Thursday, April 29, 2010

Adventures in mud

This picture does not show, except in the barest way, how muddy our hike was today. Seventeen Senior Trailblazers headed out to try a new Olsen Creek/Stewart Mountain hike that was mapped out on Tuesday by our intrepid leader Al. He wrote about it at length on a GeezerHiker post, if you want to know why we went on this particular trip. As it turned out, it was filled with adventure, not just because we hiked most of the day in deep mud, you know the sucking kind where a foot placement would leave you with an audible attempt to pull your foot back out of the deep mud.
The group was game for this hike, though, because we had been warned by the description of it being at least ten miles long and rated "hard." It was actually almost twelve miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain and loss. Once we left the logging road (after a mile or two), we started to hike on an old horse trail that wound definitely uphill. The trail was pretty evident from the horse apples and water-filled depressions left by those horses.

By the time we got to the steepest uphill, we had a mishap: Ward took a step off the side of the hill! When I turned to see what the commotion was, I saw him falling downhill head over heels! I saw him take several complete revolutions before he came to a stop about fifty feet from the top of the trail.
Way down there amongst the trees (click to enlarge) you can see Ward climbing back up to us: no obvious injuries, and he managed to avoid hitting a tree, breaking his neck, or doing anything worse than losing his hat and water bottles, which he found on his way back up to us. Ward has now officially relinquished one of his nine lives. It is amazing that nothing happened to him, but I cannot help thinking that tomorrow he will feel some bumps and bruises.
When we stopped for lunch, we had a beautiful view of Lake Whatcom, although the view of the Twin Sisters and Mt. Baker were obscured by clouds. This was not a bad consolation prize. The rain kept away from us most of the day, and we only had the occasional sprinkle. After lunch, though, we headed down through a logging operation, which was pretty depressing. I couldn't help but think of all the birds that had built nests in the doomed trees. I won't show you any pictures of that because it was just too darned gloomy. Instead, I will leave you with a picture of the beautiful trillium flower, three petals, three leaves, and only visible for a short while in the springtime in these parts.
At the end of the hike, we had a little confusion about where the parking lot was, but we were so tired that when we finally reunited, we dragged ourselves back to our respective cars, drove back to the Senior Center, and hobbled to our homes. And of course I wanted to share with all of you the muddy adventures, so here you are!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Our digital age

It's really rather amazing how much things have changed in just a few short years. I realized, while reading the blogs that I follow, how dependent we are on our digital cameras for our pictures.

It made me become conscious of the huge shifts that are taking place in the world of cameras. Many companies like Kodak, Polaroid, Fujifilm, all the rest of them, are no longer making film! We have shifted, and in a very rapid fashion, from film-based to digital photography. This picture shows the camera I now use (well, mine has 9 megapixels but otherwise is the same) for all my pictures, and what has really changed for me is the immediacy of my results. When I go out hiking with the Seniors, I snap probably fifty pictures and take several of the same scene. Then in the car on the way back to the Senior Center, I go through them and remove probably a dozen, keeping the ones I know I will take a closer look at. By the time I've come home and transferred them to my Mac, I go through them again and edit out maybe another half a dozen. I export some in a smaller format to the desktop and compose my post. The full-sized pictures that I think are pretty good go onto my Flickr site, usually around 12-15.

This is completely different from the days of the film camera. I would buy film for a particular event, usually for outdoors, take the pictures, and if I would be really anxious to see them, take the film to a one-hour photo store to get them developed. If I wanted to use any of them for the internet, I had to scan them in. What a huge difference in process! And of course, most of the time I wouldn't have any particular place to put them on line, because the blogosphere didn't exist back then.

Remember the phrase, "a Kodak moment"? I do. I read this article today about how Kodak is wanting to bring back the moment, about "the REAL Kodak moment is when you share." Frankly, though, the whole moment could only emerge when all the parts had been created and put in place. That moment is here now.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I went to the movies tonight with my friend Judy at the local art theater, the Pickford, to see the movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This was an exceptional film, one I highly recommend, if you are willing to see a Swedish movie with subtitles, one that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end!

The movie is made from the first of a trilogy of novels written by Steig Larsson, a Swedish journalist who wrote three novels about these characters before his death in 2004, which were unpublished at that time but now have become best sellers. The three movies were also made in Sweden and star Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, the two main characters. I understand that the next two films also feature the two in them, and I can only say that they are brilliant in these roles.

I especially loved the character of Lisbeth, a brilliant Goth-type young woman who is incredibly talented and bright and who was mistreated in her early years but finds ways to make her torturers pay that were very satisfying, especially after watching her suffer so terribly at their hands. The movie did have some very difficult parts to watch, but I have to say they were all worth it. By the time I was at the end of the movie, I can hardly wait to see the next two movies, as I am sure they will just carry these characters forward a little further in their lives.

I understand that this film earned a very favorable Rotten Tomatoes rating (85% fresh, this link will take you to the latest reviews of the movie). I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly, although now that I've seen it once, I think I would enjoy it much more on a second viewing, since the suspense, which is totally convincing, would be much easier to bear knowing the outcome. If you see it, let me know what you think!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Eagle watch

See the Web Cam!
I have been anxiously watching Mom and Dad Hornby Eagle with their latest eggs. They are due to hatch any day now, both laid within four days of each other, with one due on the 26th and the other due on the 30th. They can come within a week of those dates.

It's possible that they will not hatch, because these two eagles have been in this nest for many years and might be getting too old to have viable chicks. They are in their late twenties, maybe around 27 years of age! They have fledged at least 18 eaglets. I did just find out that their two eggs last year both hatched, however.

The dedication and diligence that they have put into taking care of these eggs has been really touching to watch, and I'm hoping that I'm going to see at least one little eaglet emerge. I've put a link under the picture to the web cam I watch. If you join the chat room, I'm there some of the time.

Right now when I look at the cam, I know these eagles well enough to tell which is Mom and which is Dad. At this moment right now, Dad is on the nest. He's got a smoother head and is smaller overall. Mom has a much shaggier head than Dad, and from some angles it's quite easy to tell who's who.

But for now, I've got my fingers crossed that the eaglets will make it. And when I see the impressive and very gentle way they take care of these eggs, I am filled with wonder and awe at the way it all works.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Food, Inc.

Yesterday, Smart Guy and I watched our latest Netflix movie, Food, Inc. I missed this when it came to our local art venue, so I put it on the queue and when it came, rather than watch the one I had received earlier, we both settled down to watch this one.

This was an eye opener, even for those of us who consider ourselves well informed about our food choices. I had read Michael Pollan's books (all three of the latest ones) and had already been introduced to Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms, and it was great to actually meet him and see his farm as it functions in the world.

In the past few years, I have eaten chicken a few times, very few, and turkey only at Thanksgiving. I've never felt too bad about poultry, but after seeing what happens to them in a "normal" packing environment, I was shocked. One statement that stood out to me is that if we treat our food animals like this, it's only a short step to treating other human beings like things rather than people. From the website linked above:
In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.
 If you rent the movie, you will learn a lot about our food industry. I suggest you do it after dinner, or at least a distance away from a meal. It turned my stomach. But there ARE things each of us can do, and the link above (just in case you don't visit it), gives us five things we can do right now:
  1. Visit the official Food, Inc. website (here).
  2. Support healthy school lunches and sign the Child Nutrition
    Act Reauthorization petition.
  3. Learn 10 simple things you can do to change our food system.
  4. Read the Food, Inc book.
  5. Read the Hungry For Change blog.
It was well worth watching and learning how to make a difference in your food choices. Every small thing we do for the planet also we do for ourselves and our neighbors.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

New sewing machine!

Say hello to our newest family member! Smart Guy and I just walked in the door with this precious Husqvarna Viking Emerald 116. After discovering on line that there is a store here in Bellingham that only deals with sewing machines and vacuum cleaners (mostly sewing machines), we went over there to check out the machines that might serve our needs.

And of course we walked out with this one! It's a real beauty, and I was sold as soon as I heard the sweet hum as it sewed. It's called an "entry-level" machine, although if you look at the link you can see it does all of what most people use sewing machines for. The store also offers a free two-hour class to show you how to use all the bells and whistles the machine offers. But we have an instruction booklet and plenty to learn about first.

Smart Guy was a parachute rigger in earlier days, so we needed to get a machine that could handle heavier-duty materials (this one can) and can also do the things I need it to do. Plus we can take it back for an entire year at full price if we decide we need something more fancy.

Thinking of Linda (I get my two Lindas confused: one of them sews really fancy designs on her t-shirts and whatnot and the other is in the market for a sewing machine) and what she can do on her machines, I MIGHT decide in the next year to trade up, but for now this retired old lady is going to town on things that have been sitting in her closet for ages wishing she had a sewing machine. Now she does!

Of course you will be treated to a blow-by-blow description of my first efforts to use the machine. Unless all that sewing I used to do comes back to me, like riding a bike. For now, I'm excited to use this new, very useful toy!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Downed tree

Nothing too spectacular about this downed tree in the forest, is there? We noticed this tree while on our hike yesterday, because in looking at the root structure, there doesn't actually seem to be any. Then we remembered that on our trip to Raptor Ridge in December of last year, we had seen this same tree growing right out of the rock. Since I had snapped a picture of it, I'll show you why I took it:
The tree really was growing right out of the rock, with little tendrils of roots holding it from being blown down in the wind. But sometime between December and April, either it grew too large, or a windstorm, or a combination of the two, finally brought the tree down. It seems to have taken the tree to its left as well.

This brought to mind the old saying about being careful where you put down roots: in sand, in soil, or on rock. The tree seems to have been pretty old, had a good life, and finally got to its end. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Smart Guy and I are busy making sure our little baby Bellingham roots are taking hold in fertile ground, hopefully to keep us safe in the buffeting winds of life.

It's been two years since we moved here, and every day that passes makes me more confident in our choice. The intellectual journey at the office I left behind has been replaced with 60-some blogs that I follow, with challenges, ideas, knitting patterns, and life stories you share with me. Thank you.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pine and Cedar Lakes

Today eighteen Senior Trailblazers set out to hike up to Pine and Cedar Lakes from the trailhead off Chuckanut Drive. When I mentioned it to some other friends, they said, "that starts out really steep, doesn't it?" Yes. Steep right from the parking lot. The weather was overcast when we began the hike,  but the forecast was for mostly sunny skies later in the day. As you can see from this picture, as we hiked up the steep trail, we were in a heavy mist and fog. (Click any picture to enlarge.) Our total distance was a little over 7 miles, and 2,500 feet of elevation. Most of the elevation gain is at the beginning.
By the time we reached Cedar Lake, the lake was made very mystical by the fog, but we didn't have much of a view at this time. The temperature was mild but the moisture in the air caused most of us to put on more clothes, at least gloves and a hat, before heading off to Pine Lake. After the uphill climb, I was more than a little damp from the exertion, and when we stopped I got cold.
Navigating the trail around Pine Lake was a little, well, different. The skunk cabbage was happily putting out its distinctive smell, and without the board trail, we wouldn't have been doing much hiking around the lake, since the water underneath those boards was pretty deep. The smell of the skunk cabbage is strong and heady, but it's really not unpleasant.
By the time we were approaching Pine Lake, shown above, the fog had begun to lift a little. These lakes look pretty much the same, and this view is just to show you that we really did get there, and thankfully nobody fell off the narrow boarded trail. As we headed back to the main trail, we decided to take a short excursion up to Raptor Ridge for lunch. Right about noon we arrived at the ridge, just as the sun broke through!
The ridge isn't very large, and we all pulled out our little inflatable seats and sat down to enjoy the company, the view, and our well-deserved lunches. It was so pleasant in the sun that some of us decided to relax a little bit before heading back down to the cars.
The trail we had trudged up in the fog was just beautiful on the way down, with the sun-dappled trees and bushes bringing smiles to everyone's faces. Another day in the Pacific Northwest with all my fellow Seniors: I am truly blessed, and then to come home to Smart Guy and share my adventures with him, and now with you. I could not think of anything more appropriate to do on Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cars and IPOIO

Well, today I took my 2001 Honda Civic in for its 80,000-mile checkup. As anybody who owns a car knows, they will continue to cost money for their owners as long as you have them. They are inanimate objects with moving parts, and they wear out.

As far as cars go, this Civic has been pretty good to me. Other than having to do the periodic maintenance, it hasn't cost me much since I bought it used in 2004. It gets almost 40 mpg on the highway. Before it turns over 100,000 miles I will need to get a new timing belt, and today all of the car's fluids are being replaced. Any time my car, which is named "Silver Auto" (sounds like "Silverado" when you say it), is put up on the rack and looked at from underneath, I get a little worried. What will they find that they haven't seen yet?

My father used to have a saying: "I.P.O.I.O." Whenever he was under a car looking up at the underside, I would hear that phrase, "I.P.O.I.O." It stands for the Innate Perversity Of Inanimate Objects. I still hear his voice in my head when something goes wrong with any machine in my house, and I smile at the recollection. I wonder where HE learned it?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Race walking

From Fitness Walking
I'm taking a two-day clinic on race walking, taught by Cindy Paffumi, a local fitness instructor here in Bellingham. I got interested in this because of attending her free Saturday morning walks, which I heard about from two of the regular Senior Trailblazers. (This illustration is for fitness walking, but it shows what I learned yesterday.)

It all started out pretty innocently. About 15-20 women (with the occasional man) meet at 8:00am every Saturday morning and walk anywhere from 3 to 7 miles. Although most of them aren't seniors, these women cover the gamut from out-of-shape young mothers to in-shape mature women. My first time with them was on New Year's Day (the link goes to my post about it) and what surprised me was how fast they were walking! When I learned that Cindy could racewalk at around 8-minute miles, I was shocked at how slow my natural walking pace is. I figured I could learn in her mini-clinic how to improve my speed.

Although I have no intention of spending all of my time racewalking, in the first clinic last night I learned some techniques to improve my speed: first of all, using my arms like pistons, and shortening up my stride and quickening my pace immediately helped me to walk faster. We met at a quarter-mile track and 20 of us women walked around the track a time or two, trying out the tips she gave us. Then she timed us for a half-mile as we attempted to become faster. My time was 7:12, or a 14:24-minute mile. Not bad, considering that on the previous walks I would walk and jog a little to keep up, and yesterday I only walked.

Today I walked around to and from the gym in racewalking mode, pumping my arms and lengthening my stride behind me, not in front of me, striking the ground with my heel and pushing off with my toes. Now my shins are sore, and I think I might have looked a little funny, judging from the looks I got, but I'm quite pleased that I am learning new tricks at my age! No comments about old dogs, now!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Our food choices

Our fridge, 19 April 2010 (click to enlarge)
Linda over at A Slower Pace asked if I would write about how my food choices have changed since we moved to the Pacific Northwest from Boulder, Colorado. It has now been two years since we began our retired life here in Bellingham, and it's been quite a journey in so many ways.

First, I have learned so much from the bloggers I follow, and Robynn over at Robynn's Ravings got me excited about learning how to leave genetically modified foods behind, and I've been very successful at it, which is part of what has inspired some very different food choices. We are what is known as "pescatarians," eating fish but no other flesh foods, and we do eat a fair amount of soy products. We used to drink Silk, but it's not organic. Organic Valley uses organic whole soybeans, which are not GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

We also recently began using hempseed oil and hulled hempseeds, both of which I absolutely love, because they are so TASTY! They also are very high in omegas 3 and 6, which are good for the heart. I sprinkle a little of those hempseeds on just about everything I eat these days, because I really like their flavor. We also use flaxseed, which is a little nuttier but not as tasty to me. Those tupperware containers have brussels sprouts, broccoli, red cabbage, and some asparagus that has been steamed and prepared lovingly by Smart Guy. I like to make a mixture, pop it in the microwave, and season to taste.

We are very blessed to have the Community Food Co-op here, which has a very enlightened outlook on how to provide organic and high-quality food to its members. They also "promote a sustainable economy by supporting organic and sustainable food production and other environmentally and socially responsible businesses locally, regionally, and nationally." This makes it easy to trust the foods I get there. The other day, just for fun, I tried to find any food in the store that has high-fructose corn syrup in it, and I couldn't! I was just sure I would be able to find some in the soft drinks, but they don't carry those brands.

We also buy organic bread from the Bellingham Great Harvest Bread Company. They make both organic and non-organic breads, but lately we have moved to buying their organic spelt and kamut breads. The organic breads cost a little more, but I figure it's worth it. Even the non-organic breads are made with locally grown flour.

The Co-op and the Bellingham Farmers' Market are indispensable in our quest to get the best food we can afford. Our food choices give us the ability to be healthy and vigorous in what is rapidly becoming the "late afternoon of our lives." Much better image than the "golden years," don't you think?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Knees in the breeze

Today I headed up to Skydive Snohomish with Smart Guy to make a couple of skydives. Here is a picture of three of the five of my best jump buddies, who went up in the Caravan to play in the sky: Linny, Cindy, and Christine. It was early in the day and it was still a bit brisk, as you can see by the down vest Christine is wearing.

We went up around noon and had a stellar 5-way jump (meaning there were five of us making pretty patterns together in the sky). Smart Guy was a "lurker" meaning that he jumped out with us but just watched us play. We had so much fun that we came down and packed up our gear so we could do it again.
Here you can see the female's gear pile. On the right is Linny's blue and silver rig, in the middle my black, purple and blue-trimmed rig, and on the left, Christine's pretty pink rig trimmed in turquoise. Each one of these "rigs" contains two parachutes: our main and our reserve.

Then we went up to make a second skydive, where we played again in the air, gazing out at Puget Sound and the snow-covered mountains on our way to altitude, before we jumped out to play again in the air, a full minute of freefall before separating and opening our parachutes to glide back down to earth. It was such a lovely day, and now I am home safe and sound. The life I live today, here in the Pacific Northwest, is so magnificent that I am constantly filled with gratitude.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Icelandic volcano

Smoke & steam from volcano, 14 April. From the Examiner.
Wow. Most of us have seen these pictures, and more, about the Icelandic volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, disrupting air travel all over the world. It is shooting out smoke and steam as high as 55,000 feet. As most of us air travelers know, we usually fly around 30,000 feet in transatlantic flights. London Heathrow and most other European airports are closed. Planes cannot fly safely through the ash, because it gets into the engines and makes them freeze up. Not a good thing for anybody. Flights are being allowed at lower VFR (visual flight rules) altitudes, but the whole mess is complicated by the fact that the volcano shows no signs of letting up. Not to mention that the high pressure over most of Europe is keeping the ash from dispersing.

This is not the first time that an Icelandic volcano has caused such disruptions. I found that the Laki eruption in 1783 is thought to have had worldwide ramifications for years. It continued to erupt for eight months. There is a great Wikipedia link about this one, and I found this to be very frightening:
The consequences for Iceland—known as the Mist Hardships—were catastrophic. An estimated 20-25% of the population died in the famine and fluorine poisoning after the fissure eruptions ceased. Around 80% of sheep, 50% of cattle and 50% of horses died because of dental and skeletal fluorisis from the 8 million tons of hydrogen fluoride that were released.
That was in Iceland. In Europe, tens of thousands of people died because of the massive amounts of ash and sulfur dioxide that traveled across the water to Europe. The link gives some fascinating information (not at all reassuring), and blames the Laki eruption for the French Revolution!

We can only hope that worldwide travel disruptions will be the only thing that we humans and other animals experience from this one. It makes me remember how little we can protect ourselves from catastrophic events, and how powerful they are. Does anybody else feel like these things (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.) are increasing?

Friday, April 16, 2010

The tipping point

This post is inspired by two things: (1) the incredibly diverse comments I received on this post a few days ago, and (2) a book I am reading right now called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. This link goes to the Wikipedia description of the book and the author's main premises, so you can make a decision about whether you want to read it. It's pretty interesting, if you like to think about these things.

In the post about "Followers and Comments," I noticed one very important trend in the comments, and that is we really don't know what any of us expected when we started blogging, and we don't really know what the "rules" are. That's because there really aren't any, and some people who "tag" others or present another blog with an award, with instructions, are also not sure what's expected. I know the first award I received asked me to tell 7 things about myself that are not well known and tag 7 other blogs with the award.

Well, this was way tough and time-consuming, but I did it because I thought maybe I would be thrown out of the blogosphere if I didn't. A little easier to handle type of tagging you might receive is to find a picture in a particular folder either in Picasa (if you're a blogspot blogger) or in your photo albums and post it, telling a little about the picture. I think all these memes and tags come from other bloggers casting about for interesting topics, or wanting to know more about their followers. I'm actually not quite sure.

The book is fascinating, when you think of our blogosphere and contemplate its power. The book introduces a concept of how things are passed along from person to person, like viruses, fads, and fashions. People are categorized as being Connectors, Mavens, or Salesmen.

From Chap. 2,  The Tipping Point (Gladwell, 2000) (click to enlarge)
If you were to study the comments following that post, you would find a representative or two from each of these categories. What fascinates me is how we are exploding our ideas so quickly and efficiently through the blogosphere, which never ceases to amaze me with its power. The whole idea of a "tipping point" (this link takes you to the Wikipedia page that explains what that means in physics, sociology, and climatology) is perfectly illustrated in our blogging world.

I don't want to belabor the point I'm making here, because one thing I've discovered is that the posts I enjoy the most give me something to chew on and then present some ways to explore the concept further. My point: WE are at the tipping point in the blogging world, and where we are going is beginning to coalesce, but I don't recognize what it is, or what it means, quite yet. But I'm sure having the time of my life!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Anderson Mountain

Seventeen Senior Trailblazers carpooled to the Big Stump designating the beginning of today's hike, covering a total of just over ten miles and up and down somewhere around 2,200 feet of elevation. This beautiful picture of our friend Mt. Baker is taken in one of the only places where I had a view of the mountains that would peek every once in awhile through the trees, taken in the early afternoon. (News flash: our fearless leader just emailed me with my error: this is not Mt. Baker but is the South Sister! This is why it looks so different to me: it IS different!) The day had dawned beautifully clear and not cold, with a threat of rain in the afternoon forecast.
We started out with clear skies. After a short uphill hike, we passed through an area of clearcut forest, pretty sad looking, actually (click any photo to enlarge). But it was the first time we had a view, so I took this picture to show you the clear skies and the fallen trees we had to hike over and around. Once we left the clearcut behind and gained some elevation, we began to see some of the leftover snow from the system that moved through last week.
After a short while, we were hiking through snow at least 8 inches deep, which continued for a couple of miles. When I think of what it was like up there last Thursday, I'll bet lots of people were on cross country skis or snowshoes. We just slogged along, until we stopped for lunch at 12:00. Was I ever glad for my new gaiters!
At one point on the trail, we saw these skunk cabbage beginning to emerge in this stream. Some people have asked why "Fragrance Lake" has that name, well, it's these guys: and they are not fragrant in a good way, hence the name "skunk." But today these sprouts had no smell. We did hear hunters practicing their shooting for a long time, and we worried a little that the shots seemed awfully close at times. One of our hikers is a hunter, though, and he assured us that we would not be seen as game.
On the descent, I took this picture to show the bay as well as the threatening clouds. Before we reached our trailhead and the cars, it had begun to rain a little. It was wonderful to have a great excursion, with my good friends, and finish just as the rain began to fall. Now it's the end of the day, I have my wine, my partner, and the sore muscles from a good day's work.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Followers and comments

Today I received a bit of bad news: one of my favorite bloggers, Jo over at A Majority of Two, wrote this morning that she's going to take a break from blogging because she's afraid that her blog has become boring. She's not receiving many comments any more, and because she doesn't have a particular style (like blogging about knitting, photos, memes, etc.), she said, "I'm not sure I even have anything interesting to say. My observations on life are often not the same as everyone else's."

Well. This gives me a great opening for a problem about blogging that I've noticed for quite awhile. This wonderful blogosphere that I visit daily (unless something comes up to keep me away for a day, or even two) is so diverse and exciting that I can settle in to Google Reader and read the blogs I follow, taking an excursion or two, and the entire DAY is gone. If someone like Jo, who at present has 748 followers, doesn't hear from more than a few of us, she thinks we're not interested in what she has written.

I know all about it. I might dash off a post about something on my mind and wham! I come home from the gym and I've received a dozen comments. Conversely, I might write something I am particularly interested in, take time and care to research the information, and few readers comment -- or if they do it's a simple acknowledgment of having read it; no deep thoughts are shared. And I've got little to no idea what the difference is.

I have exactly 65 followers, unless someone has joined or bailed since I last looked, and frankly I feel it's about all I can handle. I visit all commenters when they say something meaningful and I want to know more about them. And some of the people I leave comments for never fail to write a short private email back to acknowledge me. (Many bloggers don't have contact information for various reasons, but some, like me, like to receive private emails.) I am jealous of my followers. I feel bad when someone leaves, but I don't try to find out who it was. Recently a couple of my blogging buddies cleaned up the blogs they followed and deleted some, only to receive nasty emails.

We are still trying to find our way here in the blogosphere. There are not hard-and-fast rules of the road because we are still in the early stages. But it's hard when I pour my heart out to what I have come to think of as my "audience," and nobody responds. Self-doubt begins to surface and then my imagination, my worry, takes over. It's not an easy thing to write personally, but in some ways it's more thrilling than getting ready to jump from an airplane. For some of us, anyway. :-)

I love blogging, but there is more to life than just playing around on the computer with my virtual friends. If I didn't have Smart Guy to talk with, in person, and my social contacts outside of the apartment, my life would be pretty dull. I could be that guy in the cartoon with Samantha, if I let myself. But I won't.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Psychology of pricing

Heading home on the bus today, I was thinking about whether I would be more likely to buy something priced $9.99 over something priced $10.00. And even though I KNOW in my mind that this is a trick (that before I left the store I would be paying far more than $10.00 after tax), somehow the penny difference means I would be more likely to buy it. I even remember times when I was pleased with myself about buying something and telling Smart Guy that it was "just a little over $9," as if he would have cared. I was just kidding myself.

Once I got home I hit the Internet, looking for the reason behind this phenomenon, and it was of course easy to find. But I discovered some things I never knew before. First of all, I learned that there are established rules for pricing, one being that you never price something ending in 0 or 1. End your price with a 5, 7, 8 or 9. I also found this humorous picture of a "markdown" price by sylvar on Flickr. You know, if I wasn't paying strict attention, I might have fallen for this one myself!

I also learned about "decoy" marketing. On a website called "Neuromarketing: Where Brain Science and Marketing Meet," I discovered an interesting experiment using magazine subscription offers:
Two groups of subjects saw one or the other of these offers to subscribe to The Economist.
Offer A:
$59 – Internet Only Subscription (68 chose)
$125 – Internet and Print Subscription (32 chose)
Predicted Revenue – $8,012
Offer B:
$59 – Internet Only Subscription (16 chose)
$125 – Print Only Subscription (0 chose)
$125 – Internet and Print Subscription (84 chose)
Predicted Revenue – $11,444
Take a moment to look at this rather startling result. Both offers are the same, with the exception of including the “print only” subscription in Offer A. Despite the fact that not a single person chose that unattractive offer, its impact was dramatic – 62% more subjects chose the combined print and Internet offer, and predicted revenue jumped 43%. The print-only offer was the decoy, and served to make the combined offer look like a better value. While it’s true that Ariely’s test had the subjects make the choice without actually consummating the deal with a credit card, it’s clear that introducing the decoy made the combined offer look more attractive.
I don't know about you, but it irks me that I would have actually fallen for this ploy. Psychology is used to tempt us to buy things we really don't need or want all the time. I see it on TV and in print, and I am just as susceptible as the next person. This gives me even more incentive to be vigilant about only purchasing what I really need.

What does this mean for those of us who really hate to get pennies in change? For one thing, it means that the penny will be with us (here in the United States at least) for a long, long time. Now the trick is to find out what to do with all those extraneous pennies. Hmmm. Maybe I'll do something like this:


Monday, April 12, 2010

A little madness in the spring

Smart Guy sent me this picture, which he found on Reddit. It made me laugh, so I hope it will make you laugh too. I've actually seen that scenario happen, just today in fact, while waiting for the bus.

The title of this post is from a poem by my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. Emily was a very interesting person, who got a little eccentric as she got older. She never left her father's house in Amherst, and her older sister Lavinia discovered her poems in a box after Emily died in her early fifties. From the Wikipedia link:
Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Most of her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence.
But her poems, nevertheless, have always impacted me very deeply. Sometimes I have wondered if there is something about them that makes me particularly susceptible. I do know that only a few of her poems were published during her lifetime, and they changed the wording, punctuation and capitalization to make them more like standard nineteenth-century poetry, and I can't imagine how that made her feel. They really ruined them to make them conform to somebody's idea of what they should be like. She didn't become a noted poet until long after her death. She used dashes and very unconventional capitalization, as seen in this image from the above Wikipedia link. Today, Emily Dickinson's poetry has many scholars who have devoted their entire lives to their study, so I don't feel at all out of place because of my love of her poems. Her body of work is taught in American literature and poetry classes here and around the world. Someone who was unknown during her lifetime has now become as well known today as any poet, living or dead.

When I used to go on solo overnight hikes into the wilderness, I would take along a set of her poems to memorize to keep me company. Some are well known, but I think the ones I know by heart are not that popular. I just memorized the ones that kept coming to me in snippets. This is one of my favorites, with her dashes and capitalization intact:
A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown -
Who ponders this tremendous scene -
This whole Experiment of Green -
As if it were his own!

Emily Dickinson, c. 1875

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Indoor skydiving

That's me in 2003, taking a very expensive week-long lesson in how to improve my skydiving technique. Notice that I really DO look a lot like that person in my previous post, except that I have about ten pounds of lead strapped around my middle in this picture to keep me belly down in the wind tunnel. This was in Orlando, Florida, but more and more wind tunnels are cropping up all around the country. Take a look at the Wikipedia information about vertical wind tunnels.

And more than that, what is going to happen to the next generation of skydivers? I have never flown around successfully on my head, but just look at what these two 8- and 11-year-old "tunnel kids" are doing at the wind tunnel in Colorado.

Whatever you do, don't let your kids or grandkids see this video, or you will be spending all your money for them to go to the nearest wind tunnel to play in the tunnel like this! These kids are much better than most skydivers who have spent tons of money (like I did in that first picture) to get better. At about 2:20 into the video, the kids are joined by two adults and they fly around making different formations on their belly. This is the kind of skydiving that I am familiar with.

They will be flying circles around their instructors (in freefall, anyway) if they become skydivers. But of course they won't know the first thing about flying a canopy, and that might be the scariest part of the experience for them. I am really looking forward to sitting around in my rockin' chair and watching this new generation conquer the sky.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tenth photo

CrazyCris over at Here and There and Everywhere just tagged me in a photo meme, with the instructions to find the tenth photo in my first album (that's over there on Picasa if you have a blogspot blog) and post it with a note. Well, here it is: Smart Guy and me on our wedding day, getting married in freefall May 5, 1994. We are passing the symbolic Baton of Commitment (in his left hand) while flying (okay, falling) over Loveland, Colorado. On our marriage certificate, we stated that we would be married when we passed through 5,500 feet on 5/5, and nobody objected, so there you are.

In Colorado, you don't need anyone to "marry" you (like an ordained minister) as long as you both sign the certificate and get a witness. Our camera man Bill acted as our witness, and we had another private ceremony on a hilltop near our home earlier in the day.

Now I believe the only other thing I am supposed to do here is pass the instructions along to five other people, and IF YOU WANT, go to your Picasa web albums and look at what the tenth picture is in your first album, and let us know by writing a post about it. Nobody will come banging on your door if you decide this is a silly meme, and believe me, if my tenth picture was not one I wanted to share with you, I'd do what Cris did and substitute, or just blow it off. No worries. This blogosphere is supposed to be fun, not work!
Weather Vane (Rae's picture will be probably be funny)
Somebody Else's Nose (Whitney's lovely blog about her family life)
A Slower Pace (Linda in Portland doesn't accept awards so might not respond)
Animal Talk (Jan's animal blog, it's gonna be a critter)
Far Side of Fifty (Connie has 3 blogs, this will be interesting)
I just tagged those I felt curious about. And if you don't want to do it, please don't feel obligated.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Not one raindrop

Very few Senior Trailblazers (seven to be exact) came out today for our regular Thursday hike. It had something to do with the weather forecast: it was awful. All last night the wind blew hard, and more than a half inch of rain fell. The forecast for today:
Windy...occasional showers. Precipitation may mix with wet snow in heavier showers. Highs 45 to 50. Northwest wind 15 to 30 mph. Local gusts to 45 mph this morning. 
When I woke to find the sun shining, I figured it would end soon. I packed my new backpack with all the rain gear near the top, and since it was going to be windy and rainy, I took lots of warm clothes. That picture above shows the beginning of our hike today, up what we call "Cub Creek." Isn't it an inviting trail? We meandered up the trail in perfect hiking weather. We covered eight miles in total and 1,500 feet in elevation.
As we climbed higher, though, this is what we saw: snow. Apparently last night while it was raining in Bellingham, at the higher elevations snow was falling. This is Al, who led our trek up past the Cub Creek trail to the Stewart Mountain road. The rain never came, and the only precipitation we had were the big plops of snow falling off the trees onto us, like on Al's arm. (Click to enlarge.)
When we got to our lunch spot, we looked at the temperature and noticed that it wasn't exactly warm, right around freezing. But the wind never blew, other than an occasional gust (just enough to let the snow on the trees give us a nice shower). Here's how much snow was on the logs when we brushed them off to have lunch:
I would say it's about five or six inches, and walking in the snow was a bit tiring. By the time we had gone four miles and stopped for lunch, we discussed whether to go on longer or start back. The consensus was not to push our luck, so although our total miles were just under eight, several of them were in snow, which takes a little more effort to walk through. I'm tired but not terribly so.
I just had to show you my new pack: it's an REI Ventura 30, which gives me the room to carry everything I need. That's my nifty inflatable REI seat cushion, much nicer to sit on than that cold snow, my sparkly hat, and my trekking poles. We did get a view now and then.
This picture looks out past the snow-covered trees to Lake Whatcom, where we started out. It was a truly wonderful day, and although I'm feeling well exercised, I'm not hobbling around like I was a week ago. This was much more fun, although one of our more enthusiastic hikers thought it was a "wimpy" hike. Not! And not one raindrop.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dreams about flying

Do you dream about flying? This picture I found on the internet almost exactly pictures the dream I had last night. The only real difference was that I was in a flatter position, with my arms below me as though I was cupping air, and I was de-arched instead of arched like this woman is.

That could easily be because I have more than 64 hours of accumulated time in freefall (being a skydiver and all), and if you need to gain altitude in relation to someone else you are skydiving with, you need that de-arched body position.

Thinking of my dream, I can very clearly see myself taking off from the ground by pushing hard on the air with my arms and gaining altitude, until I reached about a first-story height off the ground. And when I woke up from the dream, it reminded me that I have dreamed this before. After gaining some height above the ground, I lazily flew around in a very serene manner, looking down at the trees and pushing through gossamer clouds. I landed a couple of times and took off again, I think to confirm that I really could fly any time I wanted.

In looking for a picture, I found several websites about lucid dreaming where people decide to dream about flying, and lots of pictures, but this one certainly reminded me of the feeling I had. I think I have pictures of myself in freefall in almost exactly that position, but with one major difference: I had a parachute system on my back! And shoes and a jumpsuit. Well, there WAS that one time I did a naked jump, but I won't talk about that right now...

Monday, April 5, 2010

The legs tell the story

I took this picture of my legs this morning, wanting to show you what some well-used ones look like. They have been with me since 1942, and they are still going strong. The knees give me some trouble on the downhill parts of our hikes, and without my trekking poles I would be in serious pain, but I can still hike as much as I want. My left knee that had the ACL replacement also has some meniscus damage and sometimes it clicks and pops. 

For about twenty years I ran (actually jogged) with these legs on a regular basis, but the serious skydiving accident I had ten years ago stopped that. However, I'm still skydiving during the summer months (and have already made four this year, not too bad for a lot of rainy weekends lately). I used to make about 30 skydives a month on average, but I'm happy to have other activities now that I'm getting a little older. My time spent at the YMCA in the company of many like-minded friends is high on my list.

And those of you who read this blog regularly know that I go hiking with the Senior Trailblazers every Thursday and add a post with pictures of each day's adventures. Because of this group, I now know about many wonderful hikes in the Mt. Baker Wilderness Area. Last week I learned that many of us were hurting by the end of our 11-mile jaunt. Many Seniors take drugs before heading out the door (like ibuprofin, Naprosin, etc.).

I am trying my best to live up to the spirit of this poem by an anonymous author. I've seen a few different versions of it, but this is the one I like best:
Life is not a journey to the grave
With the intention of
Arriving safely in a pretty
And well preserved body,
But rather to skid in broadside,
Thoroughly used up,
Totally worn out,
And loudly proclaiming,
WOW !!!! What a ride!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter epiphany

Last night I went to see the musical Cabaret with my friend Judy and her daughter-in-law Amy. We went out for dinner and then to the theater to make a night of it. I have seen the movie version several times and knew the story and the music very well, but Amy hadn't ever seen it before. I keep forgetting that the younger generation doesn't have the same background I take for granted.

I woke up to the theme song "Life is a Cabaret" and "Money" reverberating in my mind and thinking about the play. The version we saw at the Mount Baker Theater had a very wonderful actor playing the part of the Emcee (for those of you who remember Joel Gray in that part). So, in keeping with the theme of movies about Paris during the Nazi occupation, I watched Inglourious Basterds today, which has been sitting on the side table for weeks now, with me not willing to deal with Quentin Tarantino's penchant for violence but really wanting to see the performance by Christoph Waltz, which earned him every accolade out there for his performance as Col. Hans Landa.

I am really glad I watched the movie today, on Easter, thinking of what I want to resurrect and what I want to let go in my own psyche. If you have only seen the trailers for this movie, you will be surprised when you finally do see it. It's not what you think. Yes, there is violence, but it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be, and less than "Saving Private Ryan," which I cannot bring myself to watch again. I could see this movie again.

As usual, as soon as I finished watching the movie, I went over to Rotten Tomatoes to see what the "freshness" rating is and was pleased to find out that 89% of the reviews of the movie have been positive. Brad Pitt is funny and offers almost comic relief when compared to the scary brilliance that Waltz portrays. One reviewer (the Oscar Guy) says it very well:
Waltz is anything but humorous. He plays a character so repugnant and vicious that his mild manner and friendly gestures belie a horrible temperament, which perfectly captures the charisma inherent in the Third Reich that allowed them to so effectively creep into the minds of the public and encourage them to support their evil machinations. He clearly recognizes the needs of the role and executes them perfectly, shifting from French to German to English in character with the ease of a studied actor.
 But what of the epiphany in the title of this post, you ask? Well, it was about some of the feelings I had while watching the movie. After being pensive thinking about what the Nazi occupation did to the French and the Jews in Cabaret, I began to root for the vicious killers who were on the "right" side of the violence in Tarantino's movie. And then the realization hit me: I was feeling justified in my desire to watch them suffer, in effect becoming like them. Also from the Oscar Guy:
The viewer rejoices in what happens on the screen, but does not recognize how alike that response is to those of the Germans in the film. We are at once repulsed by their reaction, but celebratory of their own demise to that point. And I can fully attest to those same feelings. There’s a certain satisfaction in seeing the events as they transpire at the end of the film, but if we can recognize that in ourselves, it makes us far better able to amend our ways so that we don’t take that slippery slope towards exclusion, prejudice and injustice.
 Amen. That's the epiphany. The thing that keeps these things going on in the world from generation to generation: a desire for revenge, to see "justice" done, to keep alive all those feelings that I really want to see gone from the world. I have a duty to see the humanity in the struggles of all of us toward the light, toward wholeness. The place to start is in my own heart.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Farmers' Market 2010

I went out in wind, rain, hail, and blustery conditions to share the opening day of the 18th Annual Farmers' Market with my fellow Bellinghamsters. I loved this pansy, which looks to me like a face with its eyes schrunched shut and saying, "Happy Easter!" The Bellingham Market always begins the season with the mayor of the city throwing out the first cabbage. Here he is welcoming us all to the market:
You notice he's holding the cabbage as he tells us what he's getting ready to do (as if we didn't already know), since this is now a tradition. I got the cabbage in mid-flight, but unfortunately it's not completely in focus. Last year it was sunny and the camera movement wasn't as critical. Plus I had to elbow my way around professional camera people who kept blocking my view.
The boy in the blue sweatshirt successfully caught the cabbage, which gave the market opening an auspicious beginning and hopefully heralds a good season. Even with the weather as unwelcoming as it was, people turned out in droves. And by the time we got ready to leave, the weather began to improve. We even were serenaded by this cute little guy, playing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and "This Old Man" on his violin. The little girl seemed more interested in the money!
Even though it's pretty early in the season, I saw asparagus and greens for sale, along with plenty of flowers. People seemed happy to be there, and some were lined up six or eight deep to buy, probably because they have been feeling starved for the market wares. Not only is most of the food here organically grown, but it also supports the local farmers, which is worth a great deal. You can click any picture to enlarge.
There are also local bakeries displaying their wares, which made me decide it was time to leave and come home to have lunch. This delicious baked goody caught my eye, and after suppressing the rumbling in my stomach, I stopped to snap a picture before heading back home. Mmmm!
But just as was heading back to the car, I saw these gorgeous radishes, and the vendor told me they are called "Easter egg radishes" which I thought meant they are just perfect to finish off this post. All pictures were taken this morning at the 18th Annual Farmers' Market.
Happy Easter! And have fun dyeing and hiding those eggs, Mr. Easter Bunny!