Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Retirement seminar

I just got home from the second session of a four-hour seminar about retirement. Not "how to retire" but about values regarding retirement and the psychology of retirement. This was an ALL (Academy of Lifelong Learning) event at the Bellingham Senior Center. About a dozen of us signed up for this class, taught by Helen Solomons, an interesting woman of indeterminate age who gave us some fascinating things to think about.

Almost everyone in the room was fully or partially retired.  I learned that the four generations around these days have totally different ideas about retirement, what it is and how it will play out. First, the pre-Boomers (born 1900-1945). That's me! The 75 million of us are loyal, used to scarcity, have faith in our institutions, and are patriotic.

Next come the 80 million Baby Boomers (and there were some in the seminar), born 1946-1964. Many hard-working, career-driven Boomers are in management positions today. They believe anything is possible. Following them are the Generation Xers (1965-1980): only 46 million of them, but they distrust institutions and personal relationships and have introduced a challenging dynamic into today's work place.  And the final group, the Generation Yers (or Millennials, born 1981-1999) are smart, pragmatic, realistic, optimistic, idealistic, and techno-savvy. And there are 76 million of them.

Every generation has a different idea of what retirement is (or will be for them). The pre-Boomers thought that if they played by the rules, everything would be okay and they would be taken care of in retirement. The Boomers wanted to fix the world, since they were the first generation to grow up with TV and saw Watergate, Vietnam, and the human rights movements develop. They believe anything is possible. But the Gen-Xers don't think they will ever be able to retire, while the Gen-Yers think they'd better start saving for retirement, since they've already turned 16.

In the room I heard from people who were forced into retirement and hated it, those who were voluntarily retired, some who wished they could have more meaning to their everyday lives, and those who LOVE retirement. Helen showed us that successful retirement contains a few constants:
  1. Having a reason to get up every day.
  2. Having a healthy spouse.  :-) :-)
  3. Maintaining or developing meaningful relationships.
  4. Having a sense of humor.
I think those were the most important things, I might have missed a few because I was busy writing and listening to the others. Helen told us that if we are interested in learning more, get the Second Edition of The New Retirement: the Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life by Jan Cullinane and Cathy FitzGerald. So! Next book on the list.

Have you read it? Are you happy in retirement? Or will you even be ABLE to retire?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Birds of a feather

Judy over at The Road to Here has a guest post by Suzie Gilbert who wrote a book about birds called Flyaway. She has a question and answer thing going on with her, and I asked Suzie to mention how she feels about feeding birds, since I am still wondering about the propriety of my feeding of the wild birds. If you want to ask some questions about birds, please head on over there and join in.

This goldfinch (click to enlarge) has changed colors and is now in his yellow breeding feathers. I've watched the male goldfinch change from dull yellowish-brown to this color (and he will be even brighter as the weeks go by). I have quite a few goldfinch at my upside-down feeder and the nyjer sock, but I also have chickaees who head over to the suet feeder or to the black oil sunflowers. They continue to amaze me, they are so bold and cheeky.

I swear this guy is posing for me. He is just the cutest thing. He yells at me when I forget to shake a few seeds onto the tray for his pleasure. The chickadees have also begun their spring two-note song that sounds to me like, "pick me, pick me." Then there are the raptors that are attracted to my feeders, not for the food, but for the well-fed little birdies like these! My juvenile Cooper's Hawk has been joined by a mature Sharp-Shinned Hawk, much smaller (about the size of a pigeon). This is not a great picture, but it shows his red eyes and his coloring.

And lastly, for those of you who love eagles, I've been watching the hatching of the Hornby Island eagles' nest. There are two eggs, and Mom and Dad have been watching over them. There are two cameras, a closeup that is amazing, and one a bit farther away. Last year I watched Mom and Dad Eagle in another nest feed three eaglets and watched them fledge. This one is sponsored by Wild Earth TV in British Columbia. The link to the cameras and the chat room is available here. The website also has some short segments on the sidebar showing the parents turning the eggs and repositioning them. Enjoy!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Soaring regards: Jean Keene

I received the book that Cary Anderson promised to send me about Jean Keene, the Eagle Lady. I've taken a picture of the book's title page, and his words, "Soaring regards" really hit me. She was a wonderful and very colorful person who deserves to be remembered forever.

The book begins with some absolutely stunning pictures of eagles and of the Homer Spit where Jean lived alone (well, sort of, she did have a lot of eagle friends) for twenty-some years. And then it tells the story of her early life, which is also covered really well on her Wikipedia page. The American Bald Eagle Information website also has a page devoted to her dedication to the eagles.

I was fascinated by the pictures in the book, glossy high-definition pictures of eagles in flight, eagles in huge numbers waiting to be fed, and some majestic head shots of this beautiful bird. Cary Anderson has also included a breathtaking picture of the Aurora Borealis.

Anderson has told the action-packed story of Jean's life and left a legacy for all to enjoy. I highly recommend this book to you, and if you do order it from him, I don't see how you could possibly be disappointed. His website, Eagle Eye Pictures, has portraits you can order, pictures of eagles, reptiles, and other wildlife, including some portraits of people.

Jean lived a full life, passing away at 85, after a career that included being a trick rider in a rodeo, being one of the first female long-haul truck drivers, owner and waitress at her truck stop restaurant, until she found her true calling as a friend to the eagles. From the time she moved to Homer in 1977 until her death in 2009, she hauled an estimated 500 pounds of fish every day from winter to early spring to the Spit to feed them. They go off on their own for summer and fall.

From the Homer Tribune Top Ten Stories of 2009:
End of Eagle Era - Eagle Lady Jean Keene, arguably one of Homer’s most famous citizens, died Jan. 14 at the age of 85. Friends and photographers around the world mourned her passing, but the eagles she devoted her life to feeding continued to roost around her Homer Spit home. That sparked concern from wildlife officials on whether the eagle-feeding should end so abruptly. After much public input, debate and discussion, the Homer City Council voted to let Keene’s assistant continue the feeding as a way to wean them off free fish lunches. Council then enacted a ban on eagle-feeding into law, taking effect March 29. (Photo by Cary Anderson)
 I wonder what they did when they returned in late 2009 and she was gone. She had a favorite eagle, Betsy, that she speculated had spent part of her life in captivity, because Betsy was "uncommonly tame" and would perch on a fence just a few feet away of her. I like to think that is Betsy in the picture above.

Fly free, Jean, and I will think of you soaring with your eagles forever. I will see your spirit in flight with them whenever I see one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Today, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week in the Christian Church. I wasn't raised in any particular religion, my mother having been a lapsed Catholic and my father never in any at all, as far as I know.

But I, during my quest to find my own path, have followed different paths of the Christian faith at various junctures in my life. The first overtly religious path I followed was as a teenager while my parents were living in Georgia. I joined the Episcopal Church and after a while, all of my siblings joined the church also. I loved the pomp and circumstance of the "high" Episcopal Church, with a choir and a priest (Father Shipps) who visited my family at our home and became a friend. I was just eighteen and had recently graduated from high school with no particular direction in my life. As I got more and immersed into the religious life, I flirted with the thought of becoming a nun and looked around for the convent with the coolest habits. (At my age that was the most important criterion for a suitable convent.)

Well, I didn't join any convent, and I went on to become pregnant out of wedlock soon after and was forced into a marriage I didn't want. That was what you did in those days if you got pregnant. Then motherhood and marriage became the center of my world, and my husband was what we called a "Holy Roller" at that time.  I went to one of their Sunday observances and promptly stopped going to any church at all. My faith, however, never left me and I eventually joined the Unitarian Church, which was Christian without any of the ceremony, and I learned a great deal during that time in my life.

During my forties, I became quite religious again, and by this time I was living and working in Boulder. I discovered a Catholic convent just outside of town, the Abbey of St. Walburga, and would spend Holy Week there, praying and meditating in solitude. You could stay in a little room outside of the main convent and either have your meals brought to you or join the nuns for your meals. They were eaten in silence with one nun reading passages from the Bible, and the whole week was just bliss to me, being surrounded by the peace and tranquility of the convent.

On Thursday of Holy Week, the nuns would wash the feet of those of us staying at the convent. It was quite a moving ceremony. And I learned that Holy Saturday, the one full day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, was the most hushed and silent day of them all. And then on Sunday morning, the joy and delight of all the nuns, who had stayed up all night to bake cookies and make Easter eggs, was so evident. Nineteen nuns lived there full time, and I toyed with the idea of doing what I began in my teens, but I didn't.

However, even though I don't attend church regularly, prayer and meditation are now part of my life, and sometimes I think of the nuns at St. Walburga and wonder how they are doing. They had a profoundly positive effect in my life.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tulips and more

As I mentioned yesterday, on the way home from our hike we stopped by the RoozenGaarde tulip gardens, which were just green leaves when we visited them three weeks ago, and now they are heading toward peak viewing. (You can click any picture to enlarge, well worth your time.) Just give these tulips another week, and you won't be able to come by here on a sunny day during the weekend without sharing these views with thousands of spectators. RoozenGaarde has more than three acres of tulips all by themselves, and we passed farms with names like "Tulip Town" on the way.

The grounds are perfectly tended, with every conceivable variety of tulip to enjoy. That's Peggy and Ward in the background, and you can see by their clothes it wasn't warm. There was a light mist of rain in the air most of the time we were there, but every once in a while the sun tried to break through.

I captured these two unnamed ladies with their lovely umbrellas taking in the sights. To park and go inside the gardens, a small fee is charged, which will help to defray the costs of planting these tulips every year. In the picture below, you can see several more stripes of different varieties of tulips in the background. You will have to enlarge to see that easily.

 Not only were there tulips, but the hyacinths are in full flower, too. There were also some other tiny blue flowers I couldn't identify, until I found this on the RoozenGaarde site:
Many early and mid tulip varieties are now in bloom, in addition to all of the daffodil and hyacinth varieties. It would be unfair not to mention the Muscari (amongst other specialty flowers) as the little blue flowers are making an outstanding contribution to some of our most picturesque plantings. RoozenGaarde’s 3 acre display garden has been planted with more than 1/4 million tulip, daffodil, crocus, hyacinth and iris bulbs!
Some of the tulips are so different from anything I've seen before that if they didn't have the regular tulips leaves, I wouldn't know for sure what they are. This variety looks so much like a peony I was confused at first. It's called "Double Price" (not knowing if they are just especially expensive or why they have that name).

Some of the acres and acres of tulips are so intoxicating that I just couldn't figure an angle that might show you how gorgeous they are. I decided I'll make a special Flickr set of just flowers and put all 50 of the pictures I took up there. They will be linked on the right-hand side of my blog once I get that done. And to finish off this post, I thought this tulip looked as beautiful as any rose I have ever seen!

As you can see from these last two pictures, I was blessed to have the raindrops giving these beautiful tulips another dimension that you just can't ever get on sun-drenched days. There is perfection in all of our myriad weather delights here in the Pacific Northwest, including the rain.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Goose Rock

Today fifteen Senior Trailblazers headed back to the Deception Pass area (we were there only three weeks ago to hike another trail) on our way up to Goose Rock. The weather yesterday in the Bellingham area set an all-time March 24th record for warmth -- with full sun -- but today was another story altogether. In the Pacific Northwest, you can't ever expect sunny skies day after day. As we left the Senior Center at 8:00 am, it had already begun to rain.

By the time we got to I-5 heading south to Deception Pass, the weather was becoming progressively worse: rain coming down steadily, and three cars-full of us still determined to do this six-mile hike anyway. But by the time we reached Deception Pass, the rain had slowed to a fine mist. All of us were ready for rain and figured if it became really bad, we could turn around and head for the nearest pub.
It stayed either almost dry or lightly raining as we took a meandering route to the top of Goose Rock, with some up and down (a total elevation gain and loss of around 1,300 feet) and a comfortable temperature. I always have a good time, even if the weather isn't perfect, because of my interesting companions. Nobody grumbled about the weather, and everyone else seemed to be having a good time too. Although when we reached the top of Goose Rock and took a gander (sorry, I couldn't help myself), there was not much to see because of the light mist in the air.
Here's Fred looking around for a good spot out of the wind to have lunch. There would have been a spectacular view (I was told) if the weather were better, but once we hunkered down and pulled out our lunches, we were pretty comfy for the time being. Not much rain fell during our hike, but I slipped on one of the slick rocks and banged my elbow and knee, not too bad. Since I already had a very bad fall on one of our hikes (in October last year), everyone said I had just made my 2010 spill and didn't have to do it again. Several people asked me on the way down if I was all right and I assured them I was just fine. We take care of each other; they were ready with numerous Ace bandages in case I needed one, and we joked that it would make a great picture to have me swaddled in them from head to foot. I declined for the time being. :-)
On the way back to the trailhead, we elected to walk along the beach, and I lagged behind taking some pictures and looking down at the beautiful rocks. By the time we returned to our cars, it was still rather early, so four of us headed back by way of the RoozenGarde tulip festival. I took an amazing number of pictures, and here is a teaser shot of some of the spectacular tulip gardens there (click any picture to enlarge).
Tomorrow I'll show you some more tulip pictures, and I was thrilled with the shots I was able to get. When you don't have sun, you compromise by having pictures of raindrop-covered tulips that I hope will intoxicate you as much as they did me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Does HFCS make you fat?

Most of us are aware of the controversy surrounding high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) being used in so many of our foods. There's a Wikipedia page with lots of information about it, but this article from Princeton University was just released on Monday, with some alarming information about HFCS. At least, I found it to be so, because I was of a mind that all sugars are equal in making us gain weight. But if these results are correct, it's just not so.

To summarize, studies showed that rats with access to HFCS gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same, and that weight was mostly around the abdomen. From the article:
"Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests," said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. "When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight."
The researchers published their results, which were replicated, in the March 18 edition of the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior. The reason behind this effect of HFCS is not yet understood, but they speculate that the difference "may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles."

I snagged this graphic from the Wikipedia page. The green line is HFCS consumption. Even if you were to work hard to keep HFCS out of your diet, it's really difficult if you eat much processed food, because it's a cheap sweetener used in sodas, cereals, fruit juice, bread, yogurt, ketchup and mayonnaise. The article says that today Americans, on average, consume 60 pounds of it per person every year! And we didn't start using it until it was developed in the mid-1970s.

Read the article and see what you think. Or, if you want to delve deeper, the Wikipedia link addresses many of the other controversies surrounding HFCS, like the fact that it contains mercury, which appears to come from the manufacturing process itself. Or that it became a sucrose replacement to feed honeybees in the United States, which might have something to do with bee colony collapse that started a while ago (that's just my conjecture).

Anyway, in my mind I think it would be wise to try to reduce one's consumption of it until more is known, especially if you want to lose weight. I found it in some of the foods in my pantry when I went looking after reading this article. I always want to know whether what I am paying good money for is actually good for me or not!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

World Water Day

Every year, March 22nd is set aside at the United Nations and around the world to focus on the importance of having fresh water. It's an amazing fact to realize that more than half of the world's people don't have access to clean water. World Water Day 2010 has the theme of "Clean Water for a Healthy World." (That link will take you to UN Water's website, well worth checking out.)

When I worked for the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group in Boulder, part of my job for over a decade was to create a 16-page quarterly newsletter filled with information that would be important to those interested in climate-related impact assessments. I had to write in a very dry and impassive fashion for this newsletter. Here's a link to a PDF of one of those newsletters, if you're interested (I'm not sure I would be, so don't feel bad if you don't go there. Won't hurt MY feelings.) But some places I visited for articles were the United Nations websites, because they have a very good collection of what's going on in the world of impact assessment. That's where I learned about World Water Day.

I learned also that in the future, water is more than likely to be a source of major worldwide conflict, because as we humans degrade more and more of the world's water, ramifications are felt throughout the entire ecosystem. According to the World Health Organization, each year an estimated 4 billion people get diarrhea as a result of drinking unsafe water. More than half of them die, mostly children under the age of five. This has been going on for a long, long time, but it's getting worse.

Those of us living in the United States think we're doing a good thing for ourselves by drinking a whole lot of bottled water. But we're not, actually. Did you know that the USA is the largest consumer market for bottled water in the world? Bottled Water has its own Wikipedia page, and is a very interesting read. It's scary, though: it can make you wonder whether you're paying too much for something that isn't necessarily better for you than what comes out of your tap. Not to mention the plastic from 50 billion bottles of water that are consumed each year, just here in the USA.

When I lived in Boulder, we went to a local natural spring and filled several five-gallon jugs with Eldorado Natural Spring Water, partly because I loved the taste of it, and partly because I didn't like the chlorinated stuff that came out of the tap. Here in Bellingham, we use a Brita filter for water from the tap and the water is fine, although not as tasty as what I was used to in Boulder. Some people think that you are better off not filtering your drinking water, since you lose some of the natural minerals in the water. But you know, that might have been true before the world had so many people. I don't think there are many places in the world where the water is actually drinkable without some kind of processing. Do you drink bottled water?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bleeding heart liberal

Yes, that's me: a bleeding heart liberal. This picture is of a gathering of bleeding hearts, taken yesterday outside my apartment. I'm the fourth one from the left :-)

I was tossed from jury duty once when the prosecutor questioned me on the stand during jury selection. I knew he had asked the kinds of questions that branded me as one. But the truth is, I didn't want to be on that jury anyway. I had already made up my mind that the defendant shouldn't walk, so they were right to send me packing.

But this bleeding heart liberal is heartened by the passage of the health care reform bill, even if it is so much less than I had hoped for. I was pushing for the public option, which is what all of us on Medicare have, as well as what all those Congresspeople have. Every other developed country in the world has a system to take care of its citizens, and soon (in four years, that is) we will have it too.

As of today, however, insurance companies can no longer refuse to cover children because they have a pre-existing condition or raise the insurance rates so high that the parents can't pay. We have to wait until 2014 for this to take effect for the parents, however. The bill is not perfect, by any means. You can read here what ten immediate effects will take place when President Obama signs the bill into law.

Yesterday was World Water Day, too. I think I'll write a post about bottled water tomorrow, since it's quite an important issue. Today, though, I wanted to say thank you to all those who fought so hard to get the health care reform bill passed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Safety Day

Our Safety Day t-shirts, free to first 50 attendees

Safety Day at Skydive Snohomish is unlike any other I have attended. Being a member of USPA for twenty years now, I've gone to quite a few, but nobody does it like this! The big day yesterday started with registration at 8:30 am, and we left home at 7:00 to get there in time (more than an hour's drive), so that we could be one of the lucky registrants to get a free USPA t-shirt, as shown above by two good-looking young men.

The breakfast spread

The US Parachute Association encourages the Safety & Training Advisors at each Drop Zone to organize a day at the beginning of the season dedicated to learning more about our sport and getting current on the latest technology and information. This is the first one I have attended at Skydive Snohomish, and I could not have been more impressed.

First of all, jump operations were suspended for most of the day (until 5:00 pm), while those who attended were treated to breakfast, lunch, and dinner at no cost, and if you attended all five of the hour-long safety briefings, you were eligible to participate in the drawings. Tyson and Elaine Harvey (the owners) gave away such things as 3 free skydives, reserve repacks, video and stills of your skydive, and other such items, totaling almost $7,000 in value. (Also, the skydives and tandem jumps that were not made yesterday during the picture-perfect day must have cost them at least that much.)

Tyson presenting the Ches Judy Safety Award to Sonya

More than 90 people showed up, and after we signed in, we were given a card with five different events to attend: Equipment, Aircraft, The Skydive, Emergencies, and Canopy Control. Each presenter gave the same talk five times, while we made our way to each area in rotation. I had never met the Cessna pilot Dieter before, and his talk was really interesting and informative. It also made me feel very safe, knowing that someone with his expertise is flying. He is an aeronautical engineer in his "real" life and provided helpful information to deal with any type of aircraft emergency.

Dieter, Rocket Scientist, giving his presentation at Safety Day

Smart Guy had his name drawn for a prize, and he generously let me choose a hooded sweatshirt for myself that I am wearing as I write this. One really good thing that came from yesterday is the camaraderie that was built among the jumpers and staff, as well as some really good information to help us all be better skydivers. I won't miss another one of these Safety Days!

Thank you, Tyson and Elaine Harvey for the wonderful day, thank you to all who attended, and thank you very much, Skydive Snohomish staff! I will be a safer skydiver because of what I learned yesterday.

Friday, March 19, 2010


This is the book I started reading the other day: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks. You may remember him as the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which I wrote about sometime earlier and just spent a few minutes trying unsuccessfully to locate. (Aside: maybe after I get the "Pages" thing done I'll install that widget that allows you to search the entire blog.)

When I first discovered Oliver Sacks, I thought he had died long ago because the "Hat" book was published in 1985. It turns out, according to his Wikipedia link, he is only 76 right now and a practicing neurologist and psychiatrist at Columbia University. This just goes to show how my mind works: books more than twenty years old = ancient history. My ex-boss Mickey used to call this "discounting the past." If something is not the most current thing on the block, we discount it and keep repeating the same studies or whatever and go for the latest, whether or not it is the best.

Sacks is on the top of his game in this book. Although I have just started reading it, it's hard to put it down. I'm so fascinated by the things I'm learning. One really interesting story is about a man who was a successful orthopedic surgeon and was struck by lightning at the age of 42. He had an out-of-body experience afterwards, and then was slammed back into his body. With some rather minor (for what he experienced, anyway) aftereffects, he returned to normal in a few weeks.

But one other thing happened: he developed an insatiable desire to listen to piano music and started to hear original melodies in his head. In the space of a dozen years or so, he had learned to play the piano and made his debut as a musician, all the while keeping his medical practice going. From the book (p. 12):
He prepared two pieces for his concert: his first love, Chopin's B-flat Minor Scherzo; and his own first composition, which he called Rhapsody, Opus 1. His playing, and his story, electrified everyone at the retreat (many expressed the fantasy that they, too, might be struck by lightning). He played with "great passion, great brio" -- and if not with supernatural genius, at least with creditable skill, an astounding feat for someone with virtually no musical background who had taught himself to play at forty-two.
What Sacks does best in this book is compel me to ponder the nature of the brain and the nature of my love (or lack of love) for music. It's a tantalizing thought that maybe our mental processes are subject to major changes because of a shift in perception, caused by a trauma (as in this case) or for some other unknown reason.

The book is full of stories that cause me to speculate as to the nature of my own brain, and what can be changed through meditation and will, and what might be different tomorrow when I wake up, for no apparent reason? (There are lots of these examples, too.) I hope those of you who are interested in following up will read the book and let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Galbraith lollipop

Thirteen Trailblazers set out for Galbraith Mountain this morning, the weather clear, crisp and cold: 0 degrees on the thermometer (but that is Celsius: it was 32 degrees Fahrenheit). Cold enough for me to snap this frosty plant at the beginning of our hike (click to enlarge). We did a "lollipop" route: the first few miles were repeated on the way back, but at the top we made a loop, covering right around ten miles in sunshine and in shadow. As we gained elevation, I saw the fog in the lower reaches over the bay had begun to lift. I always love pictures that show different layers.
We had a "new" hiker join us today, Ruth. She was a regular for years and years with this group, but apparently she has not been coming since her husband passed away a few years back. I took a look at her when she got out of the car and wondered if she would be at the back of the group, since she's just a few months away from her eightieth birthday. Well! Marjan is one of our strongest hikers at 73, and she and Ruth set the pace, far too fast for me to keep up, so I hung back in the middle of the pack and watched them from afar. That's Ruth on the right, Marjan on the left.
Galbraith Mountain is one of our regular winter hikes, and we either go up the north side from town or, as we did today, up from Lake Padden on the south side. Both hikes can be made shorter or longer, depending on our leader, since the mountain is criss-crossed with trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. We started up a trail called "Whoopsie Woodle" (apparently letting us know there would be some up and some down) and traversed "Keystone" and "Wonderland" during the day. Without Pat, our leader, knowing these trails so well, it would be very easy to lose your way.
At our lunch spot we had great views of Bellingham Bay, with Lake Padden in the lower left of this picture. The reforested places such as this will one day lose these beautiful views, but for today, I was so happy to capture this to share with you. The sky for most of the day was clear, but whenever a small cloud covered the sun, you were reminded of how cold it really was.
This lunchtime view shows Lake Whatcom in the foreground, Bellingham in the middle, and the Canadian mountains in the distance. While we were hiking, we chatted about our various activities as we got enough exercise to help us all feel virtuous, and basically had a wonderful day playing in the glorious sunshine with some peachy-dandy friends.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Last night my friend Judy and I went to the local Mt. Baker Theater to hear Leahy perform. This Canadian group is comprised of a family of siblings, eight out of 11 of them.  The leader of the band, Donnell, is obviously Canadian as soon as he opens his mouth to speak. The family is made up of all self-taught musicians, with almost every one of them playing multiple instruments, but mostly the fiddle, guitars, piano, and step dancing.

Their mother was a champion step dancer (and they ALL step dance, as we saw in the finale) and their father played the fiddle. From the liner notes:
Growing up together on the farm [in Lakefield, Ontario], they would work outside by day, play, dance and sing by night. Erin [she mostly played piano last night] recalls that their fiddle-playing father and their step-dancing mother "encouraged us to listen to and play a wide variety of styles. I see that coming across in our writing today." ... Their compelling career voyage has proven that a musical style defying easy definition can still find a large and wide audience.
No kidding! The large Mt. Baker Theater was almost sold out, and the rocking show we were treated to was amazing in its variety. I was especially mesmerized by Erin, listening to her piano playing, and then I found out she also an accomplished fiddle player AND a great step dancer! Here is a link to their profiles, listing what each one performs on stage. Irish step dancing is like what they did, except that they didn't hold their upper bodies completely still.

Tonight, St. Patrick's Day, they will be in Seattle at Benaroya Hall, and if you happen to be looking for something exciting to do, check out this show. The last number they played before the encore was exciting in its rocking and foot-stomping action, and then, one by one, they laid down an instrument and joined the original two step dancers, until all of them (and a 15-year-old talented daughter Emily) were step dancing in amazing unison, bringing down the house!

I guess you can tell I loved it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thank you for today

A young man, visiting Hilton Head Island in South Carolina while on a business trip, decided to have a nice jog along the beach. The news article I found this morning said:
A father of two in town on business was jogging on the beach and listening to his iPod when he was hit from behind and killed by a small plane making an emergency landing, officials said Tuesday. Robert Gary Jones, 38, of Woodstock, Ga., died instantly Monday evening when he was hit by the single-engine plane, which had lost its propeller, said Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen. The pilot's vision was blocked by oil on the windshield.
The plane was basically a glider without its propeller, making little to no noise, and it hit him from behind. Just because he was listening to his iPod doesn't mean the outcome could have been any different. I just felt sick when I read about this (it happened yesterday), because I thought about how he was just out there living his life, and something like this happened. Here's the entire article. He's gone, and he never knew what hit him.

And again, I felt moved to say thank you for today. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. I'll bet Robert's mother would gladly have changed places with her son if she could have. I think of her terrible loss. More from the article:
"Any time he traveled, I would worry myself to death about him," said his mother, who lives outside Tampa, Fla., where he grew up. "I'd call and say, 'Where are you, where are you?'"
I found this picture of me, today, while I was looking for something else. It shows me taking my first steps, and I'm sure that Daddy was on the other side of the lens. I had at least 67 years of life ahead of me when this picture was taken, and I felt invincible, like nothing could ever hurt me. That old car behind me, however (I have no idea what kind it was), could have crashed with me and my parents in it, as I am sure there were no seat belts or air bags, or other lifesaving devices that we take for granted today.

But Robert had all those things available to him, and still... It makes me ponder not only the fragility of our lives, but also the arbitrariness of these accidents. His mother is probably, right now, wondering how it could have been different. When my son Chris died, I would wake up from a dream where I kept trying to rearrange the circumstances and make it so he would still be alive. It would all be a bad dream that I could wake up from.

So I'd just like to say how grateful I am that life goes on, that we all have a chance to stop, take a breath, and say thank you for today.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ides of March

"Beware the Ides of March" is a famous old quote I wondered about, so of course I looked it up on Wikipedia. I knew this phrase as the day when Julius Caeser was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate. According to that link,
Caesar was warned by a seer (a clairvoyant) to be on his guard against a great peril on the Ides of March. On his way to the Theater of Pompey (where he would be assassinated), Caesar saw the seer and joked "Well, the Ides of March have come," to which the seer replied "Aye, they have come, but they are not gone."
"Ides" refers to the 15th day of March, May, July and October, and the 13th day of the other months. I wasn't able to find out why the difference in these months, but it doesn't really matter. Today is the Ides of March. It turns out that the day is celebrated every year with a toga run in the streets of Rome, in the same place where Julius Caesar was killed.

Today as I left the Y, I saw the cutest sight, a woman was leading a bunch of toddlers into the Y using a long rope with handles in it. Each toddler had his or her own handle, and I asked if I could take a picture of them. This is probably the only way you could safely have just one person take care of so many little ones on the sidewalk. Here's the picture (click to enlarge):
I suspect that you would need to be sure to tell them that the handle is like their parent's hand, and that they should keep ahold of it whenever they are on the street. Maybe they make it into a game, I don't know. The handles are quite useful and I didn't want to ask (in case they wanted to show me they didn't have to hold on) how they make sure they all cooperate.  It was an adorable scene, though, and several of the little ones said, "cheese" as I took the picture. They are so cute they probably have cameras pointed their way all the time! A closeup of the handles:

Sunday, March 14, 2010


A couple of days ago I received an email from Cary Anderson, who will be sending me a book about The Eagle Lady soon, and he attached this gorgeous picture of an eagle in front of a beautiful crashing wave (click to enlarge). It reminded me that yesterday morning, while on a walk by the marina, I saw and heard a bunch of crows fighting over something. And in the middle of the crows, what should come by but an eagle, no more than a street's width away from us. The crows were being outmaneuvered by that eagle, who made a couple of passes and then swooped down to street level and hauled away a pigeon! At least that's what we figured it was, it was gray and had feathers.

I've been playing with the new blogger templates and trying to figure out how to stretch the banner, which I think needs to be resized. You will probably be finding lots of us trying out this and that to figure out which templates we like best. I will probably go back to one of the simpler templates, because you have more control over the size of fonts on the entire page, rather than just what shows up in the body. Several of the blogs I follow have done some amazing things with the new templates, and I am anxious to use the new "pages" feature, but that means I've got to write and organize my site first. I'm beginning to feel a little overwhelmed. I wanted to make the sidebar fonts bigger, and this one doesn't give me that option.

I did download Google's browser, Chrome, and I must say it does work faster, so between Firefox, Safari and Chrome, I've got a whole lot of organizing to do before I get to the task of working out pages. I did get my usual Sunday post up on my other blog, but now I've got to work on this one. I notice that I feel a little constrained over here at DJan-ity and wonder where that is coming from. Surely it's some internal desire to PLEASE that is left over from my working days. Or is it?

I'm glad that not everybody posts something new every day, because I am falling behind in reading and commenting, and I so much appreciate it when others comment so I know you are out there, that I feel an obligation to let you know how much I love your posts. The cyber-coffeeklatch may exist in many time zones all over the planet, but if I get behind for a day or so, I begin to feel like I might miss out on something really important. Or fun. If it were not for Google Reader, I don't think I would follow so many people. I went through my list and could not find one I felt comfortable leaving off. So there you have it: imprisoned by the talent of my wonderful blogging buddies!

I am just finishing up a very good book, Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande, a doctor who writes about the power and limits of medicine in three parts: Fallibility, Mystery, and Uncertainty. I'm on the last part and frankly, I had trouble putting the book down last night. Today I'll finish it and check out some other books he's written.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Playing with the templates

Wow! I am busy playing with all the templates for the new Blogger in Draft! Back soon, but I think they have a winner with the new template designs.

So far, it seems you can control the width and number of your columns, although I think I will have to resize my banner to make it stretch all the way across the new page. What do you think of this new feature? (I do like the birds flying out from the side of my too-narrow banner, though.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chuckanut Ridge

Today 13 hardy Senior Trailblazers set out for a long hike in the wind and rain up the Interurban Trail to Chuckanut Ridge. When we started, as you can see all of us (except for Mikey Poppins with the umbrella and shorts) were bundled up with rain ponchos and raincoats. It was not terribly cold, but the wind was blowing hard, which made it seem colder.

The trail begins on an old logging road, but we eventually headed off onto a leaf-strewn and sometimes muddy trail that winds UP and DOWN with little level ground. Although we usually have a view, today this is what we saw most of the day:
When we stopped for lunch, we saw snow at the overlook, and my fellow Trailblazers insisted I take a picture to prove to those of you on the East Coast that we too sometimes have weather. Everyone knows it always rains in the Pacific Northwest, except lately. We had the warmest January on record, and although February and now March have been pretty warm, we do have rain and snow, too!
See? Snow, if not lots of it, believe me it was not warm. My thermometer said 35 degrees at noon while we had lunch. Don't be fooled by Mikey's lack of warm gear; he says if he keeps his hands and head warm, it's all he needs. (But he does carry a pack with all kinds of gear, just in case.)
On the way back down, I saw a chance for a bit of an artsy shot, and although it's not as wonderful in reality as it was in my head, I continue to be so happy to share my Thursdays, rain or shine, with my fantastic fellow hikers. We covered more than ten miles today, with an altitude gain (and loss) of over 3,000 feet (like I said, very little of the trail was level). The group today ranges in age from 62 (Fred) to 79 (Frank), with an average somewhere around 70. I am proud to be one of them!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Birds are people too

Smart Guy sent me this picture of this adorable (and possibly fully grown) intense little owl. Look at those claws! My last blog post has stirred up quite a bit of controversy, which seems to come about every time I consider what it means to feed the birds. The title of this post comes from a conversation I had with my neighbor, whose daughter recently learned that our resident Cooper's Hawk eats songbirds. She was horrified and said, "But birds are people, too!" (I fear she had to learn that hawks are birds, too!)

I also received a very exciting email from Cory Anderson, who wrote a book about Jean Keane. He was a close personal friend of hers for two decades, and that book (available on his website and now in its sixth printing) about "the Eagle Lady" looks absolutely fascinating. I will let you know what I think of the book once I receive it, as I believe it is now on its way. The description makes me want to know more about Jean, for one thing, and what happened to the eagles this past winter, the first since Jean's death.

I went over to Abe Lincoln's birds blog (which I follow) to read his story about the dancing cowbird. This is when I realized that there is more controversy than I realized about whether or not it is okay to feed the birds. I get so much pleasure from watching my birdies, and I have become reconciled to the cycle of Nature that teaches me to accept the fact that the big guys eat the small guys.

There needs to be a balance. We humans have displaced so many wild creatures because of our exploding population numbers, our constant crowding out of wilderness and natural habitats, that I believe the eccentric old people (maybe some not so old) among us who feed the birds, within reason, are part of the cycle itself. Am I wrong about this?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Eagle Lady

I belong to a local birders' list that sends me information about interesting local birding opportunities, and sightings of rare or migratory birds are sent around to anyone on the list. I received a very interesting set of pictures in mid-February showing massive numbers of eagles. And I thought they were an endangered species! More about this in a minute.
After a quick search on google, I learned more about where the pictures came from, and about Jean Keane, the Eagle Lady. Jean has her own Wikipedia page (which is where I snagged her picture from) and learned that she died of a respiratory illness in January 2009 at the age of 85.
Jean was a rodeo trick rider in the 1950s, and after suffering a devastating accident while trick riding, she eventually (in the 1970s) ended up in a motor home at the Homer Spit campground in Homer, Alaska. She took a job at the fish processing facility on the Spit, and she eventually became a foreman at the plant. From Wikipedia:
Keene's career as the "Eagle Lady" began shortly after her arrival in Homer, when one morning she noticed two bald eagles on the beach near her motor home. Keene saw offering food to the eagles as a natural extension of her practice of keeping bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds for wild songbirds. She began to bring home surplus fish from her job in a bucket, and each morning would throw some fish to the eagles over the short driftwood fence she had made around her motor home. By the end of that spring, a half-dozen eagles were showing up for breakfast. The eagles departed with the arrival of summer, when the Spit became more active with human visitors, but they returned in the winter when the tourist season had ended, and she resumed the daily feeding.
By the end of ten years, 200 to 300 eagles would show up every day to feed during the winter and early springtime months. She had her hands full! She talked her employer into giving her freezer-burned and spoiled fish, and she spent three hours every morning feeding the eagles. More from her page:
Her fish supply included surplus and freezer-burned fish from fish processing facilities still on the Spit, her own purchases using her limited funds from Social Security or retirement benefits, or fish contributed by her supporters. Visitors could come and watch the eagles Keene fed on the Spit at no cost, but were asked to stay in their cars for their own safety and for the safety of the eagles.
Jean received lots of attention from her activity and was written up in Reader's Digest, People, and the National Geographic magazine, among others. The hotel owners in the area loved the business that came from people watching and photographing the eagles. But once Jean died, the city passed an ordinance that prohibited the feeding of predatory birds. Apparently she got more than she bargained for! This Spit is where I think these pictures came from, and they are all over the Internet. It was a fascinating journey to see what can happen when you start feeding the birds, both for good and for ill.

Eagles were declared an endangered species in 1967 in all states, partly because of habitat loss and hunters, and partly because DDT, which was widespread at the time, softened the eagles' eggshells and the young did not survive. Eventually they began to recover once DDT was banned, and in 2007 the Interior Department removed them from the endangered species list. And now they are most prevalent on the Pacific Northwest coast, where I have been fortunate enough to get so accustomed to seeing them that I don't take pictures of every one. And one last picture for you to enjoy:

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day 2010! Celebrated every year on the 8th of March, it is a major day of global celebration of women. In different regions of the world, the focus of the celebrations ranges from general respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women's economic, political and social achievements. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday. Unfortunately for us Americans, it's not a holiday. Yet. From my favorite information source, Wikipedia:
On the occasion of 2010 International Women's Day, the International Committee of the Red Cross is drawing attention to the hardship displaced women endure. The displacement of populations is one of the gravest consequences of today's armed conflicts. It affects women in a host of ways. Women displaced by armed conflict – often living alone with their children – are frequently exposed to sexual violence, discrimination and intimidation. Many face poverty and social exclusion as well. International humanitarian law therefore includes specific provisions protecting women, for example when they are pregnant or as mothers of young children.
That's something I have never had to worry about, being displaced by war. But this is a huge and very real problem for many women (and men, and families) across Africa and the Middle East, in particular. The movie The Hurt Locker shows what the Iraq war is like for many, including those whose lives are totally disrupted, or lost, by that awful war.

And it's fitting that on IWD Eve 2010 at the Oscars, Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman ever to win the Oscar for Best Director. I saw The Hurt Locker here at home on Netflix, and although I thought it was a really good movie, and although I am at a loss to know exactly what directors actually do, in my mind it wasn't nearly as good a movie as Avatar, or even Up in the Air, which won nothing.

But I think the main difference is, if I look carefully at my feelings, I would much rather live in Pandora than in Iraq. One movie was about the oneness of all things (although it had plenty of war scenes), and the other was about the horror of war (with plenty of war scenes). I saw almost all of the movies that were nominated, except for Precious and Inglourious Basterds, which I intend to correct as soon as I can. I do like to know what passes for great film these days. What do you think?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Women of a certain age

I have heard that phrase, "women of a certain age," all my life, it seems. But I never actually thought about what that age might be, until I happened to read a 2005 quote from this article on Planet Jackson Hole about Annie Proulx (her picture is on the right).

I'm reading one of her books of short stories (Close Range: Wyoming Stories, 1999). It has become my habit to pop over to Wikipedia and read about the authors of books I'm reading, and somehow I've missed all of her short stories, although I did read The Shipping News, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. Annie lives in Wyoming and was asked if she minds having become so famous that she is now recognized in coffee shops and bookstores. She said:
No, it is not difficult to move around Wyoming anonymously. Women of a certain age are invisible. And most Wyoming people don't give a damn whether you write novels or knit mittens.
How old is "a certain age"? (Annie is now 74.) Another article I found while perusing the origin of the phrase was written by Ariel Leve in the Times Online:
Whenever I see women who have had plastic surgery to look younger I think they never look younger, they just look like they've had plastic surgery in a desperate attempt to look younger. As soon as the famous woman walked away I asked the host of the party how old he thought she was. "She is," he paused carefully, "of a certain age." I'm not sure what that means. Was it a compliment? An attempt to be respectful? Turns out, neither. His explanation: "It means she's past her use-by date."
Oh, well, THAT explains it. Then I looked up Helen Mirren on Wikipedia to see how old SHE is, because she certainly doesn't look like she's past her use-by date. She's 64 and still sexy. I'm sure she's had plenty of plastic surgery, but she doesn't look all weird (like Cher or Joan Rivers). I suppose it would be easier to allow yourself to grow old if you had all that botox and plastic surgery to help you along the way. Or would it?

There is a real benefit to being a woman of a certain age and becoming invisible. It's even better than having an invisibility cloak, because you can just leave the makeup behind, the striving to catch someone's eye, and enjoy your life, just as it is. What do you think?