Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book reviews 2012

I looked back over the blog posts I've written this past year about books that moved me enough to write about them. It's a good way to look back at some of the events that made a difference in my life during the past year, and I found six books that I hope you might think about reading. There were many more that I enjoyed, but my blog posts make it easier to recall these, so here you go.

Back in June I was engrossed in reading The Invisible Bridge,  a story about a young Jewish man who is caught up in the horrors of World War II and beyond. The more than 600-page-long book took me into another place and time, and the author Julie Orringer created a world I couldn't leave behind. I highly recommend it. My sister Norma Jean also recommended that I read The Warmth of Other Suns, another tome, this one on the subject of the migration of blacks from the Deep South to other parts of the United States during the twentieth century. Isabel Wilkerson follows the lives of three people from their original homes to where they ended up. I loved this book. All three of the individuals were real people. A truly wonderful story.

I also read a book I enjoyed on introversion, which was recommended by a blogging friend: Quiet: The Power of Introverts. As a pronounced extrovert, I have always been curious about the inner lives of introverts, and this book confirmed a belief I have long held that introverts have many advantages over us extroverts. It was very educational. Then I read Jonah Lehrer's book on How We Decide, which I enjoyed very much (although the author has now become rather controversial, since he apparently seemed to plagiarize much of his work). However, the book was really engrossing and well written.

The last two books I recommend are Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a very honest and revealing book written by Cheryl Strayed about how she decided to try to clean up her life by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail solo, when she had never backpacked a day in her life. It became an Oprah Book this year. And finally, I read The Life of Pi after seeing the movie. Since I saw the movie first, I had several aspects of the story clarified for me when I read the book. I think I actually enjoyed the book much more than the movie, although the movie was really good. I can understand how people must have wondered how the book could possibly be captured on film. But it was.

I will also do one of these reviews for my favorite movies of the year, but for now, this is already plenty long enough!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Today marked the third year in a row that I've visited the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve in Bellingham with the Senior Trailblazers. It's a beautiful pristine park on the outskirts of the city that is maintained by the Whatcom Land Trust. The core of the park was donated to Bellingham in 2000 by the seven children of Edward and Catherine Stimpson. Bikes and dogs are not allowed in the park; it's a nature reserve and they would disrupt the ecology of the area.
Fifteen of us set out on a cloudy but, thankfully, dry morning. We hiked over six miles, going around the main loop twice as well as taking the 1.8-mile trail around Geneva Pond.
This picture shows what the winter Pacific Northwest lowland hikes epitomize to me: a mossy log, wet fern leaves surrounding it, an old growth tree in the background, and a well-maintained trail to enjoy the environment. When we came upon this wet olivine rock bench, it was an opportunity to hear our knowledgeable leaders tell tall tales to the unsuspecting newcomers. Nobody sat down on it, since it was very wet, but I really don't think that smooth surface was caused by glaciers.
We finished our hike a bit after noon and noticed that it was beginning to rain. By the time we returned to the Senior Center, it was pouring! We were certainly being looked after, if you ask me. It was a fine way to spend our Thursday close to home, but I'm looking forward to a day when we don't have any measurable rain in our forecast. According to Al, today marks 29 in a row! I guess that explains why I'm beginning to look forward to a few sun breaks.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas elves

(This is a reprint from 2009. I figured I have different readers today and thought you might enjoy it as a Christmas present in 2012 from me to you.)

One year when I was home visiting my parents and siblings for the holidays, my sister Norma Jean and I went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I think I had been married for some time and away from home for awhile, but I really don't remember when it was for sure. My parents had two distinct families, and the youngest three were all six or under at this time, while Norma Jean and I were adults.

When we went out the door, Mama and Daddy had begun the Christmas Eve preparations for the young ones in the house (my brother and sisters) who had finally gone to bed. They had begun to assemble a bicycle for our brother Buz and had to finish wrapping and putting Santa's gifts under the tree. It was a warm and happy scene. Off we went to Midnight Mass.

When we returned, the scene was anything but happy. The entire living room was scattered with glasses half-covered in salt (from partially consumed margaritas), and the bike was still only half assembled in the living room. The entire scene was, in a word, a nightmare. And our parents had stumbled into their bedroom and crawled into bed. Apparently in the midst of their tasks, some friends had come over to visit and our parents had gotten quite drunk and forgotten what tonight meant to their young children.

We were aghast. For a few minutes we wandered through the living room and kitchen and wondered what to do. We decided that we would be Christmas elves and fix things. Norma Jean set to the task of reading directions on how to assemble the bicycle, and I began to clean things up: we toiled for several hours before we inspected our work and called it good. Norma Jean had learned how to follow arcane directions and actually put the bike together! (I was more impressed by this than I let on at the time.)

Well, in the morning the kids came downstairs to find that Santa had indeed come during the night, and that his elves had done their work quite well. It is one of the more satisfying Christmas memories that I share with my sister. We still smile about it. I had to write to Norma Jean to see if my memory of the event matched hers, and it pretty much did. She said,
Maybe that's where I got the start of loving the feeling of accomplishment when I read directions and put things together. . . . We cleaned up and set up the living room to be a real Christmas when everyone got up the next morning. It was certainly memorable.
Over the years, Christmas has lost much of its magic for me. I don't like what I see happening to Christmas these days, but I am sure that there are still many parents, and Santas, and elves, making things happen for others.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

New beginnings

Local library Christmas tree
Well, the world didn't come to an end yesterday after all, so now we can get on with life and examine what IS different. I've read in several places that the ancient Mayans didn't ever forecast this time to be the "end of the world" but the turning over of a new leaf in the calendar. I like that much better, and I'm thinking that this is something I can participate in: making a fresh start in my life right at Christmas time and just before New Year's Eve. I'll spend some time in the next week cleaning out my dresser drawers and making room for... something new.
The skies were overcast when I met my Saturday walking group early this morning, but it wasn't raining. More than twenty of us spent a couple of hours on a brisk walk in my beautiful part of the world. Judith's pink jacket added a perfect spot of color as I grabbed this shot on the fly. It was cool and damp, but the rain didn't start until we were just a short distance from the coffee shop where we began.
Once I got a cup of coffee, I headed to the balcony to take a picture of my fellow walkers as they purchased their own coffee, but my camera lens had fogged up. I was amazed at this otherworldly picture I captured. Notice the three lights on the right-hand side? Here they are again as my camera began to defog, with just enough blurriness left over to soften the edges.
My camera is back to normal again, but I was quite pleased with the effect. The woman in line with the white hair is Cindy, our leader. She decides where we will walk and sends us an email reminder the day before, since we meet in a different place each week. I've learned about many wonderful walks around town from her.

Now I'm home and have downloaded my pictures and am busy writing this post as I listen to the continuing rain. After having been out and about, it sure is nice to be warm and cozy now! Until next time, I hope you stay warm and cozy too.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

North Shore hike and party

Yes, I know it's Thursday and we usually go somewhere challenging. But today was (1) pretty darn rainy, and (2) our annual Christmas party. Eight of us showed up to hike in the rain around the North Shore of Whatcom Lake, designed to finish early enough to make it to Amy's house by 12:30pm or so and share in our annual Christmas potluck. We managed to hike around Lake Whatcom's North Shore hike and get to Amy's by the designated time or shortly thereafter.
Yes, it was wet. Can you tell our damp it was? The trail was soggy and the rain kept falling for the more than two-hour hike, but (as you can see in this picture) the trail was covered by the canopy of trees for the majority of the hike, and then we either went home or inside the Senior Center to change into warm dry clothes before heading off to Amy's.
Many of the same people in that soggy first picture are here now, smiling and dry, enjoying our twenty-something fellow hikers and a wonderful potluck. We had salads and desserts that were fabulous before we headed home after a great time together. I love these people. Here you see me and Gina (Norm's wife) in front of the spread before we began to chow down.
I just had to show that I was wearing my "Wines Constantly" shirt, which worked well over a nice hiking shirt, and Gina is all sparkly and festive looking as well. It was a fine gathering, and now I'm home and settling in to a warm spot after having spent a fine day outside for a few hours and inside for a few more, with some of my favorite people in the world. I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Friday's the day

End of October but it sure looked like Christmas
I'm sure that most of you have heard that the Mayan Long Count calendar says that this Friday is the last day of the calendar, or "The End of the World." (The link takes you to a Huffington Post article about why we seem to be so interested end-of-world scenarios. It's a practice almost as old as humanity.) It also happens to be the 2012 Winter Solstice, which will occur at 3:12am here on the Pacific coast. I'll be asleep when it occurs, but I will be rejoicing that the days will stop getting shorter and will imperceptibly gain a little light every day. Tomorrow will be 12 seconds shorter than today.

I find it fascinating that as the earth moves around the sun in its annual path, the days closest to the winter solstice get shorter and shorter until here in the Seattle area our days are so short that the sun comes up around 8:00am and goes down a little after 4:00pm. But in the summer, the sun comes up a little after 5:00am and goes down after 9:00pm. I sometimes think what it must be like up there near the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn't come up at all in the winter and doesn't go down in the summer! Want to know what happens in your area? I found this time and date calculator on line, which can be modified for the month and location. It's pretty cool.

Just in case the Mayans are right and the world ends on Friday, I'm hoping it won't be until after my massage. And it's a good thing I took the above picture already, since it sure looks a lot like Christmas. I woke to snowflakes falling this morning, but mostly it's been rain. I think I'll be writing a new post on Thursday, but you never know.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lighting candles

Lighting candles for my departed beloveds
When I was in Macedonia in 2009, I visited a couple of churches, it being Orthodox Easter and all, and I lighted candles for my beloved children and parents, gone from my life for a long time. My grief for those lost children in Connecticut goes beyond what I would have expected, but it must be partly caused by the stirrings of memories of how difficult it was to get through those first few hours, days and weeks.

I was only 22 when my son Stephen died of spinal meningitis. It was inconceivable to me back then that some day I would not only recover, but that I would be grateful for those thirteen months he was with me. And when my son Chris died at the age of 40, I was almost sixty and had a much easier time of it. Not easy, just easier. And now I think of those parents and grandparents of these lost children and wish there were words that could ease the pain. There are no words.

How many mornings I would wake thinking that I had just awakened from a bad dream, only to find that the bad dream did not dissipate with the dawn. I had to go through every single hour and day with only my broken heart and the daily act of living to get me through. But even though when you are in severe pain the thought that it will get better is no relief at all, it is true: time softens and changes the loss until you can smile and laugh again.

And then something like this makes me wake in the night, crying and feeling the breaks in my heart as if they happened yesterday. It did happen yesterday... didn't it? Crying again... but I do know I will recover, and I wish I could tell those parents and grandparents that although they will be permanently changed by this loss, they will find joy in life again some day.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Little Mountain

Under the canopy at Little Mountain summit
Nine Senior Trailblazers set out for a new (to us) hike south of the town of Mt. Vernon. It's a series of trails on more than 450 acres of land, called Little Mountain Park. Compared to last week's incredibly wet ten-mile hike around Lost Lake, this was a walk in the park (sorry, I couldn't resist). The rain stayed away, and Al managed to find a way for us to travel more than five miles before we stopped for lunch. Although the mountain only reaches an altitude of 925 feet, we climbed that more than twice before finishing for the day.
Most of the trails are labeled, like this, and some are multi-use trails to be used with bikes along with hikers; others are reserved for hikers only. We noticed that the trails designated hikers only tend to be pretty steeply up and down. You no sooner climb up a groaner than it's time to descend, and then you get to climb that elevation yet again. We covered a total of 2,000 feet up and down in a little more than seven total miles.
I was enchanted with this summit spot, which would have shown us some pretty spectacular views if it had been clear. We were just happy to be dry. I immediately recognized what looks just like a skydiving canopy at the end of the lookout. We walked out on it before finding a place out of the wind for lunch.
Although we were dry, we knew that the rain would be coming later in the day. The wind up on top was more than a little brisk, meaning we didn't spend a lot of time hanging out before heading back down.
Do we look cold? Well, we were, and after putting on all the extra clothes we carried (other than Mike's bare legs, but he always does that) we began our descent back to the cars. We knew that it was possible to add more mileage if we wanted, but everybody was happy to take the most direct route back to warmth, hoping we would miss the rain. A few stray drops fell, but on the way home from the Senior Center (in my nice warm car) I saw big fat raindrops hit the windshield. We did it! We missed the rain and now I'm sitting at home writing this post, warm and dry and ready to settle in for the evening.

The sun is setting at the present time around 4:15pm, but in a few weeks the light will begin to return. Today we actually saw some sun breaks, but they were few and far between. We'll be keeping fit together, whatever the weather throws our way! It was a good day with good friends.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One more birthday gift

Taken by Theresa, our excellent waitperson
I received a $20 off coupon in an email from Anthony's Restaurant, where we have celebrated various birthdays before. It needed to be used during my birthday month, December, so off we headed last night to Anthony's to enjoy a four-course meal. Although I didn't really want to eat that much, I figured it was such a good deal (appetizer, salad, entree, dessert) that I couldn't pass it up, just $19.95 for the entire thing. Fortunately for me, I was able to eat a few bites of the incredible crème brûlée and leave the rest.

I had the choice of a shrimp cocktail or another appetizer (I chose the cocktail), three different salads (the bleu cheese salad was delicious), several entrees (rainbow trout was my choice), and that luscious dessert or ice cream (how could I pass up such an elegant dessert for pedestrian ice cream?). It was a wonderful meal and I enjoyed myself immensely. Today, however, I am feeling just the tiniest bit of guilt for my overindulgence. I'm remembering the good time we had instead.

I guess I've milked this special birthday for all I can, and now it's time to settle in to becoming an exuberant septuagenarian. The years go by so quickly these days that it won't be very long before I'm looking back at the decade and wondering where it went! What wonders lie around the next corners of time? Hopefully I'll find out...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Chilly Saturday and a sad anniversary

All pictures taken with my iPhone
This morning I got up early to meet with the Fairhaven walking group, scraping ice off the car and bundled myself up in a hat, coat and gloves. There was not a raindrop to be seen, and here is Linda all dry and looking pretty as we headed back down the long Taylor hill and the bay below. Riley is at the end of the leash, marking everything in his path.

Today I left my regular camera behind and played with my iPhone camera and find that the quality of the pictures is quite acceptable. After a brisk five-mile walk, I went to the Farmers' Market, which has only three more weeks to go before closing up shop until April. I'll bet the vendors are looking forward to the break.
Most of the market in now indoors, with warming heaters on the ceiling keeping the area feeling pretty nice as we shopped for gifts. That's homemade soap in the foreground of the picture above, although it almost looks good enough to eat. After walking around for a bit, I bought some veggies and made my way home. Smart Guy has already cooked up the kale in this picture and I've had my fill for now.
I just finished reading a bunch of the blogs I follow, and one person reminded me that it was 32 years ago today that John Lennon was killed. I well remember where I was that day. We stopped at noon for a moment of silence and the entire street where I stood grew quiet. Suddenly in the distance I could hear a boom box on the back of a motorcycle that was making its way down the street, playing "Strawberry Fields Forever." That moment lives on in my memory, and it astounds me to realize that more than three decades have passed since then. Tears still well in my eyes when I think of it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Raindrops kept falling on our heads

Wet Trailblazers at Larrabee State Parking Lot
And kept falling on every other body part, too! On a rainy, gloomy day, nine Senior Trailblazers showed up for a hike to Lost Lake. We were hopeful that we would be having some "sunbreaks," a term you see in weather reports around here. It was not to be; in fact, we had rain the entire day. No views but only a few grumbles as we started.
On the ridge as we hiked towards the lake, Al said this spot has the best view. I couldn't help but take a picture to show you our nonexistent view. The fog and mist made it sort of pretty along here, but as we got closer to Lost Lake, the rain picked up. We were very soggy by the time we stopped for lunch.
Peggy, Rita (behind), Linda, Ward
Linda is so wet she's shiny. We were all keeping ourselves warm by not sitting down during our lunch break. After all, what was the point? Even here under the trees we couldn't stay dry, and we were quickly getting chilled, so after a quick lunch we took off again. The hike makes a loop around Lost Lake, so right after this picture was taken we finished the loop and then headed back on the previous trail.
I walked down to the water's edge to get a picture, but it is nowhere near as magical as previous ones I've taken. Plus I was wet and cold and ready to get going. By the time we returned to the parking lot, we had covered more than ten miles and more than 2,000 feet elevation gain and loss. I was plenty tired, but I wasn't alone; everyone was glad to be in a nice warm and DRY car after a rather soggy day. You just can't win 'em all, and we've been pretty lucky with the weather lately.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Not quite recovered

Bellingham Bay through the evergreens
I live in a beautiful part of the country. Even in the wintertime, it's green, with lots of views and places to hike... if you aren't allergic to rain, that is. Tomorrow I'm going to head out with my favorite Senior Trailblazers to hike to Lost Lake, with an 80% chance of rain. I'm looking forward to it, but I realized yesterday that last week's illness took a lot out of me.

My usual Tuesday routine is to take two classes back to back, a step class that always gets my sweat pouring, and then a strength-and-tone class, lifting weights and performing lots of floor exercises. I was struggling while using my usual weights and found that I had to lower the intensity of the step routine as well. I just didn't have it, so I'm a little anxious about tomorrow's ten-mile hike with lots of elevation gain. It should be okay, but I won't know for sure until then. I may be bringing up the rear instead of charging ahead with the leaders. This particular hike is also muddy, and we've had quite a bit of rain lately, so I'll be prepared.

Last night I realized that I hadn't written a post on here since Saturday. I usually try to post three a week, and tomorrow I'll be posting pictures of our Thursday adventure. It bothers me when I forget, although I don't think anybody else is losing any sleep over it. Some bloggers write a post every single day; there's no way I could do that, what would I write about? Other bloggers have no particular schedule and just write when they are moved to do so.  I wish I could be so cavalier, but it's not in my nature.

Here's a picture of Lost Lake taken in January 2011. As you can see, we have beautiful green scenery all year round. I wonder what tomorrow will bring? The one thing I'm not expecting is sunshine!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A big milestone

My birthday portrait with the Fairhaven Walkers
I am so much better I cannot believe how sick I was a few days ago. Not entirely 100% quite yet, but this morning I went out in a driving rainstorm to get this picture with my Saturday morning walking group. We met at Lake Padden to walk twice around the lake for a total of 5.2 miles. I made it for one loop, and we took this picture first thing, thanks to Cindy, our fearless leader (the second person in the front row behind me). It was raining hard and I asked for a volunteer to take the picture, so even with rain you can see that 15 of us showed up!

Yes, it's true: today is my 70th birthday, and where my 60th was painful, I am so grateful for my life and my health right now that I feel unbelievably lucky to be here today. It doesn't hurt a bit! Now I am back in my warm and cozy apartment with my partner, getting ready to enjoy the rest of the day together.

This is a milestone that neither of my parents met. Daddy died at 62 and Mama at 69. All through the past year it has been on my mind, and while I was with my family members, more than one of them remarked on the significance of being the first in our immediate family to make it. My son Chris only made it to 40, so again I am feeling incredibly fortunate. And to have found a community of like-minded folks here in Bellingham also makes my heart swell with gratitude.

Yes, three score and ten! Whoever said that would be a complete life? I've got lots of living still to do, I think!