Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wet hike, warm house

Wet Al on top of Goose Rock
Well, nineteen Senior Trailblazers showed up this morning at the Senior Center hoping that the rain would be only a minor annoyance today. Actually, many of us almost missed having our usual winter companion, the rain, but we could have had a little less precipitation for my taste. We drove to Whidbey Island and hiked up to the top of Goose Rock in Deception Pass State Park. That link from Washington Trails Association gives this information:
One of the highest points on Whidbey, Goose Rock offers the closest thing to "mountain climbing" on the island. Though not exactly a lofty summit, Goose Rock gives spectacular and far-reaching views.
Um, not today. No views at all through the rain and mist, but since we kept moving most of the time we didn't get too cold.  We started our hike at West Beach and managed to eke out more than five miles round trip, not a really long hike, but always a beautiful place to visit, even in the rain.
Nice view of the beach as we climbed
It was high tide, so we weren't able to spend any time walking along the beach, and my pictures were given the added ambience of rain spatters on the lens. I did discover it, though, and managed to clean it off with a bit of help from Carol, who actually had a lens cleaner in her backpack. I've got to remember to carry one for days like this.
Rebecca and Mel are now properly initiated
Our newest hikers, Rebecca and Mel, have now experienced a truly wet hike and can be considered initiated Senior Trailblazers. Some people are fair-weather hikers, but I suspect these two intrepid souls will hold their own with the group through all kinds of weather.
Linda, Diane, Amy
This picture was just too good not to use, even though Linda's eyes were closed. Do they look damp? Yes, they are! We all were, but we knew that if we just held on a little longer, we would be treated to a warm and toasty feast at Mikey and Miriam's new home in Mt. Vernon.
Diane, Steve and Peggy are smilin' in the rain
We piled into our cars and headed off to their warm house to enjoy toasted cheese sandwiches, tomato bisque and chili, and in a very short time the dampness and chill were nothing but a memory. Their new home is huge, with us wandering from room to room and floor to floor, admiring the wonderful new place they call home.
Kirk and Karen at the nook
After we were replete with food, Miriam brought around the dessert: 12th Man cupcakes! Of course this refers to the Seahawks' supporters, and those of us who weren't able to manage to eat ours then and there took it home to enjoy later (I did, and I wasn't alone).
Costco's 12th Man cupcakes
It was a wonderful, full day with lots of shared enjoyment with good friends and good food. Thank you, Mike and Miriam, for your kindness, and thanks also to all my other Trailblazer friends for enriching my life so much.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sorry I'm late

Buses alternate between support for our team and routes
This morning I caught this picture of two buses as I waited to catch my route home. They don't usually have anything on the front except the route information, but not this week. Seahawk fever is everywhere. I flash my Seahawk thumbnails several times a day to show my own support. By this time on Sunday, it will all be over, and I think either team could win. Let's hope for a great game!

I just got back from the movie theater, having seen the last of this year's Oscar-nominated movies: 12 Years a Slave. Yesterday Judy and I saw Wolf of Wall Street. Although both of these movies are based on memoirs, assumed to be at least somewhat factual, they could not be more different from each other. I left the theater after seeing "Wolf" feeling disgusted by the excesses portrayed, especially after I did some research online and found that the main character is still scamming people and getting away with it, after serving less than two years in prison. However, that said, Leonardo diCaprio and Jonah Hill both richly deserve their Oscar nominations.

But I am still reeling from the effect that "12 Years" had on me. Knowing that everything depicted in the movie happened, and worse, I cried for the inhumanity that slavery perpetrated on so many people. If you aren't aware of the story, Solomon Northrup was a free black man living in New York in the late nineteenth century. He was kidnapped and treated as a slave for more than a decade. The movie is based on the book Northrup wrote after he was freed. The movie was filmed in Louisiana. "To know that we were right there in the place where these things occurred was so powerful and emotional," said actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (who plays Northrup). "That feeling of dancing with ghosts—it's palpable." Both Ejiofor and the woman who plays Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) are nominated for Oscars.

Of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, I have read that the buzz is going between "Gravity," "12 Years," and "American Hustle." I've seen all three, and "Gravity" left me in awe at the special effects but lukewarm about the story; "Hustle" was also loosely based on reality, and the performances of Amy Adams, Christian Bale, and Jennifer Lawrence are so good that I left the theater smiling long afterwards. They are also nominated, along with Bradley Cooper.

But if I were Mistress of the Universe, Best Picture would be handed to "12 Years a Slave." An amazing piece of work, if you ask me. I'm glad I saw it, even with all the violence.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

View from my favorite spot

Laptop and everything within reach
Early last week when I was trying to preserve a shot of my Seahawks manicure, Smart Guy took this picture of me in my favorite chair, and I noticed how much I like this picture and pondered why that might be.

First of all, it shows that everything I want is within easy reach: my laptop resides on the white platform to the left when not needed. Sometimes I like the warmth of the laptop as I catch up on the news of the world and what my blogging friends are up to. I am pointed towards the TV when I feel like watching, and the sunlight on my right shoulder comes from the front window, where I peer out at the comings and goings of my neighbors.

And then there's the fuzzy blanket that I wrap myself in when I feel like it. The only strange part of the picture is that senior citizen. It's not how I think of myself at all; the white hair and the wrinkles are usually only visible to me when I look in the mirror. Or in a snapshot like this one.

I'm not complaining, really. My life is filled with adventure and activity, and it makes my favorite chair, my chosen spot, the place to reap some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Do you have a favorite spot?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bellingham park walk

Early morning light through the fog
Eighteen Senior Trailblazers met at the Senior Center this morning to start our walk in dense fog. We knew it was forecast to lift fairly soon, but the clear skies of the previous night caused it to be really cold as we set out walking from the Center.
Frozen berries
I saw these berries that looked as cold as I was feeling when we set out on the city streets. The entire walk was either on pavement or very established trails, so nobody needed trekking poles, and most of us left our hiking boots at home too.
Wide enough for two
Since most of the time the trails were wide enough for us to have two or three abreast, we chatted the entire way, along Railroad trail to Northridge Park, the first place we visited. Then we headed off to Big Rock Garden, a beautiful 2.5-acre garden with permanent outdoor sculptures. It's tucked away among the evergreens, and many of our hikers didn't even know it was there. From that link:
The Park boasts over 37 permanent works by distinguished international and local artists. ... Each May the Friends of Big Rock Garden Park and the Bellingham Parks & Recreation Department sponsor a Mother's Day Celebration with a focus on the garden and the opening of a new seasonal sculpture show.
I knew about the park, but not about the Mother's Day celebration. I'll be back for that! It's a sweet and peaceful place. Here's one of the sculptures we saw today:
Positive Spirit by Shirley Erickson
You can also see that the fog had begun to lift a little, and by this time I had warmed up considerably. The garden is near Whatcom Falls Park, so we reluctantly left this lovely place (plus we were all beginning to get cold) to see the falls.
Dam and bridge over the lower falls
The stone bridge over the upper falls has an interesting history. I found some information about it from the park's website. (This excerpt is taken from the Park's PDF brochure.)
Roosevelt’s New Deal Works Progress Administration paid workers to move the Chuckanut sandstone arches from a downtown burned-out building to the park. In 1939 the sandstone was used to construct the landmark stone bridge.
The sandstone bridgework on the left
I feel very fortunate to live in a city that has so many beautiful parks within its boundaries. It would have been really nice if that sun we kept hoping for would have made a final appearance, but we weren't in the right place at the right time, I guess. However, here's a picture of the upper falls taken from the bridge. Looking at the picture I can almost hear them roar.
Whatcom Falls
We stopped to eat a quick lunch in the gloom, as the fog had deepened around us again. But then as we began our trek back to the Senior Center, the sun came out for good, and we managed to get warm and toasty as we finished our ten-mile-long walk around town. And on one of the final trails, we spied this hawk who eyed us suspiciously for several seconds before taking off.
Maybe it's a Seahawk
Since I was just getting ready to snap the picture as he was perched, it was serendipitous that I caught him, almost in focus, as he took off to escape our attention. It looks to me like this might be his very own roosting spot. 

All in all, it was a good day, with lots of good company and the ability to visit with each other the entire time. My knee doesn't really like those hard surfaces for such a long distance, so I'm sitting here writing this post with a cup of tea and some ibuprofen, happy to be relaxing. Of course, NOW the sun is out in full force, but I'll enjoy it from my easy chair.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Feeling a little sheepish

Nails in Seahawk colors
Yes, I've caught the Seahawk fever! Now that they are going to the Superbowl, on a whim I went off to the local nail salon and got a manicure and fingernails painted in Sehawk blue and green. I know they won't last until the Superbowl itself, but I've already had more fun out of this adventure than I expected. The manager asked me if I'd like a picture of the Seahawk logo on my nails, too, and I was astounded to learn that one of their artists could draw it right on the nail!
Closeup of my left thumbnail
She would have done all ten of my nails if I chose, at only $3 each. I watched her paint this tiny little image one step at a time in just a few minutes. She put one on each of my thumbnails and then placed me under a platform with a warm fan to dry the nails, but of course I'm feeling a little scared to mess them up, since the polish takes a few hours to dry completely, and I don't want to alter the artist's work.

I am really surprised at how cheap all this fun is. The workers are, in my opinion, working for next to nothing giving women manicures and pedicures. Actually, I had never before had a manicure and now I think I may be hooked. I'll be back, that's for sure, if only to get a more reasonable (I mean less flashy) paint job. But for the moment, I'm intending to have a lot of fun with these nails for the next few days. Go Hawks!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Football fever

Spied on the road here in Bellingham
While driving to the movies, I saw this rather dirty truck with a message for all and sundry. It says, "Go Hawks" with a 12, a Seahawk logo, and underneath all that, #24. I had to look up which Seattle Seahawk player it is, not being a football fanatic myself. It's Marshawn Lynch, also known as "Beast Mode." I'm getting an education here, but I don't exactly know what I'm learning!

Tomorrow is the NFL championship game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. The winner of the game will go to Superbowl XLVIII (that would be No. 48 for those of us who need help figuring it out). The AFC championship game will also be played tomorrow, between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos. Not as interesting to me now that I live here, but rest assured I will NOT be watching the game. My heart won't take it (smile). I'll be at the movies seeing "August: Osage County" with my friend Judy. Shouldn't be much of a crowd in the theater.

When I lived in Colorado, I was always happy to hear that the Broncos were doing well and would watch the playoff games, and once I watched what I consider to be the most exciting football game I ever saw, in 1998 when the Broncos beat Green Bay in a nail biter of a Superbowl. I decided then and there I wouldn't watch live games any more when I cared so much about the outcome.

And now my old team, the Broncos, and my new team, the Seahawks, might be playing in this Superbowl. I saw an article about the fact that Colorado and Washington, being the only two states to legalize recreational marijuana use, would probably want to rename the game to something like "the Oobie Doobie Bowl." (grin)

This coming week I should finish seeing all the movies that have been nominated for Academy Awards, except for "12 Years a Slave" (not playing around here right now) and "The Wolf of Wall Street." I have enjoyed them all, in different ways, but I'm hard pressed to think of one I'd like to see actually win Best Picture. I'm leaning toward "Dallas Buyers Club" but think, from what I've heard, that "12 Years" deserves to take home the gold. If so, I'll definitely get another chance to see it in the theaters.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Alger Alp 2014

Arriving at Squires Lake parking lot
I woke this morning to dense fog, but there was no wind and zero chance of rain as I headed to the Senior Center to join my fellow Seniors where we would begin our journey to Alger Alp. There were nineteen of us gathered in the chilly early morning fog, with high hopes that it would burn away under the sun.
Squires Lake
In the meantime, the lingering fog lent an air of mystery to the lake. The blue sky above cheered me with the hope that it wouldn't stay so cold for long and I'd warm up quickly. This is not a long or difficult hike, which might be one reason for the high number of hikers who showed up today. Another reason is that we had two brand-new Seniors join us.
Rebecca and Mel
Since there were so many of us, I didn't get a chance to spend much time with them, but I learned that they are fairly new in town and are looking forward to getting involved with the group. I think Rebecca may join the walking group on Saturday, as both Peggy and Linda asked me if I knew where we would be walking in order to let Rebecca know when and where to meet us. They were the ones responsible for getting me involved with the walking group.
Remnants of the fog in the valley below
As we hiked the three miles or so to the summit of Alger Alp, we were in full sun and could see the valley below had a little bit of the fog still hanging around, but we were above it after ascending around 1,000 feet. I love the way it looks with the fog.
Rita in the sunshine
Last year I took this same picture of Rita; in fact, I just checked that link and notice I took almost the same exact picture of Squires Lake as well! Today was the best weather we've had for this six-mile round trip hike, though. Once we got to the top, we returned back to the lake for lunch, since it was still too early to stop. We found a really nice place near the water.
I just had to include this picture of Linda, as she was setting up her lunch spot, so you can see how tranquil the day was. Not warm exactly, but in the full sunshine with no breeze, we all lingered at lunchtime. I got a picture of the group after I had finished my own lunch.
Our lunch spot
Our spot in the sun made it difficult for us to hurry back. We had quite a few stops along the trail today, not like our usual pace, and it was very enjoyable to visit with so many of my old friends, some of whom I had not seen for ages.
Happy birthday, Al
In the parking lot, we enjoyed birthday cupcakes for Al, thanks to our dear de facto Social Secretary Amy, who never forgets a birthday! (I heard her asking Rebecca and Mel when they celebrate theirs.) It was a very fine day, filled with good friends, sunshine, and even a bit of exercise. Sometimes when we've labored through rain and mud, it's hard to find good things to say about our hike. Today, it was really easy!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tranquil Tuesday

Last spring's tulips
Several of my blogging family have been gracing my laptop with pictures of flowers from summer, so I thought maybe I'd join them with a springtime picture. I've been spending quite a bit of time reading these days, and today I'll be going to see another movie that has been getting quite a bit of buzz: Her, with Joaquin Phoenix.

While looking for pictures of flowers, I found another picture that shows how much those tree trimmers cut back that middle tree. It's the lighter colored one in the middle, which now is nothing but a bunch of stumps.
My front porch garden
And, of course, all those flowers in the foreground are long gone. I am looking forward to summer, with whatever green I'll have from what's left of those trees. I'll be posting pictures for anybody who might be interested in seeing their progress.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Finding my balance

Snagged from Jacinta-Yoga
Today I learned something rather startling: I seem to have mislaid my sense of balance. I was reading my monthly Berkeley Wellness Letter (I've been a subscriber for more than twenty years now), a special winter issue on fitness. I learned that there are four main elements of fitness: aerobic capacity, muscle strength, flexibility, and balance.

As most of my readers know, I consider myself to be pretty fit. I exercise almost daily, taking a day off now and then, but mostly I indulge in aerobic exercise and enjoy it a great deal. One of my regular classes is called "strength and tone" and we use weights to gain muscle strength. I can still do quite a few pushups, so my muscles are well toned. Years ago, I took yoga classes and got pretty good at some of the balance exercises and gained flexibility.

But just as you can't store aerobic fitness, you can't store those other aspects of fitness, either. The letter contains a sidebar entitled, "Steps to better balance." It suggests testing your balance by seeing how long you can stand on one foot with your eyes closed. It says, "Most people over 40 can't go past 15 seconds." Well, guess what?  I discovered I can't do it AT ALL any more. Even with my eyes open, I'm wobbly but I can do it. When I close my eyes, I'm unable to find my balance.

Well! Who knew? How often do you ever think of balance as an element of fitness? Older people, it goes on to say, often have poor balance due to loss of muscle strength (not my problem), as well as reduced vision and reaction time (hmmm, maybe). The risk of inner ear dysfunction increases with age. I wonder...

It suggests that one way to increase one's ability to balance is to stand on one foot for 10 to 15 seconds; switch legs and repeat 10 times. Then do it again with your eyes shut. Since I've got TWO bloggers I follow who have recently taken a fall, I am quite motivated to find my balance again. The letter also suggests taking up tai chi, which has been shown to improve balance and decrease falls. I can see I've got my work cut out for myself. What about you? Can you do it?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hoypus Hill, no Spit

Starting point at Cornet Bay
Today sixteen Senior Trailblazers met to drive together (well, in four cars) down to Cornet Bay on Whidbey Island, to begin our hike in the Hoypus Hill area. We've done this hike before, but I don't think we've ever had as many hikers for this adventure as we did today. And the weather forecast was less than stellar: we had the possibility of wind and rain, but we were in the rain shadow, with the wind coming from the right direction to hold off the rain for awhile.
The group waiting for some of us to catch up
The trail had some muddy spots, but generally it was an easy hike, although we did end up traveling almost nine miles and somewhere around a thousand feet up and down. It was not warm, but the comparatively mild temperatures kept us comfortable while we were hiking. We headed out towards Ala Spit, where we planned to have lunch. However, this is what greeted us:
Ala Spit is cut off by high tide
The wind was blowing a gale, and we couldn't possibly stop here to have lunch anyway, since there was no place to get out of the wind, and our usual spot on the Spit was inaccessible. We turned around to start back, but before we did, I took this shot of Doug, who is either playing around or in danger of being blown over by the wind.
Doug playing around
We walked back to a nice spot sheltered from the wind and sat down to enjoy a nice lunch. It was so lovely to pull out my hot soup in a Stanley thermos, which kept it nice and warm, so I could appreciate my lunch as well as the company.
Our lunch spot
After lunch, we headed back along the section of this state park that goes through a stand of Old Growth timber. We've been here before, but it never fails to inspire awe in me when I see the size of these old trees. They are ancient; the largest of them are no longer alive, but their magnificence is not diminished in the least.
Old growth and ferns
We were in no danger of seeing the sun today, but all we got from the skies were a few little tiny raindrops. As I sit here at the end of a wonderful day, I know how lucky I am to have been in the company of my peers in a beautiful part of the world. We will return here again, and I am already looking forward to it. Today was a fine way to spend my Thursday.
Trees, ferns, fine company
We never really know what we will encounter on these Thursdays, nobody has to sign up, it's just who shows up for the day, and we never know what the day will bring us. Rain or shine, it's an adventure. Once we returned to the cars and started our drive back to Bellingham, the raindrops began to hit the windshield. Another day when the weather gods smiled on us.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cutting it close

Three trees in our front yard
We live in a rented apartment in a complex of 28, and we've enjoyed it very much during our time here. In September 2012, we moved from one end of the complex to the other, and I have grown fond of these trees since then. When I saw how much they have recently been cut back, I asked the manager if they were intending to remove the middle one, which now has NO branches and is just a trunk with some stumps above.
Closeup of the middle tree
He told me no, it will grow back, that he saw it cut back this far during a previous winter cutting. I'm not sure what kind of tree it is, but I really did think it had been killed. The two trees on either side of it have been cut back, too, but not nearly so drastically. You can see the branches that have been cut off of the far tree at the right.
The far tree, closest to the steps
Not knowing what this tree is named, I took this picture last summer in hopes of finding out from somebody what the heck it's called. After I took it, however, I got sidetracked and never did find out what it is. It won't look like this next summer, that's for sure. Take a look at that first picture again, and you can see how much of it is gone. I think the owners are doing what they can to keep the roof from gathering leaves, since the roof was replaced just the summer before last.

I will be interested to see what happens with that scalped middle tree. It's been raining here, but our temperatures are among the mildest in the nation, with even Florida experiencing cold weather. It's right now 40 deg F outside. I'll take it. Stay warm!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

First sunrise of the new year

Sunrise at Lake Padden on New Years Day
Yesterday I remembered that I took some pictures with my cellphone at Lake Padden on New Years Day and had forgotten about them. The pictures I took on the hike last Thursday were taken with my camera, and it wasn't until I wondered how these New Years Day pictures turned out that I was prompted to take a look. The picture above was so good I had to share it!
After the walk, ready to eat
Cindy, who is the person from the Fairhaven running store that sponsors our walks, always has a nice little gathering to ring in the new year at Lake Padden, where we take only one trip around the lake before having coffee, cocoa, and treats to share. As you can see, the fog moved in and apparently didn't let up for several hours.
Food and drink on New Years Day
The food was so delicious, and Cindy makes a spicy Mexican coffee with chocolate in it that I love. I did keep the amount I ate to a minimum, because some of us decided to take a second trip around the lake afterwards before heading home. As you can see from the way we are dressed, it wasn't exactly warm, and after stopping to eat I was pretty cold and anxious to get going. And no, I didn't stay for the Polar Bear Plunge. I briefly thought about it, but just one look at my swimsuit while dressing for the day was enough to change my mind!

One of my blogging friends mentioned a book that I received from my local library yesterday, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I had to wait for the book, since it's very much in demand, and once I started to read it I couldn't put it down. I loved it, but I hesitate to recommend it because it's a fantasy mystery that would not be everyone's cup of tea. But it sure was mine! It's one of those books that I think about long after I've finished it and will read it again. I cannot remember who suggested it; my habit is to open my handy link to the library if a book sounds interesting and put a hold on it. It was several weeks ago, so I would like to say thank you to whoever it was who suggested it. And I've discovered the Neil Gaiman is a prolific writer, so I've already put a hold of another of his books. This blogging universe enriches my life in many ways!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pine and Cedar Lakes

Peggy, Meredith and Al
When I woke at midnight to the sound of rain drumming on the roof, and knowing that the forecast for today's Senior Trailblazers hike was for exactly that, rain, I was surprised that 14 of us gathered to hike up to Pine and Cedar Lakes this morning. This is one of our usual winter hikes, and it's known for the steep mile or so that begins the trail. We ascend 1,300 feet in a mile and a half! If you look at the link I've provided, you will see that the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation page rates this hike as "strenuous." We call it "moderate," but that's only because it's not very long.
Junction in the trail
After the first steep mile, you see a junction. In the old days, this upward trail was the only one there was, coming off the main trail. It was lengthened to make it a little less difficult for part of the climb. This just doesn't do justice to how UP that trail actually is. By the time we reached this point, the light rain hadn't bothered us much. Some people had even taken off raincoats because we were too hot! Then we reached Cedar Lake, and you can see in this picture that there are light raindrops on the lake. The colors were rather flat and uninteresting, but you get used to that around here in the winter.
Cedar Lake
However, it was time to fully gear up for the rain, as it was no longer possible to ignore it. Our rain gear is pretty colorful, giving a nice boost to the drab colors around us. You can see some of the hikers here, with Mikey in the back with his umbrella. All is well with the world when you can stay relatively dry in the rain.
Amy, Carol, Ann, Ward, Linda, Steve (red hat), Mikey
Nobody was having a difficult time with the weather, but we are hardy Pacific Northwesterners who know how to stay comfy with a little bit of precipitation. We have had many hikes that tested our mettle, but this was not one of them. We headed off to Pine Lake.
Boardwalk around Pine Lake
We thought it would be fun to see if we could get around this small lake, so we went off on the slick boardwalk that elevates the trail above a very wet, mucky area. You can also see that the boards are wet by this time, and I have to say this was not a very comfortable part of my day. A fall would have been very, um, wet. At this point it was getting close to lunchtime, but there didn't seem to be a good spot to stop that would shelter us from the rain. We decided to head back down to the cars and have lunch at the Senior Center.
Tree branches covered with moss
One thing about living in this part of the country, you see moss everywhere. Doug pointed out these rather otherworldly branches on this tree. The picture shows how they twist and turn and apparently will never see green from leaves again. I continue to derive great enjoyment from these hikes, and I hope that I will be able to continue to see scenes like this for a long time to come.

Our nice warm lunch at the Senior Center was a great way to end our time together. We covered somewhere around six miles or less, but ascended and descended 2,000 feet of elevation in that short distance. I can feel that I got a workout, but I was careful with my knee (firmly ensconced in a brace) and now feel little to no bad aftereffects from our exertion. A good day, indeed.