Monday, August 30, 2010

Home again

I was gone less than a week, but it amazes me how quickly I slipped into my old family role, how well it fit around me when I stepped off the plane and caught sight of my sister Norma Jean. The time with her, my brother-in-law Pete, Allison and her new baby consumed me for five days. I didn't feel like I had ever been anywhere else.
Sisters in the Pentagon Dining Room, photo by Pete
I never feel like any time has passed when I see Norma Jean, because in my mind's eye, the person she is, her essence, is continually present in my heart, and I don't remember that we haven't seen each other for years. We take up where we left off as though it was yesterday. We laughed a lot, cried a little, and both made cooing noises over Lexie, the newest member of our family. Norma Jean is now a grandmother and I have another great-niece.

Pete and I connected in a way we haven't before, and I think airing some old resentments helped, not to mention that we all feel the number of times we will be together like this are dwindling. His COPD has advanced somewhat, and for years now he has mentioned that we might not see each other again every time we have gotten together. This time I felt he might be right, and it made every moment we were together very precious and poignant. All this going on with beautiful Lexie brand new in the world for us to enjoy and share.

When we were little, Norma Jean and I were together all the time. As we moved from place to place with our parents, the constant presence of the other helped to shield us from the changes. We were always there together. Daddy traveled a lot, but Mama didn't work outside the home and we had a family. Allison told me that today 4 out of 10 children are raised by a single mother. That is so different from the way it was when we were young.

I wrapped myself in the family feeling during the days I spent there, and I wondered several times why I didn't miss Bellingham or Smart Guy. Now I realize it was because every moment was filled with each other, not to mention the care and feeding of a two-month-old infant.

And how quickly it fell away the closer I got to home. Arriving at SeaTac at 8:00 pm, I still had to catch the 9:00 pm Airporter to Bellingham, with another couple of hours of travel ahead of me. By the time I was picked up at the Bellingham Airport by Smart Guy, I had one leg in each reality. The air of Washington State is so different from that of Washington, DC. Breathing it for half a day now has almost cleared out the DC vibes.

When I walked in the door, I felt I had arrived at home. Then I saw a note next to my iMac keyboard, and I realized that many of the things Smart Guy does for me every day become invisible and unappreciated when taken for granted. I was filled with gratitude that even while I'm not around, the computer is taken care of, the birds fed, and my plants watered. He's a keeper.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pentagon ceremony

Other than meeting Lexie, the other reason that Norma Jean, Pete and I were all here in Alexandria with Allison was to attend the Pentagon ceremony honoring her for becoming a Lt. Colonel in the Army. She paid for my ticket here using her Alaska Airlines miles; Norma Jean and Pete drove here from Florida, and today we participated in a very moving ceremony at the Pentagon, where Allison works.
As we entered the Pentagon to get our Visitor badges, I took this picture of BIL Pete and sister Norma Jean holding niece Allison's Class A jacket with Major oak leaves on it. These very same insignias belonged to our father, who was a Major in the Air Force. After Allison treated us to a wonderful lunch in the Pentagon dining room, we all gathered in her office for the ceremony, which was very touching, to tell you the truth.
The colleagues that Allison works with here in the Pentagon gathered on a Friday afternoon to honor her, with perhaps 30 of us there, along with her family. I met some really wonderful people. Allison also brought Lexie, and many of the women vied with each other to hold her during the ceremony.
General Farrisee spoke to us about Allison's achievements, how she was singled out to be the only person in her specialty to receive this promotion before her peers. After the General spoke to us about why Allison stood out from the crowd, Allison had arranged for the three family members to participate in the ceremony: Norma Jean and I removed our dad's Major leaves and replaced them with the silver Lt. Colonel leaves, while her father replaced the insignia on her Army Combat Uniform (ACU) and her beret. Then General Farrisee administered the Oath of Office, and I have to say I teared up and tried hard to keep from crying.
Then Allison, the newly minted Lt. Colonel, spoke to all of us about what it means to her. After this final part of the ceremony, everyone was invited to have cake and refreshments, and we all chatted with each other. Lois, a wonderful older woman who is the primary Executive Assistant to General Farrisee, expertly calmed Lexie. Allison received a handshake from all of her peers: a receiving line, if you will.
This picture of the family was taken by one of the soldiers: me, Pete, Allison and Lexie, and Norma Jean. Although I was dubious about this ceremony, I cannot tell you how honored I felt at the end of it to have been part of it and part of this family. Many times during this afternoon, I thought of my son Chris and how he would have loved to be here, and I was proud of him once again and his service, as well as my beautiful and accomplished niece, Allison.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Family interlude

Sometimes you need to get away just to realize how much your life has changed from what it used to be. I grew up in a large family, and I was accustomed to having lots of people around, barking dogs, people talking at the same time, and just general family chaos. I love it -- in small doses.
My life today is usually so quiet and serene, with the racket of the birds on the front porch the loudest sound I hear, mixed with the far-off sound of the train whistle and occasionally traffic sounds when the wind comes from the north. After an uneventful flight, I arrived late last night into a full house. This is my niece Allison with her new baby Lexie, who in this picture is quiet and nestled in her SwaddlePod. My sister Norma Jean and Allison gave Lexie a bath this morning, and I took some pictures.
Lexie was born six weeks early, but she is gaining weight quickly on Allison's milk. In this picture, you can see what seems to be a long-suffering baby submitting to these ministrations. She never cried at all during the bath, reminding me that my sons both hated to be submerged in water. Not so Lexie. After the bath, she was dressed up in this adorable outfit.
Lexie was born with a birthmark on her forehead which gets quite red and pronounced when she's been crying, but the doctors say it should fade before her second birthday. She is a beautiful child and it's sure been nice getting to know her. And being submerged in this family interlude. More to come.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Leaving on a jet plane

Alexandra Petra Stewart
Today I'm going to travel from the West Coast to the East Coast to meet this gorgeous young lady, Lexie, born June 18, 2010 to my niece Allison. My sister Norma Jean and BIL Pete (the grandparents) are already there; it's at least their second time to meet her.

I'll be taking my laptop and hopefully I'll be able to put up a post or two during my trip, but I'm not sure whether things will work as advertised, ya know.

In any event, I'll be back home on Monday, August 30, and if you don't see me visiting your sites and leaving my usual comments, that's why.

Fortunately for the birds, Smart Guy is taking over their care and feeding while I'm gone. It's interesting to realize how much of a job it is. I don't want any little fledglings to miss their breakfast just because I'm elsewhere!

For those of you who follow Jan Mader (Ignite to Write), she's home from the hospital after her surgery. I'm also holding Robynn in my thoughts as she goes under the knife. She promises to share all the gory details on her blog in the future. Until later...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Think skydivers are crazy?

Gladys Roy & Ivan Unger, c. 1927, photographer unidentified
Yeah, many of you guys think we skydivers are crazy, but look at this picture! These two may be tethered to the plane (or maybe not!), but neither of them is wearing a parachute, and they did this all for the photo op, or maybe they were paid for it. But I'd guess it was just for the thrill of it, or maybe in response to a challenge. The picture is pretty darned spectacular, though. The whole sport of wing walking began in 1918 when a guy named Ormer Locklear wowed a group of spectators by climbing out on the wing of his plane in flight, which caused others to try to outdo him.

I remember years ago hearing about the first woman to jump from an airplane, and it turns out she had a whole lot of history before that happened. Tiny Broadwick made the first freefall jump by anyone, ever. She had been making static-line jumps from balloons for years. The story is here, from that link to Parachute History:
In 1914 Broadwick gave the first demonstration of a parachute jump to the US government. The first four jumps were static line jumps. On the fourth jump the static line tangled with the aircraft so on the fifth jump she decided to not use the static line. She cut the static line so that it was long enough for her to pull the parachute pack open after she was clear of the airplane. This was the first premeditated FREEFALL jump by anyone.
 Tiny was called that because she was just a little over 4 feet tall and weighed 85 pounds. At the age of fifteen, she started jumping from balloons hanging on what looked like a swing. She was not wearing any type of harness, just sitting there during the ascent. Originally from North Carolina, she settled in Southern California later in life, and her history was totally unknown until a skydiver (Dave Burt) tracked her down and started taking her around to local drop zones and adventure clubs. Smart Guy met her several times, and he said it was truly amazing to see these big burly skydivers standing around listening to this little old lady tell stories of derring-do that made their jaws drop. Her parachutes have been donated to the Smithsonian, and in 2003 the North Carolina Historical Society dedicated a marker to her memory.

Maybe when I retire from skydiving altogether I can take up tennis.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fogeys in the Fog

Last year, when I went on this hike with the Senior Trailblazers, it was sunny with views. (That link shows you what we didn't see today.) Here's Norm, one of nineteen Seniors who headed up to Skyline Divide on a day that was projected to be cloudy and maybe even rain in the morning, with partial clearing in the afternoon.
We quickly separated into a few separate groups, as our usual pacesetter, Al, wasn't with us today. Here's the lead group as I began to fall back and slow down, since the hike begins quite uphill right away. The temperature was wonderful, cool with no sun, but I still couldn't keep up with the leaders. The fog would begin to lift and then fill in again, but we were hopeful that we would have at least a few peeks at the view before lunch. It was not to be.
At noon, as we settled in for lunch, the fog came and went without giving us the slightest hint of the major mountains very nearby. The good part is that a very slight breeze kept the bugs at bay while we ate, and we saw a couple of marmots on the hillside. We enjoyed a stimulating conversation about new local eating places and the benefits of different camera equipment, but we didn't stay for long. It began to feel a little cold: the mist, the breeze, the temperature of 53 degrees.
Since Al wasn't with us, we decided to throw all our garbage down the ravine. He's a stickler for staying on the trail and carrying out our trash. This is for you, Al, to show you why we need you to keep us honest! (We didn't really, but it made for a great picture!)

We moseyed slowly back down the trail, having covered a little more than seven miles and a little more than 2,000 feet in elevation gain and loss before reaching our cars. I stopped several times to take pictures of the flowers, most of which I won't post here. (You can see them on that Trailblazers link on the right-hand side of my blog.)
Without the view, but with exercise, conversation with some cool people, and a chance to take these pictures, I was happy when I reached the trailhead and the cars. However, in the immortal way of the Universe, by the time we were ready to head back, the skies began to clear. This picture was taken on our way back down to the main road:
I'm sure that the hikers coming up the trail as we were heading down got to see some incredible views (which I was hoping for), but nevertheless I had another great day with my hiking buddies, got some fantastic pictures, and am feeling renewed, content, and happy. I hope you are, too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Winter's Bone

Tonight my friend Judy and I went to the local art venue to see Winter's Bone, a movie set in the Ozarks and adapted from Daniel Woodrell's novel by the same name. He has coined the phrase "country noir" to describe his rather dark crime novels set in the south.

It was riveting, and if you get a chance to see it and can handle some pretty strong stuff, the performance by Jennifer Lawrence is simply amazing. She plays Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old who is raising her two younger siblings and caring for her mentally absent mother. You find out that her father is a meth dealer and has put up their house as collateral to bail himself out of jail. He disappears soon after, and she needs to find him or all of them will be thrown out. I found that Rotten Tomatoes (my favorite place to find reviews) gives it a 95% freshness rating. (The link takes you to the review page.) A review by Michael Smith in World Scene sums it up well:
The character that Lawrence creates, fearless and full of moxie, is nothing less than a heroine. Some people live in the middle of nowhere to do things they don't want people to see; reports of rural crime and meth labs fill newspaper pages. But the real stories are those like Ree's, of a selfless young woman fighting for nothing less than the survival of herself and three other family members who may or may not break free of the area's cycle of drugs and violence.
I was fascinated by the actress playing Ree and found that she just had her twentieth birthday and has starred in several other parts already. I found a really good interview with her on Black Book, with a title I couldn't resist: Jennifer Lawrence dishes on 'Winter's Bone' and stripping for Esquire. The film won the Grand Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival, and when she was asked (in the article) how she felt when she heard about the win, she said,
I just started bawling. I had such an ‘actress’ moment. I was there for the premiere of the movie, but then I went home. My mom was looking at it online, and then I started hearing Parker Posey describing the movie, and I just bawled. And then Lauren Sweetser, who plays Gail in the movie—we became real-life best friends on the set and have been ever since—we called each other and just started screaming.
She also said one of the reasons she had a racy photo shoot with Esquire is that she doesn't want to get typecast as the girl from "Winter's Bone." She wants to actually wear makeup in a movie and show that she can also portray a sexy woman. And from this picture, I'd say she should have no problem doing that.

If you get a chance to see the movie, it's worth it, although country noir is not easy fare, by any means. It is not my favorite genre. However, I got to experience this life and forgot I was even watching a movie, I was so engrossed. I'd also be interested to know what you thought of it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Senior skydiving

I had to laugh when I saw this article in the local newspaper about a 97-year-old man who made his first skydive at Skydive Snohomish where Smart Guy and I jump regularly. This picture shows me under my Stiletto 135 in the front, and him under his Stiletto 170 behind me. (A Stiletto is a style of parachute manufactured by Performance Designs; click to enlarge any picture.)

If you read that article, you'll see that the Drop Zone owner requires all customers older than 65 to get clearance from their doctor. Yesterday while we were at the DZ, I asked Tyson if he wanted one from our doctors; he smiled and said it wasn't necessary. Then I realized that we are indeed the oldest active skydivers out there.

We each made three jumps yesterday and had a great day. We both would have made another one, but the plane was temporarily suspended from operations while they checked out a possible oil leak. Even though the oil pressure and all systems looked good, the pilot and Tyson took precautions so there wouldn't be any problems with the plane. Instead of staying around (it was already 4:00 pm), we took ourselves off the load and headed home. It's always a satisfying feeling to have had those jumps and a good day playing in the sky with friends. I'm sure Linny and Christine stayed to make as many jumps as they could before the sun went down yesterday.

We have more than an hour's drive home in pretty heavy traffic, so it's not much fun to stay until the very last minute. With so many skydives under my belt, I'm no longer hungry for every last jump. Yesterday, Jennifer Kemp borrowed one of my many jumpsuits so she can make her 100th jump today using it. I would say she looks quite fetching in it, don't you think?
She still doesn't have her own jumpsuit, as they tend to cost a fair amount (around $300-$400), and I haven't used this one for years. But I still carry it around with me because it provides me with more range when I wear it; I fall more slowly in it. I am gradually populating the DZ with my jumpsuits, since my old instructor suit is being worn by Christine until hers arrives. I've got five jumpsuits and these days I only use two of them. Here's Christine:
One of the reasons I don't use this one much any more is because it's black and quite hot to wear in the heat of summer. It also has all those advertisements on it which I used to think were really cool, but these days not so much. When you're almost 68 years old, the only thing you want to advertise at the DZ is that you're still there! And active! BTW, if you're interested, I wrote a post about how I became a skydiver over on my other blog back in January. I seem to have some followers who don't know the story.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Railroad Grade

Fourteen Senior Trailblazers headed up what to me was a new hike, Railroad Grade. Last year, we went to Park Butte, which splits off at the meadow; Park Butte goes to the left, and today we went to the right, up Railroad Grade. With a name like that, I thought an old railroad went up to a mine, but it's actually a glacial moraine, with the remnants of what was once a huge glacier (Easton Glacier) on one side with a pretty impressive drop-off, and on the other a steep hillside covered with wildflowers.
Once we had traveled somewhere around three miles or so and had gained around 2,000 feet in altitude, we came up to a view below us and suddenly, I could hear the sound of the glacial melt cascading down the ravine, with an amazing view in every direction. This railroad grade is a popular route for climbers wanting to get up to the top of Mt. Baker, and I can see why. The trail goes right to the edge of the glacier, but you need to stop before you get to it unless you are prepared with ice axes and crampons. We saw lots of people heading in the glorious sunshine up to some spot beyond where we went.
This picture looks up the trail toward the Black Buttes, hidden at present in clouds, with the edge of Mt. Baker to the right. At this point we were at 5,300 feet of elevation, and with the breeze blowing and the exposure on two sides, it was exhilarating, to say the least. Here I am with Mt. Baker behind me, the glacier on the lower flanks of the mountain.
After spending some relaxing time in the sunshine, the light breeze, with the breathtaking view, we headed back down the trail, being careful to watch our step at the treacherous spots. Mostly it was only a problem if I didn't concentrate on the trail below me; otherwise I had little difficulty with the exposure. Half of our group only came to the beginning of the grade and then headed back down.
This photo shows that most of the trail was pretty wide and easy to travel, and the spots that were only a little more than a foot wide with a drop-off on both sides were not ones where I felt comfortable stopping to take pictures! It took all my concentration now and then.
There is one stream crossing that is usually somewhat of a problem, but two young members of a trail crew had just put this temporary bridge across the stream, and we had no trouble getting across. It is not always this easy; Al was there a month ago and without this bridge it took a bit more effort to cross.
Last year, when we went to Park Butte, we hiked up to this lookout cabin, which I captured today with my telephoto lens. This link takes you to last year's hike, and the second picture on that link shows this cabin as we approached it from below. Remember, any picture can be enlarged, and suffice it to say it was a fabulous day in the sunshine, with good friends and great weather!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Our Skytrain day

Typical shop in Chinatown, Vancouver BC
In anticipation of some friends coming to visit next month, today Smart Guy and I went over the border to Vancouver, BC, and rode the Vancouver Skytrain to Chinatown. Although the two of us have visited Vancouver in our car a time or three, it's a whole different experience when you ride the wonderful Skytrain to your destination. You are not encased in the walls of your car but are out there sitting with the populace, listening to Mandarin, Cantonese, and what I think was Portuguese on the Skytrain. Not to mention Canadian English, eh?
We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant (see above), and the view out the window shows Pender Street, unless we took a turn that I forgot. Anyway, the food was fine, but next time we will try Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant on Pender. It was closed when we wandered by, and we ended up in this place, but after checking out the menu, next time we will try Foo's.

The Skytrain was really an experience. For $6 we parked our car in the Surrey Skytrain lot, where we could leave it for up to 12 hours. We bought an all-day ticket for the Skytrain, which cost us each $7, and it includes all-day transfers up and down the line, as well as unlimited rides on any Vancouver buses. The unfortunate part for us is that by the time we wandered around Chinatown, getting lunch and taking in the sights, we didn't have much energy left over to catch a bus to, well, anywhere.
Once we returned to the Skytrain terminal, we checked to find what train we would need. At the top is our current stop, Stadium-Chinatown, and we only needed to catch an Expo line train, which would take us back to King George, the last destination on the line. We found our car easily, and after having almost six full hours on our adventure, we drove across the border with our trusty Nexus passes and headed home. It was a great day, and I want to say thank you also to Jo, a blogging friend who lives in Vancouver, for her supportive and descriptive phone conversation last night.
Our first, but not our last, Skytrain day! On another note, I ordered this light beer for lunch, which I learned to love during my trips to China. Now I'm home, needing to rest up for tomorrow's hike to the Mt. Baker High Country!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My own Eye Catchers

I have been oohing and aahing over Hilary's pictures over at The Smitten Image. She has the most amazing eye for seeing the beauty in the everyday, the things around us all the time. I was so inspired that I grabbed my camera and headed out in the rain. Roses, actually every wet flower, are enhanced by raindrops. This next one looked to me like an eye with a tear.
When you look at the flowers in context, however, they are also really beautiful. By the time I took this last rose picture, I figured it was time to head over to the Food Co-op to score breakfasts and take them home to share with Smart Guy.
That brilliant red shows up so much better with overcast skies, too. Remember you can click any picture to enlarge and admire. Outside the store, I saw this bike stand in the rain, sans bikes, but I loved the heart and wet purple paint.
Although I took several pictures inside the store, none of them were really special, even to me (and I'm the artist!). I did, however, look up as I was leaving and see this crow dipping his beak in the rainwater coming down the spout.
While wandering around looking for pictures, a deer sprang out of the bushes at me, but by the time I grabbed the camera, turned it on and looked around, he was gone. I think I did see a few white spots on his side, but I couldn't be sure. All in all, it was a good way to start my Sunday, and I will continue to learn from Hilary how to see what is in front of me all the time.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yellow Aster Butte

Today, twenty Senior Trailblazers met at the Senior Center to carpool up the Mt. Baker Highway to begin our hike to Yellow Aster Butte. We had so many that we took five cars to the trailhead. Last year, almost exactly a year ago, we experienced a hailstorm on our way back down, and I wrote about it here. Today, however, the bugs were out in force but nowhere near as as bad as last year, and we had no hail. What we did have, instead, is haze from smoke, both from fires in British Columbia and also Russia, where smoke is entering the stratosphere and heading over here. You can see a slight haze in this first picture (click to enlarge), but it doesn't detract from the scenery.
In this picture, however, you can barely see our beautiful Mt. Baker because of the smoke and haze. It was really a little depressing. But the hike, up over three miles and 2,000 feet, was only tolerable because of my companions. Think of it: hiking in the heat, bugs assaulting you every few seconds, sweat dripping into your eyes, your aerobic limit almost at the limit. But I wasn't alone, I had nineteen others with me, most of whom where in the same boat as me.
One of my favorite couples: Linda and Ward, whom I affectionately refer to as the Cleavers, at our lunch spot, with a beautiful view even if a little hazy. We stopped and ate, and I felt better immediately. Some of the more ambitious of the group (only five out of twenty and I wasn't one) decided to hike up to the butte, another mile and maybe 900 feet of elevation. It looked nice, but not THAT nice.
That's the butte up there. As you can see, it was a bit of a hike from my location. I loved the clouds so I took this picture, but I had no desire to go any further. Instead, I took pictures of flowers and saw these incredible swirly things that reminded me of something from Dr. Seuss. Anybody know what they are?
So, all in all, it was a good day, around 7 miles total, especially sitting here eating my wonderful dinner prepared by Smart Guy, after a shower which washed away the bug spray, sunscreen, and sweat... and sipping a glass of wine. Life's good.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Watching the show

All of these pictures were taken from my desk, looking out at the front porch. These sparrows are taking a bath, and if birds can have expressions, these birds are, well, happy. I can't say I appreciate these guys as much as some of my other birds, because they tend to crowd out the more well-behaved ones and hog all the sunflower seeds. House sparrows were introduced in this country during the 1850s to control insect pests. From my bird book:
Not a true sparrow, but a weaver-finch from Eurasia and northern Africa, the House Sparrow immediately began to exploit human-modified habitats after being introduced into the US. This bird has a knack for colonizing far-flung settled areas and usurping territory from native species. Many people have seen this bird cleaning up discarded scraps around fast-food restaurants.
I stopped putting out seed that was scarfed up immediately by the House Sparrows, but I sure don't want to stop supplying black-oil sunflower seed, because the delightful chickadees and nuthatches like them also.
This is a black-capped chickadee, I think. I thought with all this color it must be a chestnut-backed chickadee, but my bird book doesn't show either one exactly. He's really friendly, though, and I think if I were to sit quietly for long enough with my hand filled with seeds, he would eventually come over and take one.
You can see the nuthatch has a much shorter tail and a little longer beak. This one has a seed in his beak making it look longer than it is. I took this picture this morning, and you can see that the sunflower seeds are pretty much gone from the feeder, thanks to the unrelenting sparrow hordes. I have now put out a small amount twice daily, and when it's gone, I would love to say it's gone, but frankly, I'm such a softie I end up putting out more. But much more parsimoniously than before!
Most of the food I provide is for these goldfinches. The male is much more brightly colored, and an occasional pine siskin shows up, as well as other finches. I have two nyjer thistle socks (like this one) and an upside-down feeder that has both small chips of sunflowers mixed with the nyjer. The sparrows can't use it, though, as they cannot hang upside down like the finches, chickadees, and nuthatches.
We also have some downy woodpeckers who come to the suet feeder. I believe this is a new one, he seems smaller than the others I've seen, but he spent quite a bit of time today chomping down the suet, as well as rat-a-tatting this tree. It's amazing to think of how it must feel to bore a hole in a tree with your head!

The other birds I see often on my porch are the spotted towhee (he's there right now), the beautiful Northern Flicker, who also loves the suet feeder, and this little guy, who I think is a juvenile grosbeak, but I can't be sure. His coloring doesn't look like the pictures, but look at that beak, what else can it be?
Anyway, I am enjoying the show, and this hobby of mine has grown beyond anything I thought it would be in the beginning. I haven't seen my hummingbird around since the flowers that attracted him have finished blooming. I put up the hummingbird feeder, but I keep changing the elixer without having had a visitor. And of course, my old friend the squirrels have kept me on my toes. What a well-visited front porch I have!