Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last year sure went fast

Seattle Space Needle fireworks
Maybe some day I'll actually get to Seattle to see the New Years 8-minute-long fireworks display from the Space Needle. I doubt it, though, since I'd need to stay up all night, and I can barely make it to 9:00pm as it is! I do get to see all the wonderful pictures the next day, which I always enjoy on the first day of the new year.

I am simply astounded at how quickly the past year flew by. If this is any indication of future annual trips around the sun, I'd better find the global seat belt so I won't get flung off the planet! Today I'll head to the gym for my usual workout, and tomorrow I'll go to Lake Padden to join the Fairhaven walkers for our annual New Years Day trek around the lake, with celebratory coffee and goodies to share afterwards. I'll probably stick around for the polar bear plunge.
Lake Padden Polar Bear plunge 2010
Four years ago, the first year I stayed to watch, I considered maybe the following year I might do it myself. Tomorrow should be around 40 deg F for the plunge, not all that cold... but still. It takes a fair bit of courage, and then you must get out and deal with the aftermath. Yikes!

Whatever you decide to do to begin the new year, I hope it's memorable. Time to trade in the year for a new one, 2014, which I sincerely hope will be wonderful for us all. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Virtual toast

A Christmas toast
On Wednesday, Norma Jean and I shared a virtual toast to the holiday on video chat. Once I'm down there in Florida visiting, we will do this every evening at 5:00pm. I know her glass looks huge, but it's not, really. We both measure out exactly 8 ounces of wine for our evening repast, and once it's gone, it's over until the next evening. I know a serving is supposed to be 5 ounces, but it's not quite enough for me! This is perhaps not a small serving, but it has grown to be my usual daily portion, and so far my liver enzymes seems up to the task.

The widget that I use on my blogs to search for previous posts is broken. When I tried to use it to find that Christmas Eve post last week, I saw that it wasn't working and went over to my other blog to discover that it doesn't work over there, either. It's annoying because I use that feature all the time to link to previous posts over the years.

There is a website for Blogger called "Something Is Broken" and I found that this has been a problem for many other bloggers for a few months now. It might have been broken for that long, too, but there doesn't seem to be anything to do about it except remove it for the time being. Then I discovered another similar code that works somewhat; it links all the posts with the search word in it, instead of just a few lines. I've replaced the broken one with the substitute for now. If you use it and wonder how to get out of it once you've used it, I found that clicking on the banner will take you back. Sigh. It is free, after all, but sometimes Blogger can be a real pain.

My internal clock is kind of screwed up, since Christmas (and, soon, New Years) falls right in the middle of the week, so when I wake up I must puzzle for a minute or two as to what day of the week it is. Tomorrow is Sunday, though, and I'll be heading off to the movies with my friend Judy. Her family is gone and it's time for us to catch up!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Last hike of 2013, first winter hike

Sun, clouds, and mostly dry trail
Eleven Senior Trailblazers met at the Senior Center to hike the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, our usual end-of-year short hike, but Al had other ideas. He suggested that, instead of going twice around the trails at the Stimpson Reserve, we first head over to the Lookout Mountain Preserve, which is nearby, and explore some new trails first. So off we went to enjoy new territory. The temperature was just right as long as we were moving, little to no wind, and the possibility of an adventure!
Al and DJan, taken by Diane
I asked Diane to take this picture of Al and me, and it's not quite in focus, but I thought that perhaps it makes us look a little better that way. For some reason, my cellphone camera is not always focusing well, but it's so easy to use that I never took my other camera out of its case today. We were hiking on a trail called "Lookout Loop" (2 miles), with a side trip to a viewpoint adding another mile.
The fog obscured our view, but it was still pretty
Once we got to the viewpoint, there was nothing to see but clouds. However, while we stood around, drinking water and having a snack, a bit of a view appeared through the mist. I'll have to come back here another time to see what it looks like when there are no clouds. We took another side trip to see a waterfall, but it was hard to get a good picture through the trees.
By the time we got back to the cars, we had traveled close to five miles, and we decided we would wait to have lunch at Geneva Pond at the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve. This sign tells you about the reserve, and we also noticed that we were no longer alone: the parking lot was filled and lots of other people were enjoying the area.
Amy reading about the reserve
It's a beautiful place, even with lots of people sharing it with us, but we didn't want to go far, just to Geneva Pond where we would have our lunch. It's only a short distance in, so off we went. I was surprised to see that the pond was partially frozen over, and with mist rising from it, I was able to capture this very nice picture of a trio of Ferndale ladies.
Linda, Diane, Peggy
Sometimes my cellphone takes great pictures, and sometimes it doesn't. If you compare this with the picture of Al and me, taken with the identical camera, it just makes you wonder what is going on. Maybe it's the same gremlin that makes me forget important things, too. By the time we got back to the cars the second time, we had traveled more than seven miles in total and had enjoyed a beautiful day with great company! Thanks, Al!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

Taken on a snowshoe trip to the High Country
Everywhere across the world, there are children who are excited about their presents and parents hoping to get everything just right. If I were Queen of the World, I would proclaim that every child would go to bed tonight with a full tummy and that there would be peace in the entire world. That's my wish.

A few years ago, 2009 to be exact, I wrote a post about a long-ago Christmas Eve in my family, and I am sharing it with you here again.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One year when I was home visiting my parents and siblings for the holidays, my sister Norma Jean and I went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I think I had been married for some time and away from home for awhile, but I really don't remember when it was for sure. My parents had two distinct families, and the youngest three were all six or under at this time, while Norma Jean and I were adults.

When we went out the door, Mama and Daddy had begun the Christmas Eve preparations for the young ones in the house (my brother and sisters) who had finally gone to bed. Daddy had begun to assemble a bicycle for our brother Buz, while Mama had to finish wrapping and putting Santa's gifts under the tree. It was a warm and happy scene. Off we went to Midnight Mass.

When we returned, the scene was anything but happy. The entire living room was scattered with glasses half-covered in salt (from partially consumed margaritas), and the bike was still only half assembled in the living room. The entire scene was, in a word, a nightmare. And our parents had stumbled into their bedroom and crawled into bed. Apparently in the midst of their tasks, some friends had come over to visit and our parents had gotten quite drunk and forgotten what tonight meant to their young children.

We were aghast. For a few minutes we wandered through the living room and kitchen and wondered what to do. We decided that we would be Christmas elves and fix things. Norma Jean set to the task of reading directions on how to assemble the bicycle, and I began to clean things up: we toiled for several hours before inspecting our work and calling it good. Norma Jean had learned how to follow arcane directions and actually put the bike together! (I was more impressed by this than I let on at the time.)

Well, in the morning the kids came downstairs to find that Santa had indeed come during the night, and that his elves had done their work quite well. It is one of the more satisfying Christmas memories that I share with my sister. We still smile about it. I had to write to Norma Jean to see if my memory of the event matched hers, and it pretty much did. She said,
Maybe that's where I got the start of loving the feeling of accomplishment when I read directions and put things together. . . . We cleaned up and set up the living room to be a real Christmas when everyone got up the next morning. It was certainly memorable.
Over the years, Christmas has lost much of its magic for me. I don't like what I see happening to Christmas these days, but I am sure that there are still many parents, and Santas, and elves, making things happen for others. (Oh, and by the way, I have forgotten what our parents' reaction to all this was, even though I am sure they appreciated the visit from the elves.)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas cheer

A Santa who doesn't need a fake beard
Yesterday outside the coffee shop, our friend Bob took this picture of Gene and me, with the first snowfall we've seen in a couple of years here in Bellingham. Not much, but it's still sticking around a bit, even though the temperature reached a whopping 35 deg F yesterday. Some nearby places got a little more, but we had only two or three inches on the ground before it was all over. Gene hauls his Santa suit out and carries it around in his car at this time of year: you never know when a Santa might be needed.
Leo's birthday cake
Last Wednesday was my friend Leo's fifth birthday. I've known him since he was six months old, and this year I was invited to attend his party. He asked his mom for a rainbow sherbet cake with cherries on top. It was simply fantastic, along with the smoked salmon his dad had prepared, not to mention his homebrew. It's been a week of parties, food, and lots of celebration. Another week of the same lies ahead, but most of the parties I don't miss are behind me now.

I will leave you with a wonderful two-minute-long Simon's cat video from YouTube. It's three years old, but I never fail to enjoy seeing it several times a season. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Easy hike, fun party

Lake Whatcom hiking group (picture by Mikey)
It was pretty frigid this morning, when eleven Senior Trailblazers headed out to Lake Whatcom to make an easy out-and-back of six miles total, before attending our annual Christmas party. It's one I wouldn't miss on purpose. The temperature never got above freezing, so we walked at a pretty brisk pace to keep warm. We knew that we wouldn't be stopping for lunch, since we had all brought something to share for the party at Amy's house.
Comparing our long underwear
A discussion emerged on the trail about what we had decided to use to stay warm under our hiking pants, and I was amazed at the variety: polyester, silk, wool, in varying thicknesses. (I'm wearing the pink ones.) We finished around noon, with the sun making a brief appearance before we got back to the cars. This was the best shot I got of the lake, and it shows the sky beginning to clear.
Lake Whatcom
We made our way over to Amy's house to join her and the twenty-some other Trailblazers and family who gathered for our annual potluck. The food was simply amazing, but none of my pictures were in focus or got anywhere to capturing the incredible variety we enjoyed. Many of us dressed up a bit; Karen made herself this incredible jacket, each individual piece, and then put it all together and lined it with silk. I was so impressed!
Karen's coat of many colors
This picture is the best I got of the table. Just picture this food times ten, and you've got an idea of how much we had to eat. Plus we had beer, wine, juice, and coffee. We visited and ate until we couldn't hold any more, and then we helped Amy clean up.
Steve starting the food line
It was fun to see our fellow hikers and their partners, the spouses who stay home while we gallivant around the hills and dales of our beautiful country. In the winter, we stay close to home, but in the summer we get to see breathtaking vistas, which I try to capture on this blog. Today it was all about family, the kind you make from shared activities. Amy asked us to introduce our guests and she thanked us, one and all, for enriching her life with our presence. I feel just the same! And I was given a special thanks, along with a few others, with this gift:
More than a pound of chocolate!
What a fine gift! I think I will be waiting awhile before I open this, since right now any food at all seems to be only remotely appetizing. It never fails that I eat more than I intend at these gatherings, but it was all so good! And I had to try everything, right? It was a great time, and now I can consider my job done for the day. (Will I ever be hungry again?)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Our electronic world

Gene with his Android tablet at the coffee shop
These days, when I walk into the coffee shop in the morning, I usually find my friend Gene sitting there with his tablet. He used to complain about me always being plugged into my iPad, but now it seems he's gotten the bug himself. He stopped carrying internet in his home, so he waits until he gets to the coffee shop and its WiFi before he reads his email and checks Facebook. Yes, even my Luddite friend Gene has a Facebook page now! Gone are the days when he would scoff at me for my addiction; he's right there with me. And now I have a Kindle Fire which seems to be taking the place of my beloved iPad. The apps for Android tablets (the Kindle Fire is in this category) are different from Apple apps, and I think I might be stuck with the two of them when I'm out and about until I find apps for all my favorite things.

I skipped my exercise class yesterday so that Smart Guy and I could be at the local Social Security Office when it opened. On Friday, we received our notification of benefits for 2014, and we both had some expenses that were unexplained and rather worrisome. They were the same on both of ours, an extra $80 out of each of our benefit amounts. That sort of adds up! We found that whatever the issue was, it had been cleared up by the time we got there. The clerk pulled up our accounts and saw that everything was as it should be, and NOT what had been printed out on our benefit letters.

She also explained that we could check our accounts ourselves at any time, if we wished to set up individual accounts with the SSA. I will do that, but not any time soon, since I'm still a bit shaken up by what happened and not quite ready to verify that she is correct. I won't receive my money until the middle of January, anyway. But what a shock it was. I lost sleep for a couple of nights over the weekend, wondering what was wrong. I slept just fine last night.

Now about that Kindle: I am enjoying it very much indeed. It's cheaper than the iPad mini I contemplated buying, and just the right size for reading books, reading my email when connected by WiFi, and reading websites, just as I do with my iPad. It's quick to respond and definitely a different beast than my iPad. Right now I'm engrossed in a book my sister Norma Jean told me about (a John Grisham novel, Sycamore Row). I've finished more than half of it and find myself being pulled back again and again. That would be just fine if I was traveling or something, but I had to put it down so I could get this post written. It will wait for me, just like any other book. I pretty much love my new toy.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Feels balmy out there

Lake Padden at sunrise
It's almost 45 deg F outside today. Our walking group met at Lake Padden for a couple of trips around the lake. There was a chance of rain, but we didn't see any, and after the exceptionally cold weather we've been having, it felt downright balmy in comparison. We are not likely to see the sun today, even though it looks like those clouds might be going away. Nope.
Ladies after a nice walk
After the walk, I snapped this picture with my cellphone just as I was leaving to head out to the Farmers' Market, which is still going on in our part of the country. Next weekend, the 21st, is its last day until next April, but mostly the things for sale at this time of year are not fresh veggies, but gifts for presents.
Beautiful batik and the artist, Margot
I love these wonderful designs that Margot makes, and I'm never without some of her handiwork, such as a hanky in my pocket and almost always a silk scarf around my neck during the winter. Check out her Etsy shop for more beautiful things she creates.
Creative shell animals
On the way out of the market, I ran into this guy who makes these great pins for sale. He creates them and gives the proceeds to the charity of your choice. He has already given $1500 to the Food Bank this year, and the $5 I gave him for a little turtle pin was my contribution. Plus I've got a whimsical little turtle to wear. I took one of those to the left of his hat. But I especially like the raptors on his head! Now I'm settled inside for the rest of the day, determined to spend enough time with my new Kindle to figure out how to use it properly.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Leaderless and Lost

Trekking poles at the Lost Lake junction
Lost? Lost Lake, that is. We were never really lost, although we sure did miss having Al with us. Our leader was feeling a bit under the weather, so nine of us Senior Trailblazers headed off without him, on a hike scheduled to take us to Lost Lake. Without Al, nobody really wanted to lead. The person most likely to lead us in Al's stead is Steve, who has plenty of experience, but he naturally hikes much faster than the rest of us, so if he were to lead (as we know from experience) he'd take off, turn around after awhile and find that none of us were anywhere in sight!
Amy, Steve, Karen, Fred, Mikey
I ended up hiking first, setting the pace, but I was unwilling to make any decisions. At the junction we discussed whether we wanted to simply do an out-and-back hike or make our way around the lake, as we would have done with Al leading. Steve hoped we would have a view, so we took the longer route, hiking up through clearcut. Although we knew it was supposed to rain, it hadn't made an appearance by this time, so off we went.
Baker in the distance, storm clouds overhead
Steve was right: we did get a view, but the wind was blowing hard, and it wasn't comfortable at all. And to make things worse (this happens sometimes when nobody is watching), we missed the turnoff that Al usually takes, and suddenly, Steve realized that we were a bit higher than the lake.
Lost Lake below us
We decided to take the faint snowy trail through the clearcut area to get back down to the lake, which was not much fun, but the recent cold weather meant that there was moderately firm footing down the trail to the lake. My knee sure doesn't appreciate steep terrain, especially when I'm going down, but there was nothing to do about it. When you're out there, you deal with it.
Three wise guys
We noticed that three of us were wearing red jackets, and with the green surrounding them, I couldn't help but ask for a seasonal picture. Steve, Doug and Fred were all more than happy to comply. We made it to the lake in time for lunch, and we speculated that in three hours of hiking we had covered quite a bit of ground. With no GPS (or Al) to tell us how far we'd gone, we gratefully stopped at our usual spot and enjoyed a quick lunch. Still no rain!
Lunch spot at Lost Lake
As the wind blew across the lake, we discussed that the lake looked rather strange. We figured out that it's because there is a thin film of water over ice! The recent cold weather froze much of the lake's surface, but warmer weather apparently melted the top layer. Or that's what we speculated, anyway. The water was definitely odd looking.
Icy waterfall
On the way back, we admired the design made by the frozen ice in this waterfall. By the time we were back on the trail that we knew well, most of us were anxious to reach the cars before the spitting sky opened up in earnest. And you know what? It didn't really start to rain until we got back! It was perfect timing, with nine of us having hiked more than ten miles and who knows how much elevation gain and loss. It was enough to make me very happy to be inside, writing this post. We had fun.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Looking more like Christmas

Holly Street, early this morning
Bare branches on the trees, lighted snowflakes on the street lights, and being all bundled up against the cold, it's beginning to look a lot like... winter. And Christmas cheer, too! The downtown parking meters are all covered with plastic bags that say, "Happy Holidays," and until Christmas we don't have to feed them! Yesterday the bitter chill of the past two weeks let go a little, and the temperature actually rose above freezing, but not by much. Right now it's 33F, and it's 1:00pm -- not likely to get much warmer, but the nighttime temperature won't fall far, either. It should be raining by Thursday.

I will be going out to rescue my car today, once I get a call from the mechanic. It didn't break down or anything, but it was past due time to replace the timing belt on my Honda Civic. A friend of mine didn't replace his, and it broke. If that happens on a Honda, it means a new engine. So I decided to be proactive and spend the big bucks. I'm a little apprehensive about the cost, but it's definitely not something to let slide. Cars usually repay you by being reliable if you provide the upkeep.

In February, I will be visiting my sister in Florida. I figure by the time February rolls around, I'll really be wanting to see some Florida sunshine and bask in warmer weather. Plus it's always nice to spend time together. She will be taking me swimming with her every morning and I'll be jogging alongside her as she walks at her blistering pace of more than 4.5mph. Maybe she'll take pity on me now and then and slow down to my pace, 4mph. She sent me this picture, with the caption. That's her smiling son Peter, taken in their Florida back yard.
Season's greetings
I am beginning to get in the Christmas spirit and will start shopping for others soon. But in the meantime, I bought myself a Kindle Fire HDX, which should arrive tomorrow. One more gadget to add to the rest! I've never had a Kindle before, so I'm excited.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Another day in the deep freeze

This morning I awoke to see what the temperature might be for the walk with the Fairhaven group. I really wanted to go, but I said I wouldn't even try to go if the wind was still blowing. It's been simply awful: all day yesterday it blew from the northeast so hard that the walls of our apartment that face that direction were cold to the touch. Last night I added another blanket to the bed, as my usual covers just weren't doing the trick.

As you can see from the screen shot from my iPhone just after 7:00am this morning, I was disheartened to see that the wind was still strong, with a wind chill of 1 deg F. But you know what I did, don't you? I decided to bundle up and go see if any other women would be so crazy as to try a walk this morning. There were fourteen of us, all wearing enough clothes to manage a brisk walk for an hour and a half! It was very exhilarating, and I must say I feel really fortunate to have met such a diehard bunch as these ladies. Afterwards, we went inside to have coffee and spend some time chatting.
Warm and cozy now!
Since I am in the process of trying to keep from gaining any more weight over the holidays, I was glad to have burned a few calories so I can eat a bit more than I would have allowed myself otherwise. I worried a little about the birds, wondering how they will get enough water, since all the standing water is frozen. There's been a discussion on the bird listserv that I follow about how to keep hummingbird feeders and water warm for those of us who worry about such things. Joe Meche, a very active local birder, told us about his new hummingbird feeder. He tried it out this morning and wrote this about a female Anna at his feeder: "In no more than five minutes (just minutes ago), she was feeding....taking deep draws on the fresh/unfrozen nectar. What a delight to observe!"
Picture by Joe Meche
This community is filled with people like Joe, and I am so glad that, although I no longer feed the birds, there are other people out there who are, and worrying about them like I do. Plus Joe is a really exceptional photographer, don't you think?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Frigid Blanchard Mountain

On the trail to Lily Lake
Do we look cold? Fifteen Senior Trailblazers showed up for a very chilly hike from the south side of Blanchard Mountain to Lily and Lizard Lakes, along with a stop at the North Butte lookout. The temperature today never rose above freezing, and the overcast sky when we started out meant that we were all a little worried about whether we would be able to stay warm.
Ice bouquet
All along the frosty trail, we saw this frozen ice that had extruded up from the ground, ice crystals giving us every indication of how cold it was. There were several places reminiscent of bouquets of flowers. We don't usually see this sort of thing, since we only had a few days last year when the temperature got as cold as we've had for several days now. With many more ahead.
Lily Lake
By the time we reached Lily Lake, the first of our stops, the sun was beginning to peek through the clouds. Although at this time of year the angle of the sun is quite low, there were a few spots where we began to cast a shadow. The lake is mostly frozen, but it doesn't extend very deep.
North Butte
By the time we had reached the high point of today's hike, North Butte, the sun was out! Although it wasn't very warm, there wasn't even a little bit of breeze, so we decided to go ahead and have lunch, even though it was just a little after 11:00am. Every other place we might choose to stop afterwards would be in the shade and very cold. We also enjoyed the view from this spot, looking out over Samish Bay.
The view
We weren't sure whether we would be able to navigate the rocks to get up this high, because ice and snow were everywhere that the sun didn't reach. But we managed; however, the return trip back down the steep rocks was a bit dicey. We took our time, and as soon as we left the warmth of the sun, it began to get really cold and uncomfortable. Several of us had the water in our hydration tubes freeze right up. Yes, it was that brisk!
Ten of the fifteen
The last part of the seven-mile-long hike was on a road, and at one point we had a nice view of Mt. Baker (right over Doug's head). Although the picture quality isn't perfect, I used my camera and never tried to use my cell phone because I would have had to remove my gloves, and I wasn't willing to do that! Other than the temperature, it was just a lovely day. After we returned to the cars, Amy pulled out three candles to place on her homemade cupcakes to celebrate the three December birthdays: me, Fred, and Carol. I learned that Carol was born on Christmas Eve, which explains her name.

All in all, it was a great day with wonderful friends. When I got home I learned that our TV had finally bit the dust, so I headed over to Best Buy for a replacement. Smart Guy is busy setting it up while I write this post. Although our old TV was only six years old, I was completely floored by the advancement in technology and the reduced cost! I guess you could say this has been a pretty darn good day after all.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Life's little interruptions

Hilda, our superb RN
Well, now that it's in the past, I think I can share what the little "minor interruption" I mentioned in my last post was all about. While I was finishing up the post mid-afternoon Saturday, I learned that Smart Guy had experienced some vertigo and broke out in a sweat. After calling our doctor's office and ascertaining that a visit to the Emergency Room was in order, we spent the next four hours there, having all kinds of tests run. Hilda checked us in and monitored our progress during that time. The doctor ruled out several possible causes and put him on an antibiotic, determining that a sinus or inner-ear infection was the likely cause of the vertigo.

It's three days later and he hasn't had another episode, and in general is feeling much, much better. It was very reassuring to learn that our emergency care is so good. Within an hour after it happened, he had had an EKG, blood drawn, a chest x-ray, and was on his way to get a CT scan of his head, when I left to go back home to get my book and some sustenance. By the time I returned, he was getting ready to be discharged, with anti-vertigo medication and a prescription for an antibiotic.

We bonded with Hilda and learned that Saturday was her very last day on the job, as she is retiring and looking forward to the next chapter in her life. We all three felt it was very fortuitous to have met each other, and I commented on the quality of the care we received. Hilda said it is the best place she has ever worked! In five years of being here in Bellingham, this is the first time we've needed to take advantage of the emergency care, and now I'm reassured that we are indeed in the right place for our golden years.

And in a few minutes I'm off to the movies with my friend Judy to see The Dallas Buyers Club. It's gotten rave reviews, and my sister saw it and said I simply have to see it, so I am happy to oblige. This is the season when we've got tons of good movies to see. I guess they wait until the holiday season to release them, partly because they will be uppermost in the mind of the audience when the Oscar nominees are chosen. That's what I think, anyway. There are numerous good movies that I'd like to see. I'll let you know what I think of this one.