Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lots of good people in the world

The ladies enjoying coffee after our six-mile walk
This New Year's Eve morning I went off to walk with the Fairhaven Walkers, exactly a week from the date of the smashed window and wild ride into theft, loss, and confusion. When I set out in the dark this morning to the meeting place for our walk, I stopped by the post office to check the box. I hadn't yet received a new debit card, so the money in my brand-new bank account was not accessible to me. But there at the post office was a registered letter and a helpful clerk who went and got it for me, before the post office was even officially open. That was nice of him. Inside the letter was my new debit card. How nice!

And I also found another interesting thing in my post office box: an envelope without a return address, sort of thick. Here is what it said on the back of the envelope:
"Found on Samish Way near Elks Club"
My checks! Of course this account has now been closed, so we'll just shred these checks, but some nice person found them and put two of their Forever stamps on the envelope and sent it to the post office address on my checks. Wasn't that a nice thing to do? No checks were used or taken, so I am glad to think that perhaps these thieves were looking for my credit and debit cards. The fact that they also got my iPad2 and camera were a bonus find, I suspect. (The backdrop behind the envelope is January's Parachutist, which was also in the post office box.)

When we gathered this morning at 8:00am, I told the ladies about last week's theft, because they had all been there, too, but it was me who was victimized. They listened with gasps of incredulity, because it could have been any one of them. One lady who was parked next to me saw the smashed-out window when she went to leave. Most put their purses behind the driver's seat and push them down out of sight. No more. They will all make changes in the way they handle their valuables, so this makes me very happy. Some good has already come from this.

I also bought this anti-theft device to put onto my steering wheel. Although it looks cumbersome, it's easy to take on and off. I put it onto the car when I'm parked at home, since they know my address and have a key to my car. Some people have suggested leaving no valuables in your car at a trailhead and opening the glove compartment to show any would-be thieves that there is nothing worth taking. I'm not sure how I will handle that, but now my driver's license and credit cards are on my person, not ever to be left in my car again.

My friend Teresa Evangeline has a wonderful post on her blog today, and it gives me a sense of what I want to strive for in the coming year. She calls it "In the Living Room of the World," and lists four important tenets that she has tried to follow ever since she read the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. I found this post especially inspiring, but anyone who follows her knows this post is not an unusual one for her. She's a real find.

So now I believe I can put this incident in my life to bed and begin anew at the turning of the new year. The walking group always ushers in the new year at Lake Padden with a celebration after a walk, so they will be meeting there tomorrow morning. My friend Peggy has offered to come pick me up if I don't feel safe leaving my car parked there, but I've thought about it and realize that I am not vulnerable now in the way I was before. All valuables will be with me and not in the car, so I'll join the celebration and put the past year behind me. I do hope that all of you will have a wonderful and joyous celebration tonight.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stimpson Nature Reserve

The Senior Trailblazers were given a short respite from the constant rain we've been having lately here in Bellingham. Sixteen of us gathered at the Senior Center under clear skies, but it was obvious that the weather would be changing soon. Fortunately we didn't have far to drive and had a very nice trail to hike on. I found this link giving some information about the Reserve:
The forest is largely undisturbed and displays characteristics of an old-growth forest, including douglas fir trees over 400 years old, a wide diversity of tree species, snags and decaying logs, and a complex architecture of canopy, understory, shrub layer, and tapestry of the forest floor.
The various trails cover around four miles, so we started out taking a 2.5-mile loop twice around, giving us just under seven miles total, with a few hills and valleys, but nothing like our usual half-mile of elevation gain and loss. It was a wonderful day, and I got to visit with my old BFF Diane, who winters in the warm climate but is here for the holidays. This picture of her and my new friend Holly shows that it was not a cold and wet day at this point.
Diane, me, Holly
Am I really that short? (Yep, dang it.) The pictures are taken with my old camera, which works just fine for the blog, but I will replace the stolen one with an even better zoom for bird pictures. You can see I look a bit tired from the ordeal of the last few days, but I am continuing to recover. I hope you will read my previous post, if you haven't already, for the important lessons of vigilance to keep you relatively safe from fraud. Lots of valuable information was left in the comments, too.
The clouds came in and the skies began to darken, as you can see here. By the time we thought about making a third time around the loop (visible in the first picture if you enlarge it), the rain was coming down pretty seriously, so we opted to head back to the Senior Center to share our lunch in a nice warm setting. We did the same thing last week, one benefit of going out on nearby hiking trails and taking shorter trips.
Peggy is standing by one of the two ponds in the Reserve, which apparently supports beaver activity, but we didn't see any evidence of them. This picture was taken just before that light rain began. No sign of the sun or wildlife, other than the runners that kept passing us by. One guy we saw zip by us several times. A wonderful place to re-create in nature. I'm happy I get to hang out with all these old folks!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Things are looking up

These tulips from last spring just made me smile, as I looked for a nice picture to dress up my blog post. Hope they do the same for you. Things are indeed looking up, since today the window on my car got fixed, I have a new bank account, and the insurance claim has been completed with my insurer. Although the replacement of the window didn't meet the deductible, it feels so NICE to have my car usable (and invisible) again. I also got my driver's license renewed and drove around today in my repaired car, the first day since "it" happened last Saturday. So yes indeed, I am feeling so much better today. My insurer even paid for the cost of the stolen chocolate bar.

Last night I also slept the best I have in days. Some of my blogging friends have real difficulty sleeping, so today I am feeling much more understanding, after two nights of anxious tossing and turning. Last night, however, I turned a corner, and today my life feels like it's getting back on track. I can actually start thinking about other things. I've learned some valuable lessons. Here are a few.

This kind of theft is increasing exponentially as people get more desperate. The thieves ALWAYS fill their car with gas as their first move. A red flag is when they fill two or three cars all at once. Women are often targeted, because they carry a purse and usually leave it in the car when exercising. They watch for that. The trunk is a better option, but the police told me if I leave valuables there that I place it BEFORE arriving at my destination, so that nobody sees me open the trunk. Covering your valuables with a coat or a pillow is also a red flag to the thieves.

Women in grocery stores are a target because they leave their purses in the basket as they peruse the shelves. This is when they will walk right up and take your purse while your back is turned. The policeman told me of a woman just today who accidentally left her wallet at Home Depot, and by the time she found where it was, more than $2100 had been charged to her account.

There are two kinds of theft: property and identity. Both are felonies, but identity fraud needs to be handled separately, since police cannot take your word for what happened, your bank needs to give you a detailed report of what happened with your cards so you can make a separate fraud report. The only important thing I still have to do is to get ahold of and use their free report to find if anybody is trying to set up new accounts in my name. They offer a free 30-day fraud alert to make sure nobody is trying to steal my identity. That's my task for this week.

What I am hoping is that my misfortune will serve to warn some of my beloved community to protect yourself from this happening to you. The biggest shock I received today when I turned in the police report is to learn that here, in Bellingham, more than 40 to 50 of these thefts happen every single day! With the police departments being cut back, there are fewer and fewer enforcement officers to follow through to catch these criminals. They get away with it, sometimes until they must feel they are entitled to our stuff. What can we do to change this scary trend?

One of the most important things I've learned in the last few days is that yes, it's a violation of my life, but move on and do not let myself become a victim of identity fraud! The number of people who have told me of their own experiences makes me realize that suspicion is a more reasonable response than trust when somebody calls, or emails, or pretends to be offering something that seems too good to be true.

If you can convince me that this is the wrong choice, I'm all ears. You will be talking to a disillusioned Pollyanna...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A better day today

I just read my Christmas Eve post and really am looking for ways to move beyond the event, so I would like to give my dear blogging friends a picture from last winter, of this lovely grey jay, a gentle reminder of all the beauty in the world. The trekking poles add just enough color to the picture to make it one of my favorites.

I'm much better today, after the shock has worn off and the hemorrhaging of charges on my cards has stopped. The nice people who are allowing me to park my car in such a way that it is safe from vandalism until Tuesday afternoon (when the window will be fixed) reminds me that many people are more than willing to be helpful if asked. People also asked if they got my house key, and no they didn't; I carry a spare car key in the billfold to leave with the auto shop when work needs to be done. The rest of my keys were in my pocket. I'm thinking of having the locks changed in the car so I won't have to keep worrying about it. We'll see.

Last night I woke in the middle of the night and kept going over and over the things in my purse (it's actually a day pack that I use for a purse) and hoping I remembered all the important things. If I had been willing to learn how to download and use the "Find My iPad" software, I could have made it immediately unusable and locked it up tight. Next time, believe me. If you have one, do yourself a favor and learn about it. How much I would have loved to keep them from looking inside it.

And the final coup de grâce was this morning, Christmas morning, when I thought of the special treat I had bought myself: a chocolate bar with 88% dark chocolate. I went to get it... and remembered that it's gone, too. I sighed and gave it to the Universe along with all the rest. Ah, well.

The wind is blowing a gale outside and the birds keep getting blown off the feeder. The rain is coming down sideways, but I'm happily ensconced inside with lots of good food and great companionship. I talked with my brother today and my sister yesterday on iChat and feel a bit on the emotional side, but otherwise just fine. When I read my blogging friends' posts this morning, many of them caused tears to just stream down my face, unbidden. I welcomed them, and the gratitude for my community of dear friends continues to grow. Thank you for being part of my life.

News flash: Update to this blog, 2:38pm PST: My friend Holly (who was with me yesterday on the walk), just came to my house with her partner to bring me THIS! And she had not yet read this post:
So, I guess I was truly able to offer it up, and CiCi's revision to the Universe has made my day. I am just thrilled and feeling really and truly blessed. You might notice one of the chocolates is already eaten. :-)

Enjoy the day in whatever way brings you the most pleasure. That's what I'm doing...

Saturday, December 24, 2011


This morning bright and early I went for my early morning walk with the Fairhaven walking group. It was blustery and rainy at Lake Padden, but this is what I found when I returned to my car: a shattered passenger side window and the pillow that covered my purse/pack on the floor moved aside and my valuables were just gone. Inside was my wallet with credit cards, debit card, checks, and driver's license, along with sundry other things I hope I have remembered.

They also stole my iPad2 and camera, both of which I carry with me almost always. It hurts like the dickens, but the hardest part is the feeling of violation. Feeling that they are looking at my entire life story, with my home address on my license, all my cards simply... gone. Everything that tells people who I am is gone. By the time I had canceled my debit and credit cards, the thieves had gotten six separate charges on them, three on each. They filled up their car with gas, to start, then went off to buy groceries ($80), bop over to Rite Aid ($190), and a quick stop at Starbucks ($180). Figure they got gift cards or something to rack up that amount. A stop at several stores with the credit card, totaling another $350, and by the time they got to Macy's, the nice something they tried to buy for themselves for $518 was denied. I will not have to pay any of the charges, but the crying, the helpless feeling (have I remembered everything?) have not gone completely away yet. It's been six hours since I discovered it.

Having two direct deposits and having to close my checking account... all this pain will continue for weeks, if not months. I also had a key to my car in my wallet, and they know my address. Some nice neighbors have allowed me to park my car in their driveway, with their cars behind and beside mine, so that until the window can be fixed, nobody can take it. I'll get one of those bars you can place on your steering wheel, I guess, so that nobody can drive it away once it's fixed.

And it's Christmas Eve. I am determined to have a good holiday, because I just don't want them to have the satisfaction of destroying me, too. I remember long ago when my mother was robbed, heavy silver and furs all gone, she never got over it. Well, I can replace everything, and I still have a choice to make about how I deal with this misfortune.

The police tell me that this is a common occurrence at Lake Padden. It's shady and the thieves sit in cars with tinted windows, waiting to see you show up and go for a nice walk around the 2.6-mile lake. You won't be back soon. When nobody is coming, they strike quickly. They must have figured that the pillow covered something they wanted. Nothing else was touched.

I have my little camera that I used before I bought my latest one with a zoom, and I still have my iPod, which I'll use. Fortunately Smart Guy wouldn't let me put any critical passwords into my iPad, but they have my email address and are probably going through my pictures and looking for whatever they can find to use before wiping the iPad clean and selling it. This is not helping. Positive thoughts, positive thoughts...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

North shore of Lake Whatcom

Eight of us Senior Trailblazers went out for a nice easy six-mile walk around the north shore of Lake Whatcom. Maggie took this picture of us in the sunshine at the three-mile mark. From here we walked back to our starting place, a nice, flat and easy hike. It wasn't warm, though, even with all this sun. When we started it was 27 degrees F (-5 C) and probably wasn't even above freezing by the time we got back to the cars. It didn't dampen our Christmas spirits, though, as you can tell from all the smiles.
I saw these holly leaves all frosted with ice, looking quite festive. I especially like the one towards the top that was obviously previously tasted. We started walking right around 8:30am and finished by 11:00pm, so it wasn't terribly long. Once the winter sun made it up across the nearby hills, we began to see a little sunshine, but after we turned around we went back into the shadows.
We saw more of that amazing angel hair hoarfrost, and this one (on a piece of bark held up against the light) looks like cascading waves. It's amazing that even a bit of warm breath melts this fragile ice sculpture into nothing at all. It only appears on bare bark, so the cold must pull it out of the unprotected wood.
We passed this waterfall in both directions, and on the way back some of us tried to follow a narrow trail to get a better picture, but it didn't really go anywhere, and this picture taken from the main trail is the best I was able to get. If I were to come back when it was in sunshine, I might have gotten a better shot, but it's not too bad as it is.
It was a beautiful, sunshiny day right at the Winter Solstice (which occurred last night), with long shadows mixed with dappled sun keeping the air frigid. We all headed back to the Senior Center and some of us went inside for a nice warm place to have lunch, while others went out to run errands at this busy time of the year. It is a truly lovely day outside, and I know I would not have ventured out into the cold without the impetus of joining my good friends. Wishing them, and all of you, a holiday season filled with smiles and warmth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lions and iCloud

From WSR Photography
Well, we finally did it! Halfway, anyway. Yesterday Smart Guy uploaded Lion OS 10.7.2 onto my iMac, which I'm using right now, and onto his laptop. That way we can use it and still slip back into our comfort zone with my laptop and his iMac still on Snow Leopard. We resisted getting the new operating system because we were both pretty happy with the old one, and as anybody who has been following the drama of this new system knows, it's not exactly seamless. It's a pretty big change.

However, now that it's on here, the only thing I have to remember is that the scroll button on my mouse now works backwards. Everything seems quite a bit zippier, which is good, and I see I have two new icons in my dock: Launch Pad and Mission Control. They just seem to duplicate other things I use occasionally. Everything I need still seems to be working just fine, so I'm beginning to breathe a sign of relief. So far, so good. I haven't tried some of my apps that I use a lot, such as iPhoto and Flickr, but I can't help but think they've worked out quite a few of those bugs. My sister hasn't converted to Lion yet, because she really likes Quicken and it won't work on Lion. Smart Guy really likes his multiple desktops and thought they would be gone, from what he read, but apparently it's not true. And the brouhaha about the scroll bars missing? They are there on my iMac, so I don't see what the problem is.

But what the whole new operating system is supposed to do is give you the option to put your stuff into the iCloud. It sure sounds airy-fairy, doesn't it? The world of computers is moving so fast these days, I was afraid that if I didn't try to learn about cloud computing, I'd be hopelessly left behind. But the iCloud doesn't sound so wonderful to me. I have learned that the whole idea is to allow me to store data such as music, photos, applications, documents, bookmarks, reminders, notes, books and such and to synch email and calendars on all my devices. Since I currently have three devices (or four, if I count my unused iPod), it sounds pretty cool. The only problem is that I have to LEARN a whole bunch to use it. I'm not exactly sure I want all my pictures to show up on my iPad or laptop, and I don't yet know if I even get to choose. That would take up an awful lot of space, and it sounds a bit like a way to get Apple users to buy more powerful and more expensive machines.

But other than that, I'm pretty pleased that we are stepping into the new era of ubiquitous connectivity and computer power. Way cool!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter solstice

From Astronomy Picture of the Day
Boy, you can sure find some strange stuff on the Internet if you go searching for something as simple as "Winter Solstice." I am sure most of you know that the first day of winter begins when one of the Earth's hemispheres experiences its longest night and shortest day of the year. When you get into higher latitudes (such as where I am at the northern 49th parallel), the days are only a few minutes longer than eight hours, and the nights... well, the nights are VERY long, it seems. But soon now, we will begin the journey back to summer's long days and short nights. That picture above was taken in Tenerife, Canary Islands, during last year's lunar eclipse that occurred on December 21. If you want to know more about the picture, I've linked the Astronomy Picture of the Day that explains it.

I don't know about you, but I find the long nights and short days to be a time to pull inside and ponder the meaning of things. This year, the Winter Solstice will occur at 10:06pm on December 21 here on the Pacific coast of the United States. If you have some time to explore the Winter Solstice link above, you'll find that all over the world in every culture and in most religions, humans have acknowledged a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, gatherings, rituals, or other celebrations around that time. I'm sure there will be plenty of them around Bellingham this coming Wednesday night. You can bet I'll be fast asleep when it comes around this year. Usually if I am awake, I mark the moment.

I've been buried in books and have laid out my knitting needles to start a new project, both things I like to do when it's dark outside. Yesterday I finished Jodi Picoult's latest book, Sing You Home, which I enjoyed immensely. My only problem with her books is that I tend to keep reading until I've finished the story, anxious to find out what happens to her characters. She also keeps you guessing right up to the end.

Our local independent bookstore here in Bellingham, Village Books, gives its clients who sign up for an account 25% off any book in the store during your birthday month. Since I forgot to take my card for the discount, I'm forced to go back for another book before the end of December. You can tell I'm really sad about that (smile). My problem when I go there is trying to leave without taking home too many books. Plus I can bring them back and turn them in for a store credit once I'm finished. Because of that, I no longer write my name inside the books and ask friends who borrow them to treat the books gently.

Surrounded by plenty to read and at least two knitting projects to choose from, I'm feeling quite ready for long midwinter nights. And I have my blogging community of friends who keep me entertained with the comings and goings of their family and friends. For those who are struggling during these long nights, I am keeping you in my heart and will light a candle to push back the dark.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fragrance Lake and Christmas party

Anonymous sign decorator
Thirteen Senior Trailblazers set out to hike the Fragrance Lake trailhead, hoping to be done by noon so that we could all attend Amy's Christmas party at 1:00pm. We started at 8:40am and got to the lake by 10:30, so Al suggested that we go "over the hill" to extend the trip; otherwise we would have been back to the cars by 11:00am. So once we got to the lake, we extended the hike by heading up before we went back down to the trail.
Several of us, including Marjan, wore our Christmas gear on the hike. The hat and earrings are definitely Christmas-inspired. The day was overcast and we started out with a bit of rain, but before we had gone more than a few miles, the rain had stopped. We were relatively warm and comfortable.
The lake behind the raindrops on the foliage pretty much showed what the hike was like today. The main thing was we hoped for a good workout before meeting at Amy's for a party, and that was what we got. Al suggested the extension, and then we missed the original trail, ending up hiking very steeply downhill before joining up at the regular trail. We covered almost six miles and considerable UP and DOWN before heading over to Amy's for the party.
Once we got to Amy's and began our party, all the difficulties of the hike faded away as we ate and drank and appreciated all our friends and family who showed up for the day. We got to visit with family members we had not met before, such as Mike's partner Miriam, as shown below.
It was wonderful to meet partners who we had only heard of second hand. (And it was all good!) At least thirty people showed up at Amy's for this solstice gathering/ end of season extravaganza. And I suspect I was not the only one who overindulged in all the food and drink we brought to share with each other.
Here you see Dorothy, Dan's wife, Steve in the middle (our sometime leader), and Gina, Norm's wife, with the ladies dressed in holiday finery. We had a great day, and now that I am writing my post, I realize how much I appreciate all the friends I've made over the past years, who now feel like family. I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The joy of giving

Scarves at Silk Market, Beijing
When I was in China, I wanted to bring back souvenirs for myself and my friends, and these silk scarves fit the bill perfectly. I think I must have bought, during my six excursions to China, hundreds of different scarves. They were made of silk or pashmina, mostly. (Some were nylon; I bought some pretty ones and gave all the nylon ones away.) I love the feeling of silk. To dress up my outfits at work, I would tie one of these around my neck and make a simple sweater or blouse look much dressier. If you buy several of them at a time, the cost is less than two or three dollars for each one. In China, the shop owners always quote you a very high number at first and bargain down to a fraction of the original asking price.

Dozens of these scarves have been languishing in my closet for years now. I realized recently that they had not been touched since I quit working, so I got out the trusty ironing board and pressed them, wrapped them in tissue paper, sealed the gifts with Christmas stickers, and headed out on the bus this morning.

The two ladies who serve me my latte at the coffee shop got the first of them, and they were both pleased and excited, wrapping them around their necks, looking at themselves in the mirror, obviously happy to have received them. I couldn't believe that giving such a small thing could make so many people happy! Then I went to the Y, and the woman who gives me my towel was the next recipient. She opened it and told me I made her day. By this time the smiles I had left behind me had me grinning, too.

After my workout, I headed over to the Community Food Co-op for some items to make a nice stew of ratatouille. One of my favorite counter helpers got the next one, and she was so thrilled she came around the counter and hugged me, telling me it was the perfect color (it was!) and matched what she was wearing. She asked me to tie it for her, which I did. You would have thought each gift was actually worth more than a few dollars, considering how much enjoyment everyone involved has received.
The ratatouille is now simmering on the stove, looking and smelling good, so the whole experience of today has made me definitely feel part of the 2011 Christmas spirit. In fact, I've had so much fun I'm going to rummage around and see what ELSE I can pass along. What can I rescue from the dreariness of disuse and transform into the joy of giving? I do hope your day is a good one.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tis the season

Wreathes for sale at Farmers' Market
I got up early (even for me) to dress and quietly tiptoe outside to see if I could view this morning's lunar eclipse. The moon was full here on the west coast and the eclipse was complete at just about 5:58am. I thought about going out to Bellingham Bay to see if I might capture a dramatic shot or two, but when I walked outside, the clouds and fog told me I wouldn't get much of a shot, if anything at all. And then the clouds parted as I stood on my back porch, the moon appeared in the sky, almost completely eclipsed. Although I took several shots, none of them were good, since in the dark at full zoom I couldn't hold the camera steady enough. But I watched as the last of the light left the moon, and I gazed at it in wonder. The clouds closed up and covered the moon again. It was as if the sky opened up just long enough for me to glimpse it.
After a nice walk with my usual walking group this morning, I headed over to the Farmers' Market, looking for scenes that would illustrate the season. We only have one more weekend before the Market closes until April of next year. The much-smaller Market was serenaded today by these young musicians. They had just started to play and laughed at their efforts with frozen fingers. The music was so beautiful, though, it brought tears to my eyes. If they made mistakes, I never heard them.
Since there are still plenty of vegetables, I stocked up before heading over to the Y. For some reason, I just couldn't get myself excited about swimming, so I halfheartedly used a couple of the weight machines, took a shower and went home. I like the bicep curl machine and the one called "lat pull-down." Both of them give me a nice "pump" with just a little effort, and since it IS the middle of December, I decided I deserved to bring my veggies home and stay warm and snug in my little corner of the universe for the rest of the day.
I took this picture of my car the other day when the sun was just coming up. (We haven't seen the sun today and aren't likely to.) I thought the patterns in the frost were just beautiful. Smart Guy said the shapes remind him of coronas from the sun. To me, they look like tapestry. Isn't Nature amazing?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pine and Cedar Lakes

Eight Senior Trailblazers headed up to the Pine and Cedar Trail in our usual winter stomping grounds, the Chuckanut trail system. I have loved learning about these hikes, but now I am beginning to know their good and bad points. This one heads very steeply up an old logging road for the first mile or so. I tried to get a picture that gives an idea of HOW steep. This is the best I got. The sun wasn't shining because of the fog, but we knew that eventually it was supposed to be clear.
The humidity and cold temperatures made it difficult to stay warm when we weren't moving. Once in a while the sun would break through the fog, but then it would move back in. As long as we kept going uphill, we were quite warm.
By the time we got to Cedar Lake, we saw that it is beginning to freeze over for the season. I thought this picture of the logs and the ice (and what seems to be possible sun breaks) was rather pretty. It was only 10:00am by the time we got here, so we took a loop around the lake and headed over to Pine Lake. Marjan was caught in the sunlight in this picture and a fortuitous ray of the sun centers perfectly over her head. You can see that the ice in the lake goes all the way across.
We kept seeing what we thought was a fungus growing on bare fallen branches. In the picture below, looks soft and fuzzy, doesn't it? But it's ice! It's called angel hair hoarfrost, I believe. When we tried to touch it, it melted. I took several pictures of it, but this is the clearest one I captured, and it could still be a little better. I was on the ground with my camera, using the macro feature, and by the time I finished taking several shots, I was getting cold. I just had to hope I got a decent picture.
We decided to add an extra mile or so to the hike and headed over to Raptor Ridge. It was almost lunchtime by the time we got here, and lo and behold, the SUN came out and the last of the fog left the scene. I had a chance to catch four of the group enjoying the sunshine.
Behind them, you can see the fog finally blowing away. Although it was sunny, it never got warm, so our lunch wasn't all that leisurely. There are winter days here in the Pacific Northwest when we have both, but today wasn't one of them. The nice part is that it was DRY, and that's always a plus at this time of year. In fact, my new fancy raincoat is beginning to get a reputation for being magical: it's keeping the rain away. Wouldn't that be great? No, I'm sure it will be getting a chance to show its stuff. Just not today. Before the day was over, we had covered almost eight miles and 2,300 feet up and down. A good workout.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Way

I just got home after seeing what I thought was a wonderful movie, The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen's son. According to Rotten Tomatoes, which is linked above, it has an 80% freshness rating. Those who didn't like it thought it was too sentimental and pedestrian. Well, they must not know much about spiritual quests, if you ask me! I've been on a few of these myself.

The movie is about a guy, Tom Avery, played by Martin Sheen, with flashbacks and hallucinations where he sees his son Daniel (played by Emilio Estevez) that shows the relationship the two of them had. Like most fathers and sons, it was complicated. Then Daniel is killed in France on the first day of a 900-mile-long pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago. I had heard of this before, an ancient pilgrimage to the burial site of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It is also known in English as The Way of St. James. This link tells you that it has been traveled by pilgrims for more than a thousand years and has several different starting points, but they all end up in the same place. It has now been named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Anyway. The movie is about Tom going off to France, where Daniel had been caught in a storm and apparently froze to death, to collect his body to bring home. When he sees Daniels's backpack and provisions for the trip, he decides to have the body cremated and walk the pilgrimage himself, with Daniel's ashes. The movie is about the journey that takes Tom from his insular world as a Southern California ophthalmologist who was estranged from his son to a pilgrim attempting to find what his son was trying to teach him about life.

On the way, he runs into three characters who are as emotionally damaged as he is himself, and they become an unwilling group traveling the Camino together. One of my favorite reviews is from Steve Persall, the Tampa Bay movie critic. His full review is here, but I give you a favorite quote:
Like any road trip movie the path is scattered with colorful characters and, in this case, vibrant culture. Estevez stated in interviews that The Wizard of Oz influenced his style, with Tom as a grouchy Dorothy and three traveling companions discovering their hearts, brains and courage.
I really loved this movie, and I am grateful that my independent theater, the Pickford, gives me the chance to see movies that don't always make it into the big theaters. This one deserves to be seen by as many people I can talk into going to see it. Believe me, I'm working on it!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Birds and birding

It's funny that I never really paid much attention to the birds in Boulder. Although I would listen to them on summer mornings, I didn't ever think about feeding them. When I moved to Bellingham, into a nice little apartment with a nine-foot-wide covered front porch, I noticed some pegs that a previous tenant had installed on the side farthest from the front door. I figured they were for flowers, which is a possibility.

Some of the other nearby neighbors had bird feeders, and I enjoyed watching the birds come and go, and before I knew it, I had purchased some bird seed and scattered it on the porch. Almost immediately several birds found the seed, so I took a trip to the local Wild Bird Chalet to learn the do's and don'ts of bird feeding. There is also quite a lot of information on line, and now I'm not only hooked, I found a perfect use for those hooks on the porch: two upside-down feeders (such as the one in the top picture), two suet feeders, and a black-oil sunflower feeder hang from them. One peg is vacant because I discovered that the squirrels can reach it. The others are beyond their reach, as well as protected from the rain, so that the bird seed stays dry, an important aspect to consider here in the Pacific Northwest.
I also learned that when you feed birds, it's important to provide a water source, as they need water to digest the birdseed. And in the winter when the water freezes, it's essential to find a way to keep it from freezing up. That's the reason for the coil under the rock in the picture. It works very well, and it did make me feel much better to give them a water source that stays available, even when it gets really cold. I have a family of Northern flickers, chickadees, goldfinches, bushtits, song sparrows, nuthatches, juncos, and the ubiquitous house sparrows (which travel in huge flocks and try their best to crowd out the native species). That's why I have the upside-down feeders: sparrows are perch challenged and cannot feed on them. They are left to forage with what falls on the ground. The juncos also want what's fallen on the ground. So do the squirrels, but that's another story.

I joined the Whatcom Birds email Listserv hosted at Western Washington University that has allowed me to learn a great deal about local birds, as well as to see pictures of them for identification. Joe Meche, president of the North Cascades Audubon Society, puts lots of pictures on the site that can be downloaded to help identify birds. Other people also put pictures up that give me pleasure, such as this one from Victor Burgett:
Taken by Victor Burgett
He said in the email, "This fierce little bird was quite incensed to meet its reflection in the mirror, and spent a few minutes aggressively attacking it, quickly returning after I shooed it away initially, as I didn't want it to injure itself in the confrontation." I laughed at this description and loved the picture, hoping to use it in a post someday.
Taken by Joe Meche
At first I thought this bird was hurt, but Joe Meche explained, "I observed this Glaucous-winged Gull yesterday afternoon, getting in some serious stretching and preening in the bright sunshine on the lower creek." He captioned it "Gull Yoga," which is quite appropriate, I'd say.

I continue to learn more and more about the birds that visit me, as well as other local wildlife, including the hawks that sometimes come to check out the fat little birds that hang out on my porch. Sometimes they will even venture onto the porch themselves, wondering where their tasty treats went off to. Even though the Northern flickers are big but nowhere near as big as the hawks, the birds know the difference and make themselves scarce when a hawk shows up.

Sometimes a bird will strike my front window hard enough to knock itself out, and occasionally to kill it, although I've put reflective stickers on the window to minimize bird strikes. I take the bird and place it in nearby greenery, hoping that it will be recycled into Nature one way or the other. I love my birds, and I do realize that Nature is not always kind. But it gives me great pleasure to see them, to learn more about them, and to appreciate their winged freedom.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A rutabaga birthday

Today's my birthday, and I got to spend it hiking with the Senior Trailblazers. Before we left the Senior Center to begin our hike, Al told me he had a present for me. He knows I've got a bit of a weird diet and had a difficult time deciding what might be appropriate. He handed me an orange package, which I looked into and spied these... rutabagas! I thought at first they were turnips, but upon a little research, I find I wasn't all that far off. Who gets rutabagas for a birthday present? Me! And the cute card behind them is from a friend I know from my workout class. I guess I must be pretty special to qualify for these two wonderful (and exotic) gifts.
Nine of us hiked up the north side of Stewart Mountain on a trail we call "Olsen Creek," since we pass by or tromp through a good bit of water and mud on this trail with Olsen Creek flowing nearby. Fred pointed out that we also had six women out of the nine, making another sixty-nine. The sun was supposed to be shining, but we only saw a glimpse now and then, and as we ascended, we saw our first snow. I took the picture above, thinking it would be the most we would see. And then we got to 3,000 feet and ran into LOTS of it. Fred took this picture for me, because I wanted to put it on my blog. In 2009, I got this picture in my exercise class, and did something similar last year. It makes me really happy to be doing all this at my advanced age.
After we got this picture, we had a quick lunch. As you can imagine, none of us was really warm, but I wanted to show you my lunch for the day. Because Smart Guy keeps me in great veggies, I had brussels sprouts festooned with red peppers and feta cheese. It was really sublime and looks pretty sitting here in the snow.
We did have some views, even though the sun never really came out until we were descending. Here you can see Whatcom Lake in the foreground and Bellingham Bay behind. The promised sunny skies should be here tomorrow and for a few more days, too.
When we returned to the cars, after covering around nine miles and climbing and descending around 2,500 feet of elevation, Amy, our de facto social secretary, pulled out a bunch of birthday cupcakes, a candle, and everyone sang a rousing Happy Birthday, while I took in all the love and wrapped myself in being the center of attention, my favorite place!
And now I am home with Smart Guy, drinking my well deserved glass of wine while writing this post. I know my friends will be checking to see what I've written, and my blogging friends will comment and wish me many more returns of the day. I am filled with gratitude and even a teeny bit of humility. Thank you, one and all. I am truly blessed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Video chatting and weather forecast

I asked Smart Guy to take a picture of me talking to Norma Jean on iChat today. Ever since I went to visit her in February, I've talked to her this way two or three times a week, and it seems like we are right there together. She's sitting on her back porch in sunny Florida, while I sit at my desk in sunny Bellingham. I like to use the headphones because she can hear me much better, and only my part of the conversation is able to be heard in the living room. Sometimes I think Smart Guy isn't really listening to me, but then he will chime in with a word or two, and I know he's at least partially engaged in the conversation, too.

But it's really between the two sisters. Ever since I was there after her husband Pete died in February, I can be there like this and it doesn't cost us a thing! We also occasionally use Skype or FaceTime, but the quality of iChat on our iMacs tends to be the best. I visit with her, the dogs, and with her son Peter who is staying with her for awhile. He's doing all kinds of work on the house before he intends to go off to California to seek his fortune. (He was laid off in October from his job in Michigan.)

Tomorrow I'll be hiking with the Senior Trailblazers, and we have an amazing weather forecast. I don't know what exactly is going on with this La Niña business, because we don't usually see something like this weather forecast in the first part of December:
Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining! It's going to be a great day with a bunch of great people, as usual. I've now been hiking on Thursdays with my friends for three years now, and although I keep going back on many of the same hikes, they are always an adventure. Tomorrow's post should tell the tale. Until then, I'm wishing for all good things to come your way.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My friend and mentor

I kept his books and reports organized
Today I received an interesting email from Mickey, my old boss, friend, and mentor. I took this picture of him sometime back in the early 2000s sitting at his desk. It's obviously fall, looking at the trees behind him. We didn't dress up at NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research), and the Senior Scientists like Mickey regularly showed up for work in t-shirts, jeans, and Birkenstocks. That big bag by the trash can was one that Mickey carried back and forth with him every day.

I worked for Mickey for almost thirty years, first as his secretary (before they were called administrative assistants) and finally ending up as his writer/editor and essentially his partner in every one of his endeavors. Together we put together many international conferences, and he gave me the opportunity to travel all over the world. We published dozens of books, and I was the person who helped Mickey put into print books and reports we could be proud of. I've written about this at length in my other blog.
Mickey shopping in Hanoi 2006
Mickey would decompress from the stress of being in the front of the room and directing the workshops (usually four days long) by shopping. He found it relaxing and would give presents away to everyone he met. I remember once standing in Bangkok's terrifically crowded Mah Boon Krong shopping center with Mickey, with hundreds of people rushing from one place to another, while he guided me unerringly to his destination, a place where we could get business cards printed up in minutes. He was in his element, and I was just simply overwhelmed.
Mickey also mentored everyone he met, not just me. Once he knew what I was good at, he took full advantage of my talents. These young Chinese students are interviewing Mickey about his work, and I believe he has continued to mentor many of them through email, sometimes for years. Mickey never forgets a friend. Today in his email, he told me of the fate of the last of our colleagues in our now-defunct office. Mickey has finally retired from the frenetic pace he kept up for decades.
I retired from my job with Mickey in March 2008. Mickey took me with him on one last trip that month, this one to Rome, where I had never been before. He had a conference to attend and asked me to go with him and take notes. (It was really because he wanted to give me a gift.) Here he is in front of the Trevi Fountain, a beautiful and ancient place that brings tourists from all over the world to throw coins into the fountain, which is supposed to ensure your return to Rome. I didn't throw one in, so I guess I'm not going back to Rome.

This man changed my life in so many ways. He taught me to believe in myself, and he showed me the world. Although I am three years younger than he, I was always rushing to keep up with him as he strode through the streets of whatever city we were in. Mickey is not only a good person, through and through, but he's the only real Citizen of the World I've ever known.

Probably the most important thing he taught me was learning to give without any thought of return. He has friends all over the world, and I know that if I ever needed anything, Mickey would bend heaven and earth to help me. The email he sent me today reminded me that my blogging friends should know about this great guy, too.