Thursday, December 31, 2015

A fine New Years Eve hike

Al at the spot where we first hit snow
I was a little late getting to the Senior Center today, because the cold weather caused the locks in my car to freeze up. It was only 23 F (-5 C) a half-hour before sunrise, as I sauntered up to my car dressed in plenty of warm clothes.

When I finally did get in (through the passenger door) I had to spend quite a bit of time scraping ice off the windows. But I made it! Nine of us set out for the Pine & Cedar Lake trailhead, which starts at Old Samish Road. I've done this hike at least half a dozen times, and somehow I always forget about the beginning: you ascend 1,300 feet (almost 400 meters) in just over a mile and a half.
I wasn't expecting so much snow
After navigating the steep part, the trail was pretty much covered with snow from then on. I didn't have much problem going up, but I knew the downhill was going to be challenging, to say the least. I wasn't disappointed.
The sun finally made it through the trees
Although it was cold, our exertions kept us plenty warm as we headed to the viewpoint above Cedar Lake. I've been at this place many times, but I had never been fortunate enough to see the view. Today I did, and it is really spectacular.
Me, Lisa, Linda (taken by Bill)
Not only did we have a brilliant cloudless blue sky, but the trees were decorated with snow, and Mt. Baker smiled at us. Wow! After a while we began to get a little chilly, since we had stopped moving, and left for Cedar Lake. We continued to have plenty of snow to navigate, but everyone was in a very good mood as we made our way to the lake.
Steve, Linda, Ward, Bill
This spot at the lake was in full sun, which made it hard to leave. We lingered at this point and had a little snack and decided, since it was still early, that we would have our lunch at Raptor Ridge.
Frozen Cedar Lake
Looking the other direction from the previous picture, you can see Cedar Lake and that it is totally frozen over. In all the times I've been coming here, I've never seen it like this. Although occasionally there is some ice in the lake, the cold weather has caused it to completely freeze, but I suspect it's not very thick. Sure is pretty in the sunlight, though.
Snow crystals on Raptor Ridge
We decided to skip Pine Lake and head directly to Raptor Ridge for lunch. When we got there, I was surprised to find that the ridge was covered with snow, which made for some pretty designs. Al called it "snow stubble." It was almost noon when we sat down in the snow and sunshine to have our lunch.
Sun, snow, and happy Trailblazers
That sun doesn't hold a lot of warmth, and I checked the temperature to find it was only 28 F, even with all that sun. It was so clear that we could see Mt. Rainier very well, but it was so far away that I couldn't capture it with my iPhone and I'd forgotten (again) to bring my camera with the zoom. All of these pictures were taken with an iPhone 6.

And on the downhill, I fell twice on the slippery snow and broke one of my trekking poles. Steve was my hero when he gave me one of his to use. I was unable to continue on the slippery snow without two functioning poles; I will be heading off to REI to see if they will replace it or whether I'm going to need to buy another set. They are essential to my ability to hike these days.

We covered somewhere around seven miles and went up and down around 2,000 feet, so it was a good day. By the time I'd returned to the cars, my knees were complaining mightily about that downhill, but all in all I was happy to spend the last day of 2015 in the snow, the mountains, accompanied by such good, good friends. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Just having a snooze

Peter took this during my riotous visit to Florida
Ever see pictures of yourself sleeping? I rarely do, and Norma Jean's son Peter snuck around with a camera while neither of us was exactly conscious. I have studied this picture carefully, because I wonder sometimes what I look like when I don't have on a camera face. Obviously, this picture is not staged. We were watching TV and just laid down to get comfy and you know what happened next.

I thought long and hard about going back to Florida in February for a longer stay, but it's just not going to happen. I checked the airfares and could possibly get a bargain price, but it would be a hassle and, although it would be fun while I'm there, travel gets harder and harder to endure. A sign of aging, I guess. Looking at the picture, I realize that I often tuck my hands under my chin like that when I'm going to sleep.

The one thing that makes me want to go back down there is to see that luscious little Alicia grow and change almost by the day. She'll be a year old at the end of February. Norma Jean is still smitten, and every time I talk to her I get updates on her progress. But nobody sends me many pictures. Peter also took this picture when I didn't know he was even there; our attention was taken up by Miss Alicia, trying to get her to crawl to us. Now, six weeks later, you can't keep her back!
"What are they so excited about?"
I'll be talking to Norma Jean tomorrow, so I'll find out the latest, and maybe, just maybe, I'll get a recent picture, too. Anybody else seen Youth yet? I'd love to hear other people's take on it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas was wonderful

Carrie making treats for us
It really was a very special day. Smart Guy and I had breakfast and then headed downtown to my coffee shop hangout, Avellino's. Although it was closed for the day, Carrie (the manager) said that some of her regular coffee drinkers were invited to come to the closed shop and enjoy our usual coffee and a special treat that she would make for us.

She created those candy canes with croissant dough and baked them to perfection. I enjoyed one with my coffee and several people piled into the shop for coffee, along with some Christmas carolers who also showed up and serenaded us with the songs we won't have to listen to for another year. It was lovely.

When I got home, a neighbor brought up a super wonderful sour cherry almond yogurt cake for the two of us. Oh, it was so good that I thanked her this morning telling her I am now wearing my Christmas gift. Actually, I still have a piece or two, but it was simply delightful and hard to stop eating once I started.

We sat down in front of the TV and enjoyed a favorite show together, and then before I knew it, the day was over and it was close to bedtime. Since it's a struggle at this time of year for me to stay up very late, I was in bed long before he was. I got up early this morning (as usual) and headed out to Lake Whatcom to meet the ladies for our Saturday walk. Since we meet at 8:00am and the sun comes up around then, we were the only people there when we started our six-mile walk.
Snow on the hills across the lake
Although I was really cold when we started out, before long I was toasty warm and shedding clothes. Then I headed home to warm up, write this post, kiss my partner, and now it's time to leave for the movies. I'm going to see "Youth" and am looking forward to an old folks kind of movie, I hear. Enjoy the rest of your weekend and I'll see you again soon.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve snow

Ferns with a little white stuff
Six Senior Trailblazers met in the parking lot of the Senior Center, realizing that we had forgotten the Center would be closed both today and tomorrow! We waited until the appointed time and then piled into two cars and drove to the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve. Usually we walk the trails and then head over to the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, just down the road, but today, the weather was not very appealing. It was, you guessed it, raining. But as we ascended to the Lookout Mountain overlook, over a thousand feet of elevation, the rain began to change to something we haven't seen in the lowlands yet this year: snow.
The high point of today's hike
There is actually a view sometimes through the treetops, but today the view was of the snow-laden branches, making a wonderful treat for the season. There must have been about an inch of snow at the top, and I took several pictures hoping that it would be possible to see the snow was falling as we admired the scenery.
Lacy branches with falling snow
It didn't really work to show the big flakes as they fell. A couple of them found their way right down the back of my neck, big fat ones that didn't melt right away as they headed downwards. I allowed myself to shriek in what might have passed as delight. Or fright.
He's only about eight inches high
Someone who got to the overlook before us had fashioned a small little snowman to (I'm sure) make subsequent visitors smile. I know I did when I saw him and took his picture to preserve him forever. It was a lovely surprise to see the snow, and somehow even though it's just as wet as rain, it was just the thing for Christmas Eve.
Whatcom Falls
We headed over to the falls to see how much water is flowing down after all the rain we've been having. It was quite impressive but impossible to get a good shot without trees obscuring the view. We decided to stop here and have lunch, since it was almost noon and we had decided not to head over to the Nature Reserve but call it a day. We ended up hiking almost five miles and ascending and descending around 1,300 feet in all, so it was just right to end early and get home to our families.

It was a perfect way to spend a rainy (and snowy) Christmas Eve with a few of my friends. I do hope that all of you will be warm and safe this holiday, and that you ended up doing what was just right for you today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Changing my photograph albums

Me in a Florida wind tunnel in 2003
Well, will you look at that! It's me flying in the Orlando wind tunnel way back when. And how did I find this picture? It found me, actually. I decided a couple of days ago to take my pictures off my individual devices and put them all in the cloud. This came about for a couple of reasons.

First, I had some of my pictures on my laptop, some on my phone, and sadly, none of them on my iPad. I made the mistake of getting the entry-level memory option last year on my iPad and in nothing flat, I ran out of space on it. I reluctantly started using it only for emails and reading blogs and websites. Oh yeah, and watching Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming videos (which it is really great at).

I went to the local Apple store and looked at the new iPad Pro, thinking that maybe I'd just upgrade my iPad to the latest and greatest, so I ordered one. The salesperson, however, once he found out the dilemma with my current iPad, suggested that I consider using the iCloud Photo Library, with the other major benefit being that I have ALL my pictures available to me on all my devices. It costs $1/month for 50 gigabytes of iCloud storage. I started the changeover, and before I knew it, I had over 5,000 pictures, all right there to peruse. Some of them were in albums I'd forgotten about.

Just before I started this post, I scanned over my treasures, and several pictures from the ancient past surfaced, like the one you see at the top. Until yesterday, I didn't even know where to look for that picture. Not to mention that there are cherished pictures of family and friends who have died. And pictures of me that reminded me of the fact that my hair has not always been white.

Another benefit is that if I edit or delete a picture from one device, the changes take place all the way across because they are stored in the cloud. I experimented and sure enough, it works! While I was looking quickly at my pictures, I was also able to delete almost a hundred, because I tend to take more than one picture of the same thing and keep them both. Wow!
Smart Guy and me getting married in freefall
I smiled when I saw this one, too. We got married in freefall on May 5, 1994, and our Best Man was the videographer. When we got our marriage license in Colorado, we said we would be married when we passed through 5,500 feet over Loveland, Colorado, and nobody batted an eye! Yes, skydiving has been a big part of my life, but I am suddenly reminded that there is a wind tunnel in Tukwila and I can always get my knees in the breeze if I want to, no matter how old I get.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Leo is seven

Leo blowing out his seven candles
Last night I went to my friend Leo's birthday party. As hard as it is to believe, he is now seven years old, reads books, and is almost too old to consider playing with me any more. We now are developing a new relationship with one another, since he's got new interests. His parents allow him to decide what kind of birthday cake he wants, and this one was chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Here's a closeup.
Cake with dinosaur eggs on top
The dinosaur eggs were filled with creme and quite tasty, but nowhere near as tasty as the cake itself. He also wanted calamari to decorate the top (that's squid) but his mom talked him into serving it separately, and it was perfect that way (whew!). Mixing calamari with chocolate would have been tough to take. Although come to think of it, everything ends up in the same place anyway.
John reading Leo's new book
Leo received this present, "The Dangerous Book for Boys," and John said he wished they had made books like this one when he was a kid. It was fun to look through it, even though I've never been a boy myself. I bought Leo a book about birds of the Puget Sound region.
The birthday boy
And here's Leo mugging for the camera, with two finger snakes in his hair. He told me he received over one hundred dollars in gift certificates, which will give him plenty of fun in the stores once he gets to them. I enjoyed myself but am still a  bit in shock at how much my friend has grown in the past year!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Trailblazers annual Christmas party

The group who met at the trailhead for a WET hike
Can you believe that twelve of us met at the trailhead for a six-mile hike in the rain before our annual Christmas party? I was a little surprised that I wasn't the only one. It was a gentle rain that met us at the trailhead, and after we set out, happy that the rain was so light, we realized that the farther we got from the starting point, the heavier the rainfall. The only person who was happy about it was Rich, in his rain skirt, hoping to shake out the final glitches for his rain gear. I'll bet you can pick him out fairly easily in this group.
Dark, wet, and colorless Lake Whatcom
Rain, rain, and more rain. I was soaked to the skin by the time I returned to my car after a six-mile hike. I went straight home to change and to pick up Smart Guy so that we could join everybody at Jacqueline's home for our annual Christmas party. Plenty of people showed up who didn't go on the hike, and we dug in to a fabulous potluck feast.
Plenty of wonderful food for a hungry crowd
Oh my! I enjoyed perhaps a half-dozen different salads, some fine rice dishes, along with wine and mead to complement our feast. And then there were the desserts, some of which I enjoyed with abandon. Doug brought his homemade incredibly good  blueberry pie. He made it from scratch, including the pie crust. Take a look here:
Chef Doug with his blueberry pie
I have to tell you that his pie not only looked wonderful, but it was, in every respect, just right. Not too sweet, perfect crust, and large enough to give almost every one of the thirty or so of us who were there a taste of it. I went back for seconds, but it was gone.
Carol, Chris, and Ginny chowing down
We enjoyed our wonderful party at host Jacqueline's home, and then we went back into the rain and to our own warm and cozy spots to finish out the day. It was truly a fine day, even if it was a little bit on the wet side. Maybe next week we'll get a  break.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

There's a fungi for you

Taken on a winter hike somewhere near Mt Erie
My friend Deb Shuka has challenged me to put up a nature picture on Facebook each day this week, part of someone else's challenge to her, and I agreed to do it. This got me going back through pictures taken in years past, and when I saw this one, I was really surprised. I'd stopped taking pictures of fungi because I thought I had never gotten a good one. Somehow this one didn't measure up before, but today I am thrilled to have found it.

I've also learned that my old Canon PowerShot that was stolen from me four years ago took some really good pictures, like this one and the one below. And I was reminded once again that the iPhone 6 might take good pictures, but it doesn't have salient features like a real zoom. I suppose I could check out add-ons that might give me that ability, but I'll probably just start carrying my camera along in my backpack so that I can take advantage of other options.
Mt Rainier captured from the top of Mt Erie
When I took this picture, I was standing atop Mt. Erie, the highest point on Fidalgo Island, where you can see Mt Rainier on a clear day, or on a day like this one. But I had to use my telephoto all the way out to make it look bigger than a teeny little mound, since it's more than a hundred miles away (118 to be exact). It's been fun going back and perusing my old pictures, and I realize that there is a real benefit to keeping these pictures handy.

So this little exercise that Deb challenged me to has got me all excited about photography again. Maybe I might find a little camera that does it all. Technology changes all the time, and I don't usually have any reason to keep up. It's Christmas, after all, and there are likely to be some deals out there. Right?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Another unpleasant day out there

Christmas wreath at the Farmers' Market
When I rolled out of bed this morning, I didn't hear any rain on the roof, so I was optimistic that the walking group might beat the projected rain. The forecast said that the rain would most likely hit Bellingham around 9:30am. Since we meet at 8:00, I hoped we'd escape the worst of it.

By the time we started walking, more than a dozen women, it was sprinkling lightly but it wasn't too bad. We walked for an hour and a half, and by the time we finished our brisk walk around the harbor and back, we were pretty soaked. The wind began to blow, hard (we've got a high wind watch until late tonight), so it's probably accurate to say we were sure glad when we finished and sat down in the coffee shop where it is warm and dry to drink our lattes, coffee, and espresso drinks. Nice indeed.

By the time we got up to leave, we donned our rather wet outer clothing with a grimace or two. It wasn't much fun but we had no choice by then. I pulled my raincoat hood snug around my head and set out for the Farmers' Market. There are only two more days before it closes for the season: today and next Saturday. I'll try to make it both days just to see all my favorite vendors one more time before they return again in April.

The wind was blowing pretty steadily, and the rain continued to fall. Well, not exactly fall; it was coming sideways into my face, making me wish I had windshield wipers for my glasses. The holiday spirit was strong at the market, though, and I wandered through and bought a few things before heading back to my car and returned to my nice warm home.
Meditating amidst the Christmas cacophony
Now that I am toasty warm and ensconced in my easy chair, I'm not likely to venture out again today. Tomorrow is supposed to be better, so I am trying not to lose my holiday cheer during this frightful windy, wet weather. May you also stay warm and dry.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

It was a dark and stormy hike

Our lunch spot at Lizard Lake
Well, that picture makes it look a LOT less dark and stormy than it felt today. Ten Senior Trailblazers went up to Lily and Lizard Lakes on Blanchard Mountain. I was actually quite shocked that so many Trailblazers decided to brave the elements. I guess many of us are just addicted to this activity; I know I am.

It wasn't like we didn't know what we were getting into, as the weather forecast was for rain and wind, much the same situation we faced all week. Many of our rivers are flooding, and the rain deficit we had earlier in the year is a distant memory. But then again, last week we were expecting a very wet hike considering the forecast, and instead we had a wonderful day.
Al and our fairly nice trail behind him
 We started out well, with just a teeny bit of rain at the beginning. Not enough for a raincoat, and we didn't have the seriously muddy trail I was expecting, either. We headed off to Lily Lake. My pictures today are rather abysmal, since it was so dark for most of the day that I couldn't find much to take pictures of.
Map of today's hike
If all else fails when you don't have pictures, there's always a map. We started on the road from that lower "P" on the right-hand side of the map. We ambled over to Lily Lake, and although the wind was fierce, it came and went. Same with the rain. We knew we were pushing our luck as we made our way to Lizard Lake. It wasn't exactly warm, but it wasn't terribly cold either. Just not all that comfy for a long lunch.
Lizard Lake, looking the other direction from our lunch spot
It was actually raining a little while we had our lunch, but we were mostly protected by the trees, and we gathered up our belongings and had a little conference.
Al showing Sue and Linda our return options
We all decided that, instead of returning the way we had come, we'd take a shortcut and then go back down the Incline Trail. This would mean a mile or so walking on the road rather than hiking trails, but it would shorten the hike significantly. As the weather was blustery and threatening, we took the shorter way in hopes that we would make it back to the cars before we got totally drenched.

And that's just what we did, while the worst of the rain waited for us. Although it was a very dark forest, with little light making it through the forest canopy, we managed to stay relatively dry and mostly protected from the wind. We covered around seven miles anyway, and once I got home and pulled into the driveway, I had to wait for the rain to let up a little before I made a run for the door. I was just so glad we were able to have a relatively nice day in the wilderness. You just never know what awaits you unless you give it a try.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Getting ready for Christmas

Remembering when
When I was a kid, I loved Christmas and all the presents (receiving them mostly), the tree and decorating it, all of that. But today I only remember a few of the presents I received. Although I don't remember them, I sure do remember the anticipation and all the fun of wondering just what was in that package with my name on it.  Every family has its own way of celebrating the season.

One of my favorite Christmas pastimes was to push the presents out of the way and lie down under the tree, looking up at the lights and smelling that delicious Christmas tree smell. Back then we also used tinsel, which reflected the lights in the most delightful way. I would scrunch my eyes up until everything blurred a little, and I can still see that image today. It looked a lot like this, but with more color:
Shamelessly snagged from the Internet
I've learned in my photography attempts that those lights in the background are called bokeh, out of focus and even possible to create with my iPhone if I really wanted to mess around with it. I was creating bokeh with my eyes, making a nice pattern of beautiful lights. And it's an image that has stayed with me to this day.

Well, I no longer have a tree to stick my head under, and there is no one to wrap and place mysterious presents underneath it, either. No matter; these days I get a great deal of pleasure by thinking of little gifts that would make my friends happy, and I'm getting in the mood. It makes me smile to think how much somebody might appreciate a set of hand warmers, only good for one use but sure nice to have for a chilly hike. Or a batik handkerchief, or a favorite Christmas cookie.

Yes, I'm definitely getting in the Christmas spirit! Hope you're having a good time getting ready for the holiday, too.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

December market

Raven Bread at Farmers' Market
I am smitten with this bread maker, and I also love her Adventure Toast. I recently learned that Sophie, the baker, carts all her stuff back and forth to the market on her bike. She has a bike trailer she uses to haul this entire display to the market every Saturday, rain or shine. Here's her website; she's simply amazing, and her bread is incredible. She only uses local ingredients. This morning I resisted buying one of her chocolate cookies because they are simply too good to have just one. I know from experience.
Unique one-of-a-kind ornaments
Looking closely at these hand-blown ornaments, I noticed that several of them have a feather inside. Each one is different, and I meant to have a chat with the artist but got sidetracked and didn't have a chance to find the significance of the feathers. I'm sure there's a story.
Paperwhite narcissus plants
I thought these were interesting and would make a lovely gift: paperwhite flowers planted in various containers and at various stages of growth. I learned from that link that paperwhites are quick to flower and will bloom around three weeks after planting. The vendor told me that the largest ones will probably bloom within another week or two. I just might have to come back next week and pick up a planter; fresh fragrant flowers in the home at this time of year are a real treat.
And of course my favorite batik artist is at the market, too. She's got a new design, which I love. You can see it in the window on the right, a horse galloping across a tablecloth. She also has it on other fabrics. I bought one in purple, which should surprise nobody.
Weasel Glass
I've seen this vendor at the market every year. They are two sisters, Lynn and Judy, who have created Weasel Glass. The freshwater pearls are new this season, and I thought they are something I would like (me who doesn't wear any jewelry other than earrings, what am I thinking?). Anyway, they reminded me of the freshwater pearls I bought as gifts when I visited China.
Lots of different kinds of squash
And of course there are still all kinds of root vegetables and squash to buy. These will be there right up until the last day the market is open. It will close up for the winter on the last Saturday before Christmas, which I was reminded is only three weeks from today. Two more possibilities to visit the market, and then the vendors get a much-needed break from showing up every Saturday.
Christmas carolers
I was delighted to hear these young people singing many well-known Christmas songs as people shopped. Although the wind blew and the rain fell, the people around me were all in a festive holiday mood. I bought a few gifts and some produce and went home to my warm and cozy home.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

We expected frightful weather

All ready for the rain
When I got up to head out for today's hike, I fretted about what to wear in order to be comfortable and safe on a day predicted to be wet, warm and windy. When I am exposed to the rain with the wind blowing, I tend to get cold, even if the temperature is in the 50s (13 C), as it was today. Twelve of us showed up anyway. You can see Rich here has got his rain cover on his backpack and a plastic cover on his hat as well. We drove in three cars to the trailhead on Whidbey Island, to walk up to Goose Rock, one of our usual winter destinations in Deception Pass State Park. We last visited it in February, when it was REALLY wet. I labeled that one "A soggy Goose Rock hike." We expected the same today, given the forecast.
Looking out at Rosario Strait
Nope. I took the picture above to show that little patch of blue sky as we looked out across the Rosario Strait. Last February (in the link above), I decided to include a map of the area, so anybody familiar with Whidbey Island would know just where we were. We started at West Beach and went under the Deception Pass Bridge on our way to Goose Rock.
Map of Deception Pass State Park with Goose Rock circled in red
We could also have parked at the bridge and gone directly to Goose Rock, but we are accustomed to a longer hike, so we usually start a little ways away. Al has managed to finesse this hike over the years to one that ends up somewhere around seven miles, with around 1,500 feet of elevation gain and loss. We can always make it shorter or longer, depending on conditions.
Al heading up the trail, ocean below on the left
The area is well used, especially in the summer months, so you can see how well maintained much of the trail is in the picture above. There are many side trails, and without someone with a GPS, it would be easy to get lost, but Al kept us on track. As we continued our hike, the weather only got better and better.
Peggy and Rich in front as we made our way up to Goose Rock
Although Rich is still in his rain skirt, he never needed it. This picture was taken just before we made our final push to the top of Goose Rock to settle in and have lunch. We did have some wind, but at this point, after traveling uphill, it felt good and helped to cool us off some.
A lovely madrona tree
We traveled through a grove of madrona trees, which has red bark that peels away to expose smooth green bark underneath. You can read all about them here. They are native to the Pacific Northwest and very beautiful. I've taken pictures of them every time we come here, and I did not doctor the color at all. They are truly that red.
The beach below
After lunch, we headed back to the cars, and this picture shows the beach we sometimes walk along when we return. Today we had high tide and the beach was inaccessible along much of it, so we stayed on the trail and listened to the waves crashing below us. I love that sound; it makes me so relaxed. And still, no rain. Until we were almost within sight of the cars, I didn't want to jinx it by mentioning our good fortune.

As we drove away, the sun came out in full force, causing us all to marvel at the unexpected weather. What a beautiful, perfect day! And now as I sit here writing my post, the wind is howling outside, and I think the rain will be starting any minute. But that's okay, now, since I'm safe and warm inside after a fantastic day at Deception Pass with some great people.