Monday, May 31, 2010

Ski to Sea event

Yesterday all 454 teams in the Ski to Sea relay race contended with each other, some very competitive, others not so much. Since it was overcast with rain spitting now and then, I decided to pretend like I'm a real Washingtonian and go out in the light rain as if it wasn't there. That's one thing I've noticed here: if it's a light rain, most people go about their business without raincoats or umbrellas.

The Ski to Sea began at Mt. Baker with a 4-mile cross-country loop, then the downhill skiers took over for a 2.5-mile loop (this made me wonder how you do a "loop" with downhill skis, before I discovered that they have to climb up the hill before skiing down). There's a PDF file showing the entire course on the Ski to Sea website, if you're interested. The timing chip is passed from the team member finishing one part to the next leg of the relay. After skiing, runners descend on the road 2,200 feet in eight miles. Here's a picture I took from the newspaper showing a bicycle competitor who just took the chip from his teammate:
The running segment is followed by a 38.5-mile road bike race, which is followed by an 18-mile canoe paddle down the Nooksack River. Many of the team names were takeoffs on the name of the river: Kicked in the Nooksack and Nooksackulous, to name a few. One of my fellow Trailblazers was in the canoe section and we chatted when he picked up his team packet on Friday. I also took this picture of the canoe competitors from the Bellingham Herald:
The canoe team then passed the chip off to the mountain biking team member, who went through 14 miles of muddy bike trails before passing the chip to the kayak team member, who would finish the race after a five-mile kayak race to the end at Marine Park. This is where I went to see the finish line. I saw several teams who came in within the first 50 teams to finish. Here's the kayaker from Well Hung Jury almost on the beach:
Once the kayak comes to shore, two volunteers pull the kayak out of the water, while the competitor raced (or hobbled, or somehow made his or her way) to the finish line to ring the bell, as shown below:
Once the bell is rung, the race is over for the eight team members who navigated the shoals of the Ski to Sea relay race, before finally calling it a day. The entire area in Fairhaven was shoulder to shoulder people, coming to support their friends, or people who were sporting numbers from earlier segments of the race to watch their team member finish. It was quite an experience, and after volunteering I am thinking (just thinking, mind you) about which parts of the relay I might be able to do. I've done quite a bit of cross-country skiing and still have my gear, and bike riding is not out of the question.
I finished my time in Fairhaven by going into the gated temporary "beer garden" and getting a brew while standing in the light rain and chatting with these two young men. They wouldn't let me out until I had finished the beer, since it was only legal to drink inside. I finally made my way to the bus stop and went home after a fine afternoon experiencing the Ski to Sea with what seemed to be most of the city of Bellingham!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Blue Award

TechnoBabe has honored me with an award, a really interesting one (and my favorite color, too!). So, here's my attempt to follow the rules she has laid out, which are: (1) answer her ten questions; (2) make up your OWN ten questions, and (3) pass it along to six other bloggers. The only thing I might add is that I wish the bloggers whom I tag to know that I sincerely would like to know their answers to the questions, but if they choose not to do this, I won't mind a bit.

Here are TechnoBabe's ten questions, and my answers:

1. What is one thing you do not want to write about in your blog?
Writing about politics, sex, religion, and other controversial subjects makes me uncomfortable, but in the right context I will write about any of them. I would never write about any (possible) past drug use because of the possibility of ramifications, as I pointed out in the second half of this post.
2. If you were able to travel any place for a month, where would you want to go?
Oh, this is a hard one! If I could spend a month in France, especially Paris, for its incredible museums, architecture, the Left Bank, and then of course traveling to Versailles and absorbing the French culture. And since I don't speak French, I would love to have Vagabonde along with me to show me what I would otherwise have missed.
3. What is your favorite book reading genre?
I realize this has changed in the past few years. I once read every science fiction book I could get my hands on, but I've moved lately to really well-written novels, especially historical ones or those written about other cultures. Only rarely do I read mysteries, but I've got The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my list because I enjoyed the movie so much. And right now I'm reading Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez about the mysterious land and creatures of the Far North. So the answer is that I don't really have one.
 4. How old do you have to be to consider yourself really old?
Well, I'm 67 right now and I'm not there yet. I think, however, if you had asked me that question when I was in my twenties, I would have considered the late sixties as being really old. Now, I'm thinking that "really old" must start at 80. I've got friends in my hiking club who are in their late seventies and still going strong.
 5. What part of blogging do you enjoy most?
The friendships, without a doubt. I have made friends who enrich my life every day, who are as real and present to me as those I see daily. Even more so, in some circumstances. I also enjoy seeing the myriad outlooks we have on the same topic; it broadens my world and causes me to think.
 6. If you were looking for a roommate, what is your ideal roomie?
An introvert (since I'm an extrovert), someone who honors my space as I would honor theirs, and someone who likes to cook (I don't). Oh, wait! I've got that roomie, and he's called my Life Partner. How lucky is that?
 7. What does the word spiritual mean to you?
"Spiritual" is an adjective that defines something else, so it varies in context. A spiritual person, to me, is someone who seeks to understand the mystical aspects of life, who is either religious in the traditional sense or follows devotional practices to enhance his or her own spiritual life. A spiritual experience can be anything that uplifts me, no matter how mundane it might be to someone else.
 8. How many siblings do you have?
I am the oldest of six siblings, with twenty years between my youngest sister and me. We also had a sister who was born prematurely and died within a day of her birth, so maybe I should say I have seven. None of these questions is easily answered, even this one. :-)
 9. Have you ever been in a car accident?
Hasn't everyone? It depends on what kind of an accident. In my twenties I ventured out in a car to go to work when the roads were a sheet of ice. I couldn't stop going down a hill and ran into the mailman in his vehicle, the only other person on the road! Nobody was badly hurt, but the vehicles didn't fare as well.
 10. Do you have a pet?
Not at the present time. When I met Smart Guy, we were both active skydivers and the only pets I had were plants, and even those had to be cared for when we were out of town for any length of time. We presently live in a no-pets apartment complex, or I would have a cat. They are my preferred pets, because they require much less attention than dogs. I have nothing but fond memories of the many cats that have owned me over the years.
 Okay! That part is done. Now I will think about my own questions I'd like to ask. But first I need to think about who I'll choose to tag so I can make sure they take awards and to figure out what I'd like to know about them. My ten questions:

1. What is your favorite book and why?
2. If you could be anybody, living or dead, who would it be?
3. What is your first memory? Why do you think you remember it?
4. What do you think is your strongest asset?
5. Do you like parties? Why or why not?
6. What is your favorite activity?
7. Why do you blog?
8. Do you get regular exercise? If so, how?
9. Are you happy? Why or why not?
10. Tell something about yourself you want to share.

Wow! That was a LOT harder to do than I thought it would be. Therefore, I'm going to list the six people I'm tagging, but if for any reason you find this award onerous and you don't want to do it, I officially release you from it. If it's not fun for you, please feel free to forget it. Drumroll, please:

Whitney at Somebody Else's Nose.
Gigi at gigi-hawaii.
Crazy Cris at Here and There and Everywhere.
Lucy at My Secrets for Happiness.
Wendy at Overhaul.
Linda at Linda Letters.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ski to Sea volunteer gig

I am really trying not to panic over getting behind on my favorite blogs and with writing my own posts. TechnoBabe honored me with one that I am getting to within the next day or two, and I also have a couple of ideas that are percolating in my head. Yesterday I spent the entire day volunteering for the Ski to Sea race that happens tomorrow, Sunday on Memorial Day weekend. For my time and energy, I was given a nice lunch, coffee all day long, and the great t-shirt you see above. But I had no internet access!

What is the Ski to Sea, you ask? Well, Bellingham has held, over the past 99 years, a relay race from Mt. Baker down to Marine Park in Bellingham Bay. It starts with a cross-country ski leg, then downhill skiing or snowboarding, then a 3-mile run down the paved road, a 38-mile bicycle leg, a canoe section down the Nooksack River, a mountain biking segment, and finally ending up with a sea kayaking finish. Eight different people are on each team, one for each segment except for the canoe, which has two. I signed up to help pass out packets to the team captains.
Each packet has competitors t-shirts and instructions for the start of each segment, along with a computerized chip that is handed off at the end of each part to the competitor of the next part. Once they have their packet and their chip is activated, they go off to distribute the goods to the rest of the team. I assisted with finding the correct number and/or name for each captain and yelling out the corresponding number to the runners who found the packet. There are almost 500 teams this year. When someone would walk up to me, I'd ask if they knew the number for their team (most didn't) or the name (most did). Some of the names were priceless: Well Hung Jury, Bitchin' Hot Babes, and some which would be whispered to me, they were so risque.
Here's some of the volunteers: the lady in front, in green, is Mandy, the volunteer coordinator (I sat where she is now), Sherry, my cohort, and Kevin, standing behind her. We were there until 6:00 pm, when I came home too tired to read any of my blogs, had my wine and some dinner and just sat down to relax. We were cold because the door was wide open, with the wind blowing in, and the temperature in the mid-fifties.

I feel much more connected to this event now that I've volunteered for it, and I'll be back next year. It was really fun, if a fair amount of work. Now I'm off to my Fairhaven walking group, which I'm going to attend, reluctantly, because it's still raining, and it's still cold. Hope your Memorial Day weekend is not that way!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lake Padden and party

For the past few years, Norm and Gina have hosted a party for all the Senior Trailblazers, both for our group (the Half Fast contingent) and the slower more sedate hiking group, to celebrate the beginning of summer. They have a lovely summer home on Cain Lake, near Lake Padden, and today we had a short five-mile hike around Lake Padden before heading to Norm and Gina's home for the potluck. The two groups went on separate hikes; one around the lake, and the other on the horse trails around the southern part of the lake, making it a little longer and giving us over 1,000 feet to climb up and down. At each intersection you will find a map, such as this one, letting you know where you are.
The weather cooperated, since all day yesterday (Wednesday) it rained and rained. Never mind those raindrops, they were left over from yesterday. Today was cloudy but dry, but tomorrow (Friday) is predicted to have rain all day. The holiday weekend looks mixed, and we here in the Pacific Northwest are experiencing the coolest and wettest weather in the nation. This weather, though, gives us scenes like this gorgeous fern garden along our trail (click to enlarge any picture):
Once we got to Norm and Gina's, they provided us with burgers and hot dogs on the grill (neither of which I ate, but there was some great smoked salmon that I enjoyed instead). The potluck was filled with abundant salads and baked beans, and some great desserts.
Here is Norm flipping burgers, and Gina behind him in assist mode. The two of them have been married for 47 years, and I complimented Gina for raising him to be such a gentleman. Norm always helps the ladies across fallen logs and across streams; she said their boys do the same, having been raised to be gentlemen like their dad.
As we gathered on the steps and across the lawn to eat the great food, Norm asked how many of us are in our nineties, and some hands were raised (they are in the slower group, but they are still hiking!). A few are in their eighties, with most of us in our seventies or sixties. But if you take a close look at this picture (above), you can see that most are fit and accustomed to exercise (or should I say addicted). You know the old saying, "use it or lose it." We all take that adage to heart!
Norm took some Seniors out in his boat before we left (that's Norm in the back drinking coffee with his hand on the tiller). The Senior Trailblazers have added life to my years, and years to my life, no doubt. I am blessed to have this hike to look forward to each Thursday, and these friends to share it with.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Picture by triciawd on Flickr
This post is a perfect example of how I get sidetracked and hours go by, just reading blogs and pursuing ideas. It all started when one of the blogs I follow mentioned that she has ants all over her peonies, and she was thinking about trying to find some way to get rid of the ants. It jogged an old memory about peonies and ants being in a symbiotic relationship, that the peonies secrete an irresistible scent to the ants, which crawl all over them and thereby assist in the opening of the blossoms.

In researching this, I found the above picture of a symbiotic relationship most of us have heard about: the birds take the parasites off the gazelle and consume them, while the gazelle looks on as if to say, "Thanks, guys! I feel so much better now." But let's go back to the peonies and the ants for a minute. I found this website about their relationship. Here's an excerpt:
Some people dislike the peony flower due to the fact that they have a symbiotic relationship with black ants. In early spring, the peony buds will secret a small amount of nectar, which attracts the ant. The ants will then pull slightly at the peony petals to get to the nectar. This helps to loosen the peony's petals and makes it easier for the flower to open. The ants are not absolutely necessary to helping peonies bloom, but they are helpful and do not harm anything. Most gardening experts advise against trying to kill the ants.
 It turns out that there are several different kinds of symbiosis. (This is why I've been swimming around in this black hole, reading about this or that fascinating side of symbiosis and going to my favorite site (Wikipedia) for more information.) The real problem came when I discovered the story of Owen and Mzee. I remembered learning a little about this symbiotic relationship a few years ago.

Owen is a baby hippo who was orphaned during the Indian Ocean tsunami. He was found alone and dehydrated and was placed in a wildlife sanctuary in Mombasa. He immediately began to follow around a 130-year-old giant tortoise named Mzee (which means "old man" in Swahili). Well, in researching this wonderful story, I found that this particular kind of symbiosis is called commensalism, where two different species live in close proximity to one another, to the benefit of one and without disturbing the other.
Owen and Mzee in 2006
 At first, Mzee didn't want anything to do with Owen, but Owen followed him around long enough to wear down his resistance. I think that the wise old tortoise recognized a needy soul and took pity on him. From that Wikipedia link about Owen and Mzee (in the caption):
Owen immediately bonded to Mzee and would crouch behind him. However, Mzee initially resisted Owen's overtures. Over time, the old tortoise came to accept the young hippo, who began to mimic his adoptive parent. Gradually, Mzee taught Owen, who was a nursing calf, what to eat and where to sleep. In the first year, the two became inseparable companions who ate, slept, swam, and played together. Owen often played with the old tortoise by jumping on Mzee's back, scratching the old tortoise on the neck, and in many other ways. They surprised scientists with the strength of what appeared to be a genuine bond, as well as with the unique vocal communication that developed between them.
That just made my day, learning about them. They even have their own website, complete with documentary videos and links to several media articles about them. I also found this wonderful page which describes examples of symbiosis in action, which has more delightful pictures of this unlikely couple.

Given the news of the day, and the weight of the world as it hung around my neck this morning, I needed this. I hope it will give you a lift as well.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I can hear again

Today I had an appointment with an ear doctor. In Boulder, I had been a patient of the the same doctor for years, so I had never before seen an ear specialist for a buildup of ear wax. Apparently it's pretty common that, as we age, ear wax doesn't come out like it used to and can impair your hearing. That has been happening to me for a few decades now, and every few years or so my doctor would simply sit me down in a chair and hand me the ear irrigator, remind me how to do it, and close the door. She said to come get her when I thought I was done. She cleaned up anything I missed, but it took a while.

It worked pretty well, I got good at it, but a few weeks ago I noticed the telltale crinkly sound in my left ear and when I would wake up in the morning, I couldn't hear anything out of that ear. I'd wiggle the ear, pull on it, and eventually get the wax away from the eardrum, but it wasn't working all that well. Now that I am a Medicare patient and have moved away from Boulder, I called the Center for Senior Health and figured they would just do the same thing I was used to. No, they sent me to a specialist, an ear doctor. I was a little disgusted that they couldn't just let me do the work, but apparently liability issues wouldn't allow it. (Probably had some old geezer whose eardrum got punctured and didn't want a repeat.)

Of course, I googled the doctor I was scheduled to see and learned he has an "excellent" rating. So I waited for the appointment and went to see him. I walked into his office at 2:10 pm, we chatted about my ear history, he got out a cute dainty little vacuum cleaner, and whoosh! my ears were clean as a whistle, and I walked out at 2:20 pm. And I could hear just fine! It was the best doctor visit I've had in a while, and I wasn't drenched from the top of my head to my elbow, either. (I didn't always have the best aim back there in Boulder.)

Although I have heard about ear candling, I don't know anything about it, and I certainly don't want to mess with something that might actually harm my dainty little ears or my hearing. When I was in Bangkok, I recall that there were interminable little shops in the alley behind my hotel that advertised "Ear Wax Removal" along with their foot massage. I wonder what they used? I got a foot massage twice a day, I was hooked on them. But since I wasn't having any problem with my ears, I puzzled over the signs but didn't pursue it. I was sure that if I inquired about it, before long I would be fending off the practitioner.

Since I have a very international bunch of blogging buddies, it got me to wondering what other people do when (if) they can't hear because of ear wax buildup. Is it just me? I don't think I've read about this question having ever been addressed before. Anybody?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Talk to Her

The weather didn't cooperate today for Smart Guy and me to go skydiving, so after giving up on our hopes for blue skies, I finally decided to watch one of the Netflix movies that had been languishing on my coffee table for a few weeks.

I chose to watch Talk to Her, a Spanish language movie made in 2002. It's a very complex and interesting dark comedy. That link will take you to Rotton Tomatoes, which gives it a 92% freshness rating. I liked the movie a lot, but I wouldn't say it was one of my all-time favorites. The reason I wanted to write this post about it is that it triggered something I've noticed many times before: the difference in ethnic temperaments reflected in movies made by directors of different nationalities. Pedro Almodovar, the director of this movie, is (I guess) rather well known for avante-garde movies that deal with melodrama and obsession, teasing truth out of the absurd.

In this movie, a sensitive man who cries at the drop of a hat also writes articles and travel guides, and he falls in love with a female bullfighter. She ends up in a coma from a bullfight gone bad. The other couple in the movie is a male nurse, Benigno, who falls in love with a ballerina who is also in a coma from having been hit by a car. The men become friends, and the movie revolves around these four people. Almodovar uses flashbacks to develop some of the relationships. An excerpt from one of the reviews:
In the end, some of the lovers live and some die, and it becomes obvious exactly who the real cripples are. There is perhaps a smidgen too much patness in Almodovar’s fantastic script, something a little too easy about the way he wraps this up, but he doesn’t shrink from raising some problematic questions. Benigno is a creepy character, who nevertheless touches us — with his Peter Lorre eyes and dewy softness, he reminds us of a certain confused type of young man we all encountered in high school or college. He is all hurt and yearning and he uses his “devotion” as a kind of weapon.
So, as you can probably see from this description, the movie is so... Latin! I remember the time I spent in Mexico when I learned about telenovelas, those melodramatic soap operas that are watched by millions of people. (That link will take you to the Wikipedia page that compares telenovela style by country. It's fascinating reading.)

But what strikes me is the difference in temperament in movie styles by nationality. I recently watched a German movie, The Lives of Others (the link is to my review of the movie) and sometime last year I watched and thoroughly enjoyed a French movie, "I've Loved You So Long." The comparison of the style and feeling of these movies is, to my mind, strongly flavored by the nationality of the directors.

It made me wonder how much of what I experience in life is colored by my own American nationality. How real is this premise? What's your take on it?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Birds in the springtime

Well, it must be springtime when the sparrows start acting like this. At first I thought these two birds, the one being fed and the one closest to the camera, were females in a courtship ritual, since the bird with its tail up in the air was feeding them both. But these must be the first fledged sparrows of the spring, because according to this Wikipedia article, this is typical feeding behavior. These "babies" are actually bigger than the parents, but maybe it's just the fluffy down, what do I know? (Click to enlarge.)

Anyway, the springtime frenzy of birds in the neighborhood is amazing. They are flitting from place to place, and all kinds of new birds are singing in the trees around the apartment. I sometimes stop in amazement and listen to the cacophony of birdsong. The chickadees are constantly calling in their two-note song (which sounds to me like "pick me"), and with the sun coming up so early I am awakened every morning now by the constant sparrow chirp, chirp, chirp. Their song is the same note repeated over and over. Some of the other birds have beautiful songs, like the house wren. It stops me in my tracks when I hear it, and you can't help but think the bird is happy.

For those of you who have not been following the Hornby eagle cam in British Columbia, one of the eggs did not hatch, but the growth of the eaglet that did hatch and that is now less than a month old is amazing! Yesterday I watched Dad fly into the nest with five herring, and Phoenix (the eaglet's official name) ate one whole! Eagles put their food into a "crop" and his little guy gets his (hers?) so full he can't stand up! If you are interested in seeing this amazing hotspot video, click here! The main Hornby Eagle cam is available at the first link in this paragraph.

This picture of Phoenix and Mom is from the Facebook page for the Hornby Eagles, and I think it was taken yesterday. Phoenix's feet are now almost as big as Dad's! Eagles usually fledge around 85 days after birth, so we're looking at somewhere around the end of August for Phoenix to take wing. When we had that windstorm a few days ago, as soon as it was light I checked to see if Phoenix was all right. With his parents in their mid-twenties, I guess they know what they're doing. What did I do with myself before I started bird watching? Oh yeah, now I remember: skydiving. I'm going tomorrow, so I might not have a post up, but don't worry, I'll be back!

Friday, May 21, 2010


Today after my workout, I got a great massage from Sarah, who has an office at the YMCA and with whom I schedule a massage every two or three weeks, whatever I can afford. While I was on my hike yesterday, I slipped while climbing over a wet log and sprained my thumb. It's not a bad one, I've had worse, but I decided to tape it so I wouldn't forget to treat it with care.

Before the massage starts, Sarah always asks if I've got any issues I'd like her to deal with, so I told her about my thumb and showed her the taped digit. She asked, "are you taking Arnica?"

Well, if I had a dollar for every time somebody suggested I take arnica for a bruise, I'd have enough money to open a bank account. Apparently Arnica is used by many people to treat bruises and swelling, usually in a homeopathic formula. I remember years ago when I had a pretty good bruise, I used something called "Traumeel," a homeopathic topical cream, but other than that, I've never used any homeopathic remedies. I'm not sure I believe in them.

But just to be on the safe side, I stopped by the Co-op to get a bottle of Arnica tablets and started taking them. For what it's worth, after two doses, my thumb does feel better. I believe that the placebo effect could be responsible, or that it would have been better anyway (I don't have any way to test the theory). So I thought, well, maybe I can get some feedback from my blogging buddies about what they think about Homeopathy. (This link will take you to Wikipedia, which gives information about what it is and what the traditional medical community thinks of it, which is not much.)

But I remember very well when allopathic medical doctors dismissed acupuncture, which is based on body meridians, as hocus-pocus. That is, until they were shown unequivocally that it works. I went to an acupuncturist in Boulder for awhile and was amazed at how I could feel the energy moving between needles placed in my thigh. I became a believer when he cured my chronic knee pain and hot flashes.

Do YOU use homeopathic medicine? Do you believe it works or not? I'm really wondering if I've been missing out all these years on something I could have been using to heal up faster.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blanchard Mountain

Yesterday a very vigorous storm moved through the Pacific Northwest, bringing rain, high winds, and basically some pretty nasty weather. I woke several times last night to howling winds and figured that at least I'd have a few good friends to share my misery while on our hike up Blanchard Mountain today. However, by the time I arrived at the Senior Center, we had a good turnout: all the regulars showed up. Plus the second, less dedicated hiking group canceled their scheduled hike, so we picked up a few strangers who joined us today, making a total of nineteen Seniors.

And the weather cooperated! Although it was cold, overcast and sometimes windy, we were prepared for much worse. The trail was a little muddy but nothing like we've had in the past. Peggy and I took credit for the rain staying away, since we both had put on our rain pants before starting the hike. We hiked four miles up about 1,800 feet of elevation to the North Summit lookout, where we were treated to an actual view.
This picture looks across the bay at the town of Anacortes, south of Bellingham and the starting place for some of our other hikes. You can see that the clouds were threatening, but we didn't have any rain all day. Looking a little bit to the north, I used my telephoto lens to get a picture of this boat.
I had to lighten the picture a fair amount to make the boat more prominent, so this is not the true color, it looked much more like the previous picture before I doctored it up. Since it was still early when we reached the summit, not even 11:00 am, we decided to hike back down to Lily Lake to have lunch. Once we got there, it was interesting to see that some beavers had been very busy yesterday. We saw no beaver lodge or beavers at work while we were there, but we could tell they will be back to finish what they started. (You can click any picture to enlarge.)
And last of all, we sat on the bridge eating lunch while overlooking Lily Lake, and the sun came out for a few minutes, just in time for me to get this picture showing the lily pads, some pink unknown flowers, and the sparkling water of Lily Lake.
Just after I snapped this picture, the sun was again obscured by clouds. As we hiked back down to the cars, a few sprinkles threatened rain, but not enough for anyone to stop to put on any rain gear. In the car on the way back to the Senior Center, however, we had a deluge. That is what we thought we were facing today, but we went anyway and it turned out to be a very lovely day, as you can see. I got home early, which is why this post is already up! I hope you had a great Thursday in your part of the world, too.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Body dysmorphic disorder

I was thinking about body dysmorphic disorder, also known as BDD, today as I was shopping for a new blouse. In the past few years, I have developed what can only be kindly described as a, well, flat tire around my waist. Usually I am not aware of it, and it's only when a picture is snapped showing this disconcerting feature that I even think about it much. Or when I undress to try on a new blouse.

That's a lie, really, as I realize that I think about it a LOT. I never used to have this flat tire, and usually I don't imagine myself as having one. But recently, I've realized that my body image as I see myself and my body image as it really is have diverged. In the picture above, you see a very thin girl who sees herself as being fat. This is one of the more well-known features of BDD, someone who cannot get thin enough to lose the fat she believes everyone else sees when they look at her. BDD also manifests itself in becoming preoccupied with one's body image, and in researching this post, I found that (of course) Wikipedia has a fascinating article with plenty of links for further study. This was taken from that link:
The disorder generally is diagnosed in those who are extremely critical of their mirror image, physique or self-image, even though there may be no noticeable disfigurement or defect. The three most common areas that those suffering from BDD will feel critical of have to do with the face: the hair, the skin, and the nose. Outside opinion will typically disagree, and may protest that there even is a defect. The defect exists in the eyes of the beholder, and one with BDD really does feel as if they see something there that is defective.
Now I know some of you are thinking of pictures of myself that I've put up on this blog, but you haven't ever really noticed that roll around my waist. That's because I am going to do everything I can to hide that particularly loathsome part of my current anatomy, from myself as well as from you. The reason for this post is twofold: first, to inform my blogging buddies that you are not alone in being self conscious about a specific body part that you are not happy with. There are lots of us out there.

The other reason is to "come out" about this and thereby (hopefully) let it go. My own particular body image, the one that I imagine I project, is that of a twenty- or thirty-year-old's curves. I forget that I am no longer in that category, unless a picture (or a mirror) reminds me that I am not a contemporary young gal. I completely forget that while I wasn't looking I got old. As my measurements changed, my body image didn't, and today I decided that I'm going to learn to be very happy in a 67-year-old body! It's not like my loved ones haven't noticed, but it's not something they focus on when thinking of my self-worth. It's me who does that.

Without further ado, here's my coming-out picture:
And that is NOT fabric around my waist, that's ME. I'm gonna try to be comfortable with it from now on. Kinda sorta, that is. But I should really do something about that nose!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The power of dreams

This picture was taken decades ago, I can't even remember when, except that I lived in Boulder when my mom came to visit me. We were up at Brainard Lake looking at the mountains when this picture was taken. Now I am older than my mom was in this picture. I still remember some stranger taking the picture at my behest, and this is all I have of that day.

Last night, however, I dreamed of Mama, my dad, and other family members. We were all of different ages than reality would have allowed. In the dream, I was about the age I am in this picture, but Mama was red-headed like she was in her youth, Daddy was strong and vigorous. We were thinking of purchasing a house, and I can remember walking on white carpets and looking out windows at a beautiful seascape, while we chatted about the different uses we could apply to each of the rooms.

When I woke this morning, it was as if we had just been together: my parents, my sister Norma Jean, and me, all in this dream house. Even now, a few hours later, I can still feel the strong presence of my parents. Sometimes I wonder what is real. The solidity of the brilliantly colored dream felt every bit as real as me sitting here writing on my laptop.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Drugs and pain

I just read Nancy's post over at Life in the Second Half about whether or not the states that have approved marijuana for medical use have stepped across some invisible line. She links to a post from Land of Shimp who talks about her son recently being approved to buy medical marijuana for pain relief from a shoulder separation.

This whole debate reminded me of my own struggle with addiction to pain medication. When I broke my pelvis so badly in 2000, I woke up to find I was being medicated with oxycontin, morphine, and a bunch of other narcotics I knew nothing about. My dose was pretty high, and I was still in quite a lot of pain (I had six bad breaks in my pelvis and a shattered sacrum). I was wearing an external fixator drilled into my hip bones, which held my pelvis together, along with two 7-inch pins to reduce the sacral fracture. It was a long recovery, although they didn't allow me to lay around for long; I had to sit up within a couple of days, as I remember, and I used a walker to get around for a couple of weeks before graduating to crutches.

Those days are pretty hazy to me now, since I was in a fog from the drugs as well as the pain. But as I began to get better, I asked about the pain medication I was on. The doctor told me that when I felt capable of dealing with it, I could start tapering off on the drugs. Because I was not wanting to become dependent on them, I tried to do this within a few weeks after returning home.

I couldn't do it. Although I finally got down to taking the smallest dose available to me, I could not go without the drugs for longer than a few hours. In doing some research about oxycontin, I found that within seven days of use, you are addicted to it. And this is no small addiction, let me tell you! The first symptom was itching, like I had ants crawling around under my skin, a runny nose, and a strong desire to make it all stop. Eventually I called the doctor and asked for a smaller dose, and for some advice. He told me just to cut the pill in half! You can't do that, I knew, because it releases the entire time-release drug in your system at once. But he didn't know that.

This was before it became a sought-after street drug. I think it had not been used for long, and the drug companies were pushing it onto the doctors as a safe and effective pain reliever. Yeah, it is that, all right, but it's one of the hardest things I have ever done, getting off of it. I had a friend who became addicted to it and managed to get it prescribed by several doctors because of continuing pain. She could not get off it, and eventually committed suicide (I think because they threatened to cut her off). We had several conversations about our struggle to get free of this narcotic. I eventually used percocet and ibuprofen to wean myself off the stronger and more addictive oxycontin.

My question is this: if I can get ahold of this powerful drug just by asking my doctor for it, why is it that something that is far less addictive and harmful to me is not legal??? It would make me a criminal and give the authorities the right to put me in jail if I were to smoke pot for pain.

Just asking.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

There be dragons

While walking around the Farmers' Market in the sunshine this morning, I spied this dragon lurking about. The title of this post is a takeoff from my favorite Star Trek movie (the one about the whales) where Scotty says, "Captain, there be whales!" I just had to use this picture, even though it's slightly out of focus (actually the shoes are in focus). This young man had just visited Henna Moon and received his beautiful henna tattoo, so I went over to find Chele to show her my picture of it. She told me that he and his sister are repeat customers from last year. You can click any picture to enlarge.
The iris are coming into bloom all around town, and this picture of a delicate purple and white bouquet caught my eye and raised my spirit, just to look at them. There was no shortage of smiles around the market today, with all the people, organic veggies, sunshine, flowers galore, and festive atmosphere.
If there is anything better than a day like today in this part of the world, I'm not sure what it is. I woke early and headed out to spend the morning walking with the Fairhaven walkers group, drove home and took the bus downtown to the market.

Last night when I went to bed, I had been feeling a little depressed over the post that Jo of A Majority of Two had posted about some prepubescent girls in a dance contest who performed Beyonce's "Put a Ring on It" in very suggestive costumes and with a lot of bumping and grinding. I watched the video and then saw an interview with two of the parents who said there was nothing wrong with what they were doing; any problem was my own dirty mind. Well, excuse me for disagreeing, but I felt sick after I saw the video. I did go and watch Beyonce singing and performing the song, and it was quite entertaining. But Beyonce is in her twenties, not eight years old.

Then today at the Farmers' Market, I had the distinct joyful experience of meeting this young lady, and I felt renewed looking around at little kids being little kids. She is actually quite good, and you can see she's got a few years left before she's giving concerts.
Now I sit inside watching through my front window at the birds chomping on the bird feeders, notice the light breeze playing with the pine needles on the tree behind them, listening to Smart Guy in the kitchen washing and preparing the kale I bought at the market. As I write this post, I cannot help but think life is good today.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Baker River

Today, seventeen Senior Trailblazers met at the Senior Center to coordinate our carpool to the Baker River area. It's a long drive, over 70 miles, and the day dawned clear and cool as we piled into four cars. I couldn't resist showing you this picture of seven of us at our lunch spot along the Baker River. You can see that even when we stopped for lunch, we didn't need to pile on the clothes because it was warm and sunny! (You can click any picture to enlarge.)
When we finally arrived at the trailhead, hauled out our gear and trekking poles (someone called them our "canes"), we started hiking on this enchanted trail, filled with lush greenery, some early flowers, and lots of shade and sun. The air temperature was just about perfect. We started hiking to Hidden Creek but had to turn around when we got there, since the bridge was out. We hiked back down to Baker River to have lunch. We had some wonderful views of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan, and a new (to me) peak called Haggen Peak:
As we looked up at the view, the gentle breeze kept us from overheating, although it was the first hike in a long time where we welcomed the breeze and shade, since it was in danger of being HOT! In mid-May, I was amazed, but apparently these valleys often get quite warm. You wouldn't know it from all that snow, but we never saw any snow at our elevation and very little mud. We saw lots of streams emptying into the beautiful emerald-hued Baker River.
The green color of the water is apparently from glacier melt. The water was so inviting. The sound of fast-flowing water and the amazing diversity of huge old-growth trees, sun-dappled trails, and the laughter of my friends was enough to make me stop, smile, and take this picture.
We were gathering back together to make sure nobody got left behind or got too far ahead. In this picture, there is nobody who is not an actual bonafide Senior Citizen, and they were all just as happy as I was to be there, in the beautiful wilderness with each other, getting fit and having fun. This is not to say that we were not feeling our age, commiserating about sore knees or our latest efforts to keep ourselves healthy. It truly does help to have like-minded friends who are going through the same trials and tribulations as I am.
There were places on the trail filled with moss-covered trees and new spring leaves, making the most beautiful patterns in the sunshine. This picture caught my eye, and it almost conveys the beauty we spent the day enjoying. Almost, but not quite.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


In this picture, you see some very fit Seniors who climbed Hannegan Peak last fall (click to enlarge). I wanted to write a post about how I got started exercising and went looking for some stock photos of old people exercising, when it suddenly occurred to me that I've got lots of those pictures right here in my own photo gallery. Everyone in this picture varies in age from the "baby" at 62 to the oldest at 74. More than half are over 70.

Although only seven of us made it to the summit, 17 Seniors went on this hike. If I were to do it again, I'm not sure I would choose to climb that last 500 feet, because it was just plain hard. But the reason I went for it is that I sometimes get what is called "summit fever" and want to see over to the other side. Now that I've done it, I don't need to do it again.

I started exercising on a regular basis in my mid-thirties, when I decided to stop smoking. As a pack-a-day smoker, I had tried several times to quit but I just couldn't. Climbing a set of stairs was impossible without stopping halfway up. I was overweight and very unhappy about the prospect of living for another thirty years or so in this rapidly deteriorating body. I bought myself a pair of running shoes and decided to train for a marathon.

Uh-huh, a marathon. I've been told that I don't know how to do things halfway. Within a week, I had shin splints, a painful condition that pretty much stopped me in my tracks. I went to a running store and talked to them about my condition and discovered that I was going about exercise in the wrong way. First of all, they told me to walk and jog, training myself in intervals, and until the shin splints cleared up,  just to walk briskly. This was NOT my idea of what a marathon runner does, but I listened.

Within a year's time, I could jog at a ten-minute-a-mile pace and finish a 10K race (6.2 miles). By the time I had done this, I was definitely hooked on exercise. I had lost weight, had no desire to start smoking again, and had actually run a race, and I didn't finish last! By the time another decade had passed, I could run a 10K race in eight-and-a-half-minute miles. But I never ran a marathon, since I found that I would get injured if I began to increase my weekly miles past 20 or 25. I continued to run for fun several times a week, usually on my lunch hour at work, until I was in my early fifties.

I had a serious pelvic fracture from skydiving at the age of 57, and I never ran again, except for an occasional mile or two just to see if I could. (I could, but I couldn't walk the next day.) Instead, I began to enjoy step aerobics, working out with my fellow exercisers on my lunch hour. We had an instructor who was a retired aerobics teacher, and she is still teaching on her lunch hours at my old place of employment.

Now I'm 67 years old and hooked on my exercise class at the YMCA, as well as my weekly hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. I would not enjoy my life nearly as much as I do if I could not exercise, and it's definitely become a habit. I like to exercise with like-minded people because I am energized by others. You are never too late to start making it a habit, and while I was thinking about this post, I found some good websites to help motivate you. Here's a small sampling of what I found:
  • Mature Health Online is designed for those of us who are older but still want to be fit and healthy. It covers lots of information, not just exercise. 
  • Promote Health and Wellness, written for everybody, not just us old folks, is designed to help you "live a healthier, more enjoyable lifestyle" with exercise plans, health news, and common ailments.
  • WebMD has this great "ten workout secrets" page where they talked to fitness experts to find out how they get the most out of their workout routines.
  • And the last one was pointed out to me through A Slower Pace (although this is not the article she pointed me to). The guy who writes this fairly new blog is 80 years old, and he posted this inspiring article: Marathon Meditations at Age 80
So Dr. Bortz (the 80-year-old marathoner) did get to run a marathon, actually 40 of them. I found this was not my path, once I started on an exercise direction. But the desire to get fit became a habit I am not likely to grow out of, as long as I'm able to move my body in some way, I'll keep on truckin'. I'd love to hear about your exercise wants and desires, if you are willing to share.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Atul Gawande

You may have wondered what the heck the name of this post is, because a few months ago, I wouldn't have had a clue, either. It's the name of a very interesting young man (born in 1965, young to me) who is both a surgeon and a writer. A friend of mine gave me a book Atul Gawande wrote in 2002, Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, and I was immediately fascinated. I couldn't put the book down. Here's an excerpt from Publisher's Weekly:
Medicine reveals itself as a fascinatingly complex and "fundamentally human endeavor" in this distinguished debut essay collection by a surgical resident and staff writer for the New Yorker. Gawande, a former Rhodes scholar and Harvard Medical School graduate, illuminates "the moments in which medicine actually happens," and describes his profession as an "enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line." 
He writes from his heart, and there's a feeling that he is unwilling to compromise his ethics as he strives to become a good surgeon. I know from my own experience that surgeons in particular tend to think of themselves as knowing a whole lot more than the patient, and they let you know it in no uncertain terms. Not Atul Gawande.

Yesterday I finished Gawande's second book, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, released in 2007, and was just as blown away by his compassion for his patients and his willingness to tell the story of his journey in a way that made me care deeply about him, as well as his patients. I wanted him to succeed in his desire to become a better doctor. From the book jacket:
Gawande ... manages to capture medicine in all of its complex and chaotic glory, and to put it, still squirming with life, down on the page. ... With this book Gawande inspires all of us, doctor or not, to be better (Pauline W. Chen, NYT Book Review).
He has a new book out, which was on the New York Times Best Seller list at the beginning of this year, which I haven't yet read. I don't usually buy books when they are in hard cover; I wait for the paperback. But I might not wait for this one. It's called The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. It had never occurred to me that something as amazingly complicated as an operation would not have checklists! But it's true. Steven Levitt wrote a review that I lifted from Gawande's website:
If there is one topic I have no natural affinity for, it is checklists. I don't use checklists. I'm not interested in checklists. Yet, against all odds, I read Atul Gawande’s new book about checklists, The Checklist Manifesto, in one sitting yesterday, which is an amazing tribute to the book that Gawande has crafted. Not only is the book loaded with fascinating stories, but it honestly changed the way I think about the world. It is the best book I’ve read in ages.
Atul manages to accomplish an amazing amount in his everyday life. Not only has he written three lengthy books in less than a decade, he still continues to work full time as a surgeon, lectures and travels pretty extensively, writes articles for the New Yorker, and he's married with three young children. I find all that to be amazing. He also has his own elegant and fascinating website,, which links to his books, articles, travel schedule, and a short biography. I got lost in there yesterday evening, after finishing his book and wanting to know more about this person. I read several of his articles and learned that he was awarded the 2010 National Magazine Award for an article about Medicare costs. It's there, too.

I was pretty much saturated with all I learned, but I couldn't lay it down until I told my Best Buds about him, too. Now I can get on with my life.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Poison hemlock

This morning there was an interesting article in the Bellingham Herald about poison hemlock. It seems this guy, David Westerlund, went out to his garden and picked what he thought was a carrot. He put it all together with some "cabbage, garlic, ginger, onions, sea salt and whey" to ferment and left it for six days. Then he had it for lunch.

Two hours after he ate it he was in the emergency room, because what he ate was poison hemlock, also known conium maculatum. If you go to Wikipedia (which you know I did), it redirects "poison hemlock" to the page about conium, which is the same hemlock that Socrates was given to kill him. From this Wikipedia link:
Coniine is a neurotoxin, which disrupts the workings of the central nervous system and is toxic to humans and all classes of livestock. Ingestion in any quantity can result in respiratory collapse and death.
Apparently Westerlund felt weird and his eyes stopped tracking properly, he got all shaky and went to the hospital. He will apparently recover with no ill effects. (I suspect he got a thorough stomach pumping.) And another woman in Washington state ate some in a salad and died. Since it grows in the springtime and can travel from nearby places by the seed blowing in the wind, it can show up in gardens.

But you can tell it apart from things that are edible by one very important sign: the stem has purple streaks or splotches on it. From the Herald:
Looking back, Westerlund said he should have realized it wasn't a carrot, even if he didn't know about poison hemlock. A carrot's stem is hairy, but the stem on the plant he pulled up was smooth and had purple splotches. The plant's taproot was white, like a parsnip, Westerlund said. The taproot on a carrot is orange.
Yes, he was very lucky. I thought it might help some others who might see a "volunteer" plant in your garden from making the same mistake. I used to see it growing near creeks in Boulder, and we wouldn't even touch it for fear of getting some of the bad juju on us. Apparently every part of the plant is poisonous. You are supposed to wear gloves when you pull it out, too, just in case. Anybody else ever seen it in the wild?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Up in the air

Today Smart Guy and I went south to Snohomish to make a few skydives with our friends. Because of my last post which relegates my entire life to "blog fodder," I took my camera aboard the plane to show you what my day was like. I snapped this picture just as we took off in the Cessna Caravan from Harvey Field, showing the green, the blue sky, and the clouds in the distance. the door is on the left, plexiglass with bars, which opens from the bottom and rolls upward.

We were on our way up to altitude, 13,500 feet, to spend a minute or so playing around in freefall, and then opening our parachutes and flying them to the ground. Then we packed up and did it again, and yet once more before the day was over. I snapped this picture of the other passengers, the two girls making their first skydives as tandem passengers with their instructors, a new pilot on the left, and Dave, the pilot who is in teaching mode right now (in the right-hand seat). He also agreed to take a few pictures for me, too.
There's the two pilots in front, the two tandem passengers with their instructors, and a couple of other jumpers (the bald guy and the bearded one) who would follow our four-way out the door. After I took these pictures, I handed my camera up to Dave so he could take some pictures of Puget Sound from altitude. I didn't want the distraction of the camera as I got ready to make my jump.
He snapped this enchanting picture of Christine on the left, my butt in the middle, and Linny on the right. Of course, I didn't know he took this picture, but it was just too good to leave out. That is Smart Guy's black-capped head with what looks like a hand growing out of it. The door is still down but we are close to getting ready to exit the plane. (Click any picture to enlarge.)
Dave took this picture of Puget Sound after we exited, showing our beautiful Paradise that we get to play around in. What did we do in the air? Well, as I've explained before, we make pretty patterns in the sky. Long ago, when we first met, Smart Guy drew these pictures for me, showing some of the fun things we could do in the air. I was enchanted with them, as I hope you will be, too.
We made stars (the upper left drawing), donuts (the upper right), we flew around the planet for a whole minute before it was time to separate and pull out our parachutes. It was just a lovely, blue sky, beautiful day that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside now, as I sit here writing my post to share with my wonderful friends in the blogosphere. I couldn't have asked for a better day. I hope yours was just as nourishing to your soul as this was for me.