Monday, January 31, 2011

The long slog toward slim

This picture was taken this month (January) on one of our snowshoe trips. One nice thing about winter is you can't really see all those extra pounds I gained in 2010. It's not that I don't exercise, as all of you who follow my blog know, but it's that other part, the intake, that seems to be the problem.

I got all excited once I started my calorie counting regime last week after having lost two whole pounds in the first four days. Another pound skated right off the scales in another two or three days. So, this morning after not having weighed myself since last Friday, I was so excited about getting on the scales after my workout. NO! I couldn't have GAINED a pound. Or could I? I've been diligent in logging my food intake and making sure I am in a 300-calorie deficit as I add everything up. It was disappointing, but I am pretty sure this is just part of the ups and downs (literally) of the game. There is a need to remember that I'm in this for the long haul. I was just jumping ahead, as usual. Sigh. It was probably a good thing for me to remember that several things can add or subtract from that total poundage. I've still got another eight pounds to lose for real.

I have noticed that my pants are very slightly less tight, but it's not anything making me ready to fling myself into my favorite jeans and be disappointed. I'll wait awhile. Becoming slim and getting rid of my muffin top are my goals, and they are totally within my reach if I just remember to take it slow, gear myself up for the long slog of counting calories and depriving myself of chocolate. For now, anyway.

Pete, August 2010
My brother-in-law Pete is very ill with Stage IV emphysema and was told this morning that there is nothing more that can be done to extend his life. My sister called me to let me know that he is being referred to Hospice and that she will call me when she wants me to come. If it were up to me, I'd head down to Florida tomorrow, but she has her hands full and doesn't need me to interfere. It's a very hard time ahead right now, and my heart is heavy not only because I love them both, but because we all must travel that path one day, and it really sucks to be the one left behind.

Last August I went to Virginia and spent a week with Pete, my sister, their daughter and my beautiful newborn grand niece, their first grandchild. It was a wonderful visit, and when we said goodbye, I wondered if I would see Pete again. Well, I believe I will, but maybe not on this side of the veil. Pete has been married to my sister for almost half a century, and I've known him most of my life. He was my first husband's best friend for years and years. If there is an afterlife, I know that he and Derald will be really happy to be together again.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mt. Erie and Sugarloaf 2011

Finally, a Thursday with no precipitation! It seems a long time ago, since the last few weeks we have hiked in weather than didn't allow for very many good pictures. Last year's hike to this same destination was in February, and I just peeked at the pictures to see how different they were. Very, to say the least. You are looking at Mt. Rainier brought a little closer with my telephoto, but it is the first time I've even SEEN it from the top of Mt. Erie. We had low fog making for some spectacular shots, and the sun only peeked out now and then, but the weather was quite mild and, as I said, there was no rain.
Looking across the water at the Olympics, you can see the low clouds and the view with these clouds was so beautiful it took my breath away. If you enlarge it, almost in the middle of the picture you can see a bird, probably an eagle looking for a quick meal. We had eighteen Trailblazers on today's hike, many of them on this excursion for the first time. Although we trekked from Heart Lake through the Anacortes Community Forest Land south of Bellingham, there is a paved road that goes all the way to the top. We were the only hikers up there, but many people had come for the view, wondering why we had trekking poles and packs, I expect.
Pointing my camera to the east, looking across the Skagit Valley, I could see many of my favorite and familiar mountains, Glacier Peak among them, with the fog drifting across the valley to make my pictures particularly interesting and mysterious. These three pictures cover 180 degrees, looking east, south, and west from the top of Mt. Erie. I took a picture of the whole gang below, with the Anacortes refinery in the background.
 Fred and Norm are in the front row, kneeling and crossing their swords -- I mean their trekking poles. As usual, you can see that we are all in various stages of dress for the weather, except for Mikey on the right, sans umbrella but dressed for his native planet, which I believe is Pluto. There was a lot of up and down on this hike, and by the time we reached the cars, my knees were unhappy because we had covered eight miles and gone up and down 2,300 feet of elevation. However, now that I am home safe and sound, and I think of the more than 1,000 extra calories I burned during this hike, I am very content.

I do want to say thank you to all my readers who have mentioned their adventures with thyroid problems. It did occur to me that maybe part of the reason for the weight gain is this unwelcome guest hanging out in there. I'll know the full story soon, but now I know myself to be in extremely good company!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Signs of spring

On the way into the Community Food Co-op this morning, I saw these beautiful primroses for sale, two 4" flats of primroses for $3. They are so lovely and made me realize that spring really is just around the corner. Okay, maybe not exactly that soon, but the days are now beginning to lengthen enough for me to see the sun come up when I walk to the bus, and in the evening the sun sets at almost 5:00 pm, instead of 4:14 (at the solstice). It's enough to make me smile and feel happy when the sun comes out to play.

Today, though, I was walking to the bus in grey fog, just before sunrise, with my gloves, hat, coat all making me feel nice and warm, plus it wasn't raining for a change. And what should I spy heading down the gentle slope of the road but a teenager in shorts, t-shirt flying, on a skateboard! He was obviously on his way to school, but I was struck by the disparity in our gear: he didn't have a hat, coat, or gloves and didn't seem to miss them. The temperature was 45 degrees F, not terribly cold, but not exactly t-shirt weather to me. A sign of spring coming, I'd say.

When I lived in Boulder and the sunshine was just a given most of the time, I didn't appreciate it nearly as much as I do now, after several days of rain and overcast skies. Right now the sun is shining brilliantly, the birds are busily foraging on the front porch under the feeders, and my spirits are pretty darn high. Although when I went to get the ultrasound yesterday that took a look at the condition of my carotid arteries, I was given some good news and some not-so-good news. While the arteries are not exactly pristine, they are not blocked more than ten or twenty percent, according to the technician. Nothing to be concerned about. However, he saw an anomaly on the left side of my thyroid: a pea-sized lump or nodule. He showed me the ultrasound picture and we discussed its implication. He told me that I should expect a call from my doctor ordering some blood work to find detailed information about the functioning of my thyroid. After that, I might expect a biopsy if the doctor wants to rule out cancer.

I wasn't exactly surprised when he told me about it, because for several months now I felt something in my neck when I looked down and to the left. I thought it might be a swollen gland. Of course as soon as I got home I hit the Internet and discovered that thyroid nodules are fairly common and are more prevalent with age. Around 95% of them are benign. So now I will find out if my new doctor is really on the ball and what he decides to do with this information. I'll be letting you know.

I had decided not to mention it here on my blog, but it has occupied enough of my attention that I really couldn't skip it without doing some mental gymnastics. I feel a bit of relief now that I've written about it. And since I had broken the two-pound barrier, I stepped on the scales again today, wondering if it would still show that they are gone, and it registered another half-pound lost! With the sun shining and expected to continue through our hike tomorrow, my weight loss going in the right direction, and spring flowers smiling at me, life is pretty darn good!
Closeup of the primroses

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blogger woes and more

Click to enlarge
I tried to download this new header onto my blog yesterday, and after getting entirely frustrated with trying to download it properly (it showed up all pixelated and the wrong size), I decided to download my previous header (the one that SHOULD be there now). I went to the "Help" button and put in a query and was directed to this thread, which shows that there is something wrong with the header widget and it has been going on since last Thursday!! They have a whole lot of very unhappy people, but one of them suggested that I find my previous banner in Picasa (which has all of my pictures downloaded from this blog) and link the URL instead of a picture, and it worked. I just checked a few minutes ago, and the issue is still not fixed and several people are heading over to Wordpress in disgust.

Besides not wanting to start over, I will wait patiently until the problem is fixed before trying to put another picture in my header. It was fun to put that header together but now I've decided it's too big and so I'll work on another -- and wait for the fix. Hopefully if you want to change your header picture you will decide also to wait before going through all the frustration that hundreds of us have dealt with in the last few days.

Just a quick update on the calorie counting front: today after my workout I weighed myself on the same scale and have lost an apparent two pounds. Now, I know from previous efforts that the first few pounds are the easiest to lose, and they may not be gone at all, actually. Water weight fluctuations cause changes that appear to be actual weight loss, but it sure made me happy. I know that last night I woke up and realized I was hungry. According to Calorie Count, I was 300 calories short of what I need to maintain my weight (1500 calories taken in), and it surprised me to be hungry at all. I figure I must have been eating at least 2000 calories a day before this effort began, and that caused the imperceptible creep upwards. Imperceptible a day at a time, that is.

My friend Rae over at Weather Vane is hosting an unofficial giveaway and has asked anyone who might be interested in winning this cute little spoon holder (or a couple of other prizes) to link to her post in order to be officially entered in this unofficial prize party. Although she didn't mention what the other prizes are, I am intrigued by this fun event and don't want to be left out. I have already won a key chain from SquirrelQueen at The Road to Here and use it every day. (It has a picture of the Walla Walla Sweetie Onion on it.)

The blogosphere is expanding for me. I have reluctantly begun to follow another four blogs just this past week, and I see that I recently stopped being in the double digits in followers by gaining my 100th follower. (This might be different if you look over at the sidebar, because people come and go, as most of you already know.) It made me smile to see that "99" turn to "100" for no reason I can surmise, except that I know I am not the ONLY one who spends a huge amount of time reading the blog posts of her virtual community. It's time consuming, but it's also really fun.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Counting calories

Well, it's official. I did really gain those extra ten pounds over the last thirteen months since I was last at the doctor's office. And now that Dr Whitehead has given me a "prescription" to lose the extra weight before I see him next year, I'm thinking about exactly how to do that. Fortunately, I've got new tools on the Internet that were not available to me last time I went through this weight loss thing.

The beautiful 12-oz latte you see in the picture was today's "snack" consisting of skim milk and one shot of espresso (just under 100 calories). I have discovered the espresso is almost calorie free, and the skim milk is high in some nutrients I am just now discovering. After looking for a calorie counter on line that would help me log my food intake, I found an amazing website called Calorie Count. (This link should take you to the main site.) They also have a very interesting blog. If you look at the menu bar at the top of the blog, you'll find links to the food log and calorie counter that are helping me to understand the reason for my weight gain. Who knew that there are so many calories in almonds and walnuts? I realize now that a little handful of these raw nuts contains enough fat to keep my jeans tight all by themselves!

I was in denial about the weight gain at first, since I am pretty much of an obsessive exerciser, so after my workout at the Y yesterday I got on their upright scales. Oh. Although I weighed three pounds less, I was also unclothed. I always figure your regular clothes weigh about that much. I stood there and studied the number but it didn't change. No wonder my cholesterol numbers are high.

After registering on the Calorie Count website and entering my age, weight and activity level, I realized that I maintain my weight at about 1,800 calories a day. That's really not all that much food, and as I began to learn how to use the Food Log, I saw where some extra calories can be shaved off without too much pain or difficulty. That's what I'm telling myself after using the Log for two days now. It was quite a shock to realize that one slice of my favorite Great Harvest Bread (spelt) has 130 calories! Just one, with nothing on it!

The Food Log, once you have entered all the food you've eaten for the day and marked it complete, analyzes the breakdown of your diet, telling you where you are over or under in nutrients. I got an overall "A" for both days, but I discovered I am also low in dietary potassium and don't eat as many carbohydrates as I should. I got into that habit from following low carb diets for years. The problem with those diets is that they don't work if you eat more carbs than allowed. So, here goes an attempt at counting calories. I'll let you know about the results. It does help to have a doctor's "scrip" to lose weight.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Alger Alp

I'm beginning to think that my Senior Trailblazers group is really hard core (I kind of knew this), because I woke to rain for our regular Thursday hike AGAIN, and this time, even more hikers showed up! Sixteen of us set out for Alger Alp, an 80-acre park south of Bellingham, in a fairly steady rain. It was also more than 10-15 degrees colder than last week's wet hike. As you can see from the picture, the rain had changed to snow with a little elevation gain. We hiked on both trails and old logging roads around Squires Lake and saw evidence of beaver activity.
You might already know that beaver must keep chewing down trees in order to keep their teeth at a reasonable length, since they keep growing throughout their lifetime. It's pretty amazing to see what they can do with those choppers. In this park they are protected and allowed to chomp away, making for an interesting picture.
The usual destination on the fairly short hike is this overlook, which didn't have much of a view today. Our hike took us off the park boundary onto a logging road that doubles as a segment of the Pacific Northwest Trail and takes us to the overlook at 1,300 feet. I understand that usually there's a great view of several lakes and the Skagit Valley. Well, they must be there somewhere. The picture looks almost monochromatic.

I asked Al to take a picture of me while we were there, just to make sure I sometimes show up on the other side of the camera, and I thought it turned out quite nice, with the fresh snow as a backdrop.
After hiking a few miles, we all agreed to have our lunch at the Senior Center, which we found to be much more comfy than standing around in the rain and snow trying to keep from getting too cold as we eat lunch. So after a bit more than five miles and a thousand feet up and down, we headed to our cars and met back at the Center. Since I always like to include a picture of our lunch spot, here is today's, showing the Ferndale Three (Fred wasn't there today):
We commandeered a couple of these tables and had a MUCH nicer lunch experience than we would otherwise have had. And I was able to give some leftover brownies to a few lucky people at nearby tables. It was either give them away or pitch them, as they are anathema to my new dietary efforts. All in all, it was a wonderful day, but frankly I'm ready for a little of the non-liquid variety of sunshine.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good news

Dr. Whitehead
I wasn't kidding when I said my new doctor looks fourteen, don't you think? And what a lucky gal I am, that I like him so much. He's smart, has a sense of humor and gave me a very thorough examination, asked all the right questions. I found out that he is actually 36. The older I get, the younger that seems, but he's very competent and likable.

The PeaceHealth Medical Group is also located in a bright and cheerful building, unlike the Center for Senior Health where I have been going for the past three years. It helps to have people of all ages in the waiting room, rather than everyone elderly like me!

We discussed my family history of heart disease and my cholesterol numbers. He was able to see the results from the past three checkups, as well as last Friday's numbers, which had increased since last year. I was all ready for him to tell me that I would need to take a stronger dose of statins, but no, he said the numbers were elevated a little from last year but not enough to cause much concern. I was flabbergasted. Although my numbers are higher, my good-to-bad cholesterol ratio puts me in the category of one-half normal risk for heart disease. It turns out that the culprit is likely to be the ten pounds I have gained since my last checkup, and he assured me that if I would lose them, I wouldn't need any further medication. That will give me incentive to lose the weight. I hope, anyway.

He does want to see what shape my coronary arteries are in, so I will have an ultrasound on Tuesday of the carotid arteries in my neck. He said that what the ultrasound shows for the carotids will give him a good indication of the condition of my coronary arteries. Sounds good to me, and it's the first time anyone has suggested this test. My son died at 40 of coronary artery disease, my father at 62, and my mother at 69. So he isn't taking this lightly, and I appreciate this thoroughness.

I knew I had gained weight; I was not thrilled about being weighed and never step on the scales when I know they will not show me good news, but I was surprised at how much more I weigh than I did last year. I am right at the cusp of overweight on the BMI (body mass index), at 24.8. If you want to figure your own, here is a good link to check out. It not only helps you figure it out, but it also tells you where you are in relation to others of your age and gender. I'm in the 25th percentile for women my age (meaning that three-quarters of others have a higher BMI than I do). That's heartening.
Here's a picture of the soup I had for lunch today, filled with kale, miso, tofu, some beans and some leftover forbidden rice. I learned about this rice from Arkansas Patti on The New Sixty. Smart Guy read about it and I came home to see this weird black stuff on the kitchen counter. Trust me, it's my latest favorite thing! Hoping that I will be able to lose these pounds, I am happily eating more soup and eating smaller portions. I'll let you know how I'm doing and can use any tips that my faithful readers might have. Getting enough exercise is not my problem, obviously.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I saw this bumper sticker on cars a couple of times around town and looked it up on the Internet. I found that it is sold on a website called, with an interesting outlook (from their Vision page):
Our vision is of a creative collaborative outreach network that will combine artists and activists on a collision course with peace. We promote peace and social justice issues while advocating and fund raising for a broad spectrum of charitable institutions. 
What struck me about the sticker is the inclusion of many aspects of various people's belief systems in one simple design. I love it and find it very heartening. I'm not a bumper sticker kind of person any more (I used to be), but I think perhaps a magnetic sticker that can be removed without damage to my car might work just fine. Coexistence, to me, is a fact of life, but honoring many belief systems without making any value judgments seems like a very worthwhile goal.
Right now I am also wanting some signs of spring, especially after having read my blogging friend Linda's beautiful "walk through a winter garden." She lives down south in Seattle and has posted several pictures on her blog of her amazing back yard. I have purchased some daffodils and placed them on the corner of my desk, where I can watch them grow and change, watch my birds, and enjoy the pine tree. The window faces east so the tree catches the light at sunset when the grey skies lift. At first I considered buying a bouquet of cut daffodils, but these early daffys grown from bulbs seemed much more appropriate for contemplation. I am learning to coexist with the rain.

Tomorrow I go to see my new doctor and will miss my usual workout. I warned the instructor so she wouldn't worry about my whereabouts. I am such a regular that I'm missed when I don't show up. Last Monday when I went showshoeing, she asked me on Wednesday if I had missed the bus. It's nice to be missed, I find. I had to leave my previous doctor at the Center for Senior Health because they dropped my insurance coverage, and this new medical center is much less restrictive in what insurance they take. The only old thing about my new doctor is his last name: Dr. Whitehead. He's only been practicing medicine for four years and looks awfully young to my senior eyes. I tell myself that he will be up on all the latest, and I am predisposed to like him. I'll let you know how it goes.

I went to see The King's Speech a second time yesterday, this time with Smart Guy. It's interesting how much more I saw this time, and for some reason I was much more emotional and wished I had brought my hankie so I could wipe my eyes a bit better. Maybe it was because I had read up on King George VI and found that the movie followed actual history quite closely. As you might know, the movie is about Prince Albert who was forced to take the British throne just before World War II broke out. He had a debilitating stammer that caused him great distress, since he was expected to address his people through radio broadcasts. He spent many years working with Lionel Logue, a speech therapist who treated him with then-controversial methods. From this Wikipedia link:
In 1911 Logue set out on a tour of the world to study methods of public speaking. Following his return to Perth, and after the Great War, he developed treatments for war veterans whose exposure to shell-shock had left them with impaired speech. In addition to physical exercises, which helped with patients' breathing, Logue's distinctive therapy emphasized humour, patience and 'superhuman sympathy.'
As you may already know, Colin Firth won a Golden Globe for his performance as King George, and Geoffrey Rush (who played Logue) was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, although he didn't win. It is a most satisfying movie, and that link to the movie (from Rotten Tomatoes) shows that both the critics and the audience agreed, giving it a 96% "freshness" rating. If you see it, I hope this true story might inspire you as it did me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rain, rain, more rain

After having had a spell of beautiful sunny days, we are now in the exact opposite situation: nothing but rain for days already, and no respite in the forecast until late next week. Right now I am sitting in front of my window, looking at the raindrops on the tree outside and noticing how beautiful and wet everything is. From here, inside, warm and cozy, it is lovely. Walking around in it is another matter. A current alert from the Weather Underground tells the tale:
* rain... heavy rain of up to 2.5 inches is expected during the next 24 hours through Monday morning for the central Cascades from Highway 2 on south. This will come on top of rain that has already fallen. Lesser but still significant amounts are expected over the north Cascades. Hydrologically significant rain will end on Monday afternoon.
"Hydrologically significant" rain ending does not mean the sun will come out. That's not expected until Wednesday at the earliest. In all the years I spent in Colorado enjoying the sunshine, I'm surprised that the continual rain hasn't darkened my spirits at all. For one thing, I never really "saw" the sunshine there, because it was a little like the air: it was just there. Now, when the sun comes out, I smile and go outside to enjoy it, with the added benefit of all the lush green scenery. Everything in Colorado looked brown and sparse to my eye during my recent visit, so now I have adapted to this:
Waterfalls, ferns, moss -- lots of green looks normal to my present Washingtonian eye. I suppose if I spent much time in Colorado again, I would forget all this and soon I would adjust to the new normal. I also wonder if I stored up enough rays in almost forty years in Colorado to tide me over for the rest of my life. Whatever the reason, it's all good to me right now.

Oh, and by the way, I wrote a couple of short reviews this morning on my other blog about two movies I've seen recently: The King's Speech and The Fighter. If you have seen either of these movies, I'd be interested to hear if you enjoyed them as much as I did.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lost Lake 2011

Now, you're not going to believe this. I sure don't! This morning I woke to the sound of the rain drumming on the roof, heavy rain, on Thursday, the day of our usual Senior Trailblazers hike. But I decided to go ahead and go, since it's more painful to think of my friends having fun without me than to think of hiking in the rain. I drove to the Senior Center and FOURTEEN hikers showed up!!
We carpooled to the trailhead and set out up the steep logging road toward the hiking trail to Lost Lake. It's a precipitous climb, and I remarked that it's a little like childbirth: you forget from year to year just how much pain you are having during the uphill part of this climb. This picture of Norm in front of a massive waterfall shows the wet terrain: we all were decked out in rain gear and pack covers. The actual temperature, however, was pretty warm: almost 50 degrees F, in stark contrast to our Tuesday snowshoe trip in the Mt. Baker area.
Here we are at the junction of the Lost Lake trail and the Fragrance Lake trail. Trying to decide whether to go right or left, the fourteen of us separated into two groups, one going to the right, the other heading toward the certainty of finding Lost Lake. A logging operation has caused the circular loop around the lake to be truncated: before we actually reached the lake, those heading to the right were turned back and headed north to join the rest of the group. The trail was wet and muddy.
By the time we reached the lake and stopped for lunch, we were all reunited. Here you can see the mist rising from Lost Lake as we pulled out our lunches. I cannot tell you how lovely it is to have hot tea from my thermos while I munch down a sandwich in the presence of some of my favorite people in the world! Here is Lost Lake today, 13 January 2011, with the mist and the trees making a splendid backdrop to our day's exertions.
We ended up making a longer hike than we have done in a while: more than ten miles and up more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. By the time we had reached the final mile, I was so ready for it to be over and looked forward to seeing myself collapsed at the trailhead. We did eventually get there, and now I am home and feeling quite well exercised and content. I am so fortunate to have such an opportunity, and every day I can do this kind of thing is another day I give thanks. A fair amount of rain and mist, no sunshine, we still had a great day.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snowshoes once again

We had such a great time last Monday on our snowshoe outing that our fearless leader Al suggested another one, to the same place, today (Tuesday of the following week) to take advantage of the snow that has fallen since then AND to beat the next storm on its way here tonight. I took the above picture from the car on our way up to the ski area, and we were almost there. We were joined by four neophytes who have NEVER before been on snowshoes, all of them Senior Trailblazers. Peggy told me she had an anxiety dream about it but it was really a wonderful day, although nothing like last week's sunny and warm trip.
Ward, Peggy, Linda and Maggie, first-time snowshoers
The wind was blowing and it was much colder as we headed up Cardiac Hill. Thirteen of us left the parking lot and began our hike. Since there was a lot of new snow, we had really wonderful conditions, even if we were nowhere near as comfy as last week. My hands and feet were cold for the first hour, gradually warming up from the exertion. However, every time we found ourselves with a brisk headwind, my body temperature went down and I felt the cold again. As we gained some altitude, the scenery was spectacular and completely different from last week's trip.
You can see all the new snow, as well as the lowering skies. We had no view of Mt. Baker today, and when it got to be noon-ish, we headed down off the ridge to get out of the wind and have a quick snack. My Camelbak water hose had frozen solid and no amount of sucking and blowing would dislodge it. I've simply GOT to get a better system. Fortunately I had brought some hot tea in a thermos, so I drank some and ate part of a sandwich before we headed back down to the stream bed on our way back to the cars. We ended up hiking around three-and-a-half miles, which we consider equates to regular hiking to be about two to one (in other words, it felt much more like seven miles without snowshoes).
The view of our favorite mountains was spectacular, even if the sun was hiding behind grey skies and the wind was blowing. After we reached our cars, Mikey Poppins discovered that his car keys were missing, probably falling out of his pocket in a snowdrift after a spill. We all fell at least once, but this one caused us some consternation. After loading everyone up in our cars, we decided to take a look at our options at the Beer Shrine and discuss how to fix the problem, leaving Mike's car in the parking lot. Here's Mikey, dressed appropriately for once, in front of the Beer Shrine's sign.
Yes, it's not only a brewery and pizzeria, but also a wedding chapel and beer museum. They have their own microbrew, and I can attest to the excellence of their IPA. We had a quick conference at the Shrine, and the drivers amongst us only had the smallest three-ounce repast (I was not one of them) while we decided that Mike's wife would drive a key to our meeting point and Al (blessed guy that he is) would then drive Mike back up the mountain to his car, while the rest of us all came home to our various spouses. As I am writing this right now, at 5:30pm, I suspect that Al and Mike are still not home from the day's adventure. As bad as Mike felt about it all, I hope he realized it could have happened to any one of us. It was a GREAT DAY filled with excitement and adventure!
Trust me, if you ever get a chance to experience the North Fork Beer Shrine's wonderful microbrewery, you will not be sorry. Until next time, stay safe and have fun! I know I am.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Yep, it came

Click to enlarge any picture
The snow, I mean. I awoke yesterday morning, Sunday, and saw out my bedroom window that the snow was falling quite heavily. I grabbed my camera so I could take some pictures before the sun had even come up. The flash caused the snowflakes to stand out, but you can see on the upper tree branches that we had at least a couple of inches overnight. After deciding to forgo my usual trip to the Co-op for a latte and a paper to bring home, Smart Guy and I decided to take a walk to the beach to look at our transformed scenery.
Before we even left the front porch, I took this picture of our beautiful apple tree that carries white blossoms in the spring. It looks something like this, but in a way, this was even more ethereal, as well as more transient. Once the wind came up later in the day, all the snow was blown away. It looks like it could be a black-and-white picture except for the red car.
This picture shows the snow and the dock at Squalicum Beach in Bellingham Bay. I debated about lightening it up a little, as the overcast skies and the steel-grey water added little contrast to the white snow, but I decided it was more dramatic just like this. In iPhoto, I can mess with the pictures quite a lot, getting effects to help with the point-and-shoot limitations of my camera.
I used the "enhance" feature to lighten this picture of me taken by Smart Guy. You can see under the dock the beginnings of the clearing sky, and by mid-day it was completely blue. By then the wind had come up, however, and changed the magical look of the trees to their usual mundane bare winter branches. On the way back, our downstairs neighbor suggested I take a look at the circular clothesline in the back yard to capture the amazing effect of the snow:
It almost looks like the prow of a ship, to me. The clotheslines are there for the use of the residents, and some people take advantage of them during the summer, but there weren't any takers today. Except me, that is, who used it to nab a great shot!

Oh, and just for grins, I wonder how many of my readers have ever heard of the word "forwent." When I was getting ready to use the word "forgo" in the first paragraph, I wasn't sure whether there is an "e" after "for" so in looking it up, I discovered the following:

forgo |fôrˈgō| (also forego)
verb ( forgoes ; past forwent ; past part. forgone ) [ trans. ]
omit or decline to take (something pleasant or valuable); go without : she wanted to forgo the dessert and leave while they could.
refrain from : we forgo any comparison between the two men.
ORIGIN Old English forgān (see for- , go 1 ).

Well, you learn something every day! I have used the verb form AND the past participle, but I have never even heard of "forwent" before today.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Snow is coming

I took this picture from our kitchen window the last time we had some significant snow here in Bellingham.  Now another significant snowstorm has been forecast for the middle of next week. Cliff Mass, my favorite weatherman, suggests the possibility in a post entitled "Historic Snowstorm This Week?" If you read it, though, you will notice that the storm might hit here or even as far south as Portland. He paints an interesting picture of the event in four acts.

We have been without much weather, other than rain and some (gasp!) sunny days, so it will be almost welcome to have a little bit of the white stuff on the ground. Maybe I'll have the chance to use my new Yak Trax, which have been languishing with my gear, waiting for another round of ice and snow. Since I can take the bus downtown and don't need to drive in bad weather, I don't feel housebound at all by the elements.

My dreams for the past two weeks, ever since I returned from Colorado, have been amazingly vivid and detailed. They are almost all related to skydiving, too, although it's been more than two months since I have gotten my "knees in the breeze." A wind tunnel is being built near Seattle and should help me keep a little of the rust out of my freefall skills by next winter. They are great tools and a wonderful way for people to experience "indoor skydiving." You are supported by a column of air and the newer tunnels are quite advanced, allowing you to see how it feels. I recommend it. In 2003 I attended a week-long tunnel camp in Florida and had a great time, as you can see from this picture.

Somehow the experience of being an instructor has faded from my mind, until those recent dreams brought them up. Teaching someone how to skydive is a huge responsibility. Getting the rating to become an instructor was one of the hardest tests I have ever taken, and the first time I tried to get through the ten-day course, I failed miserably. After six months of practice, however, I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I received the rating, unti it occurred to me that soon I would be taking ACTUAL STUDENTS up on skydives and would need to help them with whatever it took.

The way I gained the ability to handle more than a thousand students in my days as an instructor was to give them the ability to take responsibility for themselves and to teach them what they needed to do if things went wrong. I did have a student once land very hard and he broke an ankle, but thankfully that was the only thing that happened under my tutelage. I, however, have been punched in the face (accidentally) by a student and received several deep bruises from efforts to catch an out-of-control student. I'm glad those days are behind me.

In a recent dream, my student was frightened and shaking with fear. I remember looking him in the eyes and telling him, sincerely, that he had everything he needed to be safe. In life as in skydiving, fear is what causes us to make serious mistakes, and concentration and focus are the tools that help us make it through the hard times. What I learned during my years as an instructor are that facing one's fears and conquering them empowers anyone to become more of who we really are. I have seen many ecstatic faces when a successful skydive was concluded with a perfect landing in exactly the spot the student intended to land.

As I said, I'm glad those days are behind me, but I am also very glad I had those amazing experiences. I'm really grateful for the reminder that we are the sum total of our lives, not just the person we are today.  And I look forward to being able to continue to grow and change through every one of the days I have.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wet Cedar

There is no way a picture can adequately show how wet our hike to Cedar Lake was today. You can see a bit of mist in the trees here, and you can tell that we are all rain-coated and pack-covered. Just a little snow here and there, but when I left the apartment this morning to grey skies and light rain, I sure didn't expect twelve other intrepid hikers to show up. But indeed, the Senior Center began to fill with diehard hikers. We carpooled to the trailhead, which heads pretty much straight up for the first mile. It was a very long mile as I huffed and puffed up to the viewpoint.
Okay, there was no view, but this is where we would have had one, if the rain would have stopped and the clouds were to have lifted. (They didn't.) I asked Al to take this picture of me in my rain poncho at the viewpoint. The thing is, I know I would have paced around the apartment all day if I had not chosen to go along, and I knew we would be sheltered by the trees most of the way anyway. It was still very wet. But I got to be wet in good company.
By the time we reached Cedar Lake, carefully navigating the icy patches on the trail and looking at the non-view, the wind had started to blow and suddenly every wet hiker wondered about the wisdom of continuing along to Pine Lake. Usually we hike around Cedar Lake and cover the short distance between these lakes before heading back down to the cars. Today, we had a conference to decide what to do.
Fred is discussing the situation with Ward and Peggy, who were quite willing, along with the rest of us, to head back to the Senior Center's warmth and dryness to have our lunch, rather than continue on with the planned outing. After a short snack, off we headed to our respective cars to either head back home or over to the Center. All in all, we covered a little more than five miles and went up and down 1,700 feet of elevation on our wet Cedar Lake excursion. Now I am home, toasty warm with a piping cup of hot tea in front of me, and hopes for better weather next week. We have had amazingly good luck on several of our hikes lately, but today it was a real Pacific Northwest kind of winter day. As a parting gift, here's a picture of Mikey Poppins in full gear, conferring with the rest of us, who were dressed MUCH more conservatively. However, you can tell it's cold: he's wearing mittens and a hat!
Mike adds to the mystique that surrounds our hiking group. We have a reputation to uphold, after all, as being seniors willing to put ourselves into the elements, rain or shine. Today I was just a wee bit envious of his umbrella.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A day on snowshoes

Yesterday (actually last evening) I got an email from my hiking buddy Al telling me that the Mt. Baker Hiking Club was heading up to Huntoon Point from the Mt. Baker Ski Area parking lot, and did I want to join them, since he had room in his car? Well, I waffled about it for exactly five seconds before sending him an email back that I would meet him and a few others to carpool up to the meeting point. We knew that today was supposed to be the last day in a long string of sunny and cold days. More than twenty people showed up for this impromptu trek to the snow.
For my two snowshoe excursions last year, I borrowed Al's extra pair and as soon as they put some on sale at REI, I bought my own pair, but they were virgins until today. We headed out in the sunshine, up to the Point, and I found that (1) it's important not to snug the snowshoes too tight over your toes or they aren't going to want to warm up, and (2) they are wonderful and perfect! What else could have taken me into the beautiful wilderness with such amazing simplicity? Two of the people who came along today wore cross-country skis and struggled up the slopes while we planted one foot in front of the other, but boy did they ever cruise downhill! I do have a pair of cross-country skis in my closet that have not been used since skydiving took me away from Colorado's high country.
This picture of Shuksan and friends from our lunch spot showed the beginnings of cloud formation, although the clear, still air allowed me to have my lunch without even having to put on my coat. It was the most perfect day in the company of new friends, along with Al, Amy, Marjan and Frank (old friends from the Thursday group).
Amy is surrounded by sunshine, Mt. Baker is in the background, and as we headed back down to our cars after a four-mile snowshoe trek we discussed maybe stopping for a beer on the way home. I'm telling you right now: I am one of the most fortunate people in the Universe for finding this place to live. I never knew when I chose Bellingham for my retirement home that I would be so perfectly attuned to its alluring mountains, coastline, climate, and senior hikers. I pause for a moment to say thank you!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Day 2011

I caught this pristine picture this morning of two cormorants in Lake Padden. They were going to be disrupted pretty quickly, with the Polar Bear crazy people getting ready to jump into the freezing water, with the temperature outside somewhere right around freezing. I joined my regular Saturday walkers for a couple of trips around Lake Padden and a nice five-mile brisk walk in the sunshine before the plunge at noon. It was cold just standing around fully dressed, but the organizers of the Polar Bear Plunge encouraged costumes, and this group spent a while getting ready. They made the plunge in tutus, suspenders and hard hats!
As you can see, they are not shy and were having a great time, showing off and drinking schnapps before the  noontime dash into the water. Here are all the brave souls waiting for the signal to dunk, lined up and ready to go. Obviously the blonde lady was not intending to get wet, and I lost track of her, wondering if she ended up inadvertently going for a swim.
Everyone has towels and/or friends waiting to put them into warm clothes after the plunge. As you can see in the foreground if you enlarge the picture, there is ICE in that water! And here they go!
I estimated at least a couple of hundred intrepid Polar Bears heading into the water, but I didn't see any sign of the yellow hard hats and tutus as people began to turn around and make a very rapid exit out of the cold, invigorating water.
This picture shows that the majority of the crowd are heading back to the shoreline, but there are still a cautious few making their way in. It was actually quite a fine way to begin the new year, and once again I find myself wondering if I might be able to do it and not have a heart attack, which would surely spoil my entire year! It did look like fun, though.