Thursday, December 30, 2010

Olsen Creek

I took this picture of the frosty field across from the parking lot where we started our hike this morning. It was in the low to mid-20s all day, never warming up very much unless we were in the sunshine. Although there wasn't a cloud in the sky, most of the day we hiked on shady wooded trails. Thirteen of us showed up for the last hike of the year. We were dressed for the cold, so nobody suffered too much, until we had to cross Olsen Creek. The rocks had a coating of sheer ice on them, and a few people got wet feet, but most of us made it across with only a little difficulty.
If you look closely at the rocks, you can see how treacherous the crossing was. And there is fresh snow on the foliage. The water in my Camelbak bladder kept freezing up and I had to suck really hard to get the ice to flow through. After crossing this creek, we had a very steep hillside to climb, more than 500 feet almost straight up, it seemed. We reached a trail we had never hiked before and decided to follow it, since it was rumored to end up at a familiar trail. However, as we began to descend, we realized that we were not going to have much of a view and finally opted to have lunch when we found a moderately sunny spot.
You can see the steam rising from Frank's hot drink and the icy ferns surrounding our lunch spot. I also had a nice cup of hot tea and found it still piping hot even after three hours in my backpack. There's a good reason to preheat a thermos; noting tastes quite as good as a hot drink in the middle of a frozen landscape. We didn't stay long, as we began to feel the cold seeping through our clothes, even with little wind.
We laughed at this moss-covered signpost. I think (but I am not sure) that there is an actual sign under there, but who knows for sure? At least it was interesting to look at, and if you enlarge it you can see a few flakes of snow on it. We knew we were in the general vicinity of a logging road as we began to see a familiar clearcut showing through the trees. When we got to the road, it was the only view we had all day.
These are the Canadian Cascades you are looking at, showing as well as our beautiful cloudless sky. By the time we reached our cars, we had covered eight miles and more than 2,000 feet up and down. We were all very happy to have had such a wonderful hike with good friends as our last outing of 2010.

Tomorrow and Saturday are also projected to be clear and cold, so I think I will head down to Lake Padden on New Year's Day to watch the Polar Bear Club this year. Last New Year's the temperature was in the 50s when they dashed into the water, but this year it will be in the teens! Should make for some excitement!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Black Swan

My friend Judy and I went to see The Black Swan the other night. I'm STILL not sure what I think of the movie, even after thinking about it for a day. The link takes you to the Rotten Tomatoes website, where the critics give it an 87% freshness rating, and the audience gives it 90%. Scenes from the movie keep coming back to me, especially when Natalie Portman is playing the Black Swan. Nina (Portman's character) is cast in a ballet production where she is expected to play the virginal and pristine White Swan and then morph into the sensual and sexy Black Swan.

The movie was really confusing, since you are seeing almost all the scenes from the point of view of Nina, who is going quietly mad in her quest to perform both parts perfectly. Several scenes that you think are real end up being hallucinations, and the director, Darren Aronofsky, doesn't help you separate the real from the imagined. In fact, by the end of the movie, I am not at all sure what actually happened, other than that she gave a performance that riveted the audience. I found this excerpt from a review by Chuck Koplinski (he reviews three movies; the second one is Black Swan):
I’m not sure all of the narrative pieces fit together, but that’s Aronofsky’s point. An examination of one’s descent into madness is only effective if we are put into the shoes of the afflicted, and the film does just that. Thanks to the filmmaker’s audacity and a fearless performance from Portman, Black Swan proves to be a gripping, shocking and haunting look at the fragility of the human mind and how defenseless we all can become to our fears and insecurities.
It's not a movie for the faint of heart, but I am glad I saw it. I cannot put Portman's Black Swan out of my mind and keep seeing her face, thinking that if anybody ever deserved an Oscar for a performance, it's Natalie Portman for this one. It was breathtaking.

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Christmas present

While I was in Colorado, I discovered that one of my hosts, Josh, is a parachute rigger who just happened to have a Spectre 150 in his loft that he wanted to sell. I had been telling him about my fruitless quest to find one. This is EXACTLY the canopy I decided I wanted to fly, because it's much more docile and sedate than my Stiletto 135. While this is arcane information to anyone who doesn't skydive, for me it's the perfect canopy for a little old lady to fly (like me). So I bought it from him and brought it home. I wore most of my heavy clothes on the plane and stuffed the canopy into my carry-on, which was pretty darn puffy but still fit, although I had to sit on it to get it closed.

The Christmas present part is that I asked Smart Guy if he would hook it up to my container as a Christmas present to me. I had little expectation that it would happen quickly, because after all, it's wet and wintery here in the Pacific Northwest, and hardly anybody is jumping, certainly not me at the moment. However, he decided to get the work done now, which is pretty time consuming. He's busy checking the lines to make sure they are correctly positioned before moving on to the next steps. If you were to enlarge the above picture, on the bottom of the TV stand is a picture of us on our anniversary after we had made our tenth wedding anniversary jump. We were married in freefall exactly ten years before, which I wrote about here.
 Most skydivers spend their careers learning to fly smaller and smaller parachutes, because the smaller they are, the more high performance they are. If you are still jumping into your sixties, however, it makes perfect sense to move to something that is gentle and forgiving. My Stiletto would sometimes open hard and so I had to be careful with how I pack it; in the days when I jumped a Spectre, I remembered that it NEVER opens hard. In fact, Josh said this one opens "like butter." Who could ask for anything better?

Each canopy has a personality, so even the ones that are the same brand and size are different from each other, and although I really enjoyed the flight performance of my Stiletto, I didn't like the fact that it rarely opened predictably. This one will, and the extra fifteen square feet (the difference between 135 square feet and 150 square feet) will give me even more cushion for landing. I can't wait!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Remembering Emily

Yesterday I attended the celebration of Emily Berkeley's life, which was the reason for my trip back to Colorado. It was held in a huge airport hangar at Mile-Hi Skydiving, where I spent so many of my skydiving years and all of my instructional ones. As we walked toward the hangar, we saw the fence decorated in Emily's colors, yellow and blue.
When we walked inside, we saw the setup at the front of the hanger with an enormous screen showing literally hundreds of rotating pictures of Emily through the years. A podium with flowers, a microphone, thoughtful kleenex, were the focus point where many of Emily's family members spoke with such love and emotion about their beloved sister, niece, and cousin. I never knew that she had such a huge extended family, and Lee (she called him Kiwi) had his mother and other family relatives who flew in from New Zealand. They took up the first four rows of chairs, out of more than 300 that had been set up in the hangar.

After listening to the wonderful, funny and heartfelt family memories, we watched an Honor Guard from the Air Force Academy (Emily was the instructor for many cadets) fold and present the triangle flag to Kiwi. Then the back of the hangar opened up and we followed the family out to an area behind to watch a flyover of three planes, all of which she had made numerous jumps from. The picture isn't perfect but it shows the planes, lights ablaze, and every one of us skydivers cried as we watched them fly overhead and then peel off in a beautiful flower.
When we went back into the hangar, there was a table set up with all the red wine we had been asked to bring to share, and trays of hot food in three different locations around the inside of the hangar. The mic was opened to any and all who wanted to share memories of Emily. Sarah, my wonderful host, read her tribute and one that Kiwi had written from the point of view of Emily's wonderful dog, Dottie. More than five hundred, maybe closer to six hundred people had come to the celebration. This picture might give you a bit of an idea of the size of the crowd. (Remember you can enlarge any picture.)
As people ate and drank and things began to become a little less emotional, people hugged and gathered in groups to laugh, cry, and share together. I saw so many people I once instructed in skydiving, and people who have become an integral part of the skydiving scene since I left. My earrings were hugged off. When we got back home I realized they are now somewhere in that big hangar, two heart-shaped earrings that I hope will be picked up by someone as a reminder of the huge heart that Emily had. Four people will live long lives because of the donation of Emily's organs, two of them heart valves. So it is fitting that those two earrings stayed behind in the place where we celebrated her amazing life.
I will treasure this picture forever: it's me with Emily's beautiful mom, with Emily and Kiwi looking over our shoulder from the big screen behind us. Goodbye, my dear friend, I will never forget you and will one day think of you without pain and only remember the beautiful person you will always be in my heart.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Safe haven, wrapped in love

Although it's really hard for all of us at this time, I'm staying with my dear friends Josh and Sarah in their "compound," a many-layered multi-level house with rooms and cubbyholes everywhere. It was purchased a few years ago, right after I left Boulder, so I never had a chance to see it before. It's been a long time and a lot of work, but there are only a few rooms that are not finished yet. It's filled with love and life everywhere you look. When I left Sarah three years ago, she was still recovering from the loss of her two beloved cats and had no animals. That has certainly changed! Here are three of my favorites:
These are, left to right, Peanut, Yellow, and Green. These parrots get the opportunity to leave their cage and fly around the living room. They have this unique little hang-out space there, and they love to swoop over my head, lifting my hair a little, on their way from one place to the next. Yellow and Green are brother and sister, a little less than two years old, while Peanut is a rescue bird of about five years. These parrots live to their mid-twenties, usually. Peanut, until coming to live here, had never in four years been able to fly and was in a cage about the size of a canary's. She wouldn't leave her cage for a long time, but little by little she has joined the other two and had to learn to fly as an adult. She's not as proficient as the other two, but she is happy and a real delight. She's my favorite, and her call is different from the others. She can also say "nighty-night" before the cover goes over the cage at night. Other than their shrill squawks, they are extremely well behaved.
Then there are the fish tanks. I haven't counted them, but there must be at least fifteen of them all through the lower level, all but two being salt water tanks, and every fish has a name. This picture shows the largest tank and the parrot cage when they are not out flying around. You can see a chair in the foreground for sitting and watching the tank. Everything you see is alive: the coral, crabs, shrimp, and of course the different fish. Three rescue cats and a dog round out the inside animals. Outside in the yard are numerous bird feeders and squirrel feeders. This morning we saw a kestrel catch a bird and take it home for a snack.
Nemo and the coral beneath him seem to be in a symbiotic relationship. He dives into it, peeks out, seemingly snuggling and scratching his fins with the coral. It's mesmerizing to watch. I've now spent quite a lot of time watching the fish tanks, which are so soothing and restful to my spirit.

I'm in good hands, and tonight Sarah is preparing a ten-person chili party of friends I knew when I was here before, with a few new ones I'll meet tomorrow thrown into the mix. It will be nice to see them without the ordeal that we will all face tomorrow at Emily's memorial service. I am so blessed to be in a place where I can see and feel the continuity of life and the love that surrounds this place.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Signs and portents

Tonight and early tomorrow morning there will be a lunar eclipse that should be visible from everywhere in North America with clear skies. That will probably NOT be here in Washington state, but you never know. It is also happening on the same day as the winter solstice. That juxtaposition has not happened for 372 years! The eclipse will begin around 2:00 am on the East Coast and 11:00 pm here on the West Coast.
This is a picture showing last year's partial eclipse. The pictures that should arise from tonight's total eclipse should be even more amazing. The winter solstice occurs tomorrow at 3:38 pm PDT. By that time I will have arrived in Denver to attend a gathering of friends of Emily Berkeley, who died Sunday morning in a parachuting accident. An article in the local Boulder paper about the incident appears here. I really don't feel like going through all the details again, but if you're interested and the article doesn't have enough information, I wrote a post on my other blog saying goodbye to dear Emily.

It's interesting how my psyche has been handling this loss. When I first heard on Saturday evening about her having been hurt, I couldn't sleep, tossing and turning and thinking of her, not knowing how bad it was. By the time I woke on Sunday morning and learned that she was gone, I felt totally shattered but unsure of when I might be going to Denver. Then when I learned of a memorial for her on Thursday and got tickets to fly there, it hit me hard. Somehow the reality of what has happened opened another centimeter and I felt the grief hit a little harder. Then it began to raise the specter of other times I have been in this psychic space, and ancient but familiar feelings emerged.

Emily and Kiwi, Dec 2010
For me, I know that this is a transitional phase, that it will change once I am able to be with like-minded friends who are also mourning her loss, and then, imperceptibly, the huge gaping hole in my personal Universe will begin to fill with day-to-day commonplace routine. And one day I will realize that a whole day will have passed without thinking of her.

I look forward to that day, but for now, I am still feeling around inside at the size of the hole. Tears have fallen several times and today they feel liberating. Tomorrow I will be able to see my friends who love her too and we can cry together. That's something to look forward to.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Missing the boogie

DJan (in purple) with Arizona Airspeed December 2004
For many years starting in the early 1990s, I would head to Skydive Arizona about this time of year, without fail. It was my skydiving vacation, and I would usually make anywhere from 35 to 40 jumps in five to seven days. I started going there before I had even met Smart Guy, and then he started going with me. We would stay in a tent on the Drop Zone to save money and use the communal showers and never leave the area for the entire time. Skydivers call these festivals "boogies."

In 2004, I won a raffle jump, which I had entered every day, year after year. The winner of the raffle would get the chance to jump with the best skydivers in the world, Arizona Airspeed. I always thought that if I won, I would give my slot to any of my friends who would appreciate it more than me (since I was never a competitive jumper). But when I actually won, nobody could have torn that skydive away from me, I really looked forward to it! This surprised me as much as anybody.

We rode up in the Twin Otter together, just the five of us (with the cameraman) in a plane that usually holds 23 skydivers. They thanked me for my continued support of their endeavors and then we lined up in the door and exited.

It was some of the best fun I've ever had. We made 26 different formations in the sky (called points) before it was time to separate and open our chutes. They were throwing me from one place in the sky to another, and I couldn't believe how fast we would transition from one move to the next. If I were there this year, I would definitely be buying more raffle tickets!
After the jump
The thing is, I rarely miss those days, even though I even considered going to Arizona for the boogie this year. But I decided to stay home and remember with lots of love the days of boogie jumping. Here's a link to this year's boogie where they entice skydivers to come and party. Oh, not to mention having some fun jumping, too. When I was an instructor, I used the money I made during the year to afford the expense, which is not a small amount. The last five years or so that we attended, we would drive from Boulder and stay in a hotel instead of camping out. It made a huge difference in our comfort level. After a day playing in the sky and making five or six jumps, we would head to a comfortable bed instead of a tent.

When I look at these pictures, I can remember the views from under my canopy, the smell of the air, and the people who became as close as family. I would see the same skydivers year after year, from all over the world, and I'd go back home tired, but refreshed and renewed. I still miss the Holiday boogie at Eloy, Arizona.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stimpson Nature Reserve

Today was the Senior Trailblazers' annual Christmas party and short morning hike. We usually do something to allow us to end around lunchtime, in order to get over to Amy's house and share a Christmas potluck. This year, we went to the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, which was a first for me, and made a quick five-plus miles so we could end around noon or so and get to Amy's before 1:00 pm.
Click to enlarge and see the map of the area
The area is a wetlands near Lake Whatcom in Bellingham. As you can see from the sign here, it is a very special place with about a quarter-mile of wheelchair-accessible trail before branching off on two separate loop trails. We did the short loop twice and the larger loop once before calling it a day. We were also very lucky with the weather, with nary a raindrop except for the heavy moisture dripping from the trees overhead. The trail is mostly wooded, with some up-and-down for variety within the 350-acre reserve.
A beaver pond was visible through the trees and, although the day was overcast, the mossy and very damp trail was nevertheless well kept and hardly even muddy after all the rain we have had lately. Feeling quite well satisfied with our morning outing, we headed over to Amy's, where several dozen Trailblazers and their spouses showed up to share a feast.
As you can plainly see from the spread, we had more food than people, and everyone managed to eat more than we needed. We felt a little bit righteous because of all our exertions over the past year, but frankly it was just fun to be with my friends and family. Amy could not resist the temptation to honor those of us who had a birthday in December, so she placed a candle in the middle of those cupcakes and made each of us blow it out while everyone sang happy birthday to us.
That is our famous and much appreciated Social Secretary, Amy, in the pink shirt, making sure we all knew without a doubt whose birthdays were being celebrated. She also has new beautiful hardwood floors that were installed this year, so you might notice that we are all in stocking feet (which is Amy's custom anyway). It was a lovely and festive way to celebrate the season. I leave you with a picture I like very much, of Karen, who is well over seventy but still looking like the picture of beauty, health and happiness.
There are more pictures on my Flickr site (over there on the sidebar of my blog) if you are wondering if I took any pictures of YOU at the party. There were so many I couldn't put them all on here. What a great day and such wonderful people I share my life with!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More than a little crazy

I finished Paul Hoffman's book about Paul Erdős, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, last week and wanted to give a little more complete book review about what I learned, not only about Erdős, but about mathematicians in general. Hoffman discusses many famous thinkers, along with mathematics in general and why he thinks it's important.
Permission granted by Fan Chung Graham 11/9/07
Can you guess which one of these mathematicians is Erdős? I thought so. The picture was taken in 1986 at a conference in Japan. The other two are a couple who basically created a permanent room in their home for him: Ron and Fan Graham. Both collaborated with him extensively and have stories in Hoffman's book about how difficult he could be. He was very childlike in many ways; he couldn't even tie his own shoes by himself. He only needed a few hours of sleep every night and whoever he was staying with would be worn out within a week or two at most. Erdős traveled constantly and went from one mathematician's home to another. He really did love only numbers and came up with some astounding mathematical theories. He also developed the probabilistic method, which helped others create computers.

Hoffman shows that many mathematicians are a little bit crazy. In fact, the last chapter in the book is titled, "We Mathematicians Are All a Little Bit Crazy." I remember the movie "A Beautiful Mind,"about John Forbes Nash, a Nobel laureate, who suffered from schizophrenia. Apparently paranoid schizophrenia often comes with a highly creative mind, which makes me wonder why. I learned about several paranoid but brilliant mathematicians who managed to continue their work with this debilitating affliction. The fact that Erdős was so eccentric is not as surprising once you read Hoffman's book and read about some really odd fellows.

I also learned to appreciate math and numbers in a way I never had before. It was very interesting to read about how the concept of zero came into being. Roman numerals were the only game in town throughout the Dark Ages. Fibonnaci was born in Pisa in the twelfth century and studied Euclid and other Greek mathematicians. He wrote a book that became the most influential work in getting the West to convert to Hindu-Arabic numerals. He helped to show how superior they were, and it seems hard to imagine a world today without the concept of zero or negative numbers. The Greeks had no trouble subtracting three cows from six cows, for example, but they didn't take seriously the concept of minus three cows. From pp. 212-213 in the book:
As Martin Gardner put it, "A cow from a cow leaves nothing, but adding a negative cow to a positive cow, causing both to vanish like a particle meeting its antiparticle, seems as ridiculous as the old joke about the individual whose personality was so negative that when he walked into a party, the guests would look around and ask, 'Who left?' "
The concept of prime numbers also fascinates me now, after finishing the book and understanding their importance. I can't actually SEE a prime like many mathematicians can, but it makes sense to me now that so many mathematicians have spent their entire careers with those magical numbers. Just as an aside, as I was reading the book I realized that the first day of the upcoming new year will be 1/1/11 (eleven is a prime number). So I guess you could say a little of the religion has rubbed off on me. A very little.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

127 Hours

I just got back from seeing the movie 127 Hours, starring James Franco as Aron Ralston, the guy who cut off his own arm when caught in a Utah canyon in 2003. He had gone on his adventure without telling anyone where he was going.

I was living in Boulder when this story emerged, and I remember vividly reading about the gruesome details of what Aron had to do in order to survive. He came out with a book called "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," which I haven't read but will immediately go out and purchase for a good read. Several of the people in the theater were there alone, with their friends and family deciding to stay home. No wonder. Most of them were afraid, as I was, of getting totally grossed out by the graphic depiction of what Ralson had to do. But it wasn't at all the focus of the movie.

Danny Boyle, the director of this movie (he also made Slumdog Millionaire, which I also loved), decided to tell the story of how Aron got to where he was, the mistakes he made, and his desire to live. Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 93% freshness rating, and the reason why is made quite clear in a review by Mike McGranaghan at The Aisle Seat (click for his full review):
127 Hours is not a movie about a guy who cuts off his own arm; it's a movie about a guy who chooses to live. My initial instinct was one of horror, of the thought that I could never do what Aron Ralston did. In Boyle's hands, I walked away feeling the opposite. The strength of the film is that it so vividly portrays what Ralston went through that, when the moment comes, you understand perfectly why he took such drastic measures - and you realize that, under these same circumstances, you would do the same thing.
Make no mistake, the whole arm cutting part was gruesome, as I knew it would have to be and remain true to the story. Although I wanted to read the book earlier, I was afraid of all the details that friends had relayed to me. Now I know I can handle it (although I did cover my eyes in the movie during one scene). I left the theater in tears of happiness as I saw pictures of the real Aron Ralston with his wife and infant son, who appeared as a premonition in some of his hallucinations.

After having seen it once, I could see it again, and think it might not be so difficult to watch those scenes. But first, I'll read his book. Franco should definitely be receiving an Oscar nomination, if not a win, and the movie deserves to be recognized too, in my estimation. After having resisted seeing the movie, now I'm really glad I overcame my reluctance.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Madrone Crest 2010

Click any picture to enlarge
When I woke last night at 2:00 am to the sound of the rain drumming on the roof, I groaned and figured we would be hiking today in rain and mud. Since I didn't think too many would show up, I considered not going myself. But then I thought well, what if it clears up? What if they go hiking and I stay home and it turns out to be NICE? So I got up, pulled on my rain pants and headed to the Senior Center. Thirteen hardy souls (including me) showed up, with more than two-thirds of us already in our rain gear. The above picture shows that, although it wasn't sunny, we only got a few sprinkles. Ward is waiting for me to take a picture of the madrone tree, showing its unique peeling bark.
The hike starts out from the Interurban trailhead and, as you can see from this picture, it's pretty green even in the middle of winter. That's the payoff from all the Pacific Northwest rain: lots of moss and greenery. The trail follows an old logging road (the Hemlock Trail), then we turned off onto the Salal Trail and up to a signpost after a few miles.
We had just come off the Salal Trail showing the Madrone Crest trail 1.2 miles behind us, and also Madrone Crest 1.0 miles to the right. The hike is familiar to all of us, and we knew that we couldn't go wrong no matter which way we went, but there was some discussion about the best way to proceed. You can see that we were all dressed for the cool weather except for Mikey Poppins (half of him is visible on the right, next to Fred), who was wearing his shorts and t-shirt in 45-degree weather. He was prepared in case the weather turned wet, but sometimes I wonder what planet he was born on, to be as comfy in the damp coolness as he seems to be. :-)
Once we got to the viewpoint, where Mt. Baker is rumored to be somewhere behind those clouds, we decided to have a quick snack (it was only 10:30 am) and turn around and head back to the Senior Center for lunch. Last year I got a nice picture of Mt. Baker, but this year a picture of Peggy drinking her hot tea will suffice. (The link takes you to last year's hike, where I also discuss some of the features of the madrone tree.) There were a few madrone trees at the Crest (the first picture), and I also saw this one showing the colors of the season:
The bark on these trees is incredibly colorful and peels back to reveal a nice golden color, as you can see in the first picture. The day's mileage turned out to be a little more than 7.5 miles and up and down 1,500 feet of elevation. Compared to last week's climb to Oyster Dome, this seemed almost easy. As we headed back down to the cars and lunch at the Senior Center, we did see lots of mushrooms sprouting from the undergrowth. Nobody knew if these are edible or not, but Bob offered, "Sure they are, at least once."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Accentuate the positive

Saul Loeb, AFP, from msnbc
There was an old song that Bing Crosby, I think, sang back in the old days when I was young. It was called something like "Don't Mess With Mr. In-Between." (The link takes you to the lyrics, if you want to see them.)

Elizabeth Edwards knew how to accentuate the positive in her life. She had some very public trials that many of us watched her go through. I was always struck by the grace with which she faced adversity. Everyone has trials, but she had more than her share, I would say, and now she is gone at the young age of 61, leaving behind two children who are not yet teenagers.

Elizabeth also fought for health care for everyone, she never gave up. And that is one reason for this post today: to say thank you to Elizabeth and all the others who wouldn't give in to the political drama that said it couldn't be done. While it's not perfect, at least the door is open. I am glad for that.

But other than thanking Elizabeth, I have also spent the morning sending emails to anyone who I think might actually be listening. The tax break "compromise" that Obama has crafted is blowing up in his face, because the only ones who love it are those who will be reaping the benefits. Read this post called "Tax Cut Deal a Hidden Threat to Social Security." I depend on Social Security for my retirement, and I have a whole lot of company. All those of us who are not wealthy need what we paid into for our entire working lives to be there for us today.

But really, I am trying to accentuate the positive here. I'm having trouble finding the positive, though, since the only people who will be having their taxes go up are those who make $20,000 or less. According to Jason Linkins, the ones who find this a great deal are:
--the highest earners
--the wealthiest 1 percent of the population
--the wealthiest Americans
--hedge fund managers and private equity investors
--an individual earning $110,000
--4 million taxpayers with income in the mid- to high six figures
--estates over $5 million
Unfortunately for me, none of those categories are remotely where I belong. Although I don't make $20,000 or less, it's only because of Social Security! Now I don't usually get political on this blog, but I am really, really having trouble controlling my anxiety and trying really really hard to find out how I can do something about this awful situation. If you feel as I do, please write to your representatives in Congress and let them know what you think.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Birds everywhere

You can see the birds up close, just click on the pic
This picture of my front porch is taken from the ground level. We are on the second floor, but I wanted to show some of my readers why I don't worry about wet birdseed. We have a pretty decent overhang that causes the snow and wind to miss the hanging feeders and only mess with what's on the porch floor.

I feed these birds because in many ways I feel responsible for them. This may be a silly reason to some people, but most of these birds would not be here if I hadn't provided food for their parents during breeding season. Lately, with the cold weather, many more goldfinches are visiting me. I imagine them telling their friends about it. I also belong to a birding listserv, so I know from emails that there are many, many other people like me who worry about our feathered friends during the cold.

The dark material in the upper right of the picture is to block the light from that huge and very bright light that is supposed to keep us safe from burglars. The light reflects back onto the porch and makes it hard for me to sleep when I need a nice dark room. The material helps.

You can also see the suet feeder on the left, which is a favorite of woodpeckers, flickers, chickadees and bushtits. The sparrows aren't interested, which make me happy. Here's a picture I took of the front porch as I approached it:
You can see that the snow has drifted onto the floor of the porch, but the hanging feeders have not been touched.  The birds are gone for the moment because they heard me coming. I'll slip back into the house now so they can resume their breakfast. I also have a birdbath that gives the birds water so they don't have to eat snow when it's very cold out. I use a heater to keep the water from freezing. Birds need water to digest the seeds, so it's important to make sure they have a source somewhere.

It gives me so much pleasure to feed and watch all the birds that visit me, but my very favorites will always be the chickadees, because they seem to know me and talk to me when I come to fill the feeders.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Still celebrating birthdays

You know you can click to enlarge any picture, right?
Everyone has one, so they aren't really special, but they feel like they are. And I'll never have another sixth-eighth birthday ushering me into my sixty-ninth year. This year's birthday was especially fun, so I'll share it with my favorite bloggers. It all started by taking the bus to town and having my morning latte with friends at Avellino's. Above you see little Leo, his dad Robert behind. Leo insisted on paying attention to Gene while he took the picture. Leo brightens my day each workday (I mean workout-day), Monday through Friday. I realize I am one of those people who needs structure to my days, and this little guy adds a bright spot to go along with the caffeine.
Next, off to the Y where I take this class three days a week. The leg on the far right belongs to Joanne, the instructor. She has been teaching this class for 25 years. Her husband Les is the tall one behind her, and he took the next picture, which has about half the class who stayed afterward so I could chronicle my physical progress. (I did the same thing last year.) Of course I am hamming it up; it's my special day, after all!
One of the biggest differences this year is that I've started wearing my ankle weights to this class, five pounds each. This gives me quite a good workout, and I've learned that any exercise that allows you to work up a light sweat for a minimum of 15 minutes is a good workout for the heart. I manage to do this six out of seven days. After arriving back home around noon, I spent the early afternoon with Smart Guy before he took me out to dinner.
Here we are at Anthony's Seafood Restaurant, picture taken by our waitperson. That's Squalicum Harbor in the background, filled with boats. My friend Judy had taken me out to dinner the night before and I had salmon with her, so this evening I was treated to a four-course meal, starting with shrimp cocktail, a salad, rainbow trout, and a wonderful dessert called "burnt cream" (actually crème brûlée, just not in French). Although it was a lot of food, I was careful not to think of the calories, just of the scrumptiousness!

Just a wonderful day, and we have begun a tradition to continue into the coming year, starting with Smart Guy's birthday, since mine doesn't come around for another whole year! I can't wait!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oyster Dome

Two things have happened since my last post: today's Senior Trailblazers hike up to Oyster Dome (my first time), and my birthday yesterday. Today, Oyster Dome, and maybe tomorrow my birthday, which deserves a post all to itself, it was such a wonderful day.
I woke to fog this morning, but the weather satellite pictures gave me hope that maybe today would be a good one, and sure enough, it was! Although I drove to the Senior Center in the dark (because of the fog), I saw that blue sky was a possibility for today. Fourteen of us showed up for a hike labeled "hard" on the first Thursday in December! It was hard, I agree, almost nine miles and 2,200 feet of elevation change. We carpooled and drove down Chuckanut Drive into Skagit County and parked right off the road. The trail starts out steep right at the beginning, but we reached the above view of Samish Bay, showing that we were quite a bit above the fog and clouds. That's Lummi Island sticking up.
After almost two miles at what seemed really steeply uphill, we reached this junction. It shows that we had come 1.8 miles from the highway and had to navigate another half mile to reach the Oyster Dome trail. We actually ended up going all the way to Lily Lake, which you can see is another 1.9 miles up this trail. But first, we had lunch at Oyster Dome.
The view of Samish Bay was stupendous. I heard stories of previous hikes up to Oyster Dome that were so windy and cold it caused my intrepid Trailblazers to stay well away from this rock face. In the foreground waters, you can see Samish Flats, with a long skinny peninsula in the middle of the picture. I don't remember its name, but I know when we first moved here, we drove all the way out there.
As you might be able to ascertain from this picture, we were not exactly warm and toasty basking in the sun during our lunch, but instead tried to keep from getting way too cold. A light breeze stole any warmth away from the sunshine, which played in and out of the clouds. We didn't stay too long, but headed from here down to Lily Lake and a nice loop hike so we didn't have to go back down the very steep and treacherous trail to the Dome. The loop adds more than two miles to the hike, but nobody was complaining, after grunting and groaning up to here. Our return trip took us to a great view of the Samish Flats, here in the background behind some of our group. (The rest of us were taking advantage of the local facilities, a conveniently placed outdoor latrine, a two-seater!)
My telephoto lens makes the Flats look much closer than they actually are, but you can easily pick out Mikey Poppins in the foreground with his shorts and unused umbrella. I know he has a following amongst my readers, so I did need to show you that he, while the rest of us bundled up, was dressed appropriately for himself: warm hat, gloves, shorts, and boots. Everything else is out there to the wind. One day you will see him with long pants, but don't hold your breath!

All in all, it was a wonderful day, but I must say that I could not have done this hike without my trekking poles, which saved my knees on the painful descent. My knees don't feel like they would appreciate doing this again today, but I learned that in the not-so-distant past, Mike went up and down this trek THREE TIMES in one day! He's a little older and wiser now, but I can tell you that, for me, once was enough!