Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Glad I'm not a songbird

Photo of peregrine falcon by Joe Meche
One of these days I might be informed enough to be able join the birders around the area in the December bird count, since I study all the pictures I receive from the Whatcom birders group. But as of now, I am still at  loss when I see one, unsure of the species. Joe Meche sent the above picture around with the following information (22 Dec 11):
Seems like today was a raptor-rich day, so I thought I'd offer one more for a nightcap. The Semiahmoo water tower peregrine was taking in the morning sun and keeping an eye on the Dunlin flocks on the flats at Blaine. 
Yesterday while I was struggling to learn more about Pixelmator, I saw a very large bird come onto the front porch. When I looked up, it was gone, and so were all the songbirds. They stayed away for a long time, making me wonder if it was my own resident Cooper's Hawk. If it was, he probably got one because he didn't come back. I've seen him on the porch more than once, and those raptor eyes and beak just give me the shivers. As I said in the title, I'm sure glad I'm not a songbird!

Since I have five feeders on my porch, the birds know this is a place where they can get a handout. And this also attracts the raptors, who see the fat little birds and figure if they can be fast enough, their own stomach will be full, too. It's just the way of things. At first I had a hard time thinking of the songbirds being seen as prey, but I've gotten over it, for the most part. It also bothers me when it's terribly cold and windy, as I picture the little creatures huddled in the trees and bushes waiting for the weather to change. When it's like that, I put extra seed out, and they are always visiting, sometimes in amazing profusion.
On last Thursday's hike, we spied a hairy woodpecker (at least that's what I think it is; it looks like a downy but it's much bigger) rat-a-tat-tatting away on this tree. You might need to enlarge the picture to see it better, but the little spot of red on its head was what I was trying to capture with the camera. It's not the best, but I would need a very different camera to get a picture as good as Joe's. And then I wouldn't want to take a big expensive camera on our hikes in all kinds of weather, so I have reconciled myself to this compromise. Plus I still get all the Whatcom birders' pictures to enjoy, and there are a lot of really good ones.

Tomorrow Judy and I are going to see Albert Nobbs. If you don't know anything about this movie, Glenn Close plays the part of a woman who disguises herself as a man in 19th-century Ireland. She's been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, and if she wins instead of Meryl Streep (as Margaret Thatcher), I want to know why. I also noticed that Jean Dujardin won the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor, along with already having won the same thing at the Golden Globes (of course the enlightened Globes have two of these, one for drama and the other for comedy or musical). I will be watching the Academy Awards and rooting for Dujardin over Clooney. Not that I thought Clooney wasn't wonderful in "The Descendants," but I'm a romantic. For Dujardin to win Best Actor in a part where he doesn't say a word (well, he does say two) is just plain old romantic!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wrapping up a great week

Tasty treats (behind us), Linny, Christy, me
I got my first call of the year from Linny yesterday. When she gets a chance to get out of Seattle and make a skydive or seven, she calls me, one of her group of fun jumpers, and lets me know she will be at the Drop Zone in Snohomish. She then asks if I want to join her. She called and left a message while I was in my exercise class yesterday, and I immediately called her back and left a message that I would be there today. It's been three months since I made my last jump, and we were all hoping to get our "knees in the breeze" and get ourselves feeling current. Skydiving is not the sort of thing you take lightly, and I was truly hoping we could get a January skydive together to begin to feel better about our abilities. But wind and low clouds kept us from making a jump, although many of our friends did, both out of the Cessna 182 and the Caravan. We kept waiting for conditions to improve and then decided to make the jump together another day. Here's a picture of us (along with Cindy and Dave, who were not there today) getting ready to make a jump last summer.
Me, Linny, Hank, Christy, Dave, and Cindy
Hank showed up today, hoping also that he might make a jump, but we oldsters were simply not in the mood to brave the elements. On my first jump after a layoff, I really like the weather to be sunny and benign. Today it wasn't. It was very "iffy." Hank was the first to leave, and by 1:45 the rest of us called it a day.

But about the title of the post: it was a wonderful week, and the time I spent at Skydive Snohomish with my dear friends was a great way to end it. Although I missed the Saturday Fairhaven walkers' outing, I drove 75 miles south to the Drop Zone and enjoyed feeling the ambience of my skydiving hangout. I am no longer in the place where I cannot imagine going to the DZ and not making a jump. Today it was really okay not to, since the day was spent dipping my psyche into my summer activity and anticipating the future.

This past Tuesday I enjoyed my two-hour workout, catching the bus three-quarters of a mile away and getting to town an hour earlier than usual, and Wednesday I swam a quarter mile after class. Thursday was the great more-than-ten-mile hike in the Chuckanuts, and yesterday I got my every-third-week massage after class. It made me realize how fortunate I am to have the schedule I have, one that I created out of my own needs, not one that I schedule around the need to make a living. I am retired. And I am grateful for every single bit of enjoyment I squeeze from each day. I hope, truly, that your life is fulfilling your own needs, too. It's only right!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lost Lake 2012

Eleven Senior Trailblazers headed up to Lost Lake from the Larrabee State Park (Clayton Beach) parking lot today. I thought we would have more of a crowd, since the day dawned clear and cold (40F), after last week's short hike in sub-freezing temperatures with lots of snow. However, those of us who did show up today had a great day. That is not to say it was easy, because it wasn't. A total of more than ten miles (but less than eleven) and an elevation gain of somewhere between 2,600 and 2,800 feet, with mud, snow, steep and treacherous ups and breathtaking slips and slides down. I fell once into a swamp and muddied myself pretty significantly, but it dried within an hour's time. We saw many sights along the trail today, and this picture of these trees determined to grow, even with an inhospitable rock under them, impressed me.
The determined trees sent their roots past the rock into the soil below, and they do seem to be doing pretty well, considering. Al, our fearless leader, went out on Tuesday during a major windstorm to check out the loop around Lost Lake, and although there were times when I doubted his direction, we did indeed make it to our usual lunch spot. He wrote about his Tuesday adventure here.
Not only that, but the sun was shining brightly on our spot while we stopped for lunch. Every one of us enjoyed this break at the lake, although it took us more than three hours to reach it, through bog and mud interspersed with beauty. This downed log showed us that it had been a favorite of woodpeckers, with rows of pecked-out holes. These patterns went all the way up and down the entire log.
By the time we started back after our wonderful lunch break, we had many more miles to cover before we would be back at the cars. My knees were complaining because of the downhill sections, and I was not alone. I heard others talking about their knees, too. But you know, once you're out there in the wilderness, there's not much you can do except keep on truckin' until you reach the starting point. Once we got there, however, Amy (our social secretary) pulled out a tray of cupcakes to celebrate Al's 72nd birthday. It was only two days late, but Amy is nothing if not determined to acknowledge each and every birthday we celebrate.
Al successfully blew out his single candle (whew!) while we looked on. And then, of course, we enjoyed the sweet chocolate treat. I look at this picture and smile, feeling incredibly fortunate to have found this group of like-minded seniors. We get together every Thursday, rain or shine, to experience the outdoors with each other. Ranging in age from 62 to 81, nothing could ever replace the enjoyment I feel after a day with the Trailblazers!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Old dogs and new tricks

Snagged from Pixelmator
I got an email from Picnik this week, letting me know that it is being discontinued. Picnik is the editing tool I've been using ever since I began writing my blogs to make headers and to add text, show two side-by-side pictures, and whatnot. It's actually not going completely away, but it's moving some of its most popular features to Google+. Now, I'm a member of Google+ but am still not sure I truly want to get involved in yet another social networking site. My friends who post over there keep me entertained when I visit it, but Facebook is just about all I can handle after keeping up with the blogs I follow (almost a hundred), which are way more interesting to me because of their variety and immediacy. I might end up feeling differently about Google+ in a while, but for now I was sorry to hear that Picnik is leaving me in April.

And just by chance, my friend Al mentioned (during Thursday's hike) that he recently bought Pixelmator, a Mac photo editing tool, and was having fun with it. So I of course went to the Apple app store and took a look. Since Picnik is returning the annual $25 I pay for a pro account, and when I saw that this app costs $30, I bought it. The first attempt I've made with it is the new header on this blog. I don't yet know how to make a nice border, but I wasn't unhappy with my first attempt. It helped that years and years ago I learned (I'm using that term loosely) how to use PhotoShop. I took a beginning class with my very capable assistant, Ann.

It was a two-day-long introduction to what you could do with PhotoShop. In some ways, Pixelmator is similar, using layers and tools to cut out pictures and slap them onto others, such as the above picture. Fortunately, Pixelmator has plenty of tutorials for me to watch over and over until I can duplicate the sample pictures. I woke up in the middle of the night and remembered a trick I had learned years ago. While I struggled with PhotoShop, Ann took to it like a duck to water. This meant I didn't have to get proficient myself, just ask HER to create what I needed. She was so creative that she kept the entire office agog with her work. I ended up having to take another beginning class a few years later, because she moved on to another position and I no longer had her to hold my hand.

But now it's years later and I'm having to teach myself some new tricks. I knew quite a bit of theory but I didn't have much hands-on experience with photo editing. Picnik knew just what I wanted to do and made it possible to work within their framework. Now, if I can just get proficient with this program, I might actually come up with some new and creative ideas myself. I'm hoping so, anyway.

This morning the Oscar nominations came out, and I was happy to see that Judy and I have seen all but two of the nine movies that were nominated. Tomorrow we will go to see "War Horse" and later "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Judy reminded me today that Meryl Streep has now been nominated 17 times for an Oscar, but she hasn't won since 1982 (for Sophie's Choice). I do hope she will win this time. I haven't yet seen Michelle Williams in "Marilyn," but I cannot see how she could have been better than Meryl. But then again, I'm really rooting for Meryl to win. What do you think?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dinner and a movie

I just got home from seeing a silent movie, The Artist. When I watched the Golden Globes last week, I was interested to see that the movie garnered Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Original Score, three out of the six nominations it received for the event. So I decided it was important to go see it, and I'm glad I did. I fully expect it to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, although it's a silent film. It has a pretty good musical score to accompany it.

The story is set in 1927-31, at the end of George Valentin's career as a silent film star and the rise of Peppy Miller as one of the first film stars of the "talkies." I was pretty caught up in the entire film, which also benefits from one of the cutest and smartest Jack Russell terriers I've seen since Benny (The Smitten Image's dog). When I watched the Golden Globes, I noticed that the dog went up to the stage with the other actors, and rightly so. He was simply awesome in the movie.

The movie isn't everybody's cup of tea, being that it's in black and white and there's no spoken dialogue. At all. Towards the end of the film, there's a bit of tap dancing (which I loved) and at the very end you hear a teeny bit of dialogue. The rest of the time (other than one tiny little piece) it's either quiet or there's music. But it's obvious what is going on, and I can see why Jean Dujardin got Best Actor. He's good and certainly easy to look at. So is Berenice Bejo, his love interest. I enjoyed it very much and would be interested in hearing what other people thought of the movie. It earned a 97% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The music was a big part of the movie, since it helped to tell the story, and I can see why the score won.

Judy and I went to dinner after the movie and discussed our feelings about it. She didn't like it as much as I did, but our tastes in movies diverge somewhat. I'm looking forward to hearing what movies will make it to the Oscars (nominations out next week), but I think I've seen the majority of the ones I hope will be nominated. It's the first time I've been exposed to a full-length silent movie, and I have to say it was definitely worth the price of admission. Plus I'm in a good mood after dinner and the movie, which is worth quite a bit.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Whatcom Falls Park

Whirlpool at Whatcom Falls Park
Only three of us Trailblazers showed up for today's hike. The weather took a turn for the worse on Monday, when snow began to fall. Then after we got several inches on the ground, frigid air headed south from British Columbia to lower our temperatures into the teens. I didn't move my car for three days and rode the bus to town so I could follow my regular routine. The high temperature yesterday was 19F (-7C). The snow stopped in this part of the county, close to the Canadian border, by Wednesday morning, but the temperatures made driving treacherous. I usually ride the bus anyway until Thursday, when carrying my hiking gear onto the bus makes it hard not to drive. It took twenty minutes for me to get my car ready to roll, and I was a Nervous Nelly on slippery roads all the way to the Center, which was closed. Al and Mike were in the parking lot already; we waited until 9:00am for any stragglers (nope) and then drove to Barkley Village.
It was cold, but nowhere near as cold as yesterday. The forecast said today would be much warmer, but it didn't turn out to be really warm, by any means. The temperature was hovering around 24 on Al's car thermometer. Since we wouldn't be traveling into wilderness but staying in town, I didn't take a lunch, only water and warm clothes. We headed onto the trails behind Barkley, which were being used by lots of people with their dogs, out for a walk or run, and since the schools are closed for a second day today, kids were taking advantage of the snow.
Whatcom Falls Park has 241 acres of beautiful wooded land and lots of trails, which were all covered with snow and perfect for walking on, or sledding down the hills. I saw sleds like these being used, and cardboard if the kids didn't already have sleds. (We don't get snow all that much here, and hardly ever with such cold temperatures.) It was a pretty glorious day, with plenty of trails to cover and good company, as usual. Mike took this picture of me.
Since I wasn't wearing my big pack with a waist belt, I kept my camera in my jacket pocket for quick use. Even so, I missed some great shots, like the cute husky who came trotting by with bright pink booties. We walked to the falls and I noticed that where the water sprays the rocks and branches, some really wonderful ice sculptures met my eye. Here's one.
The ice and snow on these branches made a unique pattern. I thought that part in the middle looked like an eye. By the time we got back to Barkley Village, we had covered 7.6 miles total and walked up and down maybe 500 feet. Al suggested we trek up to nearby Big Rock Garden to add a bit of distance, which we did; I had never been there before. I didn't take any pictures, because nothing caught my eye, and my stomach was beginning to remind me that it was lunchtime. We had a quick lunch in the Haggen cafeteria and headed home, happy to have been out and about, even in such inhospitable conditions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Constructing a life

Robert, Leo and Cheetah
I cut Robert's head off, unfortunately, when I took this picture at the coffee shop. I have been friends with Leo for the past two years, a full two-thirds of his life. When his father Robert first brought him in, Leo was just a little guy who cried until he got his way. But then I watched him learn to walk, first holding onto his dad's hand, then staggering over to the rest of us, and we became good friends. He turned three last month and has begun preschool, so I don't see him very often any more. I asked if I could take a picture of the two of them, and Leo insisted that his friend Cheetah be in the picture, too.

The coffee shop is kid friendly and has lots of toys and books that are enjoyed by the patrons' kids. Leo doesn't drink coffee but he sure enjoys the raisins and chocolate chips he begs from the staff. He has recently begun to talk in sentences and I adore reading to him or, more recently, carry on a conversation with him. In fact, I have several friends I met at this coffee shop who have become important to me. The time I spend having my coffee in a comfortable setting has led me to become a "regular." The staff know me and commiserated over my recent theft and were happy to see the iPad return.

It wasn't easy getting up this morning to catch the bus. Because it snowed heavily last night and was still snowing when I walked out the door, it was dark and forbidding. However, I knew I would be happy when I got to town and got to the coffee shop. By the time I finished my morning latte and walked the three blocks to the Y for my class, I didn't even mind the snow and messy sidewalks.
We had a couple of new people show up for our walk on Saturday, and they were wearing these shoes. Have you seen them before? I wondered how they would fare in the puddles and rain, and it turns out both of these wearers had very wet feet before we were done. At least the snow hadn't started yet. Another part of my daily routine is going out on Saturdays at 8:00am to walk with a group that walks much faster than I would on my own. We head around various parts of town, and I've learned of many trails that would have been unknown to me without going out on these walks. Then we have coffee afterwards, and I've met quite a few interesting people.

Everyone who follows this blog regularly knows about my Thursday hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. We hike rain or shine, as I've learned you must do if you want to exercise here in the Pacific Northwest. I've been living here close to four years now, and I realize that I've constructed a new life. In a conversation with my partner, I became aware of the fact that I need a temporal structure to my life, where he needs a spatial one. The need to have a schedule, places to go and things to do -- it's important to me not to simply drift along without a plan or a sense of direction.

So many years of my life were spent unquestioningly going to the office, following a schedule so that my tasks would be accomplished, and it seems I've transferred that need for structure into my life in retirement. Although nobody is going to be bent out of shape (or perhaps even notice) if I don't show up, I don't question whether I will get up, have breakfast, dress and head out for the bus so I can get to town and start my day's activities. I just do it.

The only day that has no pre-set schedule is Sunday, so it's become a free-floating day, unless it's summertime and then I go off to the Drop Zone and join my friends at play in the world of skydiving. Looking at my life and how I've designed it in retirement amazes me. I didn't plan it, but it's now part of who I am and what I do with myself.

The intellectual sense of belonging to a larger community comes from the blogosphere. I try to write something three times a week on this blog and once a week on my other one. The myriad blogs I follow are mostly written by people who stimulate my intellect and send me off in directions I would never have discovered otherwise. I look forward to comments and try to make sure that I leave a comment when a post moves me. I know how important it is to me to get feedback, so I try to be generous with my own.

And just like that, a day winds down into evening, when I spend time with my partner, watch a bit of TV or read a book. By the time I climb into bed, it's been a full day. The days pile up one after another, with the occasional blip of disruption... and then I fall back into my comfortable routine. Even though my life today seems predictable, I actually didn't know I would be enjoying myself so much in a world without a job at the center. Life is full of surprises.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My new iPad

There is something to be said for ordering items a bit later than for the holidays or when an item first comes out. I found on Tuesday that my Social Security deposit would be coming to my new checking account as hoped, so I got on the internet and ordered myself a new iPad. On Friday it arrived!! Using the "ask an expert" chat feature on Apple, I asked how to restore my new iPad to have all the apps and pictures I had on my stolen one. It was easy, since I had backed it up on iTunes just two days before the theft. All I lost was the "Kindle for iPad" app I had loaded the evening before, so all I needed to do was reload it and all my books were there in the Archives folder. It was seamless. When you plug in a new iPad, it asks you if it is to be treated as new, restore from iCloud, or restore from iTunes. I was impressed.

The flowers are from Smart Guy. When I ordered the new iPad, he was happy for me, and when I came home from my workout, these pretty mums greeted me. I've been burning that candle to light up the darkness in the evenings, as I wrote about here. I'm amazed to realize that we are almost a third of the way through winter. And we are gaining more than two minutes a day to the length of each day.

Yesterday my friend Judy and I went to see The Iron Lady. Although the reviews are not stellar, it's certainly not because of Meryl Streep's performance. She is simply outstanding as Margaret Thatcher. The critics apparently are not fond of the fact that the movie concentrates too much on her later years, but I thought that was expecting the movie to have been more inclusive of her accomplishments, rather than a look at what happens to us all: no matter how famous and accomplished a person might be, by the time we get into our eighties (she's 86), we all become a shadow of our former selves. I thought the movie was wonderfully done and entertaining. I immediately got on Wikipedia (link provided above) and learned a bit more about Thatcherism. The depiction of her husband Denis in the movie (played brilliantly by Jim Broadbent) showed how a couple becomes dependent upon one another, even when one of them has passed on. The makeup artists who made Meryl age so perfectly deserve an Oscar, too. I'd love to know what you think of this one, but if she doesn't win THIS time, there's no justice. I thought she deserved it for portraying Julia Childs so brilliantly, but this portrayal is unbelievably perfect, IMHO.
I just peeked outside and saw that it's snowing! You can see the snowflakes falling in the upper left against the dark leaves. I don't know how much will actually accumulate, but right now the view from my front porch is lovely. We have been expecting this snow, and the temperature should plummet in the next couple of days before warming up just in time for our Thursday hike. I know I am being optimistic, but since I get to choose my state of mind, why not?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bowman Bay at Deception Pass

Fourteen very chilly Trailblazers drove in three cars to Bowman Bay at Deception Pass, about 30-some miles south of Bellingham, to begin our day's hike. It turned out that the slower group was also going to the same place, although they wouldn't cover as much ground as we intended to. As you can see, our day started with mostly blue skies. The other group planned to hike around six miles whereas we had set our sights for around ten miles at a faster pace. We ran into them twice. They were eleven and we were fourteen, so it was quite a sight to see when we were all together!
We hiked up to the old orchard above Pass Lake before returning to the bay to enjoy our lunch in quite a bit of sunshine, but the clouds came and went. As you can see if you look closely, I inadvertently put myself into this picture. The sun is so low at this time of year, it's not always easy to get out of the way. I wandered around the beach looking for some possible shots with the macro feature, and then I found that it functions nothing like my old camera setting. I got this picture of some rocks that washed up behind this bigger rock using the macro:
Not too bad, but also not as close as I was hoping to get. My macro feature kept moving around, depending on whether I decided to use "auto" or a specific setting. Back to the manual for me! I decided to just look down and use the auto setting to get a picture of my feet.
At least when I took this picture I didn't have to worry about the horizon. I cannot believe how many of my pictures are at least two degrees off level, almost always listing to the right. Thank heavens for the "straighten" feature in iPhoto. Without it, most of these pictures would not be displayed, since it embarrasses me to see them. In this one, I actually got almost exactly right, of the Olympic Mountains behind the promontory near us. As you can see, by this time there were way more clouds than blue sky.
We had a pretty wonderful day, actually, covering almost nine miles, depending on the GPS coordinates we used, which went all the way from 8.3 miles to 9.5. I chose to use the "almost nine miles" generic amount, and we did a fair bit of hauling ourselves up and down hills, covering 1,700 feet before the day was done. One thing I really love about this hike is that we see numerous beautiful madrone trees, which have brilliant red bark on the outside and almost chartreuse inner bark. Here's a picture to prove it.
I apparently had a smudge on my brand-new lens, which caused many of my pictures to have what seems to be a washed-out look in the upper middle quadrant. However, I was pleased that it managed to soften our faces in this picture, Holly and me, to make us look rather fabulous standing in front of the Deception Pass Bridge. This is me being shameless about wanting to put a picture of myself in this post. At least Holly is posing with me.
I found the pesky smudge on my camera while we were driving home, and I think it will not be present in any further pictures, but I won't know for sure until I've taken a few more. The main thing is that it was a rather wonderful day, and I happily await my new iPad arriving tomorrow! Life is good.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Snowy owls and camera fun

Photo by Fredrick Sears
The Whatcom birding group sends around pictures and information about local birding, and members have been capturing pictures of the rare influx of snowy owls that has been going on in this area during the fall and winter. I found an article in the Seattle Times about this phenomenon that only occurs once in a great while. The article tells me they will be around here until March, when they will return to the Arctic for the breeding season. I have been enjoying seeing the wonderful pictures pour in of these magnificent birds. On January 8, Fredrick said about this picture:
Still several owls and fair number of birders on Salt Spring Road (bear left going in to Sandy Point).  Owls were vocalizing a bit at eagles apparently. Enjoy.
They are so beautiful! And I don't even have to leave my home and go looking for them; I've received at least a half dozen really beautiful pictures. I have also been traveling around at various times and places and taking pictures with my new camera. Sometimes they turn out well, and sometimes, well... I need to find the right settings. This one was taken right at sunrise after I got off the bus.
I was hoping to find a setting that would capture the color in the sky, which this did, although it was much more vivid just before I started fiddling with the settings. I figured I'd better just go ahead and snap a picture. The bus station is on the left in the dark, but lightening it up enough to see detail there washed out the sky. Before heading to the coffee shop, I tried out a camera setting that is supposed to capture vivid color and is called "foliage." I looked up at a nearby tree and took this one of the leaves and berries, and it does seem to be more vivid. I'll have plenty of chances to use this particular setting, I suspect.
It makes me excited to find out all the things my new camera will do for me. It's also got a fish-eye setting and a wide angle setting. Those, plus the macro feature on this camera, are still to be tried. The good part is that things in my part of the world are beginning to settle down, back to normal.

Last thing: my Social Security showed up in my new bank account this morning, so I decided to go ahead and order myself a new iPad! A friend sent me a link with information about the iPad3 that is likely to be coming out in the spring or summer, but the new features are not anything I'm really interested in (faster processor, better camera). I was so happy with the iPad2, and I still miss it more than anything else. Soon I will be enjoying it once again. I'm smiling right now and feeling a lot of gratitude.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Kodak moments

Marijka (sp?) and Marjan
I'm always looking to capture what we used to call a "Kodak moment" on film. We had a new hiker who joined us last week, another woman from Holland. She and Marjan immediately connected and I got to eavesdrop on some Dutch banter. The picture was taken with the "low light" setting and I wasn't happy with how washed out the two ladies look, compared with the red of Linda's hat and the green of the trees. I'm going to use that setting sparingly.

My very first camera was a Kodak Brownie, similar to this one, I think. It was so long ago I can only remember that it had 127 film and had to be put into the camera in the dark. I pushed that little white button to take a picture and then wind the dial until it stopped, so I wouldn't end up with two pictures on the same film. Kodak, I see, is filing for bankruptcy, since nobody ever uses film any more. They tried to make the transition to digital but nobody bought their cameras. I loved my little Brownie but I don't know where any of the pictures are that I took way back when.

I have several pictures in my possession that were taken with a Polaroid. Judging by the way the pictures look and the time this camera was manufactured, it was probably a Polaroid 800. I was around fifteen or sixteen at the time, I think. I even took a few myself, my old Brownie by then part of the distant past. I've never been very good at keeping possessions in pristine condition, or even in any condition. They just fade into oblivion. What amazes me is that when I looked at the picture of the Polaroid, I could still remember the smell of the developer as we stood around waiting impatiently for the magic picture to appear. How far we have come from those days!

I had another little point-and-shoot camera during the time I lived in Boulder and went to Peru (that was 1981), but I've no idea what it looked like or what kind it was. I do have a drawer full of old negatives that I cannot bring myself to throw out. But it does seem that all those old slides and negatives will never be used again. I wonder if those old slides can be converted to a digital format. I am unwilling to toss them, so maybe I'll find some way to preserve those old memories. When I hold them up to the light and look at the images, many of them take me back to bygone days.

Today, however, I am totally converted to digital cameras. All my pictures that were on my stolen iPad are safe on my home computer, and the most important of them I have backed up in the "cloud." Before too long I'll have even more of my treasures stored there. Who would have guessed a decade ago that Kodak moments would no longer be captured by Kodak? Or on film at all. The company will soon join Studebaker, Pan Am, and even Pontiac, the last of which was built in 2009. The times are definitely changing. Digital cameras are one change that I love!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Alger Alp

Squires Lake
Today fourteen Senior Trailblazers headed south of Bellingham to hike to Squires Lake and then on up to Alger Alp, a 1,315-foot summit with a view of the town of Alger and a view of the Skagit Valley. You also get great views of Mt. Baker, I've been told. In the two other times I've hiked this, we never had any view. But the lake is lovely, and the six-mile (maybe a little more) round trip is also quite nice. Yesterday it rained and blew so hard I didn't think there would be any chance for a decent trek today, but the winds died down and although we had no view, it also only sprinkled on us now and then.
Faint in the distance you can see Samish Bay, with low clouds to show how dark it was. I had a chance to try several different settings on my new camera. The first picture was taken with a low-light setting, and the picture above with the automatic setting and using the telephoto. Not a whole lot to see, but it was fun to imagine what it will be like when there is a real view.
Taken by Diane
I just received this picture that Diane took of me taking pictures with my new camera. It also shows today's scenery, with I-5 running horizontally across the top of the scene. We could hear the traffic of the highway while we were on the summit, but the rest of the time it was very quiet and peaceful. The next picture is taken using the portrait setting on my camera, and I was more than pleased.
That setting seemed to soften the edges and give the entire picture a really nice feeling. It didn't hurt that Holly was wearing her usual red jacket, so that the red and green stood out in the low light. Very nice indeed! We saw some signs of the beaver that are active around the beaver pond. I wanted to use my macro feature, but I couldn't seem to make it work while using the low light setting at the same time. I figured it out eventually, but by then this is the best I could get.
There were plenty of signs of beaver presence like this, but we didn't see any of the actual critters. I think I should have used a different setting, as the picture is too light on the right side. But I'm in the process of learning. Look how red that bark is right underneath. Those beavers are keeping their teeth sharpened; we discussed their need to keep chewing or risk being unable to close their mouths. We stopped for lunch at the beaver pond and noticed it was raining lightly, dotting the pond with droplets. I tried to get a picture of our lunch spot, but neither picture was really good. I'll spare Peggy and not post a picture of her eating her lunch.
We headed back down to the cars in light rain. We had this kind of gravel road as well as more conventional trails to follow, making the hiking pretty easy. Our total elevation gain was around 1,300 feet up and down, so the trekking poles were helpful to save my knees on the downhill sections. Not a beautiful day, but not a terrible one, either. Any time we huddle in the cold to eat a fast lunch and hurry to get moving again, while sitting in either rain or snow, well that's not such a nice day. Today the temperature was on the warm side (in the low to mid-forties) and the light rain while we walked wasn't bothersome. All in all, a really pleasant day with good friends.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Shiny brand new year

My walking friends and I met at 9:00am on New Years Day to walk around Lake Padden, the scene of the crime where my car was broken into a week earlier. Shattered glass still indicated right where I had been parked. But now that I've visited the lake and moved into the new year, I can concentrate on other things. Besides, nothing of value was in my car, and all the ladies either carried their valuables or didn't bring them in their cars, so everybody was ready to enjoy the day. We had coffee, spicy hot chocolate and lots of treats, mostly brought by Cindy, our leader, to enjoy after our walk. We started the new year surrounded by good friends.
It was overcast but extremely warm; the temperatures the past few days have been amazingly fall-like. Yesterday, January 2, it reached 58 degrees (14.4 C) here in Bellingham and a few high temperature records fell across the state. Today, however, it's windy and rainy.

I took those first two pictures with my old Canon PowerShot that got me hooked on the PowerShot line. It's one of the "A" series, and I've learned that they come in three different versions: A, Elph, and SX. My stolen camera was an SX with a 10X optical zoom. Yesterday I went to Best Buy and was excited to see a camera on sale that would give me a 12X optical zoom and 14.1 mexapixels in each picture for about the same price. My old one was 9MP, so for the same price I've now got a camera that will give me a bit more quality... and zoom-ability for the birds. I just went out on the front porch in very low light and took this picture of a downy woodpecker munching away on the suet feeder.
He's grown so accustomed to my presence that he just gave me a quick look and went back to attacking the suet. I used the 12X optical all the way out for this picture, and since it's late in the day and very cloudy, all I got was a silhouette. Next time. I'm very pleased with the camera; it's simpler to use than my previous one and about the same size or a little smaller. It's important to me to have a camera I can carry with me everywhere, rather than a huge DSLR with different lenses. I'd be weighed down and have the dickens of a time keeping everything dry in this environment.

Once I am assured that my Social Security direct deposit has been successfully transferred to my new checking account, I'll be thinking about replacing that iPad. So things are looking up and getting back to normal. I hope the same is happening in your own bright shiny new year!