Saturday, May 31, 2014

Glorious magical weather

Little girl at the market today
This is one of those times in the Pacific Northwest when everyone knows why we live here: there is no rain in the forecast for the next ten days, the weather will be in the mid-sixties and low seventies (15 to 22 Celsius), with low humidity and it's just, well, perfect in every way.
Our beautiful community garden
We will need to be watering our garden plots every day for the next week or so. Yesterday evening I went out to do just that, and I marveled at how lovely our garden is looking this year. As you can see in the foreground, Carol's strawberries are beginning to ripen (not mine; I keep checking) and everyone is delighted with the progress of our various plants.
Carol watering her section
Behind Carol you can see Alex's plot. He's got a garden gnome in there, and under the transparent tent he's growing a pineapple and a watermelon. He's having a great time, with this his first year planting. Since we all rent, people come and go pretty regularly, and if you have a plot, you can pass it along to someone else when you leave.
Nate's garden
This is Nate's second full year in the garden, and his neat rows make my area (top right) look a little haphazard, but that's all right: it fits my personality. He's finishing his degree at college in June and hopefully will find a job that will allow him to stay. He is a wonderful garden colleague as well as a great guy.
Birthday girl in the hat :-)
After this morning's usual walk, which today was in glorious sunshine, we went for coffee before heading off in our various directions. We sang happy birthday to Peggy, since today is her special day. Men are not excluded from our walks, but it seems that it's almost always women who show up. This is another group that I truly enjoy being around. Sometimes I just marvel at the various activities that are available to me. Peggy was the one who told me about this group.
Busker at the market
After the walk, I went to the Farmers' Market to enjoy the sunshine and entertainment. At each corner there is a busker, or street performer, and this guy was really enjoyable. I love his accordion and his panache; he will make a few bucks today, as he had just started and his hat was already almost full.

And tomorrow I'll be heading off to Skydive Snohomish, hopefully to get my knees in the breeze a time or two. I am enjoying a fine interlude in my neck of the woods.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Start of summer hike and potluck

Lake Padden trail
Eighteen Senior Trailblazers gathered at the Lake Padden trailhead today to have our usual shortened hike and potluck to mark the unofficial beginning of the summer season. Although we start on the regular trail around the lake, we visit the horse trails to make for a longer trek through some ups and downs and mud. The pictures weren't very inspiring so I didn't get many. It was overcast and threatening to rain.
What are they looking at?
At one point someone pointed out some rather interesting markings on a tree. We stopped to try and figure it out. What do you think?
Some big animal maybe?
If you look at the tree (actually it was a snag) directly above Al's head, about halfway up are large scratch marks that show where the bark has been removed. It would have been my guess that it was cougars sharpening their claws if it hadn't been so high off the ground. Since it was a dead snag, maybe birds were industriously looking for insects.
Our reserved pavilion for the potluck
After a nice six-and-a-half mile hike, we were joined by another fifteen or so Trailblazers for a really nice potluck meal. It was a TRUE potluck, with nobody assigned to bring anything in particular, and we had a great feast. I brought some extra plates and utensils, and many others had the same idea. There was plenty to go around.
Diane, Rita, Jacqueline, Kathleen and Kirk
We had a marvelous array of salads of every kind. I was so pleased to see that there was plenty for me to eat that would not foil my desire to eat healthy foods and not too much, either. It was surprising to me that there was almost no meat: some chicken in a salad and some sausage on a pizza, and everything else was vegetarian.
Peggy's plate
We also had a chocolate cake (which I brought but didn't eat any of), cheesecake and cherry pie for dessert. Nobody hung around for very long, however, since the cold wind didn't make it easy to sit around and chat, even if it was the unofficial start of our summer season. This is the last day of overcast conditions before we have been promised a week of sunshine.
It was nice to see old friends like Marjan and Frank again. It's wonderful to have, just by chance, joined such a great group of active seniors more than five years ago. It's been a real privilege to learn about Bellingham and the surrounding wilderness areas. I cannot imagine living in a better place.
Lily pads in Lake Padden
I walked over to the water's edge to see if I could get a picture of the lily pads I spied on the lake. This picture has so many shades of green that it caught my eye. All pictures were taken with my cellphone today, since I just wanted to travel light. It also takes really good pictures when the light is low, I've noticed. Another great Trailblazer experience!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Weight, weight, don't tell me

Last week's attempt at losing weight
You know, it's never over, when you want to keep to what you consider to be your ideal weight, and life gets in the way. It's not like I can stay away from food, or if I would even want to, so every day it's a struggle to keep myself from overeating.

My latest problem started after I returned from my trip to southern California. I was not weighing myself, and I'd been busy with skydiving and eating whatever I wanted while there. That included beer, pizza, and pasta. When I returned home, I began to eat my normal diet, but I wasn't willing to get on the scales. I also noticed that I didn't feel quite satisfied, and I craved more variety. Lulled into complacency by having maintained my ideal weight for a couple of years, I figured it would be a simple matter to lose any extra pounds and get back on track.

No, I just didn't want to get on those scales, as I noticed my clothes beginning to fit a bit tighter. On one of my Saturday morning walks, a conversation with a friend who inquired about whether I'd been able to keep the weight off (she was celebrating a full year after having lost thirty pounds), and I confessed that I had been backsliding and was unwilling to weigh myself. She said she learned that weighing oneself every day was the only sure way to maintain weight loss.

Okay. After that conversation, I got on the scales the next morning and found that I had gained four pounds. Well, that won't be hard to lose, I thought to myself. I went into my handy "Lose It!" app that I use to track my calorie consumption and confessed I had four pounds to lose. The app immediately cut 250 calories out of my daily ration, and I tried to keep inside those bounds. You can see, above, that I was unsuccessful last week, at least.

The week before I was also under curtailed calories, but I realized I hadn't been honest with the record of what I had eaten. Forgotten were the things that entered my mouth between meals, and portion sizes had increased but what I recorded was the same as before. I decided last week to get real, and as you can see, I was over every day, except Thursday when I exercise enough that I get to eat an extra 1,000 calories. 

This post is to give myself yet another boost to lose those extra four pounds. I thought it would be easy, but again I must change my attitude and think of it in terms of a lifetime of vigilance. I really like being thinner and don't want to go back to wearing those extra sixteen pounds again!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Long weekend begins

Early morning light at Lake Padden
This morning I went to Lake Padden to join the Fairhaven walkers who would not be going for the longer excursion planned for Lummi Island. I wasn't sure who would be showing up, since the day turned out to be quite nice after all, although it rained all day yesterday. Five of us made two circuits around the lake. I had decided I would go to the Farmers' Market afterwards and practice taking pictures with my camera using the manual setting, but I forgot it, so I skipped the market and headed home. I snapped the picture above with my cellphone camera.
Beets and salad greens on the left
Instead, I thought I'd take some pictures of how my garden is coming along. All the pictures are taken with my cellphone, but the next two are closeups, using the Camera+ app. Sometimes when I think of purchasing more elaborate camera paraphernalia, I realize I don't actually make use of the ones I already have. The beets are looking really good, and the other day I harvested some of the salad greens, which are superb. The only thing I still need to plant are some arugula starts, so I picked some up today.
These are going to taste great
My garden neighbor Joan transplanted some of her strawberry plants into my garden last fall, and they have taken off like nobody's business. In fact, I am having to cut back the runners so they won't take over the entire garden. Everything is doing very well and I'm very happy, so far, with how the garden is coming along.
Cute pansy face
My front porch garden is also quite happy, with pansies and geraniums planted in last year's pot. I gave it a bit of Miracle-Gro and simply used the same soil. Later today I'm going to the movies by myself, and I'll ride the bus since the entire downtown area is cut off for the Ski to Sea parade. The race itself is tomorrow, with more than 500 teams from all over the country in town, so it's not a great time to try to find a parking place anywhere at all. Plus, I love to ride the bus. Have a great, safe, holiday weekend! I'll probably write another post on Monday, Memorial Day, since the Y will  be closed, the buses won't be running, and it's supposed to rain.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lookout Mountain Ridge

Al, Maggie, Peggy, Sue, Diane
Ten Senior Trailblazers went out on a new (to us) hike today, since our regularly scheduled one is in the midst of a logging operation. We drove to Sudden Valley and started at a trailhead at one end of Cain Lake, which took us along a southern ridge to the top of Lookout Mountain. We had been warned that it is "challenging," since it takes you along an old road, which turns into a steep, muddy trail that has been recently discovered by the mountain biking crowd. (Mountain bikes have a tendency to tear up a trail, to put it mildly.)
An old snag in the forest
Since it's been awhile since we had any significant rain, the trail was in good shape, other than having some very steep sections that were just loose dirt because of the trail bikes. We managed to make our way up, but without the trekking poles, I wouldn't have been able to navigate it. I tried to get a picture that shows just how UP it was. This is the best I could manage.
Gathering our strength for the steep uphill ahead
No, it's just not possible to capture how steep it actually is. We kept on going, even though we speculated about how difficult these sections would be going the opposite direction; since it's an "out and back," we knew we would find out. They were hard indeed, but at this point, going upward, we were pretty sure we would be getting some nice views.
Mt. Baker and the Twin Sisters to the right
Yes! By the time we emerged from the forest onto the access road to the mountain top, there they were, our old friends, with a few clouds to make them even more interesting. We thought about stopping here and having lunch, but we decided to hike along the access road to the south summit, which, we discovered, doesn't have a view. After discovering this, we went back to the Mt. Baker view for lunch, but not before exclaiming and enjoying the view towards Bellingham and Lake Samish.
Me. with Lake Samish below me
What a beautiful view we had from this vantage point! I just spent some time trying to figure out exactly which direction is behind me (I am so bad at this). It's got to be west, since the mountains in the previous picture were to the east. We had a few high clouds, but nothing much, really. It was simply a beautiful day.
After lunch: Sue, Maggie, Peggy, Diane
We had a quick lunch and began our downward journey. Many of us were a little worried about all that loose dirt and possibilities for falls. But it turned out just fine; in fact, I had more trouble with my knee on the downward sections of the road than I did on the trails. We just went slowly, and everybody made it just fine.
On the way back to the cars
As usual, the return trip seemed much longer than the journey upwards. We covered almost ten miles today, with an elevation gain of at least 2,700 feet up and down. That's about the same distance as last week's hike, but with significantly more elevation gain and loss. And it turned out that everybody was in moderately good shape at the end, including me! Another successful day in the mountains with my BFFs!

Monday, May 19, 2014

A wonderful, emotional gift

The cover of Pete's book, from his blog
I was just minding my own  business today when the doorbell rang. The UPS guy had a package for me, but I wasn't expecting anything. I looked at who sent it, and it simply said, "Sharedbook." Hmmm. He asked if I wanted to take it or reject it. Hmmm. "Well, it doesn't say I owe anything, so I'll accept it." I opened it, puzzled, and inside was a 200+-page book, called "Out of My Multiple Minds."  A book created from my late brother-in-law Pete's blog, sent to me by Allison!

There's more to the story: when I visited my niece Allison (Norma Jean's daughter) in August 2010, to get introduced to the newest Stewart family member, Allison's two-month-old daughter Lexie, the four of us were together for a concentrated family visit. I tried to talk Pete into starting a blog, since his COPD was well advanced and the prospects for him to reach a ripe old age were diminishing. He resisted mightily. But after he returned home, he did start one, and his prolific, interesting posts covered a period from early September 2010 until he died in February 2011. Not a long time, but enough for him to have created a wonderful body of work.
Random pages from the book
Well, Norma Jean and her son Peter decided to research how one might turn a blog into a book, and they found Blog2Print, which helped them create this wonderful book. Allison sent me the one I received today, with the note, "This is because I know you loved him as much as we did. --Allison" Needless to say, I pored over the entire book, cried mightily more than once, and am writing this post to deliver a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who helped it come to fruition. And a special thanks to Allison for including me. Norma Jean had sent me a link to the draft, and I was hesitant to spend close to $100 for something that might not be worth it, but I have to say that this book is actually priceless.
Back cover
If there is an afterlife, I truly hope that Pete was hovering as I made my way through the pages, crying tears of happiness AND sadness, and simply being grateful that I was a part of his life for decades, a truly unique individual and my brother-in-law. And what a family! The Stewart clan is a great place to belong, trust me.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Daisy Mae and Li'l Abner

1995 US postage stamp
I was really showing my age the other day, when the cute barista at the coffee shop wore a polka-dotted shirt with tight jeans, and I remarked that she looked just like Daisy Mae. She looked at me, puzzled, because she had never even HEARD of Daisy Mae and Li'l Abner. I was really amazed, because I grew up with the cartoon strip and read it for years. I looked around the coffee shop to see who was in there (almost all 30- and 40-somethings) and discovered, after asking, that nobody knew who they were. Al Capp created them and ran a strip for 43 years, starting in 1934 and running until 1977. If you also don't remember them, you can read all about them here.

When I was a little girl, I read Li'l Abner comics regularly. I remembered that there was a creature in the strip called a shmoo, and as a child it fascinated me. Still does, and it occurred to me that the current generation has never even heard of a shmoo, since they didn't know about Li'l Abner, either. The shmoo, which you can read all about at the link I've provided, was a satirical creature in the comic strip that Al Capp created.
Shmoos are delicious to eat, and are eager to be eaten. If a human looks at one hungrily, it will happily immolate itself — either by jumping into a frying pan, after which they taste like chicken, or into a broiling pan, after which they taste like steak. When roasted they taste like pork, and when baked they taste like catfish. (Raw, they taste like oysters on the half-shell.) They also produce eggs (neatly packaged), milk (bottled, grade-A), and butter—no churning required. Their pelts make perfect boot leather or house timber, depending on how thick you slice it.
What I didn't remember, and was fascinated to learn at that link, is that they were considered a menace to society, because since they were everywhere and free, nobody bought any goods any more and the economy collapsed, so they were exterminated. I must have stopped reading somewhere during the shmoo wars and never learned their ultimate fate. Al Capp must have had quite a field day with his shmoon (plural for shmoo). I think you'll enjoy it, if you are not already aware of them.

I guess if I live long enough, there will be some other mythical creature that captures my imagination as much as the shmoo did when I was a kid.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Noisy Creek 2014

Wondrous green trail
This Noisy Creek trail is one we hike every year, and for the past few years we've been blessed with wonderful weather. Last year we went in June and 12 people joined us. Today only eight Senior Trailblazers ventured out, but I think it was partly because the weather forecast was for it to be unseasonably warm. Fortunately for us, it was just right. We didn't have any bug issues (maybe it's still a little early for them), and the day started out with a very happy group. We had a new hiker, Jacqueline, and a dear friend who has returned for the season, Jonelle!
Jacqueline and Jonelle
Once we cross a suspension bridge over Baker River, we enter into a wonderland of gentle ups and downs. We were heading to the Noisy Creek campground where we would have lunch before turning around. Along the way we crossed a bridge over Hidden Creek. It was so loud that we kept thinking this must be the "Noisy Creek" of the hike's name, but no.
You can imagine Hidden Creek was noisy as well as beautiful
As we hiked along the trail, we had three rather challenging stream crossings to deal with. I was quite pleased with the fact that my boots stayed dry as others got their boots soaked through, until I tried to cross a small log when it broke and and I fell right on in, getting my own boots soaked in the process.
Diane across, Jonelle and Rita with Fred behind
The rushing water made it rather difficult to step into these streams, and I do believe that all of us ended up not emerging without some boot dampness from these crossings. But it didn't really matter, as the weather was fine and nobody was going to suffer too much. By the time we got to the campground and stopped for lunch, most of us pulled off our wet boots and let our feet at least dry out for a bit. We had a great view of Mt. Baker, although the high clouds made it difficult to get a really good picture.
Mt. Baker, with Baker Lake in the foreground
This was our view from out lunch spot. After a nice respite, we began our return trip back to the cars. I noticed some really beautiful maidenhair ferns among the other more common fern types, and I captured a good picture of them. Fred mentioned that he had seen some other more uncommon fern types on the way.
Maidenhair ferns   -->   Old Geezer ferns
Somehow Fred managed to gather some moss on the trail to show that, indeed, Old Geezer ferns are just as rare as maidenhair ferns. Ah, Fred: it's so nice to have the uncommon variety that Fred adds to our group. He exhibits a rare, if rather ancient, form of humor. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Diane, Jonelle, Rita, Jacqueline
Here are the other women who were on the hike today. I took the picture, so I am also present, even if not on this side of the lens. I had a wonderful day with my dear friends, and on the way back we had to see if there was any way to show the incredible old cedar tree that we made friends with on the way up. At first we thought maybe the eight of us could encircle it, but this ended up being the best we could do, considering the circumstances.
Big ancient cedar tree
By the time we returned to the cars, it was rather late in the afternoon and we were pretty tired, after having hiked somewhere around ten miles and around 1,100 feet up and down. It was the same hundred feet we climbed and descended all day, and now I'm tired and happy. The post is finished, there is still light in the sky, and I can enjoy the last of my wine. Hope your day was even half as delightful as ours was.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The art of photography

Unfurling fern
On Sunday, I went to see a documentary at our local independent theater about Vivian Maier. She was an unknown street photographer who lived and worked in Chicago as a nanny and died in 2009 at the age of 83, penniless. She was a prolific photographer, but she never showed anybody her pictures. When she died, several storage lockers of her stuff were about to be destroyed, when John Maloof, a Chicago historian and collector, purchased them. Earlier, he had discovered a trunk filled with her photographs and hoped that the contents of the lockers would lead to some information about her.

The documentary tells the tale of the curious person that Vivian was. She is now internationally known as a talented street photographer, and exhibitions of her work are currently in high demand. I can see why: if you visit that link, you'll see some of the amazing pictures she took. There were also thousands upon thousands of undeveloped film canisters in those boxes, which are still being developed and archived.

I didn't actually realize, until I saw this documentary, that "street photography" is such an art form. I love to take pictures myself, looking for the perfect unfurling fern or landscape as I travel in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I tend to add people to my pictures only for interest, but not to document them in the way that she did. And I'm learning that having a really good camera can make a huge difference in the quality of a picture. If I had one, I could have changed the depth of field for that fern picture and made it stand out against a fuzzy background. Some of my fellow bloggers, (The Smitten Image, for one) take such breathtaking pictures that I've recently become interested in photography in a new way.

I can feel a possible new passion burgeoning: photography. Not that I haven't always enjoyed taking pictures, but if I had just the right camera, why, who knows where it might lead? I'm interested in taking a peek down that garden path... and seeing if I can capture it perfectly.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My beginning garden 2014

Cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, lavender
I think I have gotten almost everything into my garden that's going in. Here you see, arranged prettily (I really don't especially like regimented rows) some Bibb lettuce in the middle, with broccoli on the right and red cabbage on the left. I hope I left enough room between each one, as I remember last year's cabbage grew to massive proportions.
Looking to the north at my 7' x 23' plot
Here's another shot of my plot, with strawberries on the right near the fence, and some sugar snap peas hopefully willing to climb up those little sticks until they get to the fence itself. You can see the plot to my left has not yet begun to be cleared for planting. I'm so glad I didn't wait until MY plot was that overgrown before getting started.
Looking south at the other end of my plot
See all that greenery in the middle? Well, that's borage that has replanted itself from the flowers. I've learned that at this stage, borage leaves are tasty and nutritious. Want to see what the borage flower looks like? Take a look at this post from last June. One of the best parts about a blog is the ability to go back a year, two years, and look at the progress I've made in the garden, and have the ability to compare my activities as well. Past the borage you can see my little beet starts coming up, and some more salad greens. Here's a closeup.
Beets in the middle, salad greens on the left, and flowers
I also put in some sweet pea flowers and one double hollyhock, which you can see on either side of the veggies. I'm not sure why I did that, but I suspect they will look good in a month or two. I just wanted some pretty flowers, although in the middle of that borage (and here in front of the hollyhock), I have some volunteer nasturtiums that will add color as well.
The community garden, looking east to west
We have ten separate plots and a community garden in the middle between them, five on a side. We've got onions, sage, mint, currants and strawberries that came back from last year, but it's been a struggle to get the rest cleared out. At the back of this plot we found some poison hemlock that was coming up and had to be removed. I just put a yellow and a green zucchini squash plant in the middle of this area, which will probably take up the rest of the room we have in there. Those two plants will feed all of us, I suspect, this summer.

It's a lot of work to garden, but it's also very satisfying to get my hands down in the dirt and to rip out those pesky buttercups. All the plots are in use except for one, which I think we will clear out and maybe plant some pumpkins or whatnot. For now, we've got a good start on the season!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rock Trail to Raptor Ridge

Great views of cool rocks along this new trail
Although we hiked the new Rock Trail back in February (read about it here), today nine Senior Trailblazers started at a different place and had a different destination. We drove to Gates Overlook and hiked down the steep but short Rock Trail to join a connector trail that would eventually take us to Raptor Ridge. For some, it was their first time on this fine new trail, which gives some incredible views of amazing rocks.
Al explaining how these holes are formed
These remarkable holes actually extend sometimes quite deeply into the side of the rock, caused by erosion: one little hole just keeps expanding, sometimes quite deeply, into the sandstone part of the rock face. The Bellingham Herald published a nice article about the Rock Trail dedication last month.
Using Sue's headlamp to look inside
Some of these holes penetrate so deeply into the vertical rock that we realized a person could climb into one (if that person was willing and able, that is). We had fun looking around inside them but then returned to the business at hand: getting down the trail to find the trail that would get us over to Raptor Ridge. The weather forecast was for rain in the afternoon, but by this point we were actually getting warm and needed to shed some layers.
Rita shedding some clothes, everybody else getting ready to
The temperature was actually very nice, bordering on perfect hiking weather. By the time we reached Raptor Ridge, which is often windy and rather unpleasant, we had some sun breaks and just a very light breeze. We stopped to have a quick snack. Al realized he had a signal, so he pulled out his cellphone, looking to find out how close the rain was approaching our location.
Searching for weather information
Since he couldn't get an image that would tell the tale, others began pulling out cellphones to see what they could find out. Even with all the phones and different coverage packages, we were unable to find out how much time we had before the rain would hit. We knew it was coming, though. You could feel it in the air.
A gnome? No, it's Mikey
We made our way back to the Rock Trail, knowing we would have a fairly strenuous hike up the stairs we had descended earlier. However, we still needed to have our lunch, so we stopped along the trail and enjoyed the greenery and continued nice weather while Mike explored this cave. It extended quite far inside, he said, but gets narrower. I had to snap this picture before we headed back up the trail.
Climbing the stairs back to the cars
One drawback to this trail is that you start off descending these stairs, more than a hundred of them, and when you return you must trudge upwards at the end of the hike. Most of our hikes involve the uphill at the beginning, but this one is the opposite. We covered more than eight-and-a-half miles and 1,600 feet up and down, but the weather held until we got almost back to the cars. Then the rain started, and as we drove home it came down heavily. We lucked out, yet again!

It was a very good day. I would much rather hike in cool and overcast conditions than in the heat of last week's adventure. But the best part, as always, are the good conversations with friends I've known now for half a decade. I hope I will be able to continue with my exploration of the Pacific Northwest outdoors for a long, long time.