Saturday, March 30, 2013

Getting current

I don't LOOK nervous
Smart Guy took this picture as I waited to board the plane for my first jump of 2013. Since I was one week past the six-month limit for a D-licensed skydiver, the DZO (Drop Zone Owner) suggested a solo, opening high and playing around with the canopy. Smart Guy came to the DZ with me today, although he didn't bring any gear, but was intending to stick around until I got down from my first jump and then take off to explore Edmond, a nearby town. I asked him to take a few pictures, if he didn't mind (he didn't).
I'm pushing my helmet back
He took this picture after I landed, a perfect touchdown, and I was so pleased to be current again. Once a skydiver gets to a certain time limit, depending on his/her license requirements, you need to jump through a few hoops before getting out of the airplane. I was very nervous, but it was easier knowing that I didn't need to concentrate on anything in freefall except my altitude and location over the ground. Trust me, when you are used to playing in the air with friends, a solo skydive lasts a LONG time. I opened without incident and landed filled with gratitude for the opportunity I have to continue to skydive, even after having reached my 70th birthday and being a septuagenarian!
I did ask Smart Guy if he would be willing to pack for me. (He had repacked my main parachute yesterday and deemed it ready for a jump.) Yes, he was, so I went on a second skydive with my friend Cindy, who also needed to make a jump for currency. I was nervous on the second jump, but now I had company. Everything went as planned and now I am home, happy to have gotten current, and looking forward to the summer season. It has now officially started!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Beautiful day on Anderson Mountain

Linda, Peggy, Amy, Mike, Rita, Al (I'm behind the camera)
Seven Trailblazers met to hike up Anderson Mountain on a mostly sunny day, with warmer than normal temperatures! The two white paint marks on the tree (and the sign) show this is part of the Pacific Northwest Trail system. I looked up our hike last year because I distinctly remembered lots of snow and being turned back, since there was enough snow to lose the trail. This year we got quite a bit farther on the trail, and the dates are both in late March. The link will show you the difference year to year.
We had to hike two miles along an old logging road to get to this spot, which used to be the starting point for Anderson Mountain. But now the road is closed and we can't start here. Because of this, we don't actually get to the top any more, so we just go out until we feel like having lunch and then turn around and come back.
You can see the nice mostly blue skies over Lake Whatcom. I notice that I take a picture of this scene almost every year (there's one on that link from last year), but our weather was so much nicer today, with the temperature in the high fifties; it felt like spring is really here.
When we reached the corresponding sign about the area being closed to motorized use, we were turned back by snow. But it was almost noon by then, so we found a nice spot to have lunch and then headed back down. We covered more than 2,000 feet of elevation both up and down in about eight miles, four out and four back.
By the time we were heading back to the cars, we were singing songs and enjoying the mild temperatures. It seems Rita knows the words to a lot of songs that the rest of us know a little, so we were singing "Easter Parade" and marveling that she knows all the words and has a nice voice to boot! It was a fine day, with signs of spring everywhere. I'm glad to be home now, however, and just about ready to pour myself a nice glass of red wine.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Out of the woods

PJ last Thanksgiving
Ever wondered what the phrase "out of the woods" really means? I did, when I thought about writing this post about my sister PJ. I found that, basically, it refers to being past a critical phase and out of the unknown. Last Sunday, as I was writing my usual "Eye on the Edge" post before dawn, I received a flurry of text messages from several family members telling me that my sister PJ had suffered a heart attack and was in a hospital's Intensive Care Unit, arriving there by ambulance.

I stopped what I was doing and got on the phone, learning that my sister Norma Jean had decided to fly to Texas to be with the family during this time. I decided to stay put until I learned more. This morning PJ was subjected to a cardiac catheterization to find the extent of the damage. She already had several stents that have been in place for years. The procedure found the stents to be occluded, and that there is nothing further than can be done surgically. Her heart was apparently not significantly damaged by the heart attack; she just doesn't have much circulation left. She's diabetic, which has probably contributed to her condition. So, the story is that she is out of the woods, in terms of being past a critical phase and out of the unknown.

We will all die someday, but it's been more than fifty years that all six of us, my siblings, have shared the planet together, and the illness or loss of any one of us will change our relationship to all of the others. We were together to celebrate Thanksgiving this past year, as well as to mark my seventieth birthday and our youngest sister Fia's fiftieth. Almost exactly twenty years separate oldest to youngest. I was seven when PJ was born.

I've never been close to PJ, really. Norma Jean and I were two years apart, and PJ was just too young to join in our play. I left home at 18 and she was only 11. My childhood memories hold little recollection of PJ. And then she grew up and got married and had kids. I would see them when I went home to visit my parents, along with my other younger siblings. I was more like an aunt than a sister, and I was going through my own tribulations. We saw each other at holidays, family gatherings, and memorial services. But the shock of thinking of PJ being so ill has propelled me into another kind of understanding: that she is very important to me. I need to let her know this, so here I go.

PJ, you and I have never known how to communicate intellectually. We seem to rub each other the wrong way. But I do know we connect heart to heart, deep inside the genetic makeup we share. You remind me of Mama sometimes, and you sometimes smile in a way that resonates very deeply within me. I am sorry for the times when I have been impatient with you. I wish I could sit and laugh with you at the silly things that have kept us apart. I would like to release the past and start a fresh page. Are you willing?

There, I did it. PJ will be treated with medication and hopefully will be stabilized for the near future, but it is my fervent wish that we are able to see each other again and have a big bear hug. Nobody knows what the future holds, and all I can do is hope.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Getting fired up by spring

Carol preparing her plot
Although it got below freezing last night, it was because it cleared off and the day's "heat" (it only made it to 45F yesterday) went back into the atmosphere. But today is sunny and simply gorgeous. I spied Carol in the garden, working hard to get rid of all that green grass that crept in during the winter. I myself, however, haven't touched my garden again since last week. It was rainy and cold, not at all inviting, until today.
Butch has been waiting patiently
Instead, I took my bike out for a spin after the five-mile excursion with the Fairhaven walkers. We (Butch and I) rode over to the library to return some books, and I got air in her tires. The ride before getting the air and the ride AFTER were like night and day. It makes it clear to me why inflating the tires properly on your car gives you so much better gas mileage: every turn of the wheel you lose some energy.

The weather is looking good enough that I might (just a possibility) drive down to Snohomish tomorrow hoping to get my knees in the breeze for the first time this year. It makes me a bit scared to think of it, little flutters in the pit of my stomach. I've had layoffs before, and I know that those butterflies are normal, nothing to keep me away. You'll be one of the first to know if I go!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Adventures in moss

When I thought about a title for this post (which I almost always come up with while I'm actually on the hike), "Adventures in moss" seemed appropriate since we had so much green to see, but most of it was from the moss on the trees or the incredible number of huge ferns and cedars, not new spring growth. Only four of us showed up today. The sun was shining but the forecast was for rain in the afternoon. It didn't happen; it was partly sunny all day!
Although this Stewart Mountain hike is one of our usual winter ones, it has rarely been without quite a bit of mud. Today was no exception, but for once it was without rain. Last year we went in May, and it was very wet, as you can see here. The year before was also very muddy. Al took us on a bit of a different path today than we took last year, and although it was somewhat longer, it was much nicer. The first part was steep and dry, and the return trip was muddy and wet.
When we crossed Olsen Creek, we were hiking on a logging road and went past last year's clearcut area. Then we turned onto a very nice trail, softly carpeted with last year's leaves. As we gained altitude and had to return back to the road, we ran into snow. At least half of today's hike was on forested trail rather than road, but still.
It was much colder up here, and the snow was hard and crunchy. We gained quite a lot of altitude during the almost ten miles of the hike, more than 2,500 feet to be exact. Hiking on snow takes longer and is much more difficult, but it didn't last long. We finally came to the summit and saw that it was sunny down lower, and we realized that we were in clouds that are caused simply by the mountains themselves. (These are called orographic clouds.)
You can see that it's quite sunny down below us. Although we had the sun peek through every now and then, we also had little pellets of graupel hit us when we sat down for lunch. At first we thought it would intensify, but it passed quickly. It was the only precipitation that came out of the sky all day, so we considered ourselves rather fortunate.
We heard many birds in the forest, and one very large woodpecker, from the sound of him. We never saw him at all, but several trees showed signs of use, such as this one, covered with moss, holes, and mushrooms. Although it no longer puts out leaves, it is still very much needed by the forest creatures.
The four of us returned to our cars in full sunshine and looked back to see the clouds were still there over Stewart Mountain. According to Al's GPS, we had covered 9.9 miles, but since that isn't actually TEN, I am calling it "almost ten" to make one of my fellow hikers happy, who never rounds up, only down. That was close enough to ten that I would have fudged it!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Last day of winter

DJan and Leo on last day of winter
I took this picture at the coffee shop, holding the camera with my right hand and pointing it in the general direction. I was quite pleased that I managed to get us in the frame at all. I needed something to mark the last day of the season, since the first day of spring is officially tomorrow! From now until the end of June, the days will continue to get longer and longer, bringing the best part of the year here in the Pacific Northwest.
Since the sun was shining so dramatically yesterday, I went out to tackle my garden plot. It's the one in the middle here, with a brown section that took an hour of weeding to get this far. All that green in the middle left is going to go. I've got a new gardening neighbor on the east side of me, you see that place that is perfectly manicured and already planted? It was me watching him out there doing all that work that prompted me to get going.
Look how perfect his plot looks! Those are cement blocks strategically placed all across the plot; I don't know his plans, but I will be very curious to see how it all works out. That green on the right needs to come up so I can plant in there again; it will take me a while, and I'm sure I'll learn something new this year. I learned plenty last year from Clint, my gardening neighbor on the west side. I've bought some peas and planted a pansy in the community garden section. It's not much, but it's a start!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A mackerel sky and burning calories

Bellingham morning's mackerel sky
I saw these cool clouds on my way to the coffee shop last week, after two wonderful days of full sun. And then... the rain returned. I looked up the meaning of these clouds and found that they are called "mackerel skies" because they look a bit like the markings of an adult king mackerel. These altocumulus clouds are also known as "buttermilk skies," which I would prefer if I didn't live around all these fishermen in Bellingham. Here's some information from the above link:
Moisture at lower levels combined with surface temperature instability can lead to rainshowers or thunderstorms should the rising moist air reach this layer (around 8,000-20,000 feet).
We have had pretty constant rain since I saw those clouds, except for a short break on Thursday when we were hiking. It continued to rain most of the day yesterday (Friday), and all night long. I wasn't at all sure whether I would go on the Fairhaven walk this morning, but I woke to find the rain had abated. I joined thirty other walkers for our morning trek, and I used the MotionX-GPS app on my iPhone to track it. My sister introduced me to this app, which tells me how far, how fast, and even gives me the ability to get a track of our walk.
The blue line shows our start and finish, and also told me we walked a brisk 4.2-mph pace for just under five miles. We enjoyed a nice time together afterwards, having coffee at the coffee shop where we started out. That has culminated in three days of getting quite a bit of exercise for me, with Thursday's hike, Friday's workout class plus the aqua Boot Camp, and today's brisk walk. I wobbled out of the Y yesterday feeling like a limp noodle but recovered quickly. This morning's walk gave me another opportunity to enjoy chocolate without feeling guilty.

Tomorrow my friend Judy and I will head to the Mt. Baker Theater to see a repertory theater, Stephen Sondheim's "Company." It is the last day for the show, which is held in the small in-the-round Walton Theater, rather than the larger venue available for bigger events. I've enjoyed shows there before. It should be fun. The website has this to say about the show:
Honest and witty, Company is a sophisticated look at modern relationships. The brilliant energetic score contains many of Stephen Sondheim's best-known songs, including “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Side by Side by Side,” and “Being Alive.”
Sounds like just the thing to celebrate St. Patrick's Day! I'll be wearing green.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Not a drop of rain

It wasn't a stunningly beautiful day, by any means, but we caught a nice dry spell in between two significant rain events, so we were very happy to have cloudy skies without so much as a drop of rain. Eight Senior Trailblazers hiked the British Army Trail on the south side of Blanchard Mountain. Why is it called that? Well, exactly a year ago we hiked this same trail, and I wrote about it and explained why it has that name here. (If you're interested, it's all in the link.)
Although the trail is well marked, we had plenty of the recent rainfall running down the middle of the trail for much of the day. Soggy and a good reason to have waterproof boots and gaiters. The British Army Trail is part of the Pacific Northwest Trail system, and we spied a stash of goodies that has been strategically placed for those who are on the trail for a long time and might need a treat.
The container is filled with energy bars and even some chocolate bars. That is Al's water bottle which he put down so he could display the sign for my picture. I don't think there is any shortage of water on this trail. In fact, we ran into a place where a stream crossed our trail. You can see that the trail continues on the other side, and we decided to find another way to get across.
It was impossible to jump across it, and the water was flowing by with determination, just waiting to get our feet wet. We looked for another way to cross, giving us a bit of a chance to earn our "Trailblazer" moniker. We still had to leap across slippery logs and managed to keep any of us from getting wet. Plus the day was wearing on and still no rain. We were beginning to think that the forecast of a 90% chance of rain might not pan out.
 We made it to Lily and Lizard Lakes and saw plenty of signs that the beaver are happily building their dams and lodges, getting ready for the spring. Lots of gnawed and downed trees, and we saw that this side of Lily Lake is at least a foot higher than we expected it to be. Nice little dam there, beavers!
At the end of the hike, we had been invited to have hot soup, chili, and toasted cheese sandwiches at Mike and Mariam's nearby home. We walked in a bit after 1:00pm, starving, and were treated to the best cheese sandwich I've ever had. Not to mention tomato bisque soup, a nice garlic chicken and veggies, hot coffee, and Costco's famous muffins.
Mike and Miriam, our exceptional hosts
I guess I should have realized, after an eight-and-a-half mile hike, 1,700 feet up and down, and then a meal like that it would be hard to gather myself up and get home to write this post. It was a most wonderful day, as usual, but we don't always get to stuff ourselves with fabulous food afterwards.
At least I wasn't alone in eating more than usual. Of course, my weight loss app reminded me that I had burned more than 1,000 calories during the day, so it wasn't going to be a problem. And then when we walked to our cars to leave, it began to rain!

As I sit here many hours later, watching the rain fall outside, I realize that I might not get as hungry as usual tonight. I won't skip dinner, though. I am way too fond of good food and good company!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A couple of days in my life

Leo wearing my glasses
At the coffee shop the other day, my four-year-old friend Leo asked me why I don't wear sunglasses. He and his dad were just getting ready to head up to the High Country on a very sunny day. I told him that my glasses change color, getting darker when I'm outside in the sunshine, and then they turn clear when I'm inside. He demanded to see, so we went outside, even though he was in his socks, and he watched my glasses change color. We didn't stay long, so they didn't get very dark, but he was satisfied. "Can I put them on?" he asked me. I told him that everything would be blurry, but he insisted. And sure enough, everything was blurry.
Leo's gorgeous eyelashes on display
Leo has the most amazing eyelashes, and he complied when I asked if I could take a picture of them. I have known Leo for his entire life, watching him change from an infant to a toddler, and he's now on his way to becoming a schoolboy. He doesn't come in with his father every day any more, since some days he's attending preschool. He's a very smart young man and never fails to ask if he can open the door for me when I'm getting ready to leave. I miss him when he's not there.
Pansies for sale at the grocery store
Last Friday and Saturday were absolutely beautiful days here in Bellingham, but Sunday morning dawned overcast with rain showers. We haven't seen the sun since, and it's been three days now, with many more days of rain forecast. Oh, well. I took this next picture to show you what I do during some of my rainy days.
My favorite chair
Now, I know that it seems a bit odd to have a lawn chair in the living room, but I simply love this chair. I got in the habit of having a recliner after my mom died and I inherited hers. After it wore out, and I went looking for a replacement, I was appalled not only at the expense, but also the weight and the sheer SIZE of them. (Mama's was small and dainty.) I happened to see one of these at REI, an outdoor store, and I sat in it and wondered if it could be a temporary fix.

That was two lawn chairs ago, and I am quite happy to have a chair that reclines and can be moved anywhere I choose with no trouble. I have added a cushion and some pillows. This was not taken today, as you can see my almost-finished glass of wine on the right-hand side of the chair (there's a round table over there), my laptop available on the left, and a nice fuzzy blanket to wrap myself in. I can look out the front window and keep track of the goings on, and I have been known to fall asleep there as well.

Although I can sit on the loveseat with my partner while we watch TV or sit and chat, I thought you might be interested in knowing about my cheapskate recliner. I hope you're not too shocked.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Safety Day 2013

Free t-shirt for attending Safety Day
Well over a hundred rusty skydivers gathered at Skydive Snohomish yesterday for a refresher after the long winter. USPA (US Parachute Association) promotes this event at Drop Zones across the country, to be held in March when the season begins in many places in the country.

The Drop Zone had a potluck for breakfast, as well as provided free pizza at lunch and a big dinner at the end. I didn't stay for the dinner, since I had a long drive back home afterwards, but it was a very valuable day for us all. We shook off the rust by attending five seminars that covered equipment, aircraft safety, emergency procedures, canopy control, and the skydive itself.
One of the pilots, Dieter, is in actuality a rocket scientist, as he never fails to remind us when he gives his seminar on aircraft safety. He reminded us here that we are never supposed to jump through clouds, and why. He's an interesting guy, and every year I learn something from him that I had forgotten.
Jonathan getting ready for a malfunction
We each took a turn at hanging in a harness and pretending to have a malfunction and pull our handles, to remind us how to do it safely. My heart was pounding just thinking about it and simulating the event. It's an important thing to do at least once a year.
Kevin, Linny, me, Dave, Christy
Many of my jumping buddies were there as well, and we were glad to have the opportunity to dust off some of the rust and look forward to the season together. I would be going out there today, but the weather is not so fine, so I'll be waiting to see what the upcoming weekends have in store for us!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Finding Lost Lake

Heading to the trail
As you might imagine, there are quite a few seniors in this part of the country who watch the weather forecasts all week long, with interest in what will happen on Thursday, our regular hiking day. We head out, rain or shine, but lately it's been rather soggy, even when we are looking forward to a dry day. We went on this hike to Lost Lake last December, and it was much rainier than usual, even for us. It never stopped all day and we were all pretty miserable.
Al at trail junction. We went the other direction, of course.
Today was much, much better. Although the six of us who showed up for the hike never saw the sun, we only had the occasional raindrop on our way to the lake. From this sign, we went off to the right so that we could make a loop around the lake, then from this point retracing our steps, which Al calls a "lollipop" hike (in contrast to a loop or an out-and-back).
At our lunch spot, having covered more than five miles by this time, we were happy to sit down and have a rather leisurely lunch, especially when compared to our last visit to the lake. Before we started out today, I put out a request to the Universe that by the time we reached this spot it would be 11:45am (it was) and that rays of sunshine would break through the clouds to warm us (nope).
On our way back to the sign, we saw this incredibly large tree that had toppled over some time in the past (you can see Al on the right for perspective). The root system didn't extend deep enough into the ground to keep a windstorm from taking it down. The ground is almost always damp here, and the roots didn't extend very deeply into the soil. It's been a few years since it happened, but it is still terrifying to think of what it must have been like when it blew down.
We saw signs of spring all over. In the middle of this picture, you can see a baby skunk cabbage just poking its sprouts up through the very boggy environment, which is perfect for skunk cabbage. You'll be seeing more of these as the weeks go by, I'm sure. Little buds on the trees were just beginning to show themselves, and we even saw a couple of stinging nettles a few inches high by the side of the trail.

All in all, it was a really wonderful day, but after ten miles and 2,300 feet of up and down, I'm pretty tired as I sit here in my chair, writing this post. Feeling pretty satisfied with myself, too.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A movie for the geriatric set

Pauline Collins as Cissy, Maggie Smith as Jean
My friend Judy and I just returned from the movies. We saw Quartet, produced and directed by Dustin Hoffman (who is 75 and understands aging rather intimately himself). The average age of the principal actors in this movie is 74, set in a retirement home for aging musicians. Three members of a once-famous quartet already live there, when Jean (Maggie Smith) shows up and is asked to join them to perform together once more. They have quite a history that is revealed as the movie progresses, with an interesting twist at the end.

As is my habit, after I returned home I checked Rotten Tomatoes to see what reviewers and the audiences had to say about the movie, which I enjoyed very much. I think this reviewer, Matt Brunson, summed it up quite nicely:
Of course, let's take care not to oversell this piece, which is the sort of genteel art-house offering that will thrill older audiences but seems unlikely to break out with those who don't know Downton Abbey from Howards End. 
Since I fall very solidly into the "older audience" category, I think I can agree with his assessment. I really loved the movie, and Maggie let loose with some zingers that are Downton Abbey-worthy. I also enjoyed the gentle treatment of Cissy's memory loss, and I found myself leaving the theater smiling, feeling glad that Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut was so lovely. I hope he keeps it up. Oh, and by the way, no ears were harmed in the making of this movie (that is, they didn't really sing, but several aging and very talented musicians did give some entertaining performances).

Saturday, March 2, 2013

An unusual vegetable

This very strange looking creature is actually celeriac, a kind of root vegetable I discovered while visiting my sister in Florida. She has access to a wonderful vegetable stand that she visits almost daily. When she would concoct her amazing salads for dinner, one of her favorite things to add is this root. Although it looks really awful, it's amazingly tasty. You can eat it raw or cooked. We had it grated and added to the salad. The flavor is faintly celery-like, but the smell! It's like nothing else I've smelled before. This one I found at my own Farmers' Market and I took the outside cover off and sliced it up for salad.

It keeps really well, and I just used up the last of it this past week, although I bought it almost two weeks ago and stuck it in the fridge. Some people call it "celery root," but if you read that link, you'll find it really isn't that at all. I also found this really interesting page, an old NPR story about "The Vegetable World's Ugly Duckling." Apparently it's not well known in this country, but I will pick one up any time I see it at the market, since I now know that it's good for me, it tastes good, and it can be eaten raw or cooked.

It has been an interesting week. Wednesday was Smart Guy's birthday, so we went to our favorite restaurant, Anthony's, for their four-course Early Bird meal. It was wonderful to feel that I've gotten enough exercise and kept the weight off that I can eat a large meal like that and not feel guilty!
And on Friday I attended a new exercise class that made up for anything I might have indulged in earlier in the week. It's called "Swimming Boot Camp." We don't actually have to wear boots in the water, but I crawled out of the pool afterwards and realized that nobody ELSE was seventy years old in the class. I started out breathing normally while swimming, but after awhile I was coming up for air with almost every stroke.

I loved it and will be back again next Friday. I know, I know; I'm not normal.