Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sunny weekend ahead

From Weather.com
So far in 2013, the Pacific Northwest area where I live has not been anywhere NEAR 70 degrees F. But this weekend, that will change, it looks like. Starting tomorrow, MayDay, we've got mostly sunny weather projected. I think this means that I might (hopefully) get my knees in the breeze down at Skydive Snohomish this weekend. Since the tandem population will be quite large, and we only have a single Caravan for everybody, I might get a couple of skydives if I hang out for an entire day. I think I'll head down there on Saturday and hope for the best.

It's almost weird to see this sort of weather projection, since we are still crawling out from a wet, soggy springtime. However, May is often a beautiful time of the year around here. If I could somehow stop time and let a couple of weeks expand into a few more, it would be now, this time... the heady atmosphere, filled with smiling, sunburned faces, and white skin uncovered to feel the kiss of the sun's rays, which we've missed for so long. And everything is in bloom!

Thursday I'll be out with the Trailblazers, taking pictures and enjoying the weather with some of my favorite people. Until then, be well and enjoy!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Our community garden

My garden plot is in the middle
As you might remember from last year, the tenants in my apartment complex got the owners to agree to let us have a community garden in the sunny unused area to the west. The acreage gets mowed a couple of times every season, and the grass and buttercups grow waist high at times. We got a nice-sized area with ten plots and a community area in the middle that is about twice as large as each individual area. Last year I thought my plot was small, but after a season of working to discourage weeds, slugs and aphids, I decided it is plenty big after all! I have been working to get my area ready for planting, and once we find a truck to use, we'll haul in some more dirt to mix with the clay soil.
The plots of Carol, Amy, and Beth, left to right
I spent over an hour out there this morning, when I woke to sunshine instead of the constant rain we had yesterday. Now it's overcast again, but at least it's not raining right now. Clint came out and helped me beat back most of the grass and buttercup invasion in my area. The soil is so deep and dark, with lots of worm activity, and it reminded me of how nice it is to get my hands in the dirt and feel the sun on my face. See that yellow flowering thing on the left?
Flowering kale
Carol left some of her kale in the earth over the winter, and now I see what happens when kale is not harvested. It's kind of pretty but probably not good to eat any more. Kale is my very favorite vegetable. I planted some black kale last year, and it got overtaken by aphids. All of my cruciferous vegetables had pest problems, I guess because pests know a good thing when they see it.

I'm not sure what I'm going to plant this year, but it will be a different group of vegetables and not so many. I have already put some sugar snap peas into the ground and this morning I see they have begun to come up! It's very exciting to put a pea in the ground and watch it turn into a plant filled with them. I know I want to plant more flowers in my garden, like sweet peas and nasturtiums, because I love the color. Carol had half of her garden filled with nasturtiums last year, and I would munch a couple of them when I passed by.

The illness of the past couple of weeks is almost gone. Only a residual cough remains, and I am now beginning to feel like myself again. I'm smiling as I drink my tea and rest after gardening. Ahhh!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cub Creek 2013

(back row) Ward, Peggy, Linda, Rita, Maggie, Diane
(front row) Amy, Al, Noriko, Steve (I took the picture)
On a glorious day with sunshine, perfect temperatures and a light breeze, eleven Senior Trailblazers headed up the hike we call "Cub Creek." We attempted this hike three times last year, and only the last one was really good. You can read about them all right here, if you want. It's a link to our November hike, with links included to the two previous ones. Today was simply stellar, one of the best of the year so far. It's hard to compare them, but I'm sitting here feeling very happy that I went out today.
This hike is definitely uphill all the way to the south summit of Stewart mountain. But it's on pretty trails like this one, as well as old logging roads for other parts of it. Five years ago when I first started taking this route with the Trailblazers, it was almost all on logging roads, but now we have more than half of the distance on these trails.
Logging roads are nowhere near as pleasant to hike on, but to get any good views, we do need to navigate some of them, as well as a few places where we had to bushwhack through some heavy brush. Steve and Al went on ahead and managed to snip and saw some of the larger pieces so that those of us following would be able to make it through without getting whacked by the branches.
A couple of times they even sawed through some smaller logs to make it easier for others who will be following us to find the trail. That's Al in the hat and Steve in the blue, working away at that fallen tree. I, of course, was busy documenting the action. Not to mention being grateful for being able to walk through rather than having to straddle the tree.
By the time we stopped for lunch, we had spectacular 360-degree views from our summit spot. Here you can see the Twin Sisters range, with Mt. Baker hidden by clouds to the left of the picture. It was simply splendid, and we all settled in to have a nice lunch. Because there was a breeze, we donned our coats, but it was only because when you've been sweating and working hard, any breeze at all makes you feel the chill.
In this direction, we had views of the bay and the Olympic Mountains of Canada. By this time I was very happy to rest a while, since I'm still recovering from the bad cold I got last week. In fact, yesterday I went to my doctor to be treated for a severe sore throat. I know I shouldn't have gone today, but the weather was so fine that I couldn't help myself. My friends were all solicitous and helpful. Although I should have been the one doing this, Peggy made perfect use of the nice slope and basked in the sunshine.
Ah, sunshine and a full tummy!
Afterwards, we headed back down. Since we ascended more than 2,700 feet in elevation, going back down was much quicker, if not so pleasant on my knees. Without the trekking poles, I could not do this kind of hike, but I was not alone. We were all thinking it must be a very long hike as we descended.
But it wasn't all that long, really. I would have thought it was ten miles, but it was under nine. Al says it was eight-and-a-half miles, but Steve said that must be for one way! The elevation gain and loss contributed to the sense that it was longer, but now as I sit in my favorite chair, sipping my wine, I'm thinking it was just right.

Monday, April 22, 2013

My date with the retina specialist

Intermediate AMD (Wikipedia link)
Today I went to the retina specialist that my eye doctor suggested I see. He didn't really say why, except that I do have macular degeneration, and he wanted a second opinion about how to treat it. I really liked this doctor, Dr. Subong, who answered every question I had. First of all, I learned that I have intermediate AMD (age-related macular degeneration), when I believed I only had "early" AMD. The difference is shown in this picture. Those little white spots are called drusen, and I've got lots of them.

The first thing they did in his office was take pictures of my eye, looking much like this one I snagged from Wikipedia. He told me that there was enough drusen that he would like to do a dye test to decide how to treat my AMD. It's called a Fluorescein Angiogram and is designed to detect the level of "soft" versus "hard" drusen. Apparently the soft stuff is worse, and the dye test was pretty painless, considering. It took about five minutes, but the nurse warned me that my urine will be fluorescent yellow for a day or two, and my other elimination (you know) will be bright green! It's perfectly normal, she said. The test wasn't bad, and I was bracing myself for the possibility of having injections in my eyeballs, but he said I don't need that... yet. Given the choice between going blind and having my eyeballs injected with medicine, I will take the latter.

However, he told me that my intermediate "dry" AMD might be kept at bay by taking a ton of antioxidant vitamins. So I went on Amazon and ordered several different formulations, to be delivered on a regular schedule, which is much cheaper than buying them from my local food cooperative.

I found a very informative website called webRN-maculardegeneration.com with information on all forms of this disease and who it affects most often, with links to studies that are trying to find ways to deal with this most common form of blindness in older people. My great-grandmother had gone blind, I remember, but nobody else in my family has ever lived long enough for me to know if I am susceptible genetically.

The doctor also told me that it is not inevitable that I will go blind, since the disease takes a different path in every person it affects. I am hoping that I can manage it until I'm ready to cash in my chips. Nothing seems more devastating to me that going blind. I learned a lot today, and now I'm ready to relax! How was YOUR day?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sunshine on my shoulder

Daffodil field behind tulip gardens
After what has seemed like days of rain ever since I returned from southern California (where it was cloudy most of the time), I see the sun peeking out from behind this morning's clouds. The forecast says it will be quite nice this week. The pictures in today's post were taken when Judy and I visited RoozenGaarde on the Monday before I left. Most of the tulips were in bloom, but between the daffodils and the tulips you can see a muddy section; we squished around in rather soggy conditions at the gardens almost two weeks ago. Linda Letters visited the area a bit later and wrote about it here, with some stunning pictures to boot. She had sunshine, which was more than we got.
Gray skies couldn't dampen the festive colors
It's been a stressful week, with the strain of travel plus the awful goings-on in Boston and my disappointment about the background-check bill not passing. But I'm not going there, since there is simply nothing I can do about it. Monday I will see a retina specialist about my eyesight, which is more pressing. I've got AMD (age-related macular degeneration) and my eye doctor wants me to see a specialist. There is no treatment for it that I know about, unless it develops into wet AMD and then they can inject something into my eyeballs (shudder!) to treat that form of it.
Such a pretty pink, don't you think?
Instead, I'm going to concentrate on my garden and look at all the things in bloom around me. Almost every tree is covered in blossoms; many of the earliest rhododendrons are out; and there is much to be grateful for. The sun is shining, brightening up the landscape. It boils down to what I spend my limited attention on, and I'm choosing to look at the positive side of life, even if it takes some effort.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The new Lost Antler trail

Steve, Ward, Rita, Amy, Peggy (I took the picture)
Today we were introduced to a new trail. The day dawned dreary and cold, with rain predicted for the entire day, with more rain coming after noon or so, accompanied by wind. Not exactly a promising beginning. Plus our leader Al is out of town and would not be joining us. Then Mike called me this morning to say HE would not be coming either, as he is having some reactions to medication. I thought maybe it would be me showing up at the Senior Center alone. But lo and behold, six of us were there to hike.
Since we had already decided to make it a short day and hopefully miss the worst of the weather, Steve talked us into driving to Gates Overlook and checking out a new trail, which is not yet finished. Six weeks ago it didn't exist, but the Washington Trails Association, WWU students, and volunteers from REI have all been working on building it. The wood for the steps and gravel have all been hauled in by hand (or I should say back). It's going to be a really beautiful trail; actually it already is.
The trail will eventually meet up with the Lost Lake Trail, and Steve was very pleased to see that almost all of the stairs have been completed. He's been out of town for a month and wondered how far along it has come since he last worked on it. Those cliffs along the side are magnificent! I am sure this will become a very popular trail once it's finished and you can make a loop of whatever length you desire.
Steve joked that putting in all those ferns in was a difficult task as they had to hand drill each one. (These grow like this naturally, of course.) The trail is now about three-quarters of a mile long and will be somewhere over a mile or so when finished. He showed us the place the trail is headed, and it looks to me like they've already completed the hardest parts. When we reached the end of the trail, we turned around and came back to the Overlook.
Steve says that most people want to call it the Lost Antler Trail, but there are a few who want to call it the Rock Trail because of these stunning rock cliffs. I prefer the first name. I know I will be back on this trail and am so happy to have seen it today for the first time. We also saw our first trillium in bloom, and the first blooming bleeding heart flowers for the year.
Although it was raining when we set out, by the time we reached our cars again it was beginning to lighten up a bit. We spent a short while on the established trail that leads to Chuckanut Ridge, but we only went about two miles in total as it was getting very cold in the wind. It's 1:00pm right now, and we cut it short so that we would miss the worst weather, have a bit of exercise with good company, and see a brand-new trail in progress! A good day for sure.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Best laid plans versus reality

My plan was to make two days of skydiving here in southern California with the Skills Camp, another day for the SOS Women's Record attempt (Monday), and one day just to have fun in the air with my friends. But what happened instead? Those low clouds happened, making it impossible for me to make any skydives for three days. I have just returned to my hotel room after the third day of being grounded because of clouds like these. Skydivers cannot jump through clouds, because the FAA requires us to be able to see the ground. After one full day of fun (on Saturday), I have spent many hours at the Drop Zone waiting to jump but being unable to, because the clouds never cleared off. Most of the other jumpers had little problem with this, because they are just now beginning a five-day intense period of trying to set the record of the most SOS skydivers in a formation. Last year it was 60; this year they are trying for 72. I, however, will travel home tomorrow.
Sandra pointing to herself 30 years ago on a women-only skydive
Every time we try to set a new record, an old one will fall. Sandra, one of the women on my record last Saturday, is pointing to herself in a 15-way formation of women skydivers set around 1980. She was on our record of having six women over sixty make a complete formation, plus transitioning to another formation (called a point). This broke eight records, believe it or not. It's because we're OLD, you realize.
This is me receiving my JOS certificate (which I need to fill out and submit). Since I turned seventy last December, it makes me eligible to be in an elite category known as Jumpers Over Seventy (JOS). We will attempt to make a record of the most JOS together, but right now the number is 15, so I will need to travel to some places where JOS skydivers congregate. This tells me I will need to return to this same spot in a year, and make some new records with my colleagues.
At breakfast in the hotel, I saw that Sandra is getting a lesson from Fred, and I was struck by the fact that more and more often I see Macs being the laptop of choice. This post is being written on a MacBook Air, my favorite piece of equipment ever. I love my iPhone, but the Air is in a category of its own. We were optimistic that we would jump today, but... I hung out at the Drop Zone from 10:00am until 3:00pm, when it became evident that it would not happen again today.
I hung out most of the morning with Scotty and Louise Gallan and their two Scottie pups (not even a year old brothers). We went for a four-mile walk while waiting for the weather to clear so we could jump together, but it was just not to be. I did get a really nice walk in, however, and in the morning I will be heading back to the airport to return my rental car and start the long journey back home to Bellingham. I only got to make four skydives in four days, but I am REALLY glad we got that first day!

All told, I would do it all again, even if just for those four jumps. Hanging out with my peers has been exceptionally rewarding, and I'm already thinking about next year...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Lake Elsinore, Day 1

Carol Jones, organizer, registering participants
After a full day of travel from Bellingham to Lake Elsinore on Friday, Saturday morning was the beginning of the Masters Skills Camp in which so many skydivers from around the world had enrolled, including me. In the space of a few hours, I met skydivers from Peru, Scotland, the UK, as well as from all over the United States, all gathered here to set some records for formations made by Skydivers Over Sixty (SOS), of which I am a member. It has been many years since I attempted anything of this magnitude, but so far, after the first day, I can say I am happy I made the commitment to get here.
Harry (Scotland), Alton (Utah), me, Mark (Utah), Mike (California)
The fifty-some participants were separated into small groups for the first few jumps. I was fortunate to be teamed up with these guys: Harry is from Scotland, a flirt and a tease who had me blushing more than once; Alton, a retired oncologist who started jumping in his sixties; Mark from Utah who is hoping to be picked for the larger attempts; and Mike from Sacramento, of whom I know little except that I like him very much. We made two jumps together which were very good and helped me to get ready for the next stage of the skills camp.
Back: Hollis, Sandra, Louise; Front: me, Frankie, Dana
Then I made the next two skydives with these women who are all over sixty. Although we have three more women scheduled to attend, we were able to make two skydives where we set some international records: the most women over sixty in a completed formation, and the most women over sixty who made two separate formations in one skydive (called sequential relative work). Tomorrow we will make some more skydives together before attempting a nine-way with three other women who will arrive tomorrow. Monday is set aside just for us, attempts made by women skydivers.

I am sitting here in my room while my fellow skydivers are sharing a dinner hosted by the Drop Zone. I didn't want to stay up late, and I have to say I am exhausted after four exciting skydives, but also looking forward to tomorrow's adventures. I figured  could come back to the hotel room (which  I am sharing with Frankie) and get this blog post written and get some rest before doing the same thing again tomorrow. Tired and happy: that's me tonight.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hoypus Hill and Ala Spit

Welcome back, Ross
Only six Senior Trailblazers met at the Senior Center to head south into the Deception Pass area, to hike Hoypus Hill starting at Cornet Bay. The day was gloomy to begin with, low clouds and rather chilly, but as we drove the 30-some miles, the clouds began to lift a little. Ross has been gone for several months, but today he joined us, and it was nice to have him back after a family loss and a move of residence.
The many trails are well marked, and I saw fields and fields filled with this little gem, stinging nettles. They are just perfect for harvesting right now, but you can't do it with your bare hands. I was careful not to let them brush against me, because I remember that sting stays with me for awhile. Last year Peggy harvested some and steamed them; she said they were simply delicious.
We left the hill area briefly to walk over to the Ala Spit, a little piece of land that juts out into Skagit Bay. I provided a link to show anyone who might be interested a map and a bit of information about it. It made a nice place for us to have lunch, and by the time we settled in, we had almost full sunshine. The tide was out, as low as I've ever seen it. That green algae in the middle is usually under water.
After lunch we headed back to the Hoypus Hill area and reveled in the brilliant sunshine coming through the trees. The second half of our hike was simply perfect: right temperature, lots of sun, and  magnificent old growth trees. We oooh-d and aaaah-d at many of these giants. They are not easy to capture in a picture, but I gave it a try here.
They just seem to go on and on up into the forest canopy. This beauty was just one among many, and many times we would just stop and gaze upwards. But, finally, we reached Cornet Bay, where we had started our hike. I got this picture of the Deception Pass Bridge peeking at us from amongst the forest trees.
The tide has started to come back in. I didn't know before I moved here that there are tide tables and there are two low tides and two high tides every day, one each for the sun and the moon. Tides are fascinating to me. The currents under the bridge roil and churn constantly, with the tides bringing in or moving out all that water.
Al, me, Rita, Ross, Amy (Mike behind the camera)
Just before we were done, I asked Mike if he would take a picture of us with my camera. This is the third attempt; in the first one Rita closed her eyes, then Amy closed hers in the second. Mike ordered us all to close our eyes when he told us, and then open them on his command. Here is the result! We had covered exactly nine miles and almost 1,000 feet of elevation up and down by this point. It was a perfect day (in case any of our usual hikers are reading this, you missed out!).

Tomorrow I catch a plane (two of them, actually) south to Lake Elsinore for my skydiving adventure, which I will write about here. Three days of wearing myself to a frazzle, but I think I'm ready. After today I should sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tulip time is here again

A RoozenGaarde display
My friend Judy and I headed south to visit the RoozenGaarde tulips yesterday. It rained a bit on the way there, but by the time we reached the gardens, the rain had stopped. It wasn't warm, by any means, and we were both glad to have dressed appropriately. As usual, I took way too many pictures and think I'll just put the majority of them up on my Flickr site, when I get around to it, that is. For now, I'm showing some highlights.
Judy and me tiptoeing through the tulips
I asked a passerby if she would take a picture of the two of us, and it turned out pretty well, I think. You can see that many of the tulips behind us won't be at their peak for another couple of days, or even longer if the weather stays as cold as it is right now. The skies are still pretty dreary today, so it wouldn't have been much different. Judy is on her way to the East Coast anyway, so yesterday was the only chance we would get.
I learned from their literature that they dig up every single bulb and plant fresh each year, making different displays with early, medium, and late-blooming tulips. They also intersperse the tulips with daffodils and hyacinths, as you can see here. I thought that perhaps the clouds would lift for a few shots with some "sun breaks" as we call it here in the Pacific Northwest.
This was the only shot I got that showed any of the mountain view. As I was preparing my pictures, I wondered what that strange shape is next to the bush on the left. When I enlarged it, I realized it was another photographer. I thought about perhaps trying to remove him with photo manipulation, but it wasn't worth it. I had to straighten almost every picture I took, and many needed to be lightened. A field of daffodils in the mid-distance are past their peak, but they are still very pretty.
This is a closeup showing a favorite tulip of mine that has many petals. I've taken a picture of them every year at RoozenGaarde, and I never tire of their beauty. They look especially fetching when covered with raindrops.
This particular garden will be just perfect in a week, if anybody reading this is thinking about heading down to the Tulip Festival in a day or two. It goes on all of April, but in years past the best viewing time has been early in the month; other times at the end. It all depends on the weather. I love the way they plant solid colors and then other displays with different tulips mixed together.

We had a great time and then drove to LaConner for lunch before heading home. We shared a table with a couple of women from Puyallup who had driven north to see the flowers. It was a lovely day spent with one of my favorite people, and our annual tulip fest was a feast for the eyes!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Opening Day for Market 2013

Rabbit Fields Farm veggies
The first Saturday in April marks the beginning of the Farmers' Market in Bellingham, held every Saturday until the last one before Christmas. We see the wares vary with the seasons, and today I saw the annual "Tossing of the Cabbage." The tradition has been for the mayor of the town to throw a cabbage to a child, and if it is caught successfully, it portends a very good season. So the pressure was on for all involved.
Mayor Linville with the cabbage
Last year we had a little parade, since it marked twenty years of the Farmers' Market at this location, with a large rather impressive cabbage presented on a velvet pillow. This year, Linville said this is the largest LOCAL cabbage ever grown by this time of the year. And here is the person selected to receive the cabbage.
I didn't find out her name, but I learned her parents have a booth at the market. You can see all the photographers getting ready for the big event. But Linville didn't want to take any chances, so she stood only a short distance away from the girl, tossing it gently up into the air. I wasn't successful in showing it in mid-flight, but here you can see the successful catch!
I suspect that I will be in quite a few pictures of the toss, as I can see plenty of cameras pointed in my direction. Maybe one of them was more successful at capturing the cabbage in mid-flight, but I was pleased nevertheless. And then the bell rang, opening the market for the season. Although it isn't a very nice day, it wasn't raining at that moment, the wind cooperated for awhile, the toss was successful, so everyone was happy.
Does anything say spring better than pussy willows?
I wandered around the market for a short while, although I was beginning to get a little cold, since I had just finished a brisk six-mile walk with the Fairhaven walkers. The organizer, Cindy, started the walk from this location today, so that we could be back in time to shop, and for me to get pictures of the toss. I got this picture of my fisherman friend Gene with his parrot Poopstain, or Poopers for short.
He didn't really want me to take this picture, because Poopers is beginning to get really old (somewhere around 23 or 24) and doesn't have any new feathers growing in. We speculate that the bird had a stroke about a year ago, when the squawking stopped and it started spending most of its time on his shoulder hiding out under the beard. For years he thought the bird was male, but then it laid an egg. Gene still calls it a "he," while his girlfriend calls it a "she."

Now I am home and getting ready to fix myself a nice lunch. It was a good morning, and I'm warm and cozy, with my camera all primed for the season, too! I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mt. Erie in the rain

Al and Linda at the beginning of the hike
Seven of us showed up on a rainy Thursday to drive down to Anacortes in order to trek to the top of Mt. Erie. Our beautiful weather disappeared, right in time for Thursday. The forecast said we would have intermittent showers early, changing to downright rain by afternoon, and they were right. The ACFL (Anacortes Community Forest Land) is filled with over twenty miles of trails, which we accessed from the road you see in that first picture.
We would have been lost without Al's map and GPS system, but the trails are well marked if you know where they will take you. From Heart Lake where we started our journey, we met dozens of trail junctions like this. The rain was light and hardly even a bother, since it was warm and we were traveling mostly uphill. We didn't see any other people on the trail, probably because of the rain.
The skunk cabbage is beginning to appear everywhere, and this one has already opened to show its stamen. When they are very numerous, they have a distinct odor that is strong but much more pleasant (to my nose, at least) than skunk. By midsummer they are huge plants.
Ward and Linda are standing on what is called the "Little Round Top," one of the landmarks on Al's map. The two of them are a little damp, but with proper rain gear it wasn't unpleasant at all. We decided, however, to skip the usual excursion to Sugarloaf, another mountain in the area, hoping we could get up and back before the REAL rain hit. We continued on the trail to the top of Mt. Erie.
Rita looking out over Campbell Lake
Once we made it to the summit, we finally saw some other people, since you can either hike or drive there. Here you see Rita scoping out what view we had as we ate our lunch. In other years, we have had some spectacular views, as you can see Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker from here. Check out our hike in 2011 for a view of Rainier. We didn't stay long today, since we began to get chilled once we stopped moving.
Amy and Burl
This old cedar tree has a huge bump, or burl, on it that is caused by some form of stress. They can grow even bigger than this one, and I remember once seeing coffee tables made from slabs of burl, showing that they have a very unusual grain.

By the time we had reached the cars, we had covered six-and-a-half miles, with an elevation gain and loss of a little more than 1,800 feet. It was shorter than usual, but as we drove back to the Senior Center the rain started in earnest, so we felt we had made the right decision. All in all, it was a very successful day, with a bit of exercise with good friends in a very beautiful part of the country. Who could ask for more? I'm going to think of the rain as a bonus!