on snowshoes for decades, so I borrowed a pair from our leader. They have changed a lot since I was using them so many years ago, and after getting them on and clomping our way across the frozen parking lot, we headed up from the ski area to Artist Point. It's a beautiful hike, and the day was gorgeous: high clouds, a little cold, but otherwise very exciting and scenic.

One problem was that when we started out, the snow was what is affectionately known as "Cascade cement," with us crunching across ice disguised as snow, but as we gained altitude, the snow got better and better. We also had two types of birds that visited us during our lunch break, many "camp robbers" or gray jays, and a huge raven. We also saw, in the distance, a bald eagle circling. (He never got very close, but was so  beautiful, circling high above us.) The jays will take food right out of your hands, or land on your head trying to grab it before it makes it to your mouth.

After lunch, we made our way back down the mountain, slipped and slid on the ice until we could get into our cars and make our way home. As soon as I walked in the door, I downloaded all my pictures, tired and happy, and feel very much like I will be excited to go into the High Country again on snowshoes, weather permitting. And here's the beautiful raven, who watched us with interest but was definitely not eating out of our hands!