Saturday, December 31, 2016

Last day of a very long year

A selfie taken at Big Rock Garden
There's an art to taking selfies, and I'm learning, little by little. At least my nose doesn't look any different than it usually does; in my normal selfies I don't get the camera far enough away, due to my short arms. Just a bit higher and it would have been better. This was taken at a pit stop during our 5.5-mile walk this morning with the ladies. Fifteen of us showed up, and if it doesn't snow tonight, we'll meet for our annual New Year's Day gathering at Lake Padden, for once around the lake and then coffee and goodies.
Enjoying coffee as we gathered after the walk
The "wintry mix" held off while we were walking, and hopefully it will move through quickly. Next week we have some very cold weather coming, but for now it's just normal winter. This afternoon I'm going to see Manchester By the Sea, which was given rave reviews by all these ladies who have already seen it. It's playing at our local independent theater, so it seems like just the right thing to do for the last day of a very long year. Maybe it seemed to be longer because of the contentious election season, or maybe because of the long list of some of my favorite celebrities who left us this year. In any event, I'm glad to see it gone! Better times are ahead, I just know it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Pine and Cedar Lake trail

Trail with a cute little snow person on a stick
I sure didn't want to go this morning. The weather forecast was dismal, with rain and wind expected, and without any chance of sunshine, I knew it would be cold to boot. Since there were only eight of us today, I wasn't alone in my reluctance. But what would I write about if I didn't go?
Pretty much snow from here on
When we started out, there was a little snow around, but not much. That first picture shows where we first ran into some snow, and then it just got heavier, with very little exposed dirt and plenty of ice under the snow, too. But since it wasn't raining yet, although the wind had just picked up, we kept on going. We took a short side trip to the overlook at Cedar Lake, but there wasn't much to see.
We could see Lookout Mountain
When the day is fine, you can see Mt. Baker and more, but today we were lucky to see anything at all.  After admiring the view (such as it was), we headed down to Cedar Lake. The boardwalks were covered with ice and snow patches, so we weren't going very fast. Every step needed to be tested.
Frozen Cedar Lake
When we got to the lake, we found that it was frozen. I've seen it with ice on it before, but never like this. Usually Rich, who loves to take a dip in most water bodies, no matter what the time of year, wasn't at all interested. You have to remember that not only was it cold, but the wind was fierce as well. Nobody was surprised, although what a photo op it would have been. He wasn't persuaded.
Jim, Kirk, Ellen, Rich, Al, Victoria, Melanie (and me behind the camera)
By the time this picture was taken, we were getting cold and decided to make our way to Pine Lake and then call it a day. But as we tried to navigate the trail, it was difficult to get any purchase on the downhills when you couldn't even dig a boot heel into the ice. We decided to turn back and head home.
Our lunch spot
Kirk, who lives nearby, suggested that we just head on back to the cars and then join him at his home for a nice warm and dry lunch. But on the way back down, we found this lovely place out of the wind and decided to stop for a quick break. We were all getting hungry by then. Afterwards we packed up and went back down the steep trail to the cars.

It wasn't a very long trip in miles (5.5), but we went up and down around 2,000 feet of elevation, and we had to deal with all the snow and ice! But no rain. It didn't start to rain until we had almost reached the cars! Now it's blowing and raining like crazy out there, but I'm at home, writing this early blog post, and realizing that no matter how much I don't want to go out on a Thursday, I will probably be glad I went. And today is no different: I am exercised and got to be challenged a little, and here I am, none the worse for wear and maybe a little better than I was this morning. My mood is certainly much improved.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

I did it again

Kitchen window view
I did it again: I forgot about a post on Tuesday, and here it is Wednesday already, and somehow the time got away from me. Yesterday I came home from the gym and settled in my chair to start a new book, and I just forgot.

Now it's Wednesday morning, starting my new day, and figured I'd better slap something up here before I talk with my sister Norma Jean later on. She would be sure to mention the missing post, so here it is, my Tuesday blog post, just a little late.

Weather: it's always a good topic. Tomorrow, our hiking day, is forecast to be wet and mild, and then for the weekend we are getting hit with a blast of real winter, with our temps down in the teens overnight and not even above freezing during the day. Very unusual for us to be that cold, but it's nothing compared to what some places are experiencing. Brrr!

I had a very quiet and enjoyable Christmas holiday, and fortunately for me, I've got nowhere to go for New Year's Eve, just another quiet time, warm and toasty at home. I'll be back with my Thursday post for tomorrow.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve walk

Geese in the snow
This morning, I skipped the walk with the ladies. It snowed here yesterday, as you can see, not much, but enough to make the roads icy overnight. Realizing that I would have to drive a fair distance to Lake Padden, I decided instead to walk to the coffee shop (which would have been a good walk in itself), so I strapped on my Yak Trax and headed out the door. I hadn't gone far when my friend Gene called to find out why I wasn't at the coffee shop. I told him I didn't want to drive, so he came and got me and I had a free latte at Avellino's. It was lovely!

But since I hadn't gotten in a walk, I decided to walk to Fairhaven a couple of miles away along the boulevard. I saw these geese huddled under a tree and thought it would be a good way for you to see how much snow we actually got. Not much, but the sidewalks were icy in spots.
Trees decorated for Christmas
Someone had taken the time and effort to decorate several of the trees on the boulevard, which not only made me smile, but gave me the perfect image for today's post. After spending a little time in the local independent bookstore, I took a bus back to town. The sun came out and made for a glorious Christmas Eve day.
Lake Padden reflections at sunrise, taken by Linda
But there's more! I got a text from my friend Linda, who told me that only three people showed up at Lake Padden this morning: she and Peggy were joined by Shirley. She sent me a couple of pictures from the lake walk, and this one is just incredible, don't you agree? Linda said the roads were okay but the trail was icy in spots, and all three of them managed to stay upright.

And now I'm home for the duration, although I might go for a walk tomorrow. It's sure nice to be surrounded by good friends and my partner during the holidays. I feel so incredibly blessed and we will be enjoying sockeye salmon tomorrow! I wish you, my dear reader, the most wonderful of holidays.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lookout Mountain

Senior Trailblazers on Lookout Mountain
Yes, that is snow under our feet. This was another one of those days when we meet at 9:00am instead of 8:00am, and I wandered around impatiently this morning, because I don't know what to do when my schedule gets skewed. Finally it was time for us to meet at the Senior Center, and lo and behold, on a rainy day with a hike that is nobody's favorite, twelve of us showed up!
Melanie with our limited view behind her
We planned to do the trails on Lookout Mountain and then head over to the Stimpson Reserve area to add another few miles to the day. When we started out, the rain came and went, but it wasn't bad at all. Then when it picked up, we stopped to put on our rain gear. Richard is showing Shirley, our newest member, how his rain skirt works.
"You just wrap it around like this," says Richard
It does the trick, and the shower curtain that it came from probably never saw as much moisture as it has as his rain skirt. We walked in the rain and managed to keep from slipping on the patches of ice on the trail. There were some treacherous spots, but our trekking poles made all the difference.
Reaching for the sky
I thought this magnificent tree, covered with moss, looked a little like a creature reaching up toward the heavens. Like I said, there wasn't a whole lot to take pictures of on our hike today. We climbed up to this waterfall, where we stopped to have lunch. The rain had lessened at this point.
Waterfall on Lookout Mountain
It was pleasant, but by the time we started back down the trail, the rain again picked up considerably. When we got back to the trailhead, we decided to skip the second part of today's scheduled hike and just call it a day, having covered what Al called a "high five" distance (a little more than five miles). The rain gave us just the impetus we needed to stay in our cars, warm and cozy, instead of more trekking around in the rain for no good reason.

It was still a very good day, and it's always pleasant to get outdoors, no matter what the weather, when you've got good rain gear and good friends with whom to share the experience.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Leo has turned eight

Ready, set... blow! 
Sunday was my friend Leo's eighth birthday. The weekend before, he had a party for others in his age group, but this past Sunday, his actual birthday, was reserved for the grownups who love Leo and have been coming to his parties since he was, well, an infant.

Do you remember your eighth birthday? I don't, and even though I asked all of us who were there on Sunday if they remembered theirs, nobody did. It was an awfully long time ago, but still. You only have one. The earliest that I remember was when I turned ten. But that's another story.
Sitting on Santa's knee
My friend Gene was one of the other adults, and he arrived in his Santa hat. He has an actual Santa suit, but with his totally cool beard, I asked for a picture and this is what I got. He said I had to sit on his knee, so I did. He didn't ask me what I want for Christmas, but that's because I've got absolutely everything I ever wanted already: wonderful friends of all ages, health, and loving family members both near and far. Who could ask for anything more?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

It's really cold right now

The two of us in cold weather gear
This morning both Lily and I decided to go walking with the ladies, even though the temperature was 15°F when I woke. I figured that since the wind had stopped, it wouldn't feel that cold out there, but I was wrong. It was definitely frigid as ten of us gathered to walk around the neighborhoods near Whatcom Falls Park. John took this picture of the two of us as we got our coffee fix at Avellino's.

I won't lie: it was colder than I ever want it to be again, when we walk together. Lily leaves in a week to go back home to her family in Guatemala City and will be gone for almost a month. I'll miss her company and will look forward to her return. It's hard to imagine how it felt to be in that Florida warmth after experiencing three days of subfreezing temperatures. Tomorrow it should moderate a little and give us a rainy hike next Thursday. I'm just glad I had a break from it all for awhile.

This is a busy week for most of us, as we finish whatever we have to do before the holidays. I don't buy much, but there is a special birthday party to attend tomorrow with my friend Leo, who will turn eight (!). I ordered a book for him that arrived while I was in Florida, but there are still a few items on my list that need to be purchased. The stores and parking lots are all full everywhere and will probably remain that way until after next Saturday, Christmas Eve.

I was reminded that next Saturday's walk is at Lake Padden, where my car was broken into on Christmas Eve 2011. I wrote about it here. My pack (which doubles as a purse) was taken and my credit cards used, my iPad and camera gone too. It was awful, so I'll be very careful about where I park next week. No need for a repeat of that terrible time.

In any event, I hope you all will have a safe and very Merry Christmas! We'll be visiting a time or two in our blogs before then, but just in case I forget, please do have a great holiday week. I'll be continuing to eat too much, without a doubt, but hey, it only comes around once a year!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hike and our annual holiday party

The festive hikers in cold weather gear
Well, I am definitely back into my old routine already. After having traveled for fifteen hours yesterday, from one corner of the country to the other, I got up this morning and packed up for a short hike before our annual holiday Christmas potluck. The people in this picture are only a small portion of our group who showed up for the party, because it was only 20°F — way too cold for some people. It was a bit of a shock to my system, too, after having temperatures in Florida in the 80s.
Hertz Trail on north shore of Lake Whatcom
The day was beautiful, if a little on the cold side, and I enjoyed myself immensely. We were also going to our annual holiday party afterwards, and so this six-mile-long trail was perfect. We would be done in time for lunch and would join the other Trailblazer group at Sue's house. On the way back, I saw these icicles that give an idea of how cold it was.
Icicles coming out of the moss
It's pretty unusual for it to get really cold temperatures in our part of the country, but occasionally I'll see frozen icicles dripping down the side of a rock, like this. Considering how frigid other areas of the country are right now, our cold snap doesn't seem that bad. It will be gone before the weekend is finished.
The dessert table
By the time I arrived at Sue's house, food was already being laid out. This is the dessert table; I wasn't even able to get close to the main dishes, as people were already lining up to enjoy a marvelous spread.
Digging in
This was only a small portion of the numbers of people who showed up. I counted at least forty and I suspect we had more than that. And everybody brought wonderful food to share. Before people began to leave, the other group asked us to take a moment to honor Pat, their leader, by signing a memory book that they had designed for him.
Pet opening his memory book for the first time
There were blank pages in the back and front of this book, so that we could write a short note to Pat. He's retiring from leading because of health issues, but he will still be going along on the ones he is able to navigate, although not leading them. Pat was the leader of my group when I started nine years ago, and he is one of the most knowledgeable people about the wilderness and trails I've ever met.

It was a very good day, and I feel so lucky to be part of this community. Now that I've gotten a hike in for my usual Thursday activity, I can feel that I'm slipping right back into my routine. I miss those early morning swims in the outdoor pool with my sister, though.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Time to pack for home

Beautiful oak tree in the park
Sigh. I must leave the 83-degree weather here in Florida to head home with  temperatures fifty degrees colder. I just looked at the weather and shuddered at the cold snap that has taken over our usually moderate temperatures at home. I've been taking advantage of the weather here, though. Today I went swimming for the last time during this visit, doing thirty minutes of laps and feeling rather puny next to my sister's faster and much longer swim. Then once we got to her house, we went for a nice three-mile walk.

And then we went to the movies to see Moana, which my sister and her son had already seen and wanted to see again, as well as give me a chance to see it before it leaves the theaters. I simply loved it and hope that anybody who thinks this is just a kid's movie will give it a chance. That link will send you to a review that also gives you three or four clips from the movie. Jacob Hall wrote the review and I quote him here:
Moana is still in theaters and if you haven’t gotten around to seeing it, I hope you can feel my concerned stare burning into your forehead through your computer screen.
I agree and am so happy that I didn't miss it. But never fear, I think once it leaves the theaters it will be available through other sources quickly.
Norma Jean giving the dogs their daily treat
 I will miss the dogs, especially Zen (the white dog) who may or may not still be around when I visit next year. He's in failing health and is very old, almost at the end of his life. I give him lots of love and he loves me back. I was afraid that he wouldn't make it until this visit, but he seems to be doing very well. Both dogs receive a daily treat of pork tenderloin that is marinated and then dehydrated. They absolutely love it and wait impatiently until they receive their stick and then rush off to savor it.

Tomorrow I will have a full day of travel, arriving home after dark. The next day is my usual hiking day and our annual Christmas party. I look forward to them both. I'll be posting pictures then, too, from the frozen north.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Family time squared

Yesterday, after several hours of rain, the sky began to clear, and I had gone for a walk by myself and thought how nice it would be to capture the sunset, but I missed it. The sky had changed completely anyway. I'll post a couple of pictures on Facebook, but today it's all about family.
Early this morning
Our weekend began with several family members recovering from a quickly passing intestinal bug. My nephew Peter, not feeling one hundred percent, is surrounded by dogs in this early morning picture; Icarus in his lap and Zen beside him. It got pretty cold last night here (relatively speaking, that is), so all the blankets and the fire were welcome this morning. Zen is almost fifteen, and I was so happy that he's doing so well, but he certainly doesn't like the cold.
Allison's 30-foot motor home
Yesterday evening, my niece Allison arrived for the weekend with her two children, Lexie, who is six (and a half, she reminded me) and 21-month-old Alicia. Lexie had gotten the symptoms earlier in the day and Alicia is still symptom-free, but Lexie had been sick on and off. She's so much better today.
Alicia enjoying her blueberry smoothie
Norma Jean made Alicia a delicious smoothie, which I declined because I didn't want to eat something cold, but I have to say I was astounded that this little girl managed to drink half of the entire drink! She loves it and was unwilling to share.
Peter's creation, which I truly enjoyed
Peter made us grownups a wonderful omelet, as you can see in the picture. He's a true artist when it comes to cooking, and I have been enjoying his delicious meals very, very much. We have all been enjoying the perfect day's cool temperature, and with the sunshine and light breeze, I asked Lexie if she wanted to go for a walk.
Lexie with Icarus
We had a short excursion to the lake, and Lexie decided to have Icarus join us while we walked. We would have gone further, but Lexie is still a little weak. It was a perfect walk, if you ask me.
Allison, me, and Norma Jean
Allison took this selfie of the three of us, showing that we are definitely all obviously Stewarts. It's a lovely thing to be with family, and I am soaking up the sun as well as the joy we are all sharing.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Glad to be here

Florida sunset last night
For many reasons, I''m glad to be here right now. First of all, the weather could not be better for a Pacific Northwesterner like me: a high in the 70s F, a little foggy in the mornings but sunny later in the day, with a light breeze. I just looked at the weather at home: 24 and snowing, but it should clear up. Just for fun, I looked up at the clock and saw that my fellow hikers would be gathering right now to go hiking and wondered if anybody showed up. Well, it turns out that twelve intrepid hikers will be going out today, and if I were there, it would have been thirteen! We are nothing if not dedicated.
The living room yesterday
But instead, I am visiting with my sister Norma Jean, who is dressed appropriately in shorts and t-shirt, with her furry dog curled up in the foreground, eyeing me. Little Lexie, my grand-niece, is lying in the chair, not feeling well. She's better today, I think, since she went to school. I got a chance to visit with them yesterday. Little Alicia has grown a great deal in the year since I saw her last.
Alicia with her iPad
She is quite a handful, I must say! She never stopped moving, even when she was watching things on her iPad. I sure enjoyed seeing her, and the two of them, with their mother (my niece Allison), will be here all weekend. I should get a year's worth of little ones by the time I leave.
Sisters DJan and Norma Jean
My nephew Peter took this picture of us yesterday, so I could have something to put on my post today. I have fallen into Norma Jean's routine (we are both people who appreciate a schedule): wake up to a cup of coffee at 6:30am, leave for the gym by 7:17am in our bathing suits, be ready for the door to the outside pool to open at 7:30, and be in the water by 7:32! She swims for a mile; yesterday I managed 25 minutes, but today it was a full 30 minutes swimming laps.

Then I take a nice hot shower and spend the time waiting for her to finish up while lifting a few weights in the gym. I went out to get this picture of her just before she finished for the day.
Norma Jean starting on another lap
It's a wonderful heated pool that is kept covered at night. I swam in the lane to her left. You can see someone in the next lane also swimming laps. The same people show up every morning to get their exercise in first thing.

After we come back to her house, we then step into our running shoes and go out for a 2.5-mile brisk walk. She does this routine five days a week, with a longer six-mile walk on Sunday. She rests on Saturdays. This will be my own routine until I get back to my own schedule.

So far, I have really enjoyed swimming in the early morning. If I had an outdoor pool like this one, I'd be there, too, but of course in Bellingham they are inside, with many more people trying to use the lanes. For now, it's just when I come to Florida that I swim laps.

I'm really glad to be here for many reasons, but the main one is connecting once again with my Florida family. Until later, think of me in lovely Florida sunshine.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sitting in the airport

View from my seat at the gate
Well, this will be just a quick post while I wait for a chance to board my flight. It looks like it will be on time. I had some problems getting through the security check. My Vitamin C powder, which I have traveled with for years, was confiscated! He said it tested positive for explosives. Then I had to strip down and be completely patted down, while my bag was torn apart.

They didn't find anything, of course, but I'll be heading to the health food store to get some vitamin C. Maybe I'll just get it in capsules this time. I'll miss that little bottle I've been carrying it in for a decade. Oh well, now as long as the flight is a good one, I'll soon be in the hands of my capable sister and nephew! I can't wait to see the dogs.

Only a few more minutes before we begin to board. My morning so far, other than the security line, has been a good one. The skies are clear and it's cold outside. Yesterday it reached 90 degrees at my sister's house!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The birthday that keeps on giving

Lily bought this cheesecake and decorated it with 4 and 7 candles
Yesterday evening, my dear neighbors Lily and Lynn gave me a birthday party, complete with this cheesecake, which was really good. It went well with all the other goodies, including salmon, but I'm afraid that I indulged in a little bit too much food and wine, and by the time I went to bed I was not feeling all that great. I'm better now, though.

I well remember my 47th birthday, since it was the year I began to skydive. Now I've lived long enough to turn the number around.
The ladies plus John having a Ginger Blast
None of us was feeling all that well before going on our Saturday hike, so I got everybody a Ginger Blast at the coffee shop. Fresh grated ginger, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and a little honey: wow! It knocked out all the cobwebs before we headed off for the walk. I was not looking forward to this one, up Galbraith Mountain, steep, muddy and filled with plenty of rocks and roots to trip over. And to top it off, it was supposed to rain! But somehow overnight the forecast changed and the weather was projected to come later in the day, so off we went. More than twenty of us showed up!
Nancy and Lynn skipping down the trail
We didn't go too far, though, as the wind came up and a few sprinkles started to fall. We did make it back before it got too bad, though, turning around earlier than we would have otherwise. It was just what my body needed, along with the Ginger Blast. Now it's almost time for me to leave to join my friend Judy at the Bellingham Chamber Chorale Christmas special, celebrating the British masters. My hiking buddy Al is in the chorale, and he alerted us to the concert. He will be busy, with two performances today and another tomorrow. I get to be in the audience and enjoy it. It's my birthday gift from Judy, so you can see why this is the birthday that keeps on giving!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hiking in the clouds

We actually went to both of these places
Only eight Trailblazers went out on a sunny day (to start, anyway), partly because most of this particular hike, to Burnout Point, is on old logging roads, such as you see in the background. Not as much fun or as scenic as trails in the woods. We knew that we would be making a loop, though, going up the logging roads but coming back via the Fragrance Lake trail.
Samish Bay in clouds and sunshine
At our first viewpoint, we could see that the clouds had begun to build, but still there was plenty of sunshine in parts of the area, but as we continued to hike upwards, we went right into those low-hanging clouds. They weren't putting out any of the "R" word, though, so we didn't mind too much.
Misty and beautiful
Until we reach Burnout Point, the hike is all uphill. A very good workout, but when we got to the top, there was no view, so we headed down the trail, making a loop, to Fragrance Lake for our lunch spot. On the way, we saw lots of this rather pretty fungi growing right on the road. No idea what it is.
It's coming right out of the dirt
One of the nice things about living here in the Pacific Northwest are all the interesting flora that proliferates because of the moisture. It's been raining more than usual (and that's saying something) for the past two months, so maybe that's one reason we keep seeing all these unusual fungi.
Me, Mikey, Kirk, Chris, Al, Rich, Peggy, Mel
At first, I asked someone to take a picture of the rest of us for my birthday memories, but I didn't really want anybody left out, so I managed to get this picture of all eight of us in a selfie. I will treasure this picture and have already put it on Facebook.
Fragrance Lake, our lunch spot
We got to the lake around noon, so we had a very nice lunch, even though it was a little cool in the breeze. We didn't spend a lot of time there, but when we headed back down via the Fragrance Lake trail rather than the logging road, we enjoyed much more pleasant views of abundant ferns and some old growth trees. I really love this particular trail. And then we were back at the cars, and it was still early in the day. Eight and a half miles and 2200 feet up and down, and my knees are still happy!

So now I am home, writing this post, and getting ready to enjoy a nice glass of wine before dinner. My wonderful partner asked me what else I'd like to have for my birthday, but frankly, I am content and happy, looking forward to the delightful food he's prepared for me. A great way to spend my special day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Next week's trip

Me with Norma Jean last November
I can hardly contain my excitement about getting to see Norma Jean and the rest of my Florida relatives soon. At this time next week, I'll be in the air somewhere over the country on my way from the northwest corner of the nation to the southern tip in central Florida.

It turns out that the day I fly south, we here in the Pacific Northwest will be experiencing a cold snap. Not me, though: I'll be able to wear shorts and t-shirts for the first time in ages, it seems. Plus I'll be swimming with my sister in the mornings, and it's been a year since I've even been in the water. I know my muscles will be sore, but a good sore, you know?

When I last saw my grand-niece Alicia, she was crawling, nearly walking. Now she's a toddler, and little Lexie is not so little any more. How time flies! A visit once a year is barely often enough to keep up. And between now and then I'll have a birthday, a massage, and three yoga classes! Life is good.